Tuesday, 26 January 2010

I also cook medieval/renaisance food...

...and write about my results.

(the blog is a shared blog of local reenactor cooks in the sca region around me).

Saturday, 16 January 2010

A sort of new broach

I found a charming sketch of a broach in the Museum of London book "dress accesories", and just had to make a copy (following on from my other experiments with twisted wire from this book). There are actually 2 examples listed in the book:

#1339 c1150-c1200 diameter 26mm
gunmetal frame, silver pin
Slightly damaged - some of the fine loops are broken. Frame is a wire ring with ends joined by opposed loops. in has D shaped cross section and was added without a gap in the wound spirals.

#1340 c1150-c1250 or later 24x22.5mm
bronze frame
Spirals wound around frame 35 times, with each circit of the frame taking 7-8 small loops. Pin added at the small gap in the ends of the fine spirals.

A broach from Bedern St in York in this style is also mentioned.

I think the York broach is the broach shown on this page, mentioned as being of twisted wire. This same broach is shown slightly bigger on the york archeology photo library, direct links are not available, but click on 'medieval' and look at the broach at the bottom of the page, ref no 002359.

If anyone knows more about this, or can acess the report please let me know.:

Daniels, M, 1979, 'Bedern Site' in Interim 6/3, York Archeological Trust 19-27

(I keep getting the idea I should be able to acess it from the York archeological trust website, or find it on their gazeteer, but it's thwarted me so far)

How to make this annular


  • for the decoration: a very thin very flexible wire e.g. 26 gauge wire from my local art shop

  • for the pin: a thick sturdy wire, that will not easily bend under strain e.g. 1mm brass wire, or in desperation I used a hat pin that wasn't too bendy (difficult to bend with bare hands). Preferably of the same material as the decorative wire.

  • for the support: a moderately thick wire, that is at least moderately sturdy. This could be the same wire as the pin, so long as you have the means (eg pliers or hammer and anvil) to bend this into a circle, or a somewhat thinner wire (eg 0.5mm) could be wrapped around multiple times. As this will be hidden inside the broach, this doesn't really have to match the metal of the other wires. I used copper wire stripped from electrical cables, and found this a little weak. For best results it is important that this wire doesn't bend easily in your hands. A premade metal ring of suitable size (eg curtain ring, metal o-ring, cheap plain finger ring) is very likely to be suitable, maybe better, but I haven't tested this yet.
Step 1: Construct a support
Find a circular object the diameter of the desired broach. The archaeological examples are quite small - the size of a large finger ring, but you could make a larger one. The object must have a fixed diameter section, and no lips that protrude at the rim, so you can easily slide the object off. You could use a special jewellers ring form, or just a bottle lid, a fat pen, or any other mostly cylindrical household object, or if desperate you could try doing this step freehand.

Take the moderately thick wire and create a circle by bending it around the object. Grabbing the ends with pliers may help with this step, if it is a bit thick. If the wire is a bit thin (or a bit weak/too bendy), wrap the wire around several times instead of just once.

Finish by crossing the wires over, then sharply pulling the wire back in the opposite direction, creating a U bend which contains the other wire. This will be much easier by grasping the ends with pliers. For thicker wires, you may find it easier to use pliers (or a hammer) to shape the u-bend before you loop the two loops together.

Remove your support ring from your shaping form. It should hold it's shape, now squish the loops down so they don't stick out much more than the surrounding wire.

Step 2: Make a tiny spring
Find a long thin object of approximately 1-2mm diameter, with a nice even diameter, with at least one end (prefereably 2) finishing smoothly without a wider diameter at any point of the edge. I used a large darning needle. The interior ink case of a biro, thin knitting needles, stiff fat wire (like you might have used for your support) are also probably about the right size.

Leaving a few cm of unwound leader, start winding the very thin wire tightly around your object, creating a spring. If you start in the middle, and pull the needle (or other object) towards the end you are winding towards, you can make a spring many times the length of your needle.

Wind until you have a spring approx 5 times (I think - I need to test this more) the circumference of your supporting ring.

Step 3: decorate your support
Wind your leader tightly around the support, approx 3 times, ending at the start of the spring. Chop off the remainder of your leader. You will also need to cut your spring from any reels of wire.

expand slightly the first cm of the spring. Wind this expanded spring around the support, passing through the centre of the supporting ring. Keep expanding and winding until only approx 2mm of the supporting ring is uncovered. If your thickest wire is thicker than 2mm, make this 1mm wider than your thick wire. Tightly fasten the end of your spring in a similar fashion to the way the start was fastened, and clip off any remaining thin wire.

If you run out of spring, tightly fasten the end as above. Then wind a new spring and add this to the support as tightly to the first segment as possible. It should be possible to mostly hide the join, but write down how much extra was needed in case you plan to make another broach with the same materials.

Step 4: add a pin.
starting at the end of your thick wire, bend a U shaped curve, twice the thickness of your support. This is easiest by placing a pair of round nosed pliers where you wish the bend to be, and using another pair of pliers to bend the wire. This will be your pin.

Test that this U bend in your pin will slide onto your support. If it doesn't fit, adjust with pliers. Make sure there will be enough wire to bend and complete a circle around the support, but do not bend this yet. If there is more, cut the excess wire off, if less, unbend (or cut off bend portion) and try again.

With the pin still sitting on the support , mark the point where the pin just lies over the support on the opposite side to the bend. cut the wire at this point. If this is too short, the pin will pass through the decorative wire and fall off your clothes. If it is to long, the pin will be very difficult to fasten or release.

Remove the pin from the support, and sharpen the unbent end. Experiment with whatever objects you have to hand made for sharpening eg nail files, emery board, wood files, whetstones, sandpaper knife sharpening steel, etc, so long as the object is expendable. Don't break or ruin your best tools with this, unless you know this is the job they are designed for. If your file is coarse, it will be best to use a finer file to finish the job. Hold your pin so that it is at an approximately 15 degree angle from your sharpening surface (i.e., just enough space to almost fit a finger between it and the plane of the sharpener, and roll the pin along the sharpener, to create a pointy end.

Clean off your newly sharpened pin point on a rag or offcut of similar tightness of weave and thickness to the garments you will regularly wear the broach on. Test pushing the pin through the fabric, and make sure your pin moves freely through the fabric. If not, file some more, possibly with a finer file. If you plan to use your broach on white or very pale fabric, test your pin on a waste scrap of tightly woven pale fabric, poking it through the fabric to see if a dark mark is left. If so, such corrosion can be cleaned off your broach by rubbing it with a rag and tetsting by continuing to poke holes in your scrap (until it comes away without a mark), but note that if the broach is not used regularly, the corrosion is likely to return.

Attach your sharp pin to your broach support

With the pin still sitting on the support , mark the point where the pin just lies over the support on the opposite side to the bend. cut the wire at this point. If this is too short, the pin will pass through the decorative wire and fall off your clothes. If it is to long, the pin will be very difficult to fasten or release.

Remove the pin from the support, and sharpen the unbent end. Depending upon the composition of your wire, a number of substances may work: a metal file, sandpaper, a whetstone, knife sharpening stick, nailfile, emery board. Test carefully though - the wire may not be friendly to your sharpener, so best not use anything expensive unless you know it is the proper tool for the job. Sharpen by rolling your wire along the file, holding the wire at an approximately 10 degree angle from the file.

If you used a coarse file, be sure to finish the job with a finer file, so there are no sharp grooves or cuts in your metal that might catch on your clothing. Test and clean your point on your pin by pushing it through a rag of a similar weave to the garments you plan to wear it on.

Slip your pin back onto to the support again, as before, then tighten up the bent end so it now completes a circle around the support. This is best achieved by holding the flat portion of the pin with a pair of flat nosed pliers, and

Do not attach it so tightly that the pin cannot rotate freely about the support.

Step 4: Wear the pin

This takes a little practise. Attach your pin by placing the broach against your garment, with the pin's natural closing side on the outside (non garment) side, but open the pin so the circle of the broach is free. with two fingers, pinch a small bit of fabric within the ring of the broach. pull this through the ring, past where the pin normally sits, and to the side opposite the pin's hinge. Insert the pin into the pulled bit of fabric. Move the fabric to the middle of the pin, then release. Your pin should be in place, and ready to proudly show to your friends. Do the reverse to unfasten the pin.

If you still find inserting the pin a bit tricky after a few practises, your pin may be a little long - it needs to be long enough that it cannot fall through the ring, but no longer than this or it is awkward to fasten.

If you find your broach comes undone often, you (like me) may have used too weak/pliable support materials (either ring or pin - whichever bends out of shape). Ultimately this ammounts to a lesson learnt in what materials to use next time, but if your broach bends you can probably bend it back, and try to use it in a lower stress situation 9eg as a decoration rather than to hold a neckline in place) next time.

Note mine is nearly twice the size it should be compared to the historic examples - something to improve later.