Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"A Lytell Dye Boke"

Drea Leed of Elizabethan Costume tests historical dye recipes.  Worth a look even if your group doesn't require naturally-dyed fabrics (XMFM does not) for insight on what historical at least looks like.  Linen seems to take dye much less readily than wool, so madder linen is a dusty pink instead of a deep or rusty red, and indigo linen tends to be baby blue rather than anything approaching the deep steel blue associated with the name "indigo."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Will the retractions ever stop?

So, here's where I am with regards to leather now:

Most sources on fat-cured leather, mostly relating to Native American brain-tanning, indicate that the the grain side is normally scraped off before the fat is applied.  It does not have to be, and obviously cannot be in the case of furs, but doing so does allows the hide to absorb the fat much more readily.

The upshot is that contrary to my previous recommendations, prior to the introduction of veg-tan, the leather available to the Persians and other ancient West Asians most likely (or most likely usually) did NOT have a smooth finish.  Rather, it may have been lightly napped or sueded.

Just to be clear:  It is possible that smooth leathers were available or even common.  It's just that given my current understanding, it's unlikely that they were common.

Therefore, my recommendation is that you look for any of the following:
True brain-tanned - available mainly from small craftspeople.
German-tanned - deerskin cured with cod liver oil.
Double-sueded cowhide and splits - mostly chrome-tanned.  Look for those labeled "glove-tanned" for the softest texture.

If you have only "commercial" buckskin with a grain side or smooth glove leather on hand, you can just turn it inside-out as long as the flesh side has a fine nap.

The sources available on the Internet are endless, but off the top of my head, a few in the U.S. would include Crazy Crow Trading Post (German-tan, commercial deer and bison splits, and cowhide), Tandy Leather Factory (pigskin and cowhide splits - I don't know about the finish on their deerskins) and  All these companies also sell rawhide.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Atlanta Cutlery Arkansas toothpick blade

This is an item I've previously considered for use as an akinakes blade, but have only just gotten my hands on.  I actually ordered for another project entirely, but might as well comment on it here.

The blade, advertised as 3/16 of an inch thick, is actually only 1/8 inch, and due to its breadth at the shoulders, gives the impression of being rather thin.  Together with its acutely tapered profile and full 12-inch length, I cannot say it resembles the few examples I've seen of the Achaemenid akinakes very closely.  On the plus side, the tang is much wider than it appears in catalogue photos, and the edges curve smoothly into the point.

To sum up, I was already doubtful about whether to recommend this blade for this use, and I'm now even more so.  I'm reluctant to rule it out because I know of no comparable items in this price bracket.  Also, given the greater known variations in size and shape, it would probably be acceptable as a Scythian dagger.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Tracht der Achaimeniden" illustrations available online

Sean Manning of Book and Sword alerted me that Dr. Stefan Bittner has put the illustrations to his thesis online.  This is a great collection of line drawings copying and clarifying a wide variety of ancient illustrations of Achaemenid clothing and military equipment, very helpful if you find monochromatic rock carvings a little unclear.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Madder-dyed leather

To give you an example of what results a period leather dye might produce, a recent thread at RAT alerted me of several items Martin Moser made and dyed with genuine madder.

Vindolanda Calceus
Drawstring Bag

As you can see, it's a bit rusty rather than pure, deep red.  The leather is alum-tawed so presumably it would have been a light color to begin with.  Possibly leather that starts off brown, like a fat-cured hide that's been heavily smoked, will produce a somewhat deeper (albeit brownish) color.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

An akinakes and scabbard from Romania

While I would normally consider something from the edges of the empire unlikely to be representative of typical Achaemenid material, it's been suggested that this dagger from Medgidia is an artefact from Darius the Great's invasion of Scythia, specifically a battle with the Getae.  I don't entirely know what to make of it.

Unfortunately, it didn't come from a controlled dig, so its exact age and origins are less likely to be determined.  If it is Medo-Persian, it exhibits some unusual features.  The scabbard has no chape (granted, this may have fallen off) or guard-enveloping throat; these features put it more in line with examples other than Medo-Persian ones.  The general style of the hilt is common to multiple countries, including Iran.  I'm not familiar enough with the decoration to know whether it would help indicate origins.

It may be Scythian, given Thrace's proximity to Scythia, or it may even be of native Thracian manufacture, but if it was actually brought from the core Achaemenid territories by Darius' army, it may be precedent for a less rigid image of what reenactors ought to be carrying.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A reprieve for painted leathers?

So, I'm now reading that Native Americans have been painting soft brain-tanned leathers since before the introduction of modern acrylic paints, by either rubbing dry pigment directly into the surface or by using a thin hide glue solution as the medium

Powder Paint:  Preparation & Application

The fact that I've often remarked on that brain-tanning is a subtype of fat-curing and that Old World curing techniques might (at least on paper) had produced similar results, reopens the possibility that similar decoration methods could be used on gorytoi and other leather accoutrements in the Achaemenid period.