Blog Year in Review for 2016

2016 marked the posting of another 50 blogs on my site! That’s right, I missed exactly two weeks during the entire year, not bad, if I do say so myself! That brings the total number of blogs that are available on my site to 219. The topics vary from camping, to metal working, Medieval Cooking, and researching, and just about everything in between.

This year was the year of long blog series, with five of my series having five or more blog entries. A lot of times they didn’t start out that way, but there really was just too much to say! You can easily search my complete collection by either topic or by the year and month. Just go to and scroll down the page. The right hand column will have a list of the five most recent blogs, followed by a search box for viewing the blogs by month, a newsletter sign up (yes, I also do a weekly newsletter with relevant pre-1600 archaeological finds and news), two collections of links, and then a long list of the categories that the blogs are listed in. Just click on a category the list of blogs.

Choosing a favorite blog series is sort of like trying to decide which of my pets I like best, not an easy thing. But if I had to chose my favorite TWO long series, I would choose “Purses”, and “Vardos and Their Cousins”. Both of these series were a LOT of fun to write, and the Facebook commentary was fun and interesting to participate in for both of them.

Purses was the longest of my blog series this year, with a total of 12 blogs. It chronicled my experimentation with making a purse frame, from research and understanding how they worked and were worn, through actually making a frame myself. It was a very interesting journey, and I plan to do more work on purses frames again this year.

Purses Part 1    

Purses Part 2: My First Attempt At A Purse With A Frame

Purses Part 3: Understanding The Basics of a Purse Frame

Purses Part 4: What The Clues Tell Us and More About Purse Forms

Purses Part 5: What Other Forms of Purse Frames Do We Find?

Purses Part 6: The Tip Of The Iceberg

Purses Part 7: Back Down To Earth

Purses Part 8: Where Do We Go From Here

Purses Part 9: Time For Metal

Purses Part 10: Time For Purse Frame Rings

Purses Part 11: Finishing Up The Frame

Purses Part 12: How Were Purses Used Historically

Vardos and Their Cousins had a total of five blogs in the series. It really brought home the variety of Vardos and other trailer based constructs that there are in use in the SCA.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

And not to be outdone, this lonely little blog: All Rulers Are Not Created Equal, was probably the most relevant to all folks who do ANY sort of craft that ever uses a ruler.


Purses Part 11: Finishing Up the Frame

Last time I created eight gauge bronze wire wire purse frame rings and fitted them to the purse frame, but now we have to hold it all together.

When I was doing my original research I noticed a number of purse frames that appeared to have some sort of washer on the end of the purse frame bars. I decided that I liked the look of the washer and that the washer would also make for a more secure anchor for the rings on the purse bar. So when I was creating the original waxes from the replica, I also created some round washers that I thought would look good on the purse bar. I admit I guessed at the size, based on the size of the purse, but when the time came to actually use them, they were the right size. Here is a quick picture of some of my original cast pieces, including the washers.


So I fitted the washers on to the purse bar, trimming the length of the purse bar end and smoothing it, and then riveted it together. And here is the result.


The look of the washer was the perfect finishing touch for the frame.

What I learned from the Riveting process. No matter how careful you are measuring and hammering, it doesn’t always work the way you want it to. I broke one pivot trying to rivet it, and I also broke a hexagonal washer by accidentally cracking it – the casting actually had a tiny crack in it that I did not notice. Having a hole in the washer that is too tight can also cause the washer to crack when it is riveted. The pivot will expand a little bit, and too much expansion can crack the washer. And then there is the purse bar itself. Yes, I broke one of those, too.


So where do I go from here? I will be working to fine tune the purse bar pieces. For a first try they are fairly close, but I will be modifying the pieces to make them a tiny bit sturdier, and I also want to improve the fit a little. Once I am pleased with the final look of the purse frame, I will be recasting it, and then I will be experimenting with casting purse frame rings. I really want to have the strength and stability of the “L” shaped purse ring and the ability to easily sew the purse bag onto the frame. And then what? I have a much larger broken purse frame bar that I think would make a really awesome larger purse…

Next time: How were purses used in period?

Purses Part 9: Time For Metal!

Last time you saw the molds for making wax replicas of the purse pieces. Well the next obvious step is to turn those wax replicas into metal.

I cast metal (bronze, sterling silver, and pewter) on a fairly regular basis. Bronze and Sterling are what I think of as “hot” metals – they require temperatures of over 1700 degrees Fahrenheit in order to melt and become liquid. Pewter, on the other hand can be melted on a camp stove (500 to 600 degrees depending on the alloy).

The technique that I use for casting most of my “hot” metal is called Lost Wax Casting. A basic summary of how this works is that the waxes are anchored into a stainless steel flask, a plaster like substance, called investment, is poured into the flask and allowed to harden. The flask is then turned upside down and heated. The wax flows out, and in the later stages of heating (over 700 degrees), burns away completely. The investment is now the mold into which the molten metal will be poured. The image below shows the basic layout of the stainless steel flask, wax and investment. This flask is ready for the molten metal to be poured in.

Lost Wax Casting Flask









So, I put my waxes into flasks, invested, heated, and poured my metal. And the result? This picture shows the original artifact, and the newly cast, and cleaned up, bronze replicas.metal purse pieces

So what happens now? Well, I spent a bit of time filing and fitting the pieces together, and removing any rough spots. I wanted the pivot to spin easily, just like the original artifact does.

Once I had the pieces fitting together well, I needed to measure exactly how long the pin on the bottom of the pivot needed to be. If I cut it too short there will not be enough metal to peen over to hold the frame together, and if I cut it too long the fit of the frame will be super loose, and probably bend when I try to rivet the end. The fit on all of the period frames that I have seen is always fairly snug. So I marked the pin with a magic marker with the washer in place. This picture shows the marked pin with the washer off. I couldn’t find a smaller tipped marker (the Studio elves must have borrowed it again), so I knew that I needed to make the cut about half way across the ink mark.

purse frame pivot marked

I cut off the bottom of the pivot pin, smoothed the end, made sure that the end was at a right angle to the pivot pin, and reassembled the purse frame. The assembled purse frame was then put into a machinists’ vice and the end of the pivot pin was peened over with a hammer. And here is a picture of the result!

Riveted purse Frame

Next Time: Time for Purse Frame Rings