Part 31 - Queen's Prize
by Lord Thomas the Black
Welcome back to another edition of Blackmaille! This month, I thought I’d discuss my experiences with our recent Queen’s Prize here in Calontir. For those that don’t know, Queen’s Prize is an Arts and Sciences competition in our SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) kingdom. It’s held every year, hosted by a different local group every time. This time it was hosted by the Shire of Crystal Mynes (Joplin, Mo). QP is kind of a different sort of “competition”, in that you’re not competing with or against anyone. Your entry is judged according to a set of criteria, which lists such categories as documentation, authenticity, workmanship, etc. It’s open to anyone without a Grant-of-Arms-level award, and each entrant is sponsored by a GOA-holder.
This was the second QP I’ve entered, so I had a better idea of what to expect going into it than I did the first time. The first QP I went to was in Columbia, which is about a three hour drive from Kansas City. I’d gotten a hotel room the night before, and should have gotten one the night of, but I didn't think court would let out as late as it did (I was finally on the road around 10:30!). The event organizers didn’t have enough judges, so my entry was judged by three people with only a passing knowledge of maille between them, and on top of all that, I had a bad cold that day, so all around, it was a less-than-pleasant occasion for me. So, I wasn’t looking forward to this one.
This time around, however, the event organizers ran everything very smoothly. Judging ran on time (for the most part), there were lots of judges, so they paired them up with entries they’d be familiar with (armorers judging armor, for example). Court went by much faster than last time, and I got a decent night’s sleep and felt a lot better than I had at my first one. Never let it be said I don’t learn from my mistakes. Joplin, Mo is still around two to three hours’ drive from Kansas City, though (why don’t they hold these events closer, for Pete’s sake?), but that’s nothing when you have cruise control (ha, ha!).
I entered a riveted maille coif I’ve been working on as a work-in-progress. I wrote up documentation on it, and had all the tools and whatnot there to demonstrate the making of the maille while waiting to be judged. It was a lot of fun! I thought I’d have a few questions, and a lot of time to sit and read while waiting to be judged. It turned out I got a ton of questions, and a lot of really nice comments on the maille. I barely had time to get lunch, what with all the attention the entry got! Every time I got five seconds to myself to go to the bathroom or to get some more Mt Dew from the car, I’d come back to a crowd of people around my table. Lots of people took photos (which I suspect will be online somewhere by the time this article is posted), and I got a lot of work done, just demonstrating the craft to the crowd.
My judging came around 2pm, and went a lot better than I thought. I got some good feedback on my work, and the judges were impressed with the riveted maille (which almost no one else in the kingdom does). They found some things I need to work on, most dealing with the documentation, but that just ended up giving me the idea to beef up the documentation more and enter it by itself as a research paper next time.
Most of the questions I got centered around the tools I use, so I thought I’d answer some of the more frequently-asked ones here.
1.) Are these tools period? Depends on the period. In fact, with the exception of my rivet-setting tongs, most of my tools are modern concessions to convenience. In the Middle Ages, a person would have been apprenticed to a craftsman at an early age, and would grow up learning and practicing the skills necessary for that craft. I started doing riveted maille two years ago, so I had to learn fairly quickly in order to get anything done.
2.) How do you have the patience for this? I find that having a really boring real-life job helps. I’m a file clerk for the Federal Government, so there you go. After 8 hours of that, maille is high excitement!
3.) How did you make/where did you get your tools? I found instructions for how to make tools for riveted maille online at the Arador Armor Library (www.arador.com). These plans call for tools and techniques I wasn’t able to do at the time because of the constraints of living in an apartment. So, after much searching and trial-and-error (mostly error), we found out a friend of ours had access to a machine shop, so I went to him and said, “Here’s what I need, here’s what I need it to do, here’s what I’d like it to look like”, etc. and in two weeks, he had a complete set of tools done! For those without a friend in the industry, most machine shops should be able to come up with workable tools fairly quickly, especially if it just involves modifying existing tools, and you provide the tools to be modified.
4.) Is this difficult to learn? No, not really. Riveted maille is much more time-consuming to do than butted maille, and is more labor-intensive, but is not all that much more difficult. The hard part is the attention-to-detail needed. If you look at period maille, all the rivet heads all face the same way, on the same side of the garment. If you’re used to doing maille in fivelets (basic units, butterflies, etc), then you have to pay attention to which way the rivets are facing when looping your four closed rings onto your open ring, and be sure to lay the unit out flat with the rivets going the right way. Then you have to watch that when connecting units into strips, and strips into sheets, and so on.
5.) Where did you learn how to do this? Aside from the sources already listed in my mailler’s bibliography (Blackmaille article #19 & #20), I’d have to say my greatest influence was Mr. Erik Schmid of the Mail Research Society (now the Armor Research Society). Mr. Schmid has been doing museum-quality riveted maille for I-don’t-know-how-long, and has probably forgotten more about maille than most people will ever know. His MRS site was a huge help in that it had hard-to-find articles from such pioneers in maille research as E. Martin Burgess and Cyril Stanley Smith, and many of the articles were from publications now out-of-print or impossible to find. On top of all that, the man is very friendly and easy to talk to, and emailed questions to his site usually receive an answer back in a day or so, depending on his work schedule.
As for the feedback on my project, I’ll cover a few of the comments I got here without naming names, so that those of you who are working on similar projects (or entering a similar competition) will know what the judges are looking for.
1.) Bibliography needs to have publication dates of books/articles cited. Yeah, I forgot that one. Come to find out later, there’s a standard way of citing works used, and I all but completely blew that off. What can I say? It’s been a while since I had to do that kind of thing. The standard library format, for future reference, is as follows:
AUTHOR (or Ed.) Last name, First, TITLE (publisher, year)
Stone, George Cameron, A GLOSSARY of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times (Jack Brussel, NY, 1934) 694 pgs. Reprinted 1961.
Those of you who read all my articles will note that I’ve messed that up on more than one occasion. Well, NO MORE, you hear me?!?
2.) You need to work in stainless steel, and you need to sell maille. I hate to say this, because I admire and respect the hell out of the gentleman who said this, but I disagree with it entirely. Stainless steel is not a period material, and doesn’t even look period, so I have no interest in working with it (even less so having used stainless steel in butted maille, and found it harder than hell to work with!). I understand that stainless is what most SCA fighters prefer for their armor, and I understand why. However, I don’t fight, and I don’t work on commissions (I’d rather teach someone how to make their own maille than to be under the constraints of a deadline), so my armor is being made purely for the educational experience of doing so. As such, it is more important to me to get a period-looking end result than it is to have low-maintenance armor for the list field. The second part I’m not sure about. I understand the need to get my name out there, and become known as someone who does maille, and in fact that’s exactly why I go to fighter practices, do demos, teach, write, etc. I don’t think merchanting has ever (or will ever) be part of the criteria for the Arts and Sciences. The way I look at it is this: Merchanting is a business. A&S is a hobby. It’s what we do for fun. While I understand the necessity for exposure, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to expect someone to make a living at their hobby to prove they’re good at it. Truth is, I’ve sold lots of maille. I like money as much as the next guy, but I’ve done the retail thing, and it just wasn’t my bag. Sorry.
3.) You need to expand the documentation to include how the tools were obtained. I didn’t understand this at first, because as I said, I went to a machinist and said, “here’s what I need, Here’s what I need them to do, etc”, and I figured the same thing would have been done in period. I, as a mailler, don’t need to know how the tools are made, or for that matter, how iron is smelted and drawn into wire. I merely would have gone to the people who did such things, and purchase what I needed from them. Turns out, though, that this is exactly what the judges meant. I needed to put an explanation of each tool’s use, just what I would have told the smith I needed. So, this is what gave me the idea to expand my documentation into a research paper. Next QP, I’ll be entering this research paper for my entry.
All in all, this Queen’s Prize was a very enjoyable experience. I heartily recommend it to anyone involved in the Arts & Sciences. Even if you’re not an SCA member, it would be worth it to join up and enter this (or some similar) competition, for the feedback, if nothing else. You get advice on your work, and learn where you can make improvements, and sometimes even get pointed in the right direction for sources, etc. I encourage all of my students to enter, and if I’m ever awarded a GOA, I plan to sponsor and judge whenever possible, to encourage the growth of the knowledge in our kingdom.
Finally, I want to thank two people who made this QP particularly enjoyable. First, Baroness Dejaniera de la Mille Cour, who sponsored me in the competition. She handled the online registration, gave me good advice on my documentation, and took care of other details, I’m sure, so that I could concentrate on my project, and getting ready for the day. It was an honor to work with her on this entry, and to be allowed to represent (in some small way) the Barony of Forgotten Sea, and to be a contributing member of the Kingdom of Calontir. Secondly, I want to thank Her Majesty, Ariel of Glastonbury Tor, Queen of Calontir. She made an effort to stop at each table, looking at each entry, and asking each contestant a question or two about their entry. This took up an amazing part of her day, but for those of us who entered (and especially those new people for whom this was their first event), it made all the difference in the world. I have seen people who have sat on the Calon thrones, and you look at them and say “They’re playing the part of Royalty”, and then there are those whose grace, poise, and presence make you look at them and say “They ARE Royalty”. HRM Ariel is definitely one of the latter, and I thank her for that.
Any way, as I said, it’s well worth entering any kind of competition like Queen’s Prize, if for no other reason than to share your knowledge with the rest of your organization. I know I got interested in riveted maille because of someone doing it at the first QP I went to, and I hope someone got inspired to begin doing the same after seeing my entry. For more information on research and documentation, see my friend Baron Modar’s site: www2.kumc.edu/itc/staff/rknight/Research.htm
Thanks for joining me for another edition of Blackmaille, and thanks to all of you who’ve read these articles over the last couple of years. As always, any questions, comments, or hate mail can (and should) be sent to:
c/o Tom Beckett
13628 Belmead Ave
Grandview, MO 64030
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