Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Iron and Oak

Iron Gall Ink!

This is probably one of the most widely used historic inks we know about.  The earliest surviving manuscript using iron gall ink is the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th Century! It was used by Da Vinci, Shakespeare, for the Declaration of Independence, and in countless versions of the Bible.  There were slight variations, but this ink was so prevalent because it's so easy to make with ingredients that are widely available.

This ink is superior to the carbon ink that predates it in that, because of its acidic nature, it etches itself into the parchment, becoming permanent and will not smudge.  However this very benefit can also cause long term corrosion. There were actually many iterations of this general recipe.  Essentially, scribes would use what was available to them.  Instead of apple cider vinegar like I used, they may have used wine or beer, or even just allow the gall solution to ferment!  (4)


1. Iron: just a little chip would do.  Traditionally this could have been picked up from any old, bent nail or perhaps filings from the blacksmith's shop.  Today we can even use the iron component in steel, but never use anything galvanized for this process!  The chemical reaction we're after would cause harmful off gassing with galvanized steel. 

2. Vinegar: any vinegar will do.  We want the acidity that the iron can dissolve into.

3. Oak Galls:  These look like thin, paper-like balls attached to leaves that are very brittle.  You will often find them on the ground under oak trees, though there are varieties that grow on rose, blackberry, or raspberry vines.  They are produced by the gall wasp as part of their incubation process.  By the time you find the galls on the ground, the wasp has long since left.  Oak galls contain very concentrated tannins (tannic acid). (1, 2)

4. Enough water to cover the galls in a pot.


1. In a jar, cover the iron with vinegar and allow to dissolve and create iron acetate for two to three weeks.  This is sometimes called "vinegroon" or "coperose".  

2. When your iron vinegar is ready, put about a handful of galls, slightly crushed in a pot and cover them with water.  Allow to simmer on the stove from 20-30 minutes.  Once this has cooled you can strain the remaining gall from the liquid.  

3.  In a small jar, combine equal parts (this ratio may vary) vinegroon and gall tincture.  As soon as they come into contact, you can see the chemical reaction of the iron acetate with the tannic acid to create the deep black ink from the phenolate complexes! (3)  Below are three clips: the first is the iron vinegar, the second is the gall solution, and the third is the magic (chemical reaction) when you combine!

4. Ready for use in your painting or calligraphy!  Most scribes will thicken this solution with a little gum arabic.

But the thing that makes this recipe even more versatile?  You can use almost any tree product for this, because almost anything a tree produces contains concentrations of tannins!  You could use nuts, cones, bark, roots, or seeds!  

There is a recipe in the National Archives of the UK from 1483 (C 47/34/1/3). While the resource (5),  it basically calls for equal parts water, iron vinegar, galls, and gum arabic.  Another from the early 15th C. resides in the Cambridge University Library (MS E.e.i.15) and describes an ounce each of galls, "coperose" (Iron acetate), and gum arabic crushed and added to a pint of rain water, stirring daily for three days.  


1. Day, E. and Dellinger, T. (5-16-2022) "Galls Made by Wasps" VCS Publications/Virginia Tech.  Last Visited 4-1-24 from,are%20attacked%20by%20gall%20wasps.

2. U.S.F.S. "Tannins" United States Forest Service.  Last Visited 4-1-24 from

3. Thompson, R. (8-8-2022) "Iron Acetate Solution Prepared from Steel Wool and Vinegar for Ebonizing Wood" Research Square.  Last visited 4-2-24 from

4. Gupta, A. (2-25-2021) "The Ins and Outs of Iron Gall Ink" American Philosophical Society.  Last visited 5-2-24 from,is%20blue%2Dblack%20and%20permanent.

5. Peverley, S. (2024) "Iron Gall ?Ink: A Medieval Recipe" Professor Sarah Peverley.  Last visited 4-3-24 from,it%20is%20ready%20to%20use.

6. White, T. (1-27-2021) "A Medieval Ink Recipe."  St. Edmund Hall, University of Oxford.  Last visited 4-3-24 from

Monday, March 11, 2024

Tenth Century Bone Comb Recreation with Period Paint and Bag

 Bone Comb

Muirenn inghean Uí Cléirigh


Where combs are found, archaeologists and historians find the society of a culture: they  interpret that the previous owner cared about their appearance.  While combs have been made from several materials (antler, horn, wood), bone is common for its strength and carvability. (3)  The comb created for this display was inspired by a find from Knowth, Co. Meath (fig.1), and is a single piece comb (“ci”) with no side plates.  This style comb had dimensions of 41-56 mm in length. 35-43 mm in depth and between 4-5mm thickness with short tines. (1). Based on similar finds, it is estimated to be from the 7th-10th C. AD. (2) In early period (before the 11th C.) there were also references to comb bags (ci orbholg, “keer-wolg” {7,9) and these were highly prized among women along with their distaffs.  (1)  

Process:  This bone was acquired from our local butcher and after the dogs had cleaned the flesh and marrow to the best of their abilities, the rest was placed in the ground to let worms and grubs finish the cleaning process.  When I was ready to carve, I retrieved it and cleaned the remaining dirt.  In the “Trials of Ireland” mentioned by Dunlevy, comb-makers were known to leave their materials in the dung heap to keep it soft until it was time to carve. (1) Only the outside of any bone or antler can be used for this type of carving as the center is either too soft or porous. (3)

Since I don’t yet have hand carving tools (period files and saws), I did use a Dremel (and  modern eye and lung protection) to carve the comb.  This took several hours with an electric tool, so I can only imagine how long it took  with hand tools.  While a pronged drill would have been used to get the circle engravings, I did as similar shapes and designs as I could based on the findings in Ireland.  The length of the tines are curious to me, but after some experimentation, we found that it worked perfectly as beard comb.  It could function for long hair, but not as well as a comb with longer tines.    I utilized motifs from Irish comb finds in my design. (Fig 2.)



After carving, I polished all edges of the bone and gave it a thorough cleaning.  To further decorate, I prepared pigments.  The ochre was harvested from the ground near our home. This was one of the earliest pigments used, and is found as a silicate compound in clay beds. (6) The verdigris was made by suspending copper wire over a basic (high pH) solution.  I used ammonia, but stale urine was often used in period.  Alternately, a more green pigment can be produced by following the same process over an acid like vinegar.  (5)  After left for a few weeks, I could scrape the pigment powder from the wire.  And finally the bone black was made from the trimmings from the comb.  After fully sealing them from air, I left them in the fire for a few hours.  This charcoalized the bone and I could then crush it into a pigment powder. (4) All pigments were then mulled with quail egg white.  This strengthens the paint and allows it to seal to some extent.  Although some bone from historical artifacts has been stained, I was unable to locate examples of painted bone.  However, the carved wells hold the egg tempura so perfectly, it seemed the logical next step in decor.

With the comb completed, I cut and sewed a simple comb bag, or ciorbholg, for it from leather and sinew. I created it very simply so the comb would fit snuggly into it.  Since none of the comb bags have been identified in archaeological excavations, I did some assuming with this design.  I wanted it snug enough that the comb would not easily fall out.  Many pouches of this time included a drawstring or a flap, but there are some examples of open topped bags from Gokstad and Birka.  (8,9)

Now I can add this as part of my eleventh century Irish garb. Or, perhaps since it seems to work better as a beard comb with its short tines than long hair, my husband Eoghan will wear it with his kit, as these combs were known to be worn by both men and women.  In the future I would also like to attempt a longer comb, perhaps with scales or folds.  Possibly, eventually I could graduate to more period tools as well.   



  1. Dunlevy, M.  (1988) JSTOR.  “Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature.  Vol. 88C, pp. 341-422.  Last visited 2-29-24 from
  2. Bermingham, N “Fermanagh in 100 Objects: The Drumclay Bird Headed Comb.”  Last visited 2-29-24 from
  3. Levin, B. (3-31-2003) Regia Anglorum Publications.  “Bone and Antler Working”. Last viewed 2-29-24 from
  4. Cochran, C. (2024) “Bone Black: The Deepest Black” Last viewed 2-29-24 from
  5. Douma, M.  (2001).  “Pigments through the Ages: Verdigris”. Last viewed 2-29-24 from
  6. Douma, M.  (2001).  “Pigments through the Ages: Yellow Ochre”. Last viewed 2-29-24 from
  7. Archaeological Consultancy Service (2024), ACSU in Archaeology Ireland.  Last visited 3-6-24 from
  8. Vikings Wiki (5-22-2020) Pouches.  Last visited 3-7-24 from *** Not that this had references to the Swedish History Museum whose page I could not translate or search in English
  9. Bartlett, S. (2006)  “Early Gaelic Dress: An Introduction”— pg 17.  Last visited 3-7-24 from
  10. Riddler, I. and Trzaska-Nartowski, N. (2013)  “The Insular Comb” (from Early Medieval Art and Archaeology in the Northern World.). last visited 3-7-24 from Irish comb&f=false

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving Bingo

 Free printable and bingo for Thanksgiving full of whimsical woodland wonders.  =)  Just click on the image below to enlarge and print.  Happy day of thankfulness, however you choose to celebrate! 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Color Path Labyrinth

 This is a pretty personal post. and I know it won't be for everyone.  But I know I'm not the only super-visual person out there, so hopefully it will help more.  

I had a super unique opportunity to share this at our church yesterday.  It's sort of like a super-simple labyrinth or color path that you can paint your way through.  Labyrinths have been used in the church for hundreds of years and have been helpful to many as a way of visually and physically coming before God in prayer and worship.  They have been so helpful to me to quiet my mind when I meditate or come into worship.  Then add color associations in paint!

I'm just going to share here what I shared yesterday and let you run with it creatively however suites your needs.  I don't have any pictures of doing this as a group because it felt too personal, but my heart is full to bursting hearing the experiences of everyone who chose to share with me!

Supplies: watercolors, water, brush, template and/or blank paper, paper towel, possibly tape and pen.  There’s lots of paper, so feel free to use several pieces!


Watercolors: this paint is very forgiving.  But I want to encourage you this time to try using more water than you think you need, until it moves easily and flows.  Feel free to mix colors in the wells or on the edges of the palette or on the paper.  There are lists of color associations to give you a starting point, but I left blanks under each color.  This is because we all likely have unique color associations, so you can write your own.  They may even be associated with people or places.  I don’t think we need to get into it too much today, but shapes could also be representative (I.e. disconnected, sharp edged, smooth, large/small, etc.)

A. Left, open space: options

1. Get comfortable adding paint to paper

2. Just doodle

3. Paint what you’re experiencing this week or day in color  and shape

B. Path in:  From the entrance at the bottom left of the circles, follow the path with paint toward the center.  This is a place to lay down your burdens, joys, thoughts, or whatever is popping up in your mind.  As things come to mind, pick a color for it and paint it along the path as you go.  In this, we are laying these things down before Jesus. 

C. Center Circle: In this place we will just be together with God.  We can listen or sing along with the music.  You can paint in color any thoughts or feelings or impressions you experience., how you feel, how you feel about God, right now in this time.  You can hold your paintbrush still in the center or let it dance around.  Just be.

First, give the area a light wash with water.  I always think of water as representing the Holy Spirit, and this place is awash with Him.  If you dab on color, allow it to move with the water, and feel free to add more water as you like.  This thick paper can hold quite a bit, and if it can’t, these tables are easy to clean later.  

D. Path out: As we leave the center at the upper right, listen to what God is giving you to pick up on this path as you journey out into this week.  The old things will still be there, but pick them back up along with this moment you just had in the center.  Bring the use of water, bring the Spirit with you.  

E. Right, open space: Express yourself going back out into our week remembering God with us!  And no matter what comes in the week ahead, you have this physical, visual reminder of this moment with God and Him going with you


Isaiah 55:1-2

John 4:13-15, 7:37, 8:1-11

Revelation 21:6

Monday, September 25, 2023

Tvare (Fir Whisk)

    Have you been following the findings in Lendbreen as the glacier is melting?  You can read up on it on the "Secrets of the Ice" website A little bittersweet, but archaeologists have been discovering all kinds of artifacts that are incredibly well preserved because they've stayed frozen for so long.  Most have to do with caribou hunting camps, but one find has really jumped out at me.  The archaeologist have determined that it was the remains of a Tvare, a Scandinavian whisk!  And the process is so elegantly simple!  The Saxon Forager also has a great video about these Here.

STEP ONE: Find a nice evergreen tree whose branches come out in an even whorl.  If you're going to be using it for food, make sure it's not a yew or other toxic wood.  A fun option is to use the top of your Christmas tree when you're done with it or need to trim the top!

STEP TWO: Cut the length you want your utensil to be below the whorl.

STEP THREE: Remove the needles and save for tea.  Trim center trunk/handle as desired.  You really have two options here.  Choose the side of the whorl that will make the right diameter handle for you: not too spindly and not too thick.

STEP FOUR: strip all bark.  I started to do this with a knife, but found it came off easier just peeling it by hand.  It was a little sticky, but smelled AMAZING!  I also whittled down the end I wanted to be flatter under the whorl of branches.

STEP FIVE: Drawing up the tines to the handle and pushing out a little bit to get them to the right angles, I held and wrapped with wire and allowed to dry completely for a week or two.  

I made a second Tvare out of the next whorl down on the tree, using the section of trunk above the branches for the handle as an especially large whisk with short, unbound tines for my big cauldron.  

It worked great!  I can't wait to make more of these in the future!  Maybe even make it a New Years tradition to make one from the top of our Christmas tree.


Saturday, September 16, 2023

Manuscript Anatomy for the Beginner Scribe

 Over the last year or so, our family has immersed ourselves in the wonderful world that is the SCA (Society of Creative Anachronisms)!  We've jumped in with both feet with all the garb creation, archery, thrown weapons, armoring, sword fightings, arts and sciences, and (my favorite) scribal! But researching manuscripts is a whole new world that felt completely overwhelming.  There's a lot of information out there and much of of it is misinformation.  

Next week I'm gathering a group of scribes together to learn and grow together.  I couldn't be more excited!  They'll be coming from all artistic background and skill levels, so I'm trying to gather helpful info for them.  This morning I put together this little zine of terms and concepts that were new to me last year.  I'm hoping is will be useful!  What would you add?  References below.  Click on image to enlarge.

1. "A Beginner's Guide to Working With Manuscripts" ( ) Wordsworth Collections.  Last viewed 9-14-23 from'H27sGuidetoWorkingWithManuscripts

2.Doyle, Lovett ( ) "How to Make a Medieval Manuscript."  British Library.  Last viewed 9-14-23 from

3. Hindman (June 3, 2021) "A Beginner's Guide to Medieval Manuscripts." Abe Books.  Last viewed 9-14-23 from

4. Kwakkel, (Sep. 7, 2018) "The Architecture of the Medieval Page." Medieval Books.  Last viewed 9-14-23 from

5. Ray, (Sep. 27, 2021) "Reading the Manuscript Page: Design Features of the Medieval Book." Trinity College, Dublin.  Last Viewed 9-15-23 from

6. Getty Museum, (Jan. 27, 2009).  "The Structure of a Medieval Manuscript."  Getty Museum.  Last viewed 9-14-23 from


Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Mrs. Fogarty's Christmas Cake

Anyone else not a fan of the 20 Christmas songs that get played to death in December?  We're always on the hunt for unique Christmas songs, and last year, Mrs. Fogarty's Christmas Cake by the Irish Rovers! You can listen to it on You Tube Here

So we had to make a loaf for Christmas Day!  We started with a basic Amish Bread (great Amish Cinnamon Bread recipe) then added in all the extras heard in the song!

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups butter milk
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 cup plums and prunes (we just used the dried prunes for both), diced
1/4 cup dried cherries, diced 
1 Tbsp citron (we used lemon) rind shavings
1/4 cup rasins
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped nuts (we used cashew)
1 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup dried berries (we used cranberries)
1/4 tsp caraway

"Glue" glaze
2-3 Tbsp milk (divided)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar

Grease two bread pans. In mixing bowl cream butter, cups sugar, and eggs, then add remaining batter ingredients and mix well.
Put 1/4 of batter in each greased loaf pan.  Combine all additions that you're going to use, then layer half in each pan.  Top with remaining batter.  Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick tester comes clean.  Once cooled, spread glaze on top and enjoy!

This was so fun and way more edible than described in the song!  Haha!  Do you have any other unique Christmas songs for us to listen to this year?