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Month: February 2017

býflugnarækt: ponderings on beekeeping

býflugnarækt: ponderings on beekeeping

One of the projects I’ve been planning for quite some time now is to start keeping bees.  We knew when we were house hunting almost 2 years ago that we wanted to keep bees eventually, and as with anything else, I immediately started translating that into a medieval context as well as a modern one.  Lots of people have seen pictures of medieval beehives – the bumpy dome shaped woven straw bee skeps – and while they’re apparently illegal to use if you’re planning to sell your honey, I have no intention of selling honey anyways – and my district only allows 2 colonies of bees in the first place.  My husband was out of work last year so we weren’t able to get hives set up last spring, but this year it will be a definite possibility.  I happen to have a coworker who keeps bees on a commercial basis and is happy to sell me a couple of colonies later this spring, so I’m working on learning all I can about the whole beekeeping process right now and pricing out hives.

Anyone who has been around the SCA for any length of time has at least heard of mead, also known as honey wine.  I almost never drink myself, as I have a condition called alcohol flush syndrome, which is where I’m missing an enzyme from my digestive system that allows me to process alcohol properly.  Drinking won’t kill me, it’s just really really uncomfortable, and since I don’t really like the taste of much alcohol anyways, and I don’t see the point of spending money on a beverage that is pricey and I’m just going to pee it out later, I rarely bother.  That said, I do enjoy a sip of mead from time to time, and I quite enjoy the process of brewing.  So naturally this led me to start researching beekeeping in the viking period.

Well… a preliminary search is leading me to the result that there were NO bees in Iceland during the viking period.  I’m not 100% convinced of this quite yet, for a couple of reasons: a) yes, there are other forms of pollination – other flying insects, wind, etc. – but bees are a MAJOR source of pollination all over the earth and b) honey was likely the only source of sweetening available to people at that time.  So this definitely requires much more research.  In the meantime… they absolutely DID have bees in the other Viking countries, and since my persona lives in the very early 900s, when Iceland was still being settled and there were frequent trips back and forth between Iceland and Norway, and part of her story is trips back to Norway to visit family, it’s entirely plausible that she has learned to keep bees while in Norway.  I am not entirely sure they would have attempted to bring bees to Iceland with them on the Viking ships, since the travel time between Norway and Iceland could vary wildly, and could take as long as an entire summer depending on sailing conditions.  They also would have stopped in other ports on the way to and fro – Dublin being one of them.  And beekeeping was common in Ireland as well.  The trip could be done in as little as 3 to 5 days if they had favourable conditions, and bees can be kept in the hive for that long easily – they overwinter where I live and spend all winter in the hive and live off of their own honey, so they could have been brought to Iceland.  And honestly, that’s good enough justification for me.

Bee photo by Markus Trienke, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Andskotans! I have a missing project

Andskotans! I have a missing project

 Photo copyright 2014 by Jennifer Boyer, found via Flickr, used with permission via a Creative Commons license.

Well phooey. I seem to have misplaced my project bag with my blue mitten project in it. I’m kind of worried that my husband accidentally grabbed it while he was scooping up clothes to put in the wash, as the bag it lives in was a pre-made drawstring bag that our sheets came in, and I repurposed it. If it’s gone through the wash, it’s likely now a big ball of felt. Fortunately, this morning I managed to find one of my balls of Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride yarn, which is a lovely single ply bulky yarn that is 85% wool and 15% mohair. Mohair, which is the fibre of the Angora goat, isn’t accurate for Iceland, however I have just learned that there were goats in Iceland, brought over by the Vikings who first settled the island country, and those goats are actually quite similar to Angora goats. They’re similar to the Icelandic Sheep, in that they have a long, coarse, outer guard hair, and a soft, high quality cashmere-type fibre underneath. The breed of goats was almost extinct in the late 19th century, then the population increased and recovered by WWII… only to almost go extinct again! In 2002 there were only about 350 goats in all of Iceland, but by the end of 2012 this had increased again to about 850. Apparently today, they are mostly kept as pets by Icelanders, and the economic value of their milk, meat and fibre hasn’t been realized yet.

I can understand keeping them as pets… they’re pretty cute little things! That’s a picture of some Icelandic goats up there at the top of this entry. I honestly have no idea whether the Viking-age women would have blended the fibre of two different animals before spinning, and I’m kind of guessing probably not, because why go to the extra effort when you don’t really need to. But, it’s plausible. They had the sheep and they had the goats, they could have combined the two to make a yarn. Anyhow, I’m going to get started on another pair of mittens made with this lovely heathered brown yarn shortly. Another plus is that the colour is a little more neutral, so it will go with just about anything, and is probably a lot more accurate for period than baby blue.

Oh, and another thing I’m learning with this project is a bit of (modern) Icelandic here and there. I’m mostly using Google Translate, but fortunately I have a couple of online friends who are either in Iceland or from Iceland, and I’ve been checking with them to make sure I’m using things in the correct context, rather than as a literal translation. “Andskotans” up there is an Icelandic curse word – it’s used in the sense of “damn it!”, but the literal translation is devil or demon.

new book time!

new book time!

My most recent request through inter library loan has arrived, so it’s time to get some more material for some of the topics I’m researching. The book is Women in Old Norse Society, by Jenny Jochens. I’ve only had the chance to read a couple pages of as of yet, but so far it’s looking pretty promising.

Blue naalbinded mittens update

Blue naalbinded mittens update

I started the second mitten, working from the top down, and had only gotten a few rows in when I realized I would definitely prefer the top down version. So I’ve already started picking out the first mitten. I’m probably crazy for doing so, but I won’t have enough yarn otherwise. I’m going to split the yarn into two piles by weight and make 2 identical mittens at the same time, so they’re a matched set. Fortunately, I’ve also found some variegated single-ply yarn in my stash that will look nice with the blue, if I end up needing to make the cuffs longer than I am able with just the blue.

Verkefni (project): blue naalbinded mittens

Verkefni (project): blue naalbinded mittens

This website, and my overarching project of learning everything an Icelandic housewife would need to know, may be quite new, but I’ve actually had a viking persona for about half of my 20-ish years in the SCA. This means I already have a bunch of viking garb made and ready to wear to events. While I do have a couple of new pieces in the queue to make, I’m also trying to put a bit more focus into accessories right now – making all the things that make an outfit complete. Sure, I could throw on an underdress and smokkr and look mostly like a viking, but it’s the brooches, beads, headwear, and so on, that make the outfit truly complete.

First up is a pair of naalbinded mittens. I learned to naalbind over a decade ago – in fact, it was before I even went viking with my persona. I attended a University of Ithra event in Lions Gate where a class in Introduction to Naalbinding was being taught by Sigrid Briansdottir, who has since become Mistress Sigrid Briansdottir, as she has received her Laurel, primarily for naalbinding, I believe. I picked up a couple of booklets she published, worked for a little while on a sock, but ultimately ended up fizzling out on it and it’s still somewhere in my house, half finished.

A couple years ago I picked naalbinding up again, and made a rather garish hat that I’ve come to call the Pumpkin hat, as it’s mostly orange, but has a few rows of bright green on the brim. Now that I’ve finished one naalbinded item, I felt confident enough to tackle something a little more difficult: mittens.

I am making these out of Viking of Norway Naturgarn, which is, as it happens, a complete coincidence. When I purchased this yarn it was not with the intention of using it for an item for my garb kit – in fact I purchased it because it was discounted deeply and I needed a bunch of single ply yarn for teaching a class on naalbinding. I ended up with a lot of leftover yarn from that class, so I chose this yarn for my mittens as it was a fairly sedate, neutral colour.

I finished the first mitten last night, and while it fits, and works, I’m honestly… not that happy with it. It’s a weird shape – not typical mitten shape at all. I made this one from the cuff up – I’m not even sure why. I’m pretty sure that had an effect on the shape of the finished mitten. I’ve started the second one, which I’m constructing top-down, and I think it is going to turn out much better. If it does turn out as I expect it to, I will probably tear out the first one and remake it.

Above is a picture of the first mitten completed. Poor lighting has made the yarn look grey, but it’s actually light blue.

klæða víkingana – clothing the vikings

klæða víkingana – clothing the vikings

Similar to recent times in the modern age, Viking society was divided along gender lines. While today, this is thankfully changing, 1100 or so years ago, this wasn’t so much the case. Typically, the division of household responsibility was defined by whether the task in question took place inside the house or out; though of course when the men were off raiding, women could expect to also need to take care of the farm and the livestock. 1

I feel it is a safe bet to assume that as a general rule, the task of keeping the Icelandic people clothed, warm and toasty, fell almost entirely to the female half of the population. I know from personal experience how long it can take to spin enough thread or yarn to create even one small garment, so when I read that girls learned to spin at a very young age, and any spare moment was spent spinning away, I didn’t have any trouble believing it at all. Spinning is a topic I will definitely be talking about at length in the not too distant future.

In any case, because keeping her family warm and dry was such a large part of a viking woman’s life, it is also going to be a large part of this site. I will be blogging updates to each individual project in my central blog here, but I am also going to be setting up a number of static sections of my site to collect research and display finished projects.

Footnotes:
1. Icelanders in the Viking Age, William R. Short, published by McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010

Bók Skýrsla (Book Review): Icelanders in the Viking Age

Bók Skýrsla (Book Review): Icelanders in the Viking Age

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to focus in on my persona development and A&S projects a bit more than I had previously, and decided to go with Iceland as the place that my persona is from. This sent me off on a research tear, and resulted in me having ideas for a couple of projects, both of which I’ll be talking about here eventually. I also came across a reference to a few different books that looked like they’d be of use to me, so I attempted to inter-library loan them. Working at a community college as I do, I have easy access to ILLs via our library, and I did a search on a few titles, but only ended up finding one of them available. This was Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas by William R. Short.

Well! If I hadn’t already been fascinated by medieval Iceland, I sure would have been after reading this book. The last ILL I borrowed – I ended up with it overdue by a couple weeks and still hadn’t finished it. This book? I tore into it on my lunch break the day it arrived, and 2 days later I’ve finished it and am ready to return it… and order myself a copy so I can keep it as a handy reference at home. It was that good. It’s written as an accompaniment to the Sagas of Icelanders, which is a large body of prose writing based on historical events during the 9th through 11th centuries. Without some background of what life was like in Iceland at that time, a lot of the stories wouldn’t make any sense, so the author has compiled information about a number of different areas of Icelandic life and society in that period, so that someone reading the Sagas without any other knowledge of Iceland can understand what is going on and why. This has made this book be an invaluable resource for my research on Icelandic life. For the projects I’m working at the moment, it had some fairly specific information I was looking for, which was wonderful.

Halló og velkomin á heimasíðuna mína!

Halló og velkomin á heimasíðuna mína!

(or… hello and welcome to my website!)

The author of this website is a historic re-creator who focuses primarily on Iceland during the Viking period.  It is my goal to learn the skills that an Icelandic farm wife would have had.  I have a number of projects in the works and will be posting about these here.  I hope you enjoy your visit!