Friday, April 27, 2012

modern medieval family : Not So Modern Toys

When we pack up stuff for the kids to go to an event with us, we typically toss a few medieval-themed modern toys together (we have a portable castle set that can hold several toys within it), and take that along.  The kids are familiar with these toys, and though I never particularly liked their modern nature, I also never particularly gave it much thought.

Then I was browsing around the internet on a few of my favorite medieval inspiration sites (those sites I go to for that "I want my kit to be like that" feeling), and spotted a couple images where young children were playing with toys that were decidedly not modern, but were not necessarily period either.  They did, however, seem to fit the context of medieval recreation a bit more than a plastic figurine does.

So I set to work doing some research, and located the toys page at  After looking at just about every single image, I decided that I wanted to make 4 new "period" toys that would be specifically designated for events.  Here's what I came up with:

I used burnt sienna colored Sculpey clay to create a figurine inspired and styled (somewhat) after a 15th century figurine from Rhineland.  She's about 3.5" tall, just the right size to fit nicely in a child's hand.  It took me a few attempts to get her right (the final was version 3), but I'm really happy with the way she turned out.  Since the Sculpey clay has a softer, warmer feel than traditional clay, she's a bit "friendlier" for the kids to hold.  I did have some concerns about her ending up in the kid's mouths, but so far they don't seem to care to taste her.  Sculpey is non-toxic, however, so even if they do put her in their mouths for short bursts of time, there's no damage to either party.

Medieval rattles aren't usually cloth in nature, but rather metal, wood or clay.  I particularly like the clay pig rattle.  I decided to do a cloth version for no other reason than I figured out how to do it!  I used some of the Sculpey clay left over from the figurine to create a handle.  The ends of the handle are connected with a narrow, straight bar.  There are also two holes in each end of the handle (like button holes).  I used a scrap piece of wool, folded it in half and created a pouch.  There are actually two layers of wool- I cut the pouch long and tucked the extra into the pouch.  I tossed two small jingle bells into the pouch, then sewed the pouch onto the handle with some linen thread.  Since the wool is doubled over, the jingling is slightly muffled, so it's a rattle, not an annoying parent torture device.

Rag Doll
I wanted to make something really simple that could get tossed around and not do any damage.  I was inspired by this Roman rag doll from Egypt.  I took a long strip of linen, folded it in half and tied the looped end into a knot, with just a bit of the loop sticking out to make the head.  Then I tied knots in the ends to form the feet.  No arms, though, so we'll just say he's hugging himself.  We came up with all sorts of Roman names for him.  I think we settled on Magnus.  After letting the kids play with him, I think I need to take some linen thread and stitch the knots in place so they don't come undone.


I didn't find anything on medieval teething toys, but as I have three children in teething phases, I decided I needed a better, more period option than the plastic ones we have at home.  I found several varieties of bunny ear teething rings with a Google search, and decided to make my own.  The ring is an unfinished, sanded curtain rod ring.  The ears are made with scraps of linen, sewn into a strip with tapered ends.  This too needs to be stitched into place to prevent the kids from pulling the ears off.

I'm really excited about having these new "old" toys to take to the next event, and though I'm sure the kids will be more excited about what's going on than the neat basket of period-friendly toys, I'm satisfied that I've helped our family kit look a little more authentic!

*Post-Script Note: I received a comment on this post that was really vague (so much so that I didn't allow it), but it prompted me to want to add that I don't want to make it sound like people shouldn't bring modern toys to events for their children- that's just a choice I made for my family.  These toys are safe, but like any toys (modern or not) they do require supervision.  If you feel more comfortable/safe with your children playing with non-homemade toys, that's perfectly reasonable, and I won't judge you!**

Sunday, April 1, 2012

lessons learned : or not, as the case may be

I have learned many lessons in my time in the SCA, but it seems that, no matter how many times the same lesson about weather presents itself, it never really sinks in.  I hope that after yesterday, however, that it finally will.

We'd been avoiding taking all four of our kids to an event (all four at once for the first time, that is), but yesterday's somewhat local event made sense as the first opportunity to do so.  The weather forecast predicted a chance of rain, but it also predicted a high of 61 degrees and dissipating clouds.  The fact that a storm system blew through the area the previous evening somehow didn't register with us that the prediction of a fair day might have changed.  Even the foggy, damp morning at home failed to capture our attention as we hustled to get the kids dressed and the rest of our stuff into the cars.  As we drove north through misty rain, it somehow didn't register that it may be cooler, wetter and generally less comfortable than we had planned for.

We were all, every one of us, wearing two layers AT MOST, and only my daughter was wearing wool.  No hats, no gloves, and my 3 month old baby wasn't even wearing socks (and he kept kicking his shoes off at home, so I didn't even bother with them). After only a few hours there, realizing rather quickly that we did not have enough blankets and everyone was miserably cold, I ventured out to the store to purchase two large fluff blankets.  Everyone's nose were red, everyone's hands were like ice cubes, and the incessant cold wind penetrated even the new blankets.  By 2 o'clock, I felt guilty for having ignored the signs and for rushing my dressing of the kids so that they were left essentially exposed to the weather- primed and ready to get sick because of it.

A similar experience happened when I still had one child.  We went to an event and he was extremely under-dressed for the biting, constant, cold wind offered that day.  He was miserably uncomfortable, and completely at the mercy of the weather.  I thought I'd learned the lesson then.

After my twins were born, we went to a small event with them and my son, and were met with a drizzly, cold dank day that even offered spurts of chilling downpours.  The twins had no choice but to snuggle together in their playpen under every blanket, cloak and tablecloth we could muster.

And after each of these incidents (and others in between), I told myself that I wouldn't let it happen again, and that I'd plan better in the future.  So today I sit here and ask myself- when will I finally get it?  Why do I also seem to be "learning" this lesson?  I think it has something to do with that rush to get out the door, and the anticipation of spending a day at an event.  We get so caught up in the act of packing and going, that we fail to recognize that there is more to enjoying an event that just being there, and it's worthless to prepare for all the other contingencies if you fail to account for the one you can't control- the weather.

It's difficult enough as it is to bring young children to an event.  Events offer a very different atmosphere that the usual boundaries of home, and a whole different set of rules that have been untested (and in some cases unestablished by the parent before hand).  Add to that, however, a level of physical discomfort, and it's a recipe that spells danger for my hope that all my kids will love being in a medieval group when they are older.  The bottom line is that events like yesterday don't necessarily leave good impressions.

So here's what I've decided: 1. I will work into my project list new sets of layered garb for all 4 children that include a flannel wool top layer and hats, hoods or other appropriate headdress.  2. We will not leave the house for the event without first checking the weather again that morning for the event site AND without stepping outside to determine for ourselves the coolness we can expect at least for the morning hours. 3. We will be sure to pack at least one heavy blanket per child if the weather is expected to be below 65 degrees. We will pack at least one light blanket per child for anything warmer than that.

We'll see if the lesson finally sinks in.