Friday, August 9, 2013

Mudlark Memory

Dwelling on my last mudlarking session yesterday, made me write this, and I thought I'd share.

Mudlark Memory

River-side, city-sounds
Recede and all is water,
And mud, and smell of river & clay.
History is underfoot;
I trod on pipestems, and dinner plates,
Roof tiles and old pins,
Bottles and buttons, hundreds of years
Discarded and turned to
Slippy footings in the mud.
Swells from river traffic wash
And swash and reveal and conceal.
I’m lost in the scent & grit & grease of history,
Fragments of past humanity overwhelming
The stress of the current grind
And I am washed in the ever-rushing tide
Of past peoples’ lives.

Tracey Ernst
Aug 8/13

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Larking about in Mud

I'm not just a steampunk gal, spending all my time organizing local events, running the local group's websites & pages, and making steampunk costumes.  I am very much more than a steampunk, and I thought I'd take a bit of time to show you another side.

One of my new, but very intense, passions is mudlarking; something I only heard about a few years ago, and which I won't get to indulge very often, living on the wrong side of the pond from London, and lacking the funds to travel there often.

Mudlarking, in modern parlance, is the term for those who hunt in the mud of the Thames foreshore, for the fragments of history which can be found there.  The term comes from the Victorian term for the very poor boys who used to scrounge in the Thames mud for coal and any other discarded or lost items of use or profit.
Last year, I found myself in London as a result of a family trip, which was my mother's wish, as part of my folks' 50th wedding anniversary.  I decided to take a couple hours early one morning, at low tide, to try to find my way down to the Thames foreshore, to see if I could find any of the little bits of history I'd heard you could find.

The very first thing I found, when I found my way down cement stairs to the foreshore, was this blue Victorian glass ink bottle, shown here in it's dark and filthy state, full of greasy mud (sorry, the q-tip was my technique for extracting the gluey mud from the bottle).  It was like a little "Welcome, yes, you're meant to be here!" from the Thames.
I cleaned it up, and voila.  Here it is in it's cleaned glory.  Beautiful iridescent patina from being in the River.  Lovely grooves where you could like your pen.  And best of all, buried in the glutinous mud inside the bottle, was this small pen nib, which had broken off it's pen, likely well over a century ago, has been in the bottle all this time.
In addition to the ink bottle, my hour and a half or less gleaned some clay pipe framents (stem and bowl fragments), some pretty pottery sherds (transfer ware, a stoneware bottle fragment (quite heavy), and a patterned piece of tile with yellow.
Below are a few details: the bottom piece of a pipe showing a pretty leaf pattern heading up the bowl, and a particularly pretty piece of transferware.
In addition, because this was my first trip down, I felt I needed to pick up some emblematic London items, such as flint pieces, chalk, and a whelk.
Well, I was hooked.  The exhilaration of history just LYING there, everywhere, underfoot, waiting to be picked up and held, and taken home, was phenomenal.  To think I was holding things, daily things, which hadn't been used for a hundred years or three, was so exciting.  I love museums ... but this was stuff I could hold, and touch.

So, of course, I decided I was going back the very next morning as well, bright and early.  Particularly since it also dawned sunny and bright, like the day before.  Unfortunately, I couldn't go down any more that trip, as it was near the end of the trip.  However, having quickly found my eyes, I found lots that second morning!
A whole whack of pipe stems, some lovely pipe bowls, some pretty brown patterned yellow slipware, a piece of stoneware with an "orange-skin" texture, and some metal bits.  I also was given a top piece of a Victorian stoneware bottle by a friendly mudlark chap I met on the foreshore, who had a shiny new license and had just dug it out.
Above are the pipebowls I found, showing a variety of time periods.  Below, some details.
And now, I eagerly anticipate an upcoming trip to London this fall, in which I have a week to squander as I wish - which mostly means, mudlarking every single day.  I have become quite obsessed.  I read about mudlarking.  I research what has been found there.  I research the types of things found, so that I will be able to identify them better. 

In addition to reading, I've also spent the intervening months getting my own license, which means I can dig down 3 inches in approved locations - mostly I wanted it so I can unearth half-buried pieces, as without it, one has to be "eyes only" - no tools.  I've also been following some other mudlarkers online (Facebook and blogs).  I've read up on all the rules & regulations, safety measure (common sense, really), and investigated maps and access points.

I've also been picking up supplies to bring with me - little ziploc bags, a trowel, rubber boots, disposable gloves, and a container I can clip to my bag to put finds in.  

I can't wait.  I'm addicted.

The River Thames, its spectacularly gluey mud, and history, await.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Making A Steampunk Vendor's Apron

Hello good folks.  I shall have my automaton fetch you some lemonade (or would you prefer a gin and tonic?), so please, sit back, and relax.

This post hearkens back to the chillier month of November, when I found myself frantically preparing to actually be a vendor, for the first time ever, for a fantasy-themed Christmas Fair, the Imaginarius Fantasticus, which I'd participated in the previous year to promote our local steampunk community (you can find posts about preparing for the brochures, display, promotion, and tablecloth earlier in this blog).

In among the panic of trying to make enough steampunk jewelry to sell (turns out I'm an overachiever, I made tons in that insane 6 week marathon), I realized that, as a vendor, I needed a handy place to put money, keep my change, my receipt book, my cell, and pens, etcetera etcetera.  So I turned to that handy online Encylopaedia of Everything, Google, and started looking for ideas.  Do an image google, and you'll find lots of ideas.  And here is the pattern & instructions I followed, bless Colleen at TheMagicBean.

So, following her instructions, I figured out how big I wanted my apron and its pockets, based on my size (front of waist), how long I wanted it, and what I wanted to put in it.  Then I went rummaging around my scrap fabric, and discovered I had sufficient remnants of the decoration from our community display board (the blue & brown patterned fabric), in addition to a nice striped scrap and a light brown sample of upholstery / drapery fabric scored at a local Fabric sale.  I knew I wanted pockets for bills (one easily accessible and a more hidden/secure one for incoming cash / float), coins (loonies & twonies), my cell phone, pens, and the receipt book.  So, putting that all together, I cut out the pieces below.  (And, not shown, a lining for the back of the apron, the same size as the large striped piece.)
All pieces were double thickness (yes, this became interesting eventually - I ignored her instructions to get a jeans needle into my machine. Jeans needle?  Don't have one).  The striped piece was the back / base (with a plain back lining).  The middle-level pocket would be for stored money (float & incoming larger bills), the front pocket for accessible cash.  The longer rectangular patterned piece with ribbons is sewn up the middle to split it into two, and is for the loonies & twonies.  One wee pocket was for my cell phone, and the other was for business cards or my pocket watch.  Below is my first layout.  Before I realized oh yeah, seam allowances. 
So the front pocket was just going to have two wee pockets on it - the double for twonies & loonies, and the other for my calculator or cell.  I gathered the middle & sides of the double pocket a bit, so it would pouch for lots of coins, and sewed a little snap at the top of each pocket so it would close.

The front pocket itself is also divided into separate sections with seam lines vertically down it, with room for bills for my float, and a section wide enough for my receipt book.  The middle pocket (brown in the photo above) was also divided into a couple of sections, again, for bills, another wide section for miscellaneous, and a narrow section that accommodates two pens.
Here is the apron getting closer to being finished, with the nice long waistband attached (handy for easy tying and for bundling it all up when not in use), and with a key clip for my fancy steampunk keys (or house keys if necessary).  
 And closer up:
Behind the beige portion, where incoming larger bills and the bulk of my float goes (and which also has a snap closure) I sewed in another single-layer pocket which just fits bills, as a secure hiding-place for large bills, to make sure they couldn't accidentally be pulled out when refreshing my active float (which I put in the lower-level, lined pocket.
And here is the final product on the model, with calculator, receipt book, keys, pocket watch and pens.  
I guess my takehome message here is, if, as a steampunk merchant, you want a different and nifty vendor apron for fairs, look around online for inspirations, and make it yourself if you can.  It's not that hard.  And you get to customize for your tastes, and have a bit of fun.

And here are a few photos of the Apron worn at events where I was doing some steampunk vending.
 Thank you KJW Photography for the photo to the left, taken at Trethewey House's Steampunk: A Journey in Time event, in May 2013.