I dug a hole: adventures in quarantine madness

Spoiler for the rest of this post: I made these using dirt from my yard! And fire! Ha ha!

Hey so this whole global plague this is fun, yeah? Economic collapse, feeling of hopelessness, constant threat of debilitating illness and/or death? So fun! And I live in the US, so I am definitely 100% not terrified that the literal criminals running the country are going to get me killed! Ha ha! o_o

ANYWAY, while I’ve been home I’ve started actually diving into some of the particularly wacky “someday!” projects that I’ve been dreaming about for years. I love learning by doing, and I’ve always been really drawn to “deep wisdom” types of things like making cordage from tree bark and harvesting wild plants. We’ve been dealing with a major rat infestation in our entire neighborhood, and I was starting to seriously consider learning to tan tiny hides and make myself a cool apocalypse cape, but my wife strongly vetoed that. (Incidentally, before COVID hit, this winter I let a student talk me into mummifying a chicken toe as a little class side project, which inspired me to mummify an entire chicken foot, which I just remembered is in my garage somewhere because I tried to hide it from my wife so she wouldn’t throw it away — I should probably find that.)

One of those things I’ve always wanted to try was digging my own clay and making primitive pottery. I think a lot of people have this on their bucket list, actually; we must all read the same formative books. Lockdown gave me the motivation I needed to actually give it a go — with nowhere to go, why not do weird projects in the yard? It was time-consuming, but not actually that difficult, and every part of this project was 100% free. I’m hoping to do a how-to video at some point, but for now here’s a rough description of my process in case you want to try something like this yourself.

Bonus: this project resulted in me now having a fire pit in the yard

The first step is to dig a hole. It should be a relatively big hole, and the soil should have a high clay content. Save the dirt you dig out of the hole. If you want to use the same hole to pit-fire the clay, you can make it a bit fancier by lining it with bricks, as shown here.

To separate the clay from the rest of the dirt, you’ll take advantage of the fact that clay particles are much, much smaller than the other stuff in your dirt. Put some of the dirt you dug into a bucket and cover it completely with water. Let it soak about a day and stir it every so often. When you’re ready, give it a really vigorous stir and pour the dirty water through a screen into another bucket. This gets the big stuff out. Discard that big stuff and rinse the first bucket well.

Let the dirty water sit for 10-15 minutes. This allows the larger particles (sand, silt) to settle, but leaves the clay behind. While you wait, put a basket or colander in the first bucket and line it with cloth, an old bed sheet folded in half is ideal. Then, carefully pour the water-and-clay suspension into the cloth and let it drain to dry. Full disclosure: I found I had to pour the clay suspension into a third bucket while I waited for the water level in my cloth strainer to go down enough to add more to it, so be flexible about this part; the goal is to have the water catch the clay. It’s sort of like draining cheese. Let the clay drip dry until it’s pliable enough to use. For me this took many days, probably about a week all told.

You can wedge the clay to get the air bubbles out, which I didn’t really know how to do so I sort of half-assed that part, then build whatever you want to make. I made pinch pots, a goddess figurine, and used a leaf to make an impression on a thin slab of clay. It’s important to keep your pieces thin enough to dry easily. Once you’re happy with what you’ve made, put them in a safe, covered space and let them air dry as long as you can stand it. I think I made my first round of stuff in like April and didn’t fire them until July. Steam is what makes pots explode, so if you know you didn’t do a great job getting the air bubbles out, drying is crucial.

To fire your pots, line the bottom of your fire pit with wood shavings or sawdust, and use this to fill any spaces in the pots themselves. Arrange the pots in the pit and cover them with flammable stuff — paper, sticks, kindling, wood, etc. Light it on fire (yay!) and make sure the fire gets big and hot, because the clay needs to glow red to undergo the chemical changes of firing.

I obviously said “COOOOOOL!!!!” out loud when I peered down into my fire pit and saw a glowing pot.

Let the fire burn down to coals, and make sure the pottery is completely covered. I took the photo above when I was moving stuff around to get coals over that pot. If you want, you can smother the fire at this point by dumping dirt or sand on it. This causes the clay to turn black, which looks really cool. It also means you don’t have to hang out and watch your fire burn all the way down, and it gives your pottery a chance to slowly cool down, which reduces breakage.

The next day, when the sand / dirt is cooled off and you can easily dig into it with your bare hands without fear, it’s time to find out if it worked.

I like the natural red color and the black together.

I was so astonished that my pots didn’t break and that they were actually fired that I laughed out loud when I dug them up.

My two-year-old helped dig out the finished pottery. He was most interested in the “puhsun” (person) and “eef” (leaf). Although parts of it aren’t suitable for kids, a lot of this project was something that he and I could do together. He helped me dig the hole, he helped me with stirring and straining all that muddy water, he loved squishing the clay in his hands, and he helped me pick a leaf and press a ball of clay onto it for a second leaf plate (which is still drying). Older kids could have even more fun with this, and the opportunities for learning about history, archeology, art, physics, and chemistry are immense.

I hope this post inspires you to do a project that you’ve always wanted to try, especially if it’s something you’re not an expert at. I knew basically nothing about any of this when I started; I sort of understood some of the science behind it, which probably helped, but really when it comes down to it I just read a lot of guides online and then let myself experiment. You, too, can do the thing! And if you make a cape out of rat pelts, let me know how it goes, because I’m honestly still considering it.


Medieval Games Box with Painted Gluckhaus Board Lid

Games Box with Gluckhaus Board
A painted glückhaus or house of fortune board on the lid of a wooden box used to store medieval games

I just finished a fun, simple project — painting a glückhaus board on the lid of a wooden box that I can use to store all my historical games! I’ve been thinking about a better way to store my historical games for a while. I had used various pouches and bags in the past, but didn’t like the feeling of infinitely nesting bags. At some point I must have seen someone else’s games box with a board painted on the lid and fallen in love with the idea.

Glückhaus (also spelled glückshaus) happens to be my very favorite historical game. It’s dead simple and clearly designed to be played while drinking and talking, requiring no strategy or even your full attention. Here’s a nice one-page guide to gameplay; roll the dice, place or take a coin, and several numbers have special actions. Most of the examples I’ve seen of historical (and re-enactor made) glückhaus boards are rather complex, but I liked the more simple design of one shown in the Wikipedia article linked above and used that as the basis for mine.

Can’t wait to play at events! You can use any dice and counters you want, I like playing with my replica groats and resin “bone” dice but have also had a grand time with plastic modern dice and standard US pennies.

I used a wine gift box and a set of primary color acrylic paints, and aside from procrastination it was easy to finish by stealing a few minutes here and there during the evenings after my baby went to bed. It took me a while to find a box that I liked, but otherwise all the supplies for this are readily available at any craft store, or easily ordered from Amazon.

I’ve put together a list of supplies and tips for making your own (on the assumption that you know how to do basic SCA scribal painting). In my next post, I’ll be giving you more information about putting together a historical gaming collection of your own, including links to information/research and some specific products.

(Reminder that I get a small kickback when you purchase products from the Amazon links in my posts.)

Supplies list for a medieval games box with a painted lid:

Wine gift box — there are lots of box options, but this was the only one I found that was large enough to make a good game board but still inexpensive

Acrylic paint set (option 1) — I used a set of just primary colors but even for this simple project wished I had had more options, so I’ve linked to a slightly better set that I’ll be getting to replace my basic one. If you want to go all out, here’s a set with lots of colors!

Basic inexpensive detail paint brushes, at minimum round size 1 and size 0.

Plus a pencil, eraser, ruler, ultra fine permanent black marker, and access to some inspiration images.

Tips for making your own:

Use pencil to sketch the game board and any designs you want to do; this is where inspiration images are helpful, so have your Googlin’ fingers ready. (You are more than welcome to use mine as the basis for your own! Please copy me!) For glückhaus, the design elements are numbers on each square, and images on the three “special” spaces — a pig on 2, something to symbolize a wedding on 7, and a crown for the royal 12. Historical game boards were often quite lavish, with every bit of space filled up with lush art. That’s not my style, though, and I think that’s okay.

From there this is just like doing scribal painting, but with acrylics and wood instead of paper and gouache. Start with solid colors, layer on any shading and whitework you want, finish by outlining everything in black. I opted to leave the backgrounds blank and keep the design simplified. I also chose to do a generic Gothic style to be more in keeping with my gear and persona even though glückhaus is a Renaissance German game.

I opted for Roman numerals to look more historical and “pips” for those who have a hard time reading them. My pig has a roasting spit (that he’s running away from, ha ha) and I did simple interlocked rings for the wedding; a more historical option for the wedding space would be clasped hands or a fede ring. I added some vinework to fill the space on the 12, and did a simple blue with whitework border around everything.

There are a few things I’d change if I do another one, but overall I am pleased with this addition to my event gear. History was fun! Medieval games are fun! Having my own personalized and fairly nice glückhaus board is a great feeling. Plus, the box has all my other games. Again, I’m working on a follow-up post with more general information about stocking your own historical games box. Stay tuned 🙂


Adventures in Home Dairying: Churn Down for WHAT!

Aleit went on an adventure in Europe, and came across some butter churns. Because we live in the future, she posted about it on Facebook, and I cried out my desperate need for a butter churn.

So now I have one:

Photo by Tullia
In case it’s not coming through in text, I want to say I am INCOHERENTLY EXCITED about the fact that I have a butter churn, a handmade one with beautiful wood hoops no less. OMG THIS BUTTER CHURN! Much churn. Very butter. So excite. Wow.

Once I got my new friend home, I soaked it in water until it swelled enough to seal itself. Then the fun of making butter began.

I’ve made butter before and I have some tips:

  • Use great ingredients. The best butter comes from the best cream. I like Organic Valley personally as I can reliably get it and their cows are pastured. Cows that live on pastures are probably happier, in as much as cows can be said to be happy, and they produce much higher quality dairy. Cows that eat a lot of grass also make prettier, more deeply colored cream. Local and fresh from the farm would be ideal, but that is harder to manage.
  • You need heavy cream. Look at the label of whatever you buy — a lot of whipping cream has mono- and diglycerides added. These aren’t bad, but they are added to help cream turn into whipped cream, not butter, so they can work at cross-purposes to your end goal.
  • Culture the cream before churning. This makes the finished butter taste amazing, it’s more historical, and it makes the butter churning go faster. It’s also dead easy: buy cultured buttermilk and add some to the cream, then let it sit. I usually add a half pint of buttermilk to a quart of cream because those sizes are both easy to obtain and I’m lazy. The half pint of buttermilk could probably culture up to a gallon of cream. I put both in a pitcher or large jar or a jug and drape a cloth over the top or losely seal with waxed linen, then let it sit out on the counter overnight. I have done this at events, too.
    • By the way, quick rant about culturing dairy here: historically, this just happened. Leave the cream out overnight, have nicely soured cream the next day. Leave milk out overnight, have clabber the next day. Dairy is naturally full of lots of bacteria, some great and some definitely not. The tradeoff of pasteurization is you can’t just set your milk or cream out to clabber it like they did in the old days, but you also are much less likely to die from a horrifying pathogen from drinking raw milk. Tradeoffs! If you’re playing around with homemade fresh cheese, the kind that you add lemon juice or vinegar to to curdle it, do an experiment: add a half pint or even a pint of buttermilk to a gallon of whole milk, let it sit overnight, and the next day you can make it curdle by just bringing it to a boil. Pretty neat!
  • Don’t overfill your churn. I usually gleefully ignore this. But the churn should be less than halfway full for minimal splatter.
  • Add lots of salt because salt is delicious 🙂

With my churn soaked and my cream soured, it was quick work (less than 15 minutes) to make butter:

Everything ready

My “helper” “cleaning” the cream up

A little bit of leakage. A towel helps. (Are you feeling dirty yet? Butter churning was made for innuendo.)

Butter! That was fast!

Transfer to a bowl and bring the butter together in one blob (I’m using my butter paddles), then (not pictured) drain off the buttermilk, set it aside, and wash the butter by kneading it in ice cold water. 

Buttermilk is great in a lot of recipes, especially baking. My dog loves if. I’ve fed it to my chickens. Medieval people probably just drank it. I once tried watering some down, like oxymel or any of the other vinegar water variants from period. I was not a fan. 

I like to sprinkle on flakes of salt but you can also just salt your butter. Premodern butter probably had up to 10% salt as a preservative — this was washed out prior to using the butter — but you can add as much or as little as you like. 

Butter doesn’t really store well. I mean, it does, but the best tasting butter is fresh. 

If you’re in An Tir, I plan to bring my churn to September Crown and churn butter while I hang out in the Publike House so you can see it in action. 

More glass painting, and a new Pinterest board

I’ve continued my glass painting experiments:


I have to say, I’m quite pleased with this. The glass itself came from Crate & Barrel, who have a pretty good selection of glassware that looks passably historical:

Since the last time I posted about glass painting, I’ve switched paint brands. I got a set of Martha Stewart multi-surface craft paints. They are much cheaper than Pebeo and I personally like the colors better (especially this gold!). I am sure they are not as high quality as Pebeo paints, and time will tell how well they hold up. But they work very similarly in that you paint them on the glass, let them dry fully, and cure them in the oven.

I used a stencil for the quatrefoils, and I think I’m getting better with my stencil technique too:


Notice that my paint is bubbly. I don’t know if that’s the paint or user error.

Otherwise, the big breakthrough since the last time I posted about glass painting is switching to using more dots than lines. With my skill level and the gloppy consistency of the paint, this has been a much better way to yield something that looks decent.


This particular design is inspired by some of the patterns on this Italian hanging lamp.

I have started a board on Pinterest for examples of period painted glass — check it out. Unfortunately, most of the really beautiful figural paintings are utterly beyond me (at least for now!), but there are a few examples on there with simpler geometric designs that I’m inspired to try out.

This glass is going to be a volunteer thank you at An Tir’s Twelfth Night. Volunteer and you could be the one to take it home 🙂

A Simple Stenciled Stool

IMG_3143 Every Laurel needs a place to rest occasionally 🙂

My lady and I are not particularly tall, and often found that our feet didn’t reach the ground in typical period-style or even modern folding wood chairs, so on a tip from Svava we started packing little wooden foot stools with our camp gear. They are really, really useful — I sit on mine when I cook in my small and low to the ground fire pit, as that little boost up is just enough to make it easy to get up and down. When it became obvious recently that I needed to replace mine, I decided I wanted to do something a little different and added a painted laurel wreath to it. I posted this picture on Facebook and a fair number of people seemed enthusiastic, so here’s a quick how-to if you’d like to repeat this project.


You will note that the paints and painting supplies are pretty expensive for a one-off project. You could offset that cost by doing this as a group project or by stenciling laurel wreaths on literally everything you own 🙂

Optional: You can sand the stool before you start, but I skipped that step since this isn’t really that kind of project. Do make sure it’s roughly clean.

Dab stencil glue on the back of the stencil, let dry, and stick in place on stool. Use a stencil brush or dauber to paint the design, then peel off the stencil. Let dry several hours. Using a brush or a rag, coat the entire stool with the cream wax, wiping off the excess. Let dry several more hours (or overnight — you can do all these steps across multiple days), then apply another coat of cream wax. The manufacturer says the cream wax is for indoor use only, so I doubt this will last a long time.

To be even more historical, paint the entire stool with one color before stenciling on the wreath. Medieval people painted over wood, because wood was cheap.

Now this Laurel can rest on a laurel:


I’m quite happy with how this turned out and will probably do some more stenciling projects. You could also do something similar with block printing to be more historical.

Obviously, you can also do this with designs other than laurel wreaths. Here are some designs that look passably historical:

I’ve found quite a few specialty stencil sellers on Etsy, too, so you can probably find some fairly specialized ones.

Happy crafting!


Easy metal project: basic penannular brooches

I’ve started playing with making some simple dress accessories, like pins, using wire, and I’m finding I’m really enjoying it. My first project was a number of small brass penannular brooches:

These are VERY easy to make, and a great starter project for learning basic (cold) metalworking techniques. The end product is quite handy, and would make nice pieces for largesse. I used brass wire from the craft store for these; you can also use copper wire, and I hope to work my way up to using silver or even gold (filled) wire. The wire gauge you use will depend on the size pin you hope to end up with; I used 14 ga for these. 

You will need some special tools to be successful:


  • A steel block / anvil or other hard surface
  • Round nose pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Metal file
  • Chasing hammer
  • A dowel or other small cylinder (not pictured)
  • Optional (not pictured): a plastic mallet

Step by step:

Wrap wire around dowel. 

You can wrap it as a coil to make many rings at once. 

Cut the rings apart. 


Use a mallet or the chasing hammer to gently hammer the ring flat. This should also strengthen it. Set the ring aside. 

Gently flatten a short length of wire. 

Use the ring as a guide to cut the wire. I found cutting at an angle made sharpening the pin much easier. 


Use the chasing hammer to flatten the less sharp end.  

Make a little loop in the now flat end with the pliers. 

Put the pin on the ring. 

Use the file to sharpen pin. 

Use the chasing hammer to carefully flatten the cut ends of the ring. 

Yay! A brooch!

To use:

Easy peasy!

Make a faux enameled glass in the Venetian style

Here’s another relatively straightforward DIY project for you: a drinking glass based on Renaissance Venetian examples. 

The inspiration

Side note: I remember reading (where? when?) that these were made in Venice as an export or even something like a tourist souvenir. So even if you don’t have an Italian persona I do think it’s possible that you might have known of or even owned enameled glass. 

This project uses a modern craft supply, Pebeo Vitrea 160 paint. It can be painted on to glass and, after drying, can be baked to be made permanent. It’s easier to obtain and work with than actual historical enamel so it’s a good introduction for those just dabbling. I bought my paint at Blick Art Supplies for $6.99 per color. 

Until recently, one would have had to make do with just a regular modern glass tumbler for this project. But rather unexpectedly, the Pier 1 company apparently decided that everything old is new again and sells a particular style of tumbler that is, I’m assured, remarkably similar to 15th century Ventian glassware. Isn’t that nice of them? 

Here’s what you’ll need to paint yourself a glass:

Because the paint is somewhat pricey and a little goes a long way, this project is well suited to making many cups with one motif. Here I am using my household’s badge, and plan to make more glasses just like this one. 

Draw or trace your design, and cut it out:


Use tape to secure the image to the inside of the cup: 

Now it’s easy to trace your design! The thicker Vitrea paint for outlining comes in 20 mL tubes. Blick did not have white, so I settled for black. 

I found it was a pain to work with, and I practiced on my tracing paper to get a steady flow. 

Even with practice and wiping off then completely redoing the design (before baking you can remove the paints with a damp paper towel), the finished product was not as neat as I would have liked, but I decided it was passable for a first attempt. 

After removing the paper from inside the glass, you can start painting. For a translucent effect, you can dilute these paints with a thinner of the same brand. Since the original period reference looked fairly opaque, I skipped this step. Mix your paint well before starting and do one color at a time. (Again, this really lends itself to heraldry.) Use fairly small brushes and don’t mix media with your brushes. I just bought a cheap craft set of small rounds. 

I found it helpful to use more rather than less paint to get it to go on smoothly, and to work quickly so the entire area that I was working on stayed wet. 

Once the white was finished I washed my brush and did the blue. 


  I then used the blue and white paints to make some very simple decorations around the rest of the glass. Obviously the original is much more intricate, so maybe that’s what I can aim for in the next version. 

Let dry for at least 24 hours, then bake in a 325F oven for 40 minutes. 

The finished cup:

Happy crafting!

Simple DIY faux parchment lanterns 

Medieval lanterns seem to have fallen into three broad categories: 

  • All metal with holes cut to let out light
  • Wood and parchment
  • Ceramic

Someday, I plan to make myself some of the second type. But on a tight time and money budget, I hit upon a way to make something using screamingly modern craft supplies that, at least at a glance, gives a similar impression to a lantern with parchment in lieu of glass.   


These are very simple to put together and I don’t think the project ran me more thana few dollars per lamp. You don’t need any special skills or tools. While I think a true historical lantern is a much more worthy project, I suspect this simple DIY version is more in reach for many people; if you were going to bring a battery light, try this instead. 

Gather materials: 


The lanterns themselves and the scrapbooking vellum came from Craft Warehouse; I’m pretty certain they actually carry everything else shown here, but I was working out of my stash. 

Picture tutorial:



Cut out 4 pieces of vellum for each lantern (you can easily get enough for two lanterns out of one piece of vellum). 


Check fit


Paint glue on glass. I tested several different adhesives and ModPodge was easiest to work with and lest the fewest wrinkles. 


Carefully place your vellum piece and smooth it out. 

Repeat for each glass side.  

Done! Let it dry and add a tealight and you’re good to go.