The Way of the Penguin

During the past month, I’ve been spending a bunch of time in my head, wondering what my actual path in the SCA might be. A conversation with an old friend kicked off this particular bout of introspection. She is an apprentice, which means that she has chosen the path of deep study in the Arts & Sciences, with the hope and goal that someday the Peers in the Society will recognize that she has attained mastery of her chosen craft and recognize her with the title of “Master.” This is a great and worthy goal, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to study with a variety of men and women who have themselves traveled on this path.

And yet, as we talked, I realized that as much as I love learning and doing research and making stuff and exploring how people did stuff in the SCA period of history … this is not my path. (Maybe yet, maybe ever … ) Instead, through a slip of the tongue, I stumbled upon my own path in the SCA.

The Way of the Penguin

Knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Learning for the sake of learning. Finding the reason to try something new, to develop and teach a class, to redact a new recipe, to attempt a new knitting design … all for the intrinsic enjoyment within that task.

For me, there are two things that motivate me to work on an A&S project, whether it be fiber arts, Bardic arts, fencing, or my long-neglected leadership and persona reading projects.

The first is the enjoyment that I get from the activity in and of itself. There is a certain goodness that I find in figuring out how words and a melody come together, or reworking a medieval stocking pattern until it finally fits comfortably on my leg, or (finally) finishing a new tunic to fence in that isn’t 20 years old and falling apart. I credit my parents with instilling in me the ability to find my own validation in pursuit of developing a talent. In fact, I clearly remember my father, trying to get me to practice the piano (always a hard task for someone with perpetual squirrel brain), encouraging me by saying that, at some point, the act of playing and practicing would become enjoyable even if I wasn’t performing or getting it perfect. You know what? My old man was right. (There it is in black and white … 😀 )

The second thing that motivates me is when I am making something to give to someone. Most of my knitted objects and a good many of my songs are meant as gifts for others. I get a kick out of plotting a careful design, trying things out, putting something together and, finally, presenting it to the intended recipient. That moment of their reaction is honestly what I find to be the best thing I could get in return. I especially enjoy doing this for people who are either not expecting it … or are not members of Royalty or Peers, and thus not people who are in positions in the SCA where people make or do things for them. They are a way of giving someone a token that says: thank you for being a friend to me. Thank you for being a friend to Haus zum bellenden Hund.

So what, exactly, is the Way of the Penguin? For me, it is a Way that gives people a path to independent scholarship, to doing things because they find joy in them, to helping them decide how much of themselves they can give to this hobby, whether it be contributing to the SCA’s body of knowledge by doing research and experimental archaeology, or giving generously of their gifts of time and service outside of the Path to Peerage. It is a Way that says, everyone is valued for what they contribute to our organization, and if you find that the Path to Peerage is not for you, then come join us on the Way of the Penguin. (We have cookies … or oranges … or mead, depending on what Robert Callum has been cooking up in the Haus zum bellenden Hund kitchen.)

At first when I thought I about this, I wondered if I should go about making this a formal thing. Maybe we needed a badge? Or something formal? But, no. The Way of the Penguin is all about what you make of it. So if you would like to try your hand at embroidery, and decide to make a favor with a depiction of a penguin, go for it! If you would like to write a song about the strange birds that live in the South, that explorers have glimpsed during their voyages around the Cape, go for it! If you would like to try your hand at a penguin subtlety, go for it! If you never make anything penguin-themed, yet go your own Way in your pursuit of what interests you in the SCA, go for it!

(But Teresa, you can’t just make something up, this is the SCA! Why yes, I know. But the Way of the Penguin is also a little punk rock, so pull out that hurdy-gurdy, let’s throw on some tunes, and start making art, or smacking that pell, or volunteering to work Gate, or whatever makes us happy. I’ll see you at the next Event!)

~ ~ ~

UPDATE: After publishing this and inviting comment on my Facebook page, I received some great comments. A friend pointed out that, as a point of fact, someone on the Peerage Path would ideally be on that path through an intrinsic motivation, not in the hopes of receiving reward. This rings true with the vast majority of Peers I have met. They are giving of themselves, their time, and their talents, no matter what color belt they wear, or if you have accepted their patronage. However, as another friend pointed out, being a Peer is a job, and not one that everyone is interested in interviewing for. And that latter perspective is the one I hoped to think about in this blog post. There is a great deal of visibility for the traditional paths; I would like to make present an alternative to those paths, just in case anyone is thinking along these similar lines.


The Heart of Darkwood

I wrote this poem prior to White Shield with the intention of presenting it at evening feast to Their Excellencies, Brid and Jared. As it turned out, trying to make it all day, and then late into the evening with no spouse and two toddlers is not conducive to being able to do anything except bow out early and return home. I ended up posting the poem in the Barony Facebook page, and Her Excellency had a favorable reaction. At March Crown, Brid and Jared stepped out, and Their Excellencies Carrek MacBrian and Mercy Grym stepped up. Brid did me the honor of inviting me to lead their procession into the West Kingdom Court, which I did, proceeding slowly and ceremoniously and stopping thrice to sing out a verse each time. It was just the mix of theatrical flair and solemn occasion that warms the heart of a Bard so very much! (Hey, I gotta take the opportunities where I find them!) I have a particular fondness for this piece, and for the Barony and its leadership for which I wrote it.

Also, I’m kind of proud of the fact that when I wrote it, I actually used a modal scale, which means this is one of the first pieces I’ve written that begins to approach a historical model, musically speaking. Next, I’d like to start tackling 16th-century art songs and using them as both performance pieces and inspiration for writing.

Heart of Darkwood

Verse 1

Under oak and circling crown
Where hart and hawk do seek their rest
On mountain path, in sleeping Stadt,
Midst scholar’s deep and dusty quest–
There I sought a heart of joy
There I sought a heart of strength
There I sought the heart of Darkwood

Verse 2

And so I wandered far afield
And bade good gentles as we met
To tell me true if they could say
Where such a treasure was to get?
Where could I find a heart of joy?
Where could I find a heart of strength?
Where could I find the heart of Darkwood?

Verse 3

Their answers came with proud delight
My journey was near at an end
A gracious Lord and Lady might
Reach out their hands in welcome, friend:
Our Baron is our heart of strength
Our Baroness our heart of joy
And we shall hold them in this place-

The living Heart of Darkwood!

White Shield 2019

White Shield is our large Baronial event of the year, kicking off Tourney season which, I have discovered, the West Kingdom takes VERY, very seriously. Three songs came from this event; I will include two here. The first is a song extolling the fighters, fencers, and archers who came to the field and demonstrated their bravery and skill, which I performed at Invocation. The second is a Lied in honor of Sir William Ulfsson, the winner of the Tourney, who fought bravely in honor of all those who have fought or are fighting cancer. With that sort of inspiration, a Bard can’t help but find the words to praise the Champion!

The Plains of White Shield


We shall fight, and we shall win
And then return to fight again
Our stalwart blades shall never yield
Upon the plains of Whiteshield.


Nock your arrows, let them fly
Heed not the distant foeman’s cry
Archers with your bows of yew,
May your aim prove steady, strong and true.


Now the fleet-foot fighters dance
With rapier blades and deadly stance
Fencers, that your weapons may
Find the heart of your foes this day.


Novice, squire, Knight, and Duke
Let none your honor dare rebuke
Fighters to the battle field!
May your sword and shield ne’er fail nor yield.

In Praise of Sir William Ulfsson

White Shield Tournament Champion 2019

Hark! I say, let all take heed
As I speak of a brave, bold warrior’s deed.
On the field of White Shield’s fearsome fray,
Sir William Ulfsson won the day!

Though Viscount Leohtulf stood proud
With blow on blow, his shield unbowed,
Sir William wove a fierce attack
And drove his foe right quickly back.

There are some who fight in glory’s name
For honor, riches, or for fame.
Sir William raised his sword for those
Who fight the deadly, unseen foe.

So let us praise these warriors true
And give them each their honorable due.
Where deeds of honor are prized and praised
To the name of Sir William let a glass be raised.

Bard of the Oaks

I just realized that I totally failed to update my website with the news that in December I competed for and was named Bard of the Oaks, the official Bard of the Barony of Darkwood. I had to compete in four categories: tall tale, three words from a hat, poem, and … I forget the other one. The poem I read was “Bitter Stalks of Thyme,” I told a tale about coming home after tipping a few and having to fight a monstrous thorny beast … that was “hiding” in the rose bush, and the three words from a hat was a poem I wrote about coming to the West and then having a Laurel (by the name of Mistress Leofwen) encourage me to write a song.

The competition took place at the Baroness’ Masked Ball, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I wish I had not lost the words to the poem I wrote (although I still have the melody), but c’est la vie.

As for the fact that I was the only one competing, I shall strive instead to remember Their Excellencies kind words and encouragement as they invited me to represent Their Barony for the period of one year in the Bardic Arts. I’ll be updating with some of the poems and songs I’ve been writing, and if I get super motivated, I’ll record and post some of them as well!

In which we make my spouse a gambeson…

Poof! You’re a gambeson!

No, not quite like that. Rather, my spouse has lately decided to seriously begin learning SCA heavy armored combat. He’s currently working around a shoulder injury, but he is pretty sure this is an activity he wants to pursue long term. The group we’re in has loaner armor, but he’s been wearing a sweatshirt (sometimes MY sweatshirt) and some pants under it. I decided that I would get him started collecting his own kit by making him a gambeson. So he could leave my sweatshirts alone.



For this project, historical accuracy was less important than finding a pattern that I could easily create to fit him and that would fit my barely-more-than-rudimentary sewing skills. I found an Instructable by (username) Rune Cutter, entitled “How to Make an 11 Cent. Padded Gambeson.” That is, 11th Century, not the amount of money you will spend on this project. The step-by-step instructions seemed pretty clear, so I took into account the warning that you needed some basic sewing skills, and decided to try it.


The Progress

Everything I needed for this project was available at Joann’s. I purchased several yards of quilted cotton, four packages of bias tape (only needed two), and some green thread to match. I already had pins, pens, rulers, etc. I bought heavy-duty needles for my sewing machine, but ended up not needing them.

IMG_0209Where I Followed the Instructions. I used Rune Cutter’s sketched pattern and dimensions to make the neck. The pattern is scaled for a 5’10” fighter; my spouse is 5’9″, but built like the tanks he used to command. I took Cutter’s advice and double-checked my pattern before cutting it out. I also used the general pattern shape, sleeve extensions, and the idea of using bias tape around the neck, sleeve ends and bottom of the gambeson. I found his instructions to be clear and understandable.

Where I Varied A Bit. This is how I double-checked the pattern. While the sketch shows some general measurements, I needed to take four more in order to get it sketched IMG_0239properly: my spouse’s waist, chest, arm scye and forearm. I added two inches of ease to the chest and waist, and probably could have added one more. After finishing the neckline, to include sewing the bias tape to finish the edge, I then pinned along the lines I drew on the cloth.  This allowed me to get him to try it on before I started sewing. If you’re doing this for someone other than your spouse, you could try basting it so you don’t stick them with a pin. Or not.

My sewing machine was packed away, so I started sewing the seam by hand. I don’t know why. I was just too lazy to pull the sewing machine out. That got old pretty quickly, so the next day, I got the sewing machine from its closet, threaded it up, and sewed the seam. Keep in mind, I hadn’t yet cut the fabric. I had my spouse try it on one more time, then I cut a quarter inch seam around the top layer and a half inch seam around the bottom layer. This allowed me to flat-fell the seams, which I did by hand. Some of the cotton was fraying even a short time after cutting, and the quilting was fluffing out, so finishing the seam this way seemed like a good idea.

One note–if you do the sleeve extensions in the Instructable, don’t forget to leave yourself a seam allowance. Like I did. Ugh. Re-cut. And this fabric is not cheap. I think I’m going to make a cowl out of the mistake.

IMG_0242Also, I think I got away with not needing the heavy duty needles because I didn’t stitch the bias tape over the fabric, except for the bottom where I sewed along the inside seam and then handstitched it down on the outside. This is how I’ve finished most of the quilts I’ve made, and this was a similar process.


Would I Make it Again?

Probably. This was a fairly easy project, and I would be happy to make one for a friend, as long as they bought the fabric for it. I might try tackling a more involved gambeson later, but for now, this will get him started. He hasn’t yet had a chance to fight in it–nursing a shoulder injury–but I’m looking forward to finding out how it feels when he’s moving in it, how it breathes, and how long it holds up after a few months of weekly practices. I’ll let you know!



The Journey Begins…

This Website marks a turning point in my participation in the Society for Creative Anachronism. For the longest time, I’ve been content to attend events, try a few things, even try a few new things. But time constraints and Mundane obligations kept my participation desultory and at a kind of a low level enjoyment.

About two years ago, that changed. I found myself wanting to try to branch out and improve my skills, whether through learning how to compose music within the parameters of medieval and Renaissance composition, try writing poetry to the forms and structures of early stanzas, dive into theatrical performances, pick up a rapier, study Renaissance Germany, practice spinning fiber, and delving into the world of knitting really, really thin yarn on really, really skinny needles.

Actually, there’s not much that I won’t try out just once to see if it’s something I want to keep doing. On the other hand, I’m a writer, and frankly everything is research and fodder for future ideas.

I’m at the point where I want to start documenting and cataloguing, and making the information that I find available to others. Many gentlefolk in the SCA have made their studies and knowledge public, and I wish to try to offer the same. I don’t expect that I will update this on a specific schedule, but I will do my best to keep a record of what I’m up to in the SCA.

My plan is to use this blog to work through various projects, whether it be posting about making a pouch, trying the pre-literate stockings Chris Laning posted on Ravelry, making a fencing doublet, or adding articles to the annotated bibliographies. I’ll do my best to catalogue each post under its particular page, as well as tag each post with a particular category for easy searching.

I welcome comments, suggestions, feedback, etc., and if you would like to connect with me, you can shoot  me a note through the contact page. Welcome!

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.  — Albert Einstein