Clothes · Projects

Battle of Little Birds

This summer I agreed to a rather large project. There were times I laid awake at night worried that I would not be able to finish it in time and made a mistake in accepting, and there were times I was frustrated by the fiddley nature of this project, but I have to say it is one that fills me with great pride.

There is a sense of fulfillment which comes from making something for someone so deserved, and it is doubled when the project turns out to be more perfect than you imagined it would be.

The project began with seeing this image from the Ashmole Bestiary which depicts the story of the Pelican in her Piety.

Pelicans from the Ashmolean Bestiary, Folio 46v.

Usually, the story only depicts the pelican feeding her chicks from the blood of her breast, however this image shows the fighting of the hungry chicks in her nest. And while it is certainly a gruesome part of the story, its one that can be easily adapted.

Wentlyanna, the Pelican to be, is a fencer, and a youth fencing marshal as well as mundanely a teacher. There are few people that images of fighting chicklets are more appropriate for. And thus, I set about to make a design that included tiny fencing chicks.

Adorbs right?


Wentlyana’s persona is of 13th century welsh, however, her gown for her elevation was going to be late period, so I chose to make a fencing cloak to match her elevation gown. However, I chose to do the embroidery in a 13th century style using silk split stitch and applied goldwork (in silver) for the little rapiers.

I decided that since this was a small project, and would likely fit on my new slate frame that I would try it out, and hands down attaching the fabric to the slate frame was the most difficult part of this project. It took many episodes of Polldark and many tries and retries to get correct, but eventually I had my fabric on my frame.

Much wow! I also had to re-tighten/re-lace the fabric several times over the course of my embroidery. Alas!

It was at this point that I realized it would be difficult to transfer the pattern onto the front of the frame using my light box, so I would have to transfer it onto the reverse and then trace over it, thus reversing my pattern.

At some point, I also decided I would add two more tiny fighting pelicans to my design to be in the corners of the cloak, and added them to the top of the embroidery fabric, which meant they floated above the scene in an odd way.

After completing the outlines on the pelicans in black I washed the fabric to remove my marking so that I didn’t risk bleeding onto the white silk later in the project. Wentlyana is a big fan of purple, so we chose a white to purple gradient for her pelicans. The embroidery was stitched using Caron Collection Soie Crystal using two strands of silk split stitch. While I like the look of the single strand more, using two strands sped up the project considerably!

Cloak Construction

To make this cloak I borrowed a fencing cloak from Ysmay and used it to create a pattern.

I then, sucked up a lot of courage and cut out the pieces from both the purple silk and the lining.

I used my new Clover chalk marking pen to mark lines 1.5 inches around all the sides of the pieces to mark where I would put the ribbon trim. Then I sewed the silk ribbon trim around the edges of each of the pieces.

It took about two episodes of Poldark per piece.

This took many episodes of Polldark and a three day sewing weekend to complete. But, eventually I was ready to add my pelicans onto the silk.

Applique — Construction interlude

When I said earlier that adding my fabric onto the slate frame was the hardest part of this project, I had forgotten how difficult and fiddly it was to slip stitch the pelicans onto the fabric.

I used the instructions in Tanya Bentham’s book Opus Anglicanum and roughly cut the pelicans out of the linen fabric. Then I pressed the edges under with my fingers as carefully as I could before whipping the edges down.

Then, I pinned the little pelican down onto the fabric, tacked it down with a few (many) stitches, and then carefully slip stitched the piece into place. This was by far the fiddliest thing I’ve ever done. And if I thought it was fiddly for the small pelicans, it was impossible for the big ones.

Halfway through the fiddliest of steps

But, eventually they all became appropriately attached to the cloak.

At this point I was at least 3 episodes of Downton Abbey beyond how long I thought this process would take. So, I washed my nervous hands and decided that pelicans do indeed have orange feet, and began the “goldwork” or silverwork in this case part of the project.

I used a passing thread similar to what we think of as Japan thread for the rapiers, and then a metal wire for the hilts.

And the embroidery was complete!


Assembly of this cloak was relatively easy. I sewed each of the panels together for both the outside and the lining.

Panels sewn together

Next, I sewed on the collar and attached the lining using a very modern bag lining technique.

For the closure I decided to use finger loop braiding to make a strap. To do this I used the 1475 pattern of a Green Dorge of 5 bows, sometimes referred to as the barleycorn pattern. Morgan Donner did a great video on making this cord.

I made two 23″ (ish) cords and tied them together at one end. Then I poked two holes in the lining of the cloak with my awl and did a quick button hole stitch around the eyelet.

Close up of the eyelet

Then I used a crochet hook to pull the cord through the holes and then I whip stitched the lining closed. And she was finished.

Finished Cloak

Bringing this type of joy to the SCA is why I do what I do. I wish to thank everyone involved for letting me be part of the elevation and especially to Wentlyanna for inspiring this cloak. It was an incredible project to work on. Through it I learned slip stitching techniques, got to work with real silk, and revived my finger loop skills.

Usually at the end of my posts I remark on things I learned and would do different next time. Honestly, I can say I have no notes. Have I mastered this style of embroidery? No, but I am extremely comfortable with it, and look forward to teaching it to others in the future.


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2 thoughts on “Battle of Little Birds

  1. I love this (and my husband loves the fighting pelicans. He’s a rapier fighter). Do you have a post on how you attach to the slate frame? I have one and seem to be lost on how to attach it, what is needed, etc


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