A requiem for a hat…

As I was designing hats for an upcoming show in 2016, I was somewhat dismayed to find that I could no longer craft a couple of my favorites. It is with a mix of nostalgia and sadness that I announce the end of the line for the hat that started it all…

“The Classic,” known by some as the “Classic Lao Hat” launched my company several years ago. It was inspired by a medieval Viking model, although this style was also prevalent throughout Europe, Northern Europe, Russia, and Mongolia during the medieval period.

Historically a 5-panel hat with exposed seams, I designed my version with 6 panels to accommodate embroidery on every other panel. That design modification also ended up created a better fitting hat.

Originally made from 70/40% wool felt, I switched over to using wools gleaned from thrift store coats, which felted up when washed and which became fray-proof. This produced a higher quality and longer lasting hat.  But supplies for this quality of wool have diminished in the recycled textiles market, and I can no longer guarantee the selection of colors that make this hat marketable.

I have a few of these hats in my inventory, most of which is now on tour at various gallery shows across the country. I also hope to continue with my leather versions, albeit in a very limited color palette.

Meeting a similar fate is my Sitka, named after the Russian military hat I brought home after visiting Sitka, Alaska. My version was a tall six-panel hat with exposed seams, brocade cuff and embroidered earflap that fastened with loops and a button in front.

Looking on the bright side, if you own one of my Classics or Sitkas, hang on to it.  As of October 1, 2016 it took one more step towards becoming a collectible : ) 

Names from the History of Archers…

This index is a list of names from The History of the Nation of the Archers by Grigor of Akanc, written in 1271 in Cilicia at Akanc’ and preserved at the Armenian Convent of St. James at Jerusalem. The Armenian text was, translated by Robert D. Blake and Richard N. Frye. I located this work in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3-4, published by the Harvard-Yenching Institute in December 1949.

I compiled this in 1988 as a resource for historians, heralds, historical reenactors and modern gamers. You can download the complete list here.

Something tattered this way comes…

Back in 2013, I retrofitted a kufe for a gentleman who had been referred to me through TAFAList. A year later, I received another referral for another kufe, a flat top with straight sides, embroidered with Jerusalem crosses.  Brian, the hat’s owner, said it was an unfortunate victim of the household dog who claimed it as a chew-toy. Brian sent me a photo, and based on the damage I could see, I decided to give it a go.

The kufe arrived a few days later. The photo Brian had was of the ‘good’ side. Or perhaps I should say, the only side… The hat was badly tattered and torn, with a section of the embroidery beyond repair.  My first thought was to say “sorry, no can do” but my second thought was to accept the challenge. I sent a cost estimate to Brian, who approved my plan to reconstruct rather than restore his hat. And so, my next salvage project began.

I’m sharing Brian’s story, which he and his wife Joan produced as a printed booklet, along with a sizeable tip. I don’t often receive this type of feedback, which makes Brian’s story even more special.

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woven hat. It sat on a shelf of a religious bookstore in the Height-Ashbury district of San Francisco, growing dusty as it waited for just the right person…”

“Meanwhile, Brian and his wife Joan were riding the Amtrak cross-country on vacation. They disembarked and enjoyed a few days of sightseeing in Seattle and then Vancouver.  Their next stop was San Francisco.”

“The city was well-known for its vampires, who prowl about after sunset. Obviously, they needed protection.  Brian carried a crucifix and holy water in his backpack, and they purchased other repellents – salt, garlic, rosewater – along the way.  But they did not feel confident that these would suffice in an emergency, and continued to seek “just the right armor.”

“Circumstances led them to the Height-Ashbury district in search of dinner.  As luck would have it, Brian noticed a small religious book shop and was immediately intrigued by it.  As he perused the items for sale, The Hat sent out its vibes, quietly pulling him toward the shelf on which it sat.  The minute he laid eyes on it, he knew it was ‘the one’. Not only did it fit him perfectly, it was beautifully embroidered in a repeating pattern of Jerusalem Crosses…exactly the vampire-repelling armor he had been seeking.  He paid for it, took his leave of the shop and its keeper, and hastened with Joan to dinner.” 

“Fueled by an exquisite meal, Brian and Joan set off hand-in-hand, knowing the extraordinary hat that Brian now wore would safeguard them on their journey. No vampires were encountered on the way home that night. Or the next day.  Or at all, for the remainder of their trip.  Vampires apparently sensed the power of the hat and kept their distance.”

“It became Brian’s favorite and he wore it everywhere.  It took on his scent and the shape of his head, as if it were an extension of his very self.  But soon the hat, with its familiar scent and broken-in softness, became an irresistible temptation for Brian’s dog, Tailor.”

“Of all the things Tailor loved to chew, he loved hats the most…”

“Inevitably, one day, the hat was left within Tailor’s reach.  Seeing his pointy teeth and mistaking him for a vampire, the hat became overconfident in its powers, and the unthinkable happened…”

“Tailor was severely scolded and hung his head in the sincerest of apologies…but the hat was beyond repair and its owner was heartbroken.  Unable to part with his talisman, he gathered up the tattered remains and stored them away…”

“Months later, Brian received an invitation to attend services at a local mosque.  He thought about his old hat and how perfect it would have been for the occasion.  Wondering if he could ever find another like it, he searched the Internet for the store he had bought it from, but came up empty, almost as though the little shop had never existed.”

“Typing in keywords “kufe” and “Jerusalem Cross” produced only one match, a Seattle company called August Phoenix Hats which offered handcrafted artisan hats made from reclaimed textiles and found objects.  He contacted the owner and she encouraged him to send her what was left of the hat.  If the repair was not possible, she could perhaps copy the pattern to create a new one.” 

“Encouraged, Brian mailed the hat off to Seattle and anxiously awaited her reply [which was, eventually, yes…]”

“…Slowly, little by little, Heather the Hat Whisperer worked her magic.  She matched and patched, wove and stitched, lined and resized, expertly blending the old with the new and adding her own chapter to the hat’s tale…”

“When the package arrived from Seattle, Brian and Joan set it aside, saving the best for last.  After sorting through letters and bills and Christmas cards, they turned their attention to the box and carefully opened it.”

“The sight of his hat, intact once more, brought tears to Brian’s eyes.  He turned it around and around in his hands, marveling at the magnificent job Heather had done to bring the hat back to life.”

“Brian placed the hat on his head and it fit perfectly, the reunion of two old friends.  Comfort and Joy in the Christmas season!  He danced around the kitchen, not wanting to take it off.  In the meantime, Tailor stood nearby, curiously eyeing the hat, catching the faint scent of his master still lingering in the fabric. He wondered how such a miracle could have occurred and hoped it meant the end of his probation.”

“And the hat, with its new lease on life, was carefully placed on the closet shelf, where it awaits its next adventure…” 

My thanks to Brian and Joan for writing, and sharing this wonderful story with me. — Heather, Hat Whisperer : )

The Search for Prester John – Part 2…

Written by Heather Daveno, 1988

The Search in China and Mongolia 

The legend of Prester John was continued by European explorers and missionaries as they traveled through China. During the 3rd Crusade, John of Joinville, the chief chronicler for Louis IX of France, wrote of two envoys where were sent to Kuyuk Khan, bearing with them a chapel and necessaries for holding Mass (it had been understood that Kuyuk was Christian). Upon their arrival, they were received by Oghul, who explained that her husband, Kuyuk, had died. As she had become Regent until the next khiraltai, she accepted the chapel as tribute, and demanded similar offering each year. Joinville wrote that in a letter by the King of the Mongols, Prester John had been killed by the Mongolians. Modern speculation is that this story is based on the murder of Togrul Khan by Chinghis Khan in 1203. 

Download the rest of the story below.

In Search of Prester John – Part 1…

Written in 1988 by Heather Daveno. Continued on Part 2, including End Notes

As I was researching the wives of the Mongolian khans, I ran across a reference to a tribe called the Kerait¹ – a Christian tribe of Turko-Eurasian ethnicity who had been absorbed by the Mongolian Federation of Tribes under Chinghis Khan during the 12th century. The women of this tribe, with their auburn hair, fair skin and gray or green eyes, were so renowned for their beauty, that they are credited with saving their tribe from obliteration by serving as wives and concubines to the great Mongolian khans. 

These women introduced two little known characteristics into the Mongolian ruling families — auburn hair and pale eyes into an occasional offspring, and an obscure form of Christianity.

Missionaries from a Christian sect known as Nestorianism converted the Keraits, along with the Naiman and Merkit tribes, early in the 11th century. These Asian Christians became very different theologically from their counterparts in the West, and were perceived by Westerners as a strange and mythical cult. From this perception grew the fantastical legend of Prester John. 

Read more about this fascinating piece of history below.

A Thirteenth Century Ger…

The ger, or yurt as it is commonly called, is one of two forms of portable housing that have been used by Central Asian nomads for centuries, dating back to the Scythians. The ger remains today as the primary form of portable housing on the Himalayan Plateau and the Central Asian Steppes.

My study of gers reflects their usage by the nomads of Tibet, Mongolia and China during the time of Marco Polo. You may download this article below.

Medicinal teas of the East and West during the medieval period…

This article compares a selection of herbs which were used as medicinal teas in both Western Europe and Asia during the medieval period. I have included personal notes regarding color, smell and taste comparisons on those herbs which were available to me at the time that I wrote this article. It was first published in ‘A Watched Pot’ Spring 1985, a medieval culinary journal published quarterly in the Pacific NW. This article has been amended from its original.

CAUTION: THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED AS MEDICAL ADVICE. Please consult your doctor before trying these teas if you are pregnant or have significant health issues, or if you are taking medication that may react to any these herbs, singularly or in combination.

Pre-17th century uses of mint…

When I first started this paper, I had planned to write about the herbs and flowers growing in my own garden, including elder, carnation, parsley, rose and mint. When I came to mint and discovered how extensive the mint family was, I discarded all else and concentrated on members of this grouping only.

Recipes noted in this article are from pre-17th century sources. Most illustrations are 18th century botanical illustrations.

This article was first published in ‘A Watched Pot’ Spring 1985, a medieval culinary journal published quarterly in the Pacific NW. This article has been amended from its original.

Replicating a Kingfisher feather hairpin…

“…many beauties take the air by the Ch’ang waterfront… their embroidered silk robes in the spring sun are gleaming… and hanging far down from their temples are blue leaves of delicate kingfisher feathers…                          …from “A Song of Fair Women” by by Tu Fu  

Kingfisher feather ornaments adorned the ladies of the Chinese court since the T’ang Dynasty.  These brilliant blue feathers came from water kingfishers and wood kingfishers, which were common in China until demand for their feathers nearly caused their extinction.

Kingfisher feather was cut to shape and inlaid into a silver or gold filigree base. Filigree was also combined with granulation to form hairpins in the shape of butterflies and flowers, which were often augmented with jade or pearls. These ornaments continued to be fashionable in China through the Victorian era.

Filigree is an ancient form of wirework which is found in both open backed and solid backed forms. Proper filigree is accomplished with an outer wire that supports finer inner wires that are soldered or riveted in place.  Since I’m not a metalsmith, I attempted to make a piece of open backed filigree as the base of this ornament. I used a continuous length of heavy copper wire which I bent into a bracket of leaves, then wove the center stem back through the individual leaves, and twisted it at the end to form the pin. I then hammered the entire piece flat with a ball peen hammer. There are no solders, rivets, or other connectors used in this piece.

An example of wire wrap

After I finished the frame, I learned that this technique probably more closely resembles wrapped wire or interlacing techniques that were practiced about 5,000 years ago. This form of wirework was used in Europe as early as the 8th century, and in later centuries in Central Asia. I was unable to document this technique to T’ang Dynasty China, I surmise that absence may have been due to the simplicity of the process. The silver piece5 shown above illustrates how wire-wrapping is used to hold looped wire together, which is a very similar process to what I used.

In lieu of kingfisher feather, I used the moulted feathers from my parakeet. Feathers from a macaw or a blue jay would work very well as they are closer in color and consistency to kingfisher. I prepared a base for the feather by gluing two layers of mulberry paper together, which I then sandwiched in a square of origami foil. Using clear glue, I glued feathers onto the foil, one on top of the other, using about ten feathers for each leaf of my bracket.

The feathers should have been layered in the same way that they lay on an actual bird, rather than one directly on top of the other. I would have achieved a more traditional texture had I used wing and tail feathers instead of the very fine and small body feathers, as well a thinner or diluted layer of glue. After the glue had set up, I pressed an insert into the back of each individual leaf in the wire form so that the grain of the feathers laid in the same direction as veining would on a real leaf. I then trimmed away the excess. My last step was to coat the top of the feather inserts with glue, and push them into the wire frame from the back, so they were slightly convex. 

Since the feather inserts were backed with foil, there was no further finishing work needed, and both sides of the ornament are equally presentable. The example shown at left shows the back of a 19th century kingfisher feather hairpin. Interestingly, I did not find this photo until after I had completed my own hairpin.  I coated the surface with glue to make the piece more durable. Real kingfisher feather pieces are not surface coated, and are very fragile as a result.  

The hair ornament that I created is very sturdy, light weight and amazingly well balanced. It took about 3 feet of wire, 70 feathers, a pair of pliers, hammer, scissors and some clear glue. Yet again art imitates life, and it was only after I had worn my hairpin for the first time, that I came across the poetic description by Tu Fu that opens this article… 

Most kingfisher feather jewelry is a much deeper shade of blue, set into a much finer filigree frame, and with more of the surface integrity of the feather exposed. I am however, quite pleased with my more rustic piece, which will serve me as a wearable keepsake from my departed and always treasured “palace kingfisher.” 

With my apologies to my readers for the poor quality of these photos, from this article I wrote in 1986. This article was originally footnoted but that formatting did not remain intact during data transfer. Sources are below.

  • The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, pg 170 translated by Witter Bynner from the texts of Kiang Kang-Hu, Alfred Knopf Publishers, NY 1939.
  • A Dragon Robe at the San Diego Museum 
  • Jewelry Concepts and Technology, Oppi Untracht, Doubleday Books NY 1982
  • Britannica.com 
  • Moroccan temple ornament worn by women in the Bani and Tata region, the piece is in the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart Germany. 
  • Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, CAS Williams, Charles & Tuttle Co, Japan 1974 
  • History of Wire Wrap (now an extinct link on the web) 

Another Beginning…

After putting my business aside for much of last year to attend to family matters, I returned to find my website of about 6 years in need of updates.  But the more I worked with it, the more broken pieces I found, until finally tiring of wrestling with things that would never cooperate, I decided to move it.

The process will take me several weeks, as my website houses my library of research papers and travel journals in addition to my online store.

So, please bear with me as I transition from “broken there” to “bright and shiny and new here”.