Viking Ship Seal Ring 1

The Northmen: The Viking Influence on the Celtic World

Traders, Fisherman, Farmers, Artists, Carpenters, Builders, Predators…

The Vikings, when they swept out of their Northern homelands in the 8th century A.D. were all that and more. Viking warriors guarded the Emperors of Byzantium, dragged –literally– the King of the Franks from his throne & raided the monasteries of Western Europe.

The Vikings were a sea people. Men and women with the courage to take to the North Atlantic in open ships that flexed with every wave. In bad weather passengers and crew must have been half frozen. And yet... the Dragon prowed ships of the Vikings were some of the finest ships that ever sailed. Sturdy, with a shallow draft they could slide up rivers as easily as they braved the Gulf of Finland.
The Vikings were a sea people. Men and women with the courage to take to the North Atlantic in open ships that flexed with every wave. In bad weather passengers and crew must have been half frozen. And yet… the Dragon prowed ships of the Vikings were some of the finest ships that ever sailed. Sturdy, with a shallow draft they could slide up rivers as easily as they braved the Gulf of Finland.

 

But it was as sailors and settlers –not predators– that the Vikings made their true impact on the Celtic world. Fierce and fearless sailors they plundered Ireland, England and Scotland… but they also settled in Waterford, Dublin, York, Normandy, Orkney and a hundred other places.

Today we like to think of the Celts as purely Celtic. The Vikings purely Scandinavian. But nothing could be further from the case. The Vikings were never mere predators, and rarely remained cultural outsiders for long.

Northern Cloverleaf
Look closely at a classic “Celtic” style and you can sometimes see the Northern influence. Is it a Celtic Knot? Or a Viking Carving?

The Northmen came to Scotland as raiders, would be lords, sometime conquerors. Appropriately enough the Highlands and Islands would become one of the last strongholds of Viking traditions and Viking culture. While the Jarls of Orkney adopted Christianity relatively early they were slow to abandon their traditions of magic, feuds and outlaws. Many of the northern Clans seemed equally unconcerned with the outside world. And, although the Orkneys “officially” became part of the Scottish crown in the 15th century –as part of the dowery of the Norwegian Princess Margaret, a descendant of Vikings– the Highlands and Islands continued to follow their own star and as late as the 18th century Jacobite sympathizers from the Islands would continue to flee to Norway or Sweden.

To this day there are still those that have problems with the hybrid nature of the Viking influenced Northern Clans. Their art, their history, their culture and their family trees are never purely Celtic or purely Viking. Historians are as inclined as anyone else to take sides… They prefer to see the battles of the North –even the artistic battles of the North– in epic terms. To the defenders of a purely Celto-phile vision of Scotland, Scotland isolated from the rest of Medieval Europe, is where traditional Celtic art endured passed on with barely a hitch from Druid priests to Catholic monks until that ancient tradition was threatened by brutal Norse predators.

The brutality of the Vikings should never be underestimated. They earned their reputation as sea raiders, fierce men of the North. Adorable Sterling Silver Cufflinks these are fairly accurate depictions of Viking Dragon Ships... But the scale enables us to forget that these ships helped the Northmen make rivers and coasts of Europe their own for nearly four hundred years. And helped the Northmen turn Northern Scotland into an eternal outpost of the Viking world.
The brutality of the Vikings should never be underestimated. They earned their reputation as sea raiders, fierce men of the North. Adorable Sterling Silver Cufflinks like these are fairly accurate depictions of Viking Dragon Ships… But the scale enables us to forget that these ships helped the Northmen make the rivers and coasts of Europe their own for nearly four hundred years. And helped the Northmen turn Northern Scotland into an eternal outpost of the Viking world.
But the Celts and the Vikings –despite their battles– shared a strong connection to the natural world, a belief in the mystical otherworld and a self confidence reflected in art unlike any other.

This design is a reflection of that hybrid world that was both Viking and Celtic… a world that gave birth to the Northern Clans.


                                             Both Viking and Celtic Art Share An Organic Origin
Celtic knotwork –whether it is the colorfully intricate ornamentation of an early Christian Irish prayer book, or the sinuous lines that decorate the hilt of a Bronze Age warrior’s dagger– is always the most immediately recognizable aspect of High Celtic art. What inspired those knots is, today, a mystery. But… before there was Bronze there was rope. Long before the first Celtic stonemason picked up a chisel to carve the very soul of the Celt into the stones, there were weavers, fisherman and sailors who could make mazes out of twine & rings out of rope. Like the Celts the Vikings were also people of rope. Their ships never sailed without rope, their fisherman never fished without rope, they never tied a bail or set a trap without rope… And rope and braid motifs are staples of Viking Art just as they were part of the daily life of Vikings and Celts alike.

The Celts and the Vikings shared a bloody and vibrant world. A world of old Gods and new. Sagas and stories. A world of conflict, and a world of courage. Today nearly half the clans of Northern Scotland can trace their lineage back to the Vikings. And Ireland’s smiling blue eyes? They might be a legacy of the Vikings as well.

Tartan...

Anniversary of the Repeal of Proscription –Celebrate Freedom!

July 1st –The Anniversary of the Repeal of Proscription

A quality tartan of course can never be accused of being "tourist tat" --but with so much color it is blindly obvious that accessories must also incorporate a world of color. And, historically, they did.

In 1747, in the harsh aftermath of the Battle of Culloden, British authorities banned the wearing of the tartan –and imposed other penalties on acts which, in the aftermath of Culloden hinted of Scottish nationalism.

Over thirty years later, on July 1st, 1782, the Proscription Act was repealed and Scots could once again display their tartans. 

(Whether the Plaid was a complete unknown in Scotland in the thirty plus years between Proscription and Repeal is a question for another day. In the aftermath of the Repeal of Proscription the Scots were certainly quick to re-adopt the wearing of the Tartan.)

The new “legality” of tartan reignited the Scots’ passion for tartan. Interestingly it also ignited a passion for tartan in the English.

Thus, anyone who loves tartan today owes a (fashion) debt to Queen Victoria, her uncle, George the IV, and the Sobieski-Stuart brothers. The Sobieski-Stuart brothers, a determined pair of Stuart pretenders to the throne who were beloved by the fashionable set in Scotland in the early decades of the 19th century, in a very real way re-invented (or simply invented) Clan Tartans in the 1820s, ’30s and ’40s. They wrote –from quasi whole-cloth– the definitive book on Clan Tartans and were widely consulted in their day as experts by anyone looking for an “official” Clan Tartan.

Wheel of Time Plaid Brooch with Agate Inlay....

Jewels of an Empire: Scotland, India, Burma and a World of Color…

A World of Color: Gems, Jewels, Treasure & a Great Big Plaid Brooch

Embracing Color in Scotland’s Era of Empire

Color has always played a tremendous role in traditional Celtic dress and has continued to play a tremendous role in traditional Scottish dress to this day. Tartan, after all, is practically synonymous with Scotland. (So ubiquitous in fact that some Scots feel tartan has just gotten too touristy…)

A quality tartan of course can never be accused of being "tourist tat" --but with so much color it is blindly obvious that accessories must also incorporate a world of color. And, historically, they did.
A quality tartan of course can never be accused of being “tourist tat” –but with so much color it is blindingly obvious that accessories must also incorporate a world of color. And, historically, they did.

We think of Scottish style as being rooted firmly in the past. And, in fact, the Kilt is one of the oldest forms of “folk dress” worn in the British Isles. And as for tartan? Well… the historical evidence is scattered but tartan, or a tartan-like material dates back at least to the time of the first Ceasars… and may pre-date written history in the West. When the Celts were the dominant tribe of Central Europe, tartan was their cloak of choice.

While we know relatively little about the daily lives of the earliest Celts who built the standing stones we do know that they wore a tartan-type material as trews, capes and women's dresses.
While we know relatively little about the daily lives of the earliest Celts who built the standing stones we do know that they wore a tartan-type material as trews, capes and women’s dresses.

However, despite the ancient roots of Scottish Tartanwear, today “traditional” Scottish dress is very much rooted in the formal world of the Victorian era. The sewn-down pleats of the modern Kilt, the form-fitting men’s jackets, even the hard-soled Ghillie Brogues and quasi-military style hats still worn today, were all fashion innovations of the 19th century. 

We think today of the 19th century as somehow more black and white than our own age, a murky mix of sepia and silver tones, dominated by stern men in stovepipe hats and a Queen in perpetual mourning. But the 19th century was, in fact, an extraordinarily colorful era and an era when color would play more of a role in men’s dress than it has at any time since.

Just because the only photographs we ever see of the Victorian era are in black and white does not mean the nineteenth century --or the early twentieth century-- lacked color. These girls once blushed...
Just because the only photographs we ever see of the Victorian era are in black and white does not mean the nineteenth century –or the early twentieth century– lacked color. These girls once blushed…

But the ladies weren’t alone in a world of forgotten color. The men of the 19th century –particularly the Scottish men of the 19th century– also lived in a world of color. And their, ahem, jewelry –Plaid Brooches, cufflinks, Belt Buckles, and other “furnishings”– was of a scale and style that seems startling in our far more conservative twenty-first century.

Double Thistle Cufflinks
“Furnishings” is a term that used to cover more than just the furniture. In the jewelry world we –ahem, we as in jewelers, I’m not quite that old– used to call all of the “hardware” –cufflinks, belt buckles, watchfobs, dirks, and yes… Plaid Brooches– that men might wear for a formal event a man’s “furnishings.”

Many of the “furnishings” a gentleman might have worn for a formal event in the 1870s has fallen far out of fashion. But for formal Scottish events the “furnishings” of the 19th century are still very much en vogue. And no piece of “furniture” is more necessary or more iconic for a kilted man at a formal event than a formal Plaid Brooch.

Prior to the mid 19th century there was rarely much divide between what style of Plaid Brooch a man might wear for “day” or “evening”. A laird might very well have a “Sunday Best” coat or jacket, but many men had only one brooch and wore their good brooch whenever they wore their plaid.

By the mid 19th century “Scottish Dress” or, as it was known at the time, “Highland Wear” had become Victorian-ized. In fact most of the modern rules of Scottish dress were enshrined during the Scottish Revival of the 19th century. For the well-to-do the Victorian age was an era of codified dress. Formal wear, Morning wear, Sports wear, Evening and, eventually, white tie and black tie.

Among the elite the old Highland habit of simply wearing one’s “best” for an event disappeared. The new codification of Highlandwear in the Victorian age coincided with the continued expansion of the industrial revolution –which helped to commercialize dress and accessories in a way that had never been possible before– and the expansion of Victoria’s Empire. For the Scots, in particular, the Empire provided a chance to re-assert their Scottish identity.

Service in the new “Highland” Regiments provided the Scots with a way to reclaim their warrior identity after the collapse of the Jacobite cause. It also gave many Scots a path back to prosperity and respectability. The sons and grandsons of the Scots who fought at Culloden who joined the King’s –and then the Queen’s– Regiments had an opportunity to earn the Crown’s trust and, perhaps, regain lands and titles lost in the aftermath of the Culloden defeat.

And, as the 1850s progressed and well-to-do Englishmen and women traveled north to enjoy their Highland vacations, many Highlanders travelled overseas to battle for the fast expanding Empire.

Over the course of the 19th century Scots would serve in Egypt –and later much of the rest of Africa– China, North America and India among other locations.

Fairly early in the 19th century the Scots adopted the idea that for “dress wear” or “evening wear” a Plaid Brooch with a stone –real, fake or obviously glass– was the must have accessory. But… as the century changed and the Scots became far more worldly –in fact many Scottish military families would traverse the globe in the 19th century– the gems that were incorporated in a Scottish gentleman’s “furnishings” evolved and became far more exotic. 

The Scots had always loved color. And in the 19th century a world of gems opened up to them. The 19th century Scottish Revival coincided with the rise of the British Empire and the era of the Raj and some of the best Scottish-made jewelry of the 19th century features Indian Rubies, Sri Lankan Moonstones & Burmese Jade.

Although Moonstones don’t occur in Scotland they appear in a great deal of traditional Scottish jewelry made in the 19th century… Milky, moony souvenirs of Sri Lanka and India. This 21st century Plaid Brooch by Nagle Forge & Foundry features a cat’s eye Moonstone cut en cabochon. Like many 19th century designs our 21st century design is a little Victorian, a lot Celtic, thoroughly unique and fully functional.

To modern eyes the colors used in 19th century Scottish dress often seem hopelessly garish, unnervingly gaudy. (The well dressed Scottish man of the 1850s was as liable to pair his kilt with a form fitting silk tartan jacket and a velvet cape as he was to don the now traditional black wool.)

Agates are one of the native Hardstones –Agates are typically thought of as a “hardstone” rather than a gem– of Scotland. However, Scottish Agates are usually grey, striped or milky in appearance. Carnelian –a warm orangey form of Agate– was an exotic import with an old and legendary reputation. Carnelian has been known as “the Courageous Stone” and has been used as an amulet stone since the time of Hamurabi. It remained popular for the next three thousand years as a material for seals & by the Middle Ages had acquired a reputation –perhaps based on its reddish-brown color– as a stone of courage.

Fakes –or man made stones– also found a place in Victorian era Scottish jewelry. For modern shoppers trying to find an “authentic” stone can be a bewildering experience. In many ways we have a far too narrow view of Victorian fashion and a far too narrow view of what is and is not authentic. The 19th century Scots were not constrained by the conviction that they had to wear an authentically “Scottish” stones. They were authentic Scots –who in their own way were recreating what it meant to be Scottish in an era of industrialization, war and Clearance. Thus we recommend in the twenty-first century to shake free the rules  we have imposed on ourselves, remember that although all of our photographs of our great grandparents may be in black and white that those people, our ancestors, lived in color. And thus we recommend that when shopping for a Plaid Brooch to remember the world of color of the ancient Celts, the world of color of the Victorians, and the world of color of our own age.

Sterling Silver Double Thistle Cufflinks...

The Scottish Industrial Revolution & the Making of Modern Scotland

Today the Scotland that is cemented in our collective imagination as the “traditional” Scotland is very much a creation of the 19th century… a hazy combination of Victorian Romanticism and historical novels that seem to have sprung full formed from some rocky loch side castle in 1855. The romantic in all of us prefers to forget the harsh reality of the Scottish Industrial Revolution. Instead… “Scotland” generally conjures up visions of Queen Victoria. (And rightfully so –HRH’s near life-long love-affair with Scotland cemented a particular image of Scotland in the public imagination.)

However, while Queen Victoria’s long love affair with Scotland is one of the enduring tales of her reign it was, by the last decades of her life, a love affair that had little to do with the Scotland that most Scots knew.

Victoria's love affair with Scotland began early in her marriage to Prince... But her obsession with Scotland as a place of escape was cemented after Albert's death in December of 1861. For the next 4 decades he mourning Queen would treat Scotland as a perpetual retreat. And her love of Scottish "icons" --in particular Thistles and Kilted Men-- would turn the thistle into a near "generic" style of "Scottish" ornament. Today many of the "traditional" designs we make as Plaid Brooches are based on the iconic styles Victoria loved so much.
Victoria’s love affair with Scotland began early in her marriage to Prince Albert… But her obsession with Scotland as a place of escape was cemented after Albert’s death in December of 1861. For the next 4 decades the mourning Queen would treat Scotland as a perpetual retreat. And her love of Scottish “icons” –in particular Thistles and Kilted Men– would turn the thistle into a near “generic” style of “Scottish” ornament. Today many of the “traditional” designs we make as Plaid Brooches are based on the iconic styles Victoria loved so much.

By the 1880s Scotland was in the midst of an industrial boom &, while the romantics might decry urban Scotland as being somehow less genuinely “Scottish” than the romantic Highlands, the truth was that by the 1890s most of the grandchildren of the romantic Highlanders had either emigrated or headed south to join the industrial boom of Glasgow and the Clyde shipyards.

A desire for a more "modern" look that nevertheless incorporated "traditional" motifs was a hallmark of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland. Suddenly, the Thistle in the machine age could be a modern symbol of a modern Scotland. Not merely a symbol of a Scotland that had become an aging Queen's escape.
A desire for a more “modern” look that nevertheless incorporated “traditional” motifs was a hallmark of the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland. Suddenly, the Thistle in the machine age could be a modern symbol of a modern Scotland. Not merely a symbol of a Scotland that had become an aging Queen’s escape. Our “Modern” boldly carved Thistle designs are a nod to the designers of the 1880s, 1890s and early ‘teens who remade Scottish design in the shadows of the Victorian age.

Glasgow and Edinburgh in those days were gritty loud cities. But the harsh urban environment of Glasgow (in particular) gave birth to an artistic Renaissance.

The industrial boom helped create a new generation of Scots with a new vision of what Scottish art and design could be… and the industrial know-how and money necessary to make that vision a reality. The full flowering of Scotland’s industrial boom coincided with an international interest in a revived “Arts & Crafts” culture which celebrated function, form and materials over the over-wrought surface decoration that had dominated “design” back in the 1850s.

Scottish designers and craftspeople such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Herbert MacNair and the sisters Margaret and Frances MacDonald (known collectively as the “Four Macs”) became leaders of the new Scottish Art Nouveau movement. The industrial boom of Glasgow led to a building boom & by the late 1890s public and domestic architecture alike was touched by this new vision of Scottish Art. The old icons of Celtic knots, Wild Thistles, Dragons and nature inspired motifs endured and were transformed by artists who were more than willing to look to the past for inspiration but who had no desire to recreate a High Victorian fantasy.

highlandtarge

Jacobites, Georgians & Victorians: The Making of “Romantic Scotland”

“Romantic Scotland” is, today, an almost inescapable term. Scotland’s scenery, history, plaintive ballads and colorful traditions all seem like the definition of romance…

What, after all, could be more romantic than an elegant lady of yesteryear wrapped in a tartan sash? The reality of course… was a little less elegant. And far more beautiful.

Three hundred years ago few outsiders would have called Scotland “romantic” –& the modern notion of Scotland as a peculiarly “romantic” country is very much a product of the Georgian & Victorian age as well as a result of the efforts of Jacobite sympathizers to capture the peace even as they had failed to win the war.

Scotland in the 18th century was something of an enigma. The Highland Clans were still carrying on tribal feudal traditions that had been essentially abandoned by England and mainland Europe centuries earlier… & yet Scotland’s cities were home to some of the greatest writers and scientists of the Enlightenment. (Eighteenth century Scotland gave birth to Robbie Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Lady Nairne –respectively the Bard, the Novelist and the “Songstress” of romantic Scotland. But eighteenth century Scotland also produced the economist-philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume as well as the geologist James Hutton. All, in their own way, shaped the Scottish identity and a few changed, fundamentally, our understanding of the world.)

Nevertheless, while the defeat at Culloden and the failure of the Jacobite rebellion was particularly devastating for rural Scotland, it did not represent a victory of the “modern” over the traditional. The efforts made in the aftermath of Culloden to crush Scottish culture –by banning the wearing of the kilt, banning the wearing of tartan, confiscating traditional weapons & literally exporting a significant portion of the rural population– had mainly failed by the last years of George the III’s reign (better known as Mad King George). The Highland Clearances would continue almost unabated for a century & leave much of rural Scotland inhabited primarily by ghosts and sheep, but by the beginning of the 1820s Britain as a whole was about to go tartan mad.

Anyone who loves tartan today owes a (fashion) debt to Queen Vicotoria, her uncle, George the IV, and the Sobieski-Stuart brothers. (The Sobieski-Stuart brothers, a determined pair of Stuart pretenders to the throne who were beloved by the fashionable set in Scotland in the early decades of the 19th century, in a very real way re-invented (or simply invented) Clan Tartans in the 1820s, '30s and '40s. They wrote --from quasi whole-cloth-- the definitive book on Clan Tartans and were widely consulted in their day as experts by anyone looking for an "official" Clan Tartan.
Anyone who loves tartan today owes a (fashion) debt to Queen Victoria, her uncle, George the IV, and the Sobieski-Stuart brothers. The Sobieski-Stuart brothers, a determined pair of Stuart pretenders to the throne who were beloved by the fashionable set in Scotland in the early decades of the 19th century, in a very real way re-invented (or simply invented) Clan Tartans in the 1820s, ’30s and ’40s. They wrote –from quasi whole-cloth– the definitive book on Clan Tartans and were widely consulted in their day as experts by anyone looking for an “official” Clan Tartan.

The Jacobite cause had no hope of success after the defeat at Culloden and the flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but Jacobite sympathizers would continue to play a role in maintaining, and sometimes simply creating, Scottish traditions over the next seventy years. The kilt had always been the garb of the Highlander and often the poor clansman –rich men who rode horses wore trews. But, after the repeal of the Dress Act –which had proscribed the wearing of the kilt– in 1782, the kilt quickly became a symbol of Scottish identity and was as likely to be donned by a well-to-do Edinburgh barrister as by a poor Highland crofter.

The kilt, thus, became both a fashion statement and a political statement. The kilt-wearing Scots of the 19th century were, by and large, loyal subjects of the crown, but they were definitely and defiantly Scots-men not English-men. By the early 1800s the kilt, everything to do with the kilt, & Scotland itself had all become as “romantic” as one of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels.
The Scots (and everyone else) had suddenly become hungry for tartan & the weavers of the lowlands were happy to oblige.

What the weavers of the Repeal Era –the wearing of the tartan had been banned for years after the Battle of Culloden, and once the legal proscription was lifted tartan had one of the greatest fashion come-backs in history– wove was, like the pieces we at Nagle Forge & Foundry make, often an interpretation of past designs rather than a simple re-creation. Sometimes we think we even manage to one-up the past.

By the time George the III finally died and was succeeded by his son George the IV the idea of Romantic Scotland was firmly established. And, a year later –in 1822– when the middle aged George the IV visited Scotland he donned a kilt and attempted –rather oddly– to don the metaphorical mantle of the Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie. The dress code of the royal visit was decidedly tartan centric –and with Sir Walter Scott organizing the festivities “romance” was the order of the day. Wits nicknamed some of the brightest kilts “hunting” plaids –they were what impoverished Scottish lairds wore to hunt heiresses in the Assembly Rooms & dazzle likely ladies as they took to the dance floor in full “traditional” Highland wear. Twenty years later when the youthful Victoria visited Scotland the Queen’s life long fascination with everything Scottish seemed inevitable rather than curious.

Daffodil Brooch

Accessorizing the Renaissance Dress

By Sarah

This article was originally published in the Nagle Forge & Foundry newsletter between 2002 & 2003. Due to space constraints (& printing costs) the original article had to be heavily edited. As many people commented at the time that they found this article useful we have decided to revise and expand it prior to adding it to Notes. As this is an expanded edition of the original article the decision was made to include it in Topics rather than Archives

A Faire dress without accessories is like a fancy cake without icing –adequate, but not appetizing or satisfying. (It is also not ‘period‘.) Throughout most of the past two thousand years most humans (regardless of economic status) have used accessories to express themselves. Sometimes these accessories are purely decorative –a string of beads, a pendant, a necklace, or a ring– and their purpose is to bring joy to the wearer and inspire appreciation. Sometimes accessories are both decorative and symbolic –a religous token, a wedding ring, an engagement ring, a military decoration, or a family badge– these are objects that mean something to the person who wears them and also communicate a message about the wearer to observers. Many accessories are inherently functional –buttons, bags, clasps, buckles, pins, etc.– as well as being decorative &/or, symbolic.

During the Renaissance, accessories were an incredibly important part of the daily dress &/or wardrobes of people throughout Europe. An individual’s choice of accesories varied depending on her, or his, native region, religous background, specific role in society, access to resources, and personal taste. Successful Renaissance dressing requires an understanding of accessories: An understanding of what kind of accessories you need, what kind of accessories you want, and what kind of accessories you –or your faire persona— ought to have.

This article is for everyone who has ever slaved over a costume, agonized over fabric choices, and hunted down the best possible shoes (you are only as happy as your feet) and yet, still, does not look completely ready. This is also for experienced old faire hands who are always looking for new (old) ideas, and anyone looking to add a bit of polish to his/her period wardrobe.

State-of-mind is a key part of taking your costume to the next level. If you are fully dressed in your costume and something still does not look –or, feel– ‘right’ this is probably because you are still thinking of the outfit you are wearing as a costume, and not clothing. Wearing enough layers and enough fabric to redo your living room –and possibly part of your bedroom– is not enough to achieve the ambience of renaissance dressing. Renaissance people may have had limited access to many of the products we now take for granted –fine woven fabrics, exotic silks and cottons, incredibly cheap cutlery, color-fast dyes, ribbons, beads, and so much more– but they were not minimalists. A Renaissance era townswoman, or the wife of a minor knight, may have owned only one or two complete dresses but she probably had enough accessories to create three, or four, or more, different ‘looks’ for different occaisions. Renaissance dressing –as opposed to Renaissance costuming– involves much more than clothes. A Renaissance dress that strikes the ‘right’ note expresses something about the individual wearer. To express personality you need accessories: You need the shoes, the hat (or the hair), the bag(s), the belt, the spare sleeves, extra lacings, the miscellaneous belt appendages, and you need the jewelry.

My favorite way of accessorizing is with jewelry, but to do it right you have to have a plan and incorporate everything into your design concept. [In the post 20th century building a jewelry wardrobe can also be much easier and economical than expanding your other accessory collections. For the price of a good bag and belt you can generally buy at least 3 or 4 pins or a very nice long strand of beads. Jewelry also requires less storage space and is easier to transport: These are both major considerations for a travelling re-enactor or anyone with limited closet space.]

The real plus with Renaissance dressing is that there is a style or two (or three, or more) for everyone. Your dilemma, and your delight, is to decide what it is and then make it work. This can be the most difficult and the most enjoyable part of Renaissance dressing. Do not allow yourself to be put-off by some of the more extreme Renaissance looks. Modern styles and sensibilities should play no part in accessorizing your renaissance dress. However, there may be some cross over between your every-day jewelry and your Renaissance jewelry (or vice versa). The key in identifying possible cross-over jewelry is to avoid anything that would have been technologically impossible or stylistically unthinkable during the Renaissance. [No titanium jewelry. No elasticized metal bracelets or belts. No tennis bracelets. No channel-set stones of any type. No obvious plastics –and plastic is almost always obvious. No itty-bitty diamonds or other itty-bitty surround stones –prior to the 19th century faceting extremely small stones was incredibly difficult and time consuming. No clown jewlery. Humorous jewelry is fine –and often quite appropriate–but clowns, aliens, U.F.O.s, sunflowers, and other (obviously) modern icons destroy a Renaissance look.] However, once you have found appropriate Renaissance jewelry (or learned to look for good Renaissance style jewelry) you must still find a way to wear it in a Renaissance style in order to finish accessorizing your Renaissance dress.

By modern (western) standards, Renaissance-era people wore a lot of jewelry. During the Renaissance it was not uncommon for someone (if he or she could afford it) to wear two or three rings, two or three pins, and two or three necklaces simultaneously. [This was often in addition to a decorative belt, ornamental buckles, and other clothing fasteners.] When accessorizing a Renaissance dress less is less, and much more might be just about right.

But that doesn’t mean you have to clatter around looking like a cross between a Victorian Christmas tree and a Vegas headliner. You do not have to wear big jewelry in order to make a big impression. It is possible to create a great Renaissance look without abandoning your sweet little pins in favor of something that looks like a Chevy hubcap. During the Renaissance there were actually people who liked little jewelry –by little, I mean small in size, not small in quantity. [The fine detail on tiny ornaments and miniaturized weapons –which were popular as jewelry from the mid to late Renaissance– served as curiosities and were admired for their fine craftsmanship and artistry. The wearers of these mini-jewels were admired for their fine taste and their status as patrons of art and industry.]

To wear small jewelry in a Renaissance style it is important to choose a theme and develop a way to wear multiple pieces of jewelry as a set. [By ‘set’ I mean a set of complimentary jewelry, not a set of matching jewelry: True parures are more common in the Baroque and Roccoco periods.] Find a motif that means something to your Renaissance character, or that you like (castles, ships, thistles, birds, fish, flowers, leaves, faces, dragons, etc.), get three or four different pins featuring similar motifs, cluster them on a sleeve, hat, or bodice, and suddenly your outfit has a theme, and you have a new means of expressing yourself through your arrangement of accessories. (We have one patron who has a tiny rabbit pin, chased by a small fox pin, with both pins pursued by half a dozen small hounds across the front of her bodice.) Your friends may even pitch in and add to your collection as the gift giving events of the year roll around (and perhaps they will be grateful not to have to puzzle over what you would like to receive). Many of our patrons have several themed collections that they arrange artfully upon their persons. These accessory collections can quickly change the look of an outfit. Even a slightly different arrangement of the same jewelry collection can change the overall look of a Renaissance costume.

Depending on personal preference –either your own or that of your costumed alter ego– big & bold jewelry may be the best choice to accessorize your Renaissance outfit. Large jewelry can symbolize an assertive personality, an important event, or the grand position of the wearer. [Large jewelry can also fulfill a necessary functional role. For instance: A heavy cloak requires a large clasp, a Scottish Great Kilt demands a large pin. A big belt buckle or a shoulder brooch for a Scot will make the whole outfit hang together, literally.]

Whether a piece of jewelry is decorative, functional, or both, placement is paramount for large pieces. You want your dress and jewelry to enhance and compliment each other while they frame and glorify you.

Ladies, if you have a square cut bodice and an open chemise, consider wearing a necklace or medallion close to the throat (& sunscreen, otherwise you will end up with a very strange tan), a pin on your bodice, shoulder, or sleeve, a long string of beads or pearls, something for your hat or hair, a ring (or several rings), and a pair of earings. Do not limit yourselves to accessorizing only one portion of your body or dress.

Gentlemen, a hat is the perfect place to display a pin, brooch, or badge. A well-chosen pin can help individualize a hat. And, if you wear a hat with a brim, a pin can hold an upturned brim in place. Choose a symbol that suits you and a size that is comfortable. A shoulder pin, medallion with chain, belt buckle, decorative clasp, finger ring(s), &/or belt pouch decoration should all also be considered as potential accessories.

Color can also be a good way to accessorize your Renaissance dress –or quickly change the look of an outfit. Your dress may be a blaze of color, or a sedate shade of forest brown, or green, or the cool grey of a winter day. Your jewelry can add dashes of a complementary or contrasting color. Pewter or silver-toned jewelry can be particularly striking against green, black, and grey backgrounds. Gold and gold-plated jewelry are stunning on a red, dark-blue, or purple backround. Faux enameled pieces are another option. Enameling provides saturated color in period style. [White, blue, red, and green, were all common enamel colors of the Renaissance era. Black was a popular accent color for both yellow and white metals.] Gemstone accented jewelry –particularly cabochon jewelry– and glass, stone, amber and pearl beads are appropriate and versatile ways to add color, shape, and movement to an outfit. Matching drop earings to a fancy necklace and a colored ribbon or gemstone ring is a great way to spread the color and catch the eye. Think of your jewelry as easily detachable and changeable trim.

Regional, religous, and ethnic preferences are also important when accessorizing the Renaissance dress. Who are you? What is your Faire/re-enactment persona? There are many different regional dres styles and there are many different jewelry styles. English, Scottish, and German clothing styles all demand different types –and styles– of accessories. The Netherlands, Spain, the different regions of France and the city states of Italy call for different accessories. (For instance: For the Netherlands and the North German states, consider pins with animal motifs. The Protestant reformation made figural representations unpopular, and the growing middle classes wanted hat badges and shoulder pins in a wide variety of metals without the connotations of foreign royalty and/or Catholicism. For Italians, especially coastal Italians, pearls, colored stone and glass beads, and big cut stones are very bella. During the Renaissance, pearls and cut stones poured into Venice from the Ottoman East and the Italians promptly faked the luxury goods so that even women of relatively modest means could drip with pearls and beads. Germans, Poles, and Bohemians, loved big chains, and big fancy necklaces all hooked together like enourmous Renaissance charm bracelets. The Spanish loved gold and emeralds, or anything green, shell-themed ornaments, and crosses, of course. Renaissance France has every style thanks to lots of wars and frequent Royal marriages with trend-setting Spaniards, Germans, and Italians.)

There’s lots more to think about, so find a style, choose a theme, and have fun!

Daffodil Brooch

Birth Stones

Historical Birthstones, Modern Birthstones: Your Birth Stone

Over the years we have been asked –by, it sometimes seems, everyone– to show examples of the January birthstone, the April birthstone, Mom’s birthstone, Dad’s birthstone, my birthstone: We always answer people the same way, “Pick a stone, any stone. It has probably been (or will be) the birthsone you are looking for at some point in history.”

This is a frustrating answer to a frustrating question. Over the years, in different places and at different times (and sometimes the same time), there have been (and are) many different birthstone lists & accepted birthstones for the various months.

Style, cost, availability & appearance have all played a roll in the development of the various birthstone charts. Until relatively recently most people identified most stones almost solely on the basis of appearance: If a stone was yellow and sparkled people called it a Topaz, if a stone was green and looked like Jade people called it Jade, if a stone was a rich ruby red people called it a Ruby. As a result there are occasionally several different stones that are accepted for a certain month simply because in appearance certain types of each stone are very similar. [Thus Citrine & Golden Topaz may both be acceptable for a certain month, while blue Zircon & blue Topaz may both be acceptable for another month.]

Cost & availability have also played a significant role in the development of historical and modern birthstone lists. Occasionally certain stones are prohibitively expensive for the average person and a less expensive alternate stone is substituted. Occasionally –due to political situations or mine closures– certain stones become unavailable while other stones –due to new mining developments or changed political situations– become readily available.

And, once in a while, a certain stone becomes wildly popular –or someone wants to make it wildly popular– and it is added to the list, or a new niche chart is created. [For instance: There are country and state specific Birth Stone charts that feature stones that can be found in specific countries or states. There are also Birth Stone charts based on different calendar systems (Zodiac signs are a perennial favorite). And there are charts with specific religious focuses.]

Thus said, we don’t ever believe that anyone should feel limitted to a specific birthstone, or compelled to have an example of that birthstone. We don’t use Birth Stone charts as selling aids (a truly cynical person could claim that Birth Stone charts are just a very persistent marketing technique) but we are fascinated by the history and diversity of Birth Stone charts and the idea of Birth Stones. So, in an effort to provide a few more Birth Stone choices, we have compiled a very diverse, very un-authoritative, list that incorporates some of the traditional (popular late 19th century) birth stones and some of the historical (pre 1850s, often country specific) birthstones as well as some modern alternatives that may be slightly more available.

January

Garnet has been associated with the month of January since biblical times and it is still generally considered the traditional birth stone of January. This is one of the few months for which the historical, traditional & modern birth stones are almost always identical. Significantly, Hyacinth, the gemstone most frequently offered as a January alternative, is in appearance similar to a red garnet. [Hyacinth is an antique name for a reddish-yellow variety of Zircon.] However, while red is traditionally the color associated with garnets, garnets actually occur in a wide variety of colors. Some are extremely rare, but an orangey yellow Hessonite or Spessartite garnet might be a good choice for someone who wants something a little bit different.

February

Historically Amethyst is the stone most frequently associated with this month. However (since at least the 16th century) Hyacinth, Jasper & Pearl have also been associated with this month. Amethyst is still considered the popular ‘traditional’ choice for the month of February. However, as the deep purple of Amethyst can fade when exposed to sunlight it might be wise to consider Amethyst an evening stone and wear an alternative (more color fast) stone in daylight.

March

Historically Jasper & Bloodstone have been almost equally popular as the birth stone for this month. However, as both of these stones are hard stones typically cut en cabochon, in modern times (19th c. on) both Aquamarine and Pearl were suggested as alternate stones for the month of March. Currently, Aquamarine (the blue variety of Beryl) is generally considered the traditional choice for March.

April

Historically, Sapphire was the most frequent birth stone choice for this month. However, both Peridot & Topaz have also been associated with this month. And, beginning in the 18th century (or earlier) diamond was also occasionally listed as a birthstone for this month. Today Diamond is considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choice for this month. However, due to the expense of Diamonds in comparison to other stones, throughout the twentieth century both White Topaz and Pearl were occasionally offered as April alternatives. For people who want a little bit more variety, a return to Sapphire (available in many different colors) may be a good choice.

May

Historically, the Summer months have some of the most diverse birth stone lists associated with them. May has had at least 4 different historically popular gemstones associated with it: Emerald, Agate, Carnelian & Chalcedony. Agate, Carnelian & Chalcedony are all silicates (and all related). However, they can differ widely in appearance (and none resembles Emerald). Emerald (the green variety of Beryl) has maintained its popularity as a May gemstone for centuries and is today generally considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone for the month of May.

June

Historically, Emerald has also been a popular birth stone choice for June. However, Agate (of different types and colors), Chalcedony, Turquoise, Ruby, Pearl, and Cat’s Eye have also been associated with June. In recent years (19th c. on) both Pearl and Moonstone have been identified as ‘traditional’ June birth stones. One of the few characteristics that June birth stones share is the number of different mottled, striped, opalescent or cat’s eye affects apparent in some of these stones. [Agate & Chalcedony are often spotted or otherwise patterned. Turquoise can be multi-colored or have a spiderweb pattern. Chalcedony, Moonstone, Pearl and Cat’s Eyes all have opalescent qualities. And Moonstone may also have a semi-cat’s eye effect.]

July

Historically, Onyx, Sardonyx, Carnelian, Ruby, Lapis, Turquoise & Sapphire have all been associated with the month of July. Until the Renaissance the darker stones –Onyx, Sard, and more rarely Carnelian and Ruby– were the stones most frequently associated with July. However, from the 16th century on blue stones –particularly Turquoise, Lapis and Sapphire– were also associated with the month of July. In recent years Ruby has been identified as the ‘traditional’ July birth stone.

August

Historically, Carnelian and Sardonyx are the two stones most commonly associated with this month. However, Moonstone and Topaz have also been (less popular) historical choices while Alexandrite is the Russian stone of choice. More recently Sard, Peridot and Alexandrite have been associated with August.

September

Historically, Chrysolite, Sapphire & Sardonyx were all associated with this month. More recently Sapphire has been identified as the ‘traditional’ birth stone for September.

October

Historically, watery blue colors are most frequently associated with this month. Colorless Beryl (also known as Goshenite), Aquamarine (the blue variety of Beryl) and Opal are popular historical choices for October. Coral (not technically a stone) has also been associated with this month. More recently (late 19th c.) Tourmaline was introduced as an alternative gemstone for this month. Currently Aquamarine and Opal are considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choices for this month.

November

Historically, Topaz has always been the stone most frequently associated with this month. However, beginning in the Renaissance Pearls also became a popular choice for November. Amethyst may occasionally also have been associated with this month. Today Topaz is still generally considered the ‘traditional’ birth stone choice for this month.

December

There are radical differences between the stones historically associated with the month of December and the stones now identified as the ‘traditional’ choice for December. Historically Ruby is the stone most commonly associated with December. However, beginning in the 16th century Turquoise, Chrysoprase, Bloodstone, Topaz and Beryl were also (less frequently) associated with this month. In the late 19th century blue became a fashionable color for winter months. In the twentieth century Blue Zircon, Blue Topaz and Turquoise were all identified with December. Currently Turquoise is generally considered the ‘traditional’ choice for this month. Natural Turquoise is now one of the rarest and highly sought after of the semi-precious gem. (While there is a significant amount of altered, manufactured or simply fake “Turquoise” on the market we at Nagle Forge & Foundry still take a great deal of pride sourcing the majority of the Turquoise we use from named American mines and fully dsclose all treatments.

Daffodil Brooch

Kilt Pins (a.k.a. Plaid Brooches)

What They Are,

How They Work,

Where They Go:

(& why they have two names)!

History, fashion, common usage, & our own stubborn refusal to move with the times and gracefully accept the changes of the modern age (anything post 1840 –actually we have accepted a lot of post 1840 changes, just not when it comes to design…) have conspired to confuse and mystify a number of our Kilt wearing customers, Kilt admiring customers, and other perfectly innocent bystanders. According to the definition of Kilt Pin commonly accepted in modern usage our Kilt Pins are not actually Kilt Pins: They are actually Plaid Brooches, or Shoulder Pins.

Since the development of the modern tailored Kilt there has been a trend to call the small modesty pin a Scot wears on his, or her, Kilt (generally on the front apron somewhere in the vicinity of the knee) a Kilt Pin: It is a pin worn on the Kilt. The large (generally circular) pin used to clasp the end of the Highland Great Kilt to the shoulder is now known as the Plaid Pin or Shoulder Brooch: It is a pin that may, or may not, be worn with the Kilt.

Our persistence in calling a Shoulder Pin, Plaid Pin, or Flash Brooch, a Kilt Pin relates to the methods we use to create these pins and the ways our customers use them. Our Kilt Pins are fundamentally different from any of the other pins that we make. While virtually any pin may be worn on, or with, a Kilt, our Kilt Pins are the only pins that we make that are specifically designed to be worn with a Kilt. We hand fabricate a detachable safety-pin-style nickle pin-back for each of our Kilt Pins. This results in a very strong Brooch that is both decorative and functional. Our Kilt Pins are designed to withstand the stress of being worn as a fastener on a old-style Great Kilt, a modern “piper’s plaid” or evening dress “shoulder plaid,” a heavy shawl, cape, or shoulder drape. These are 9-Yard Pins: We guarantee our Kilt Pins to hold the whole 9 yards: If you break one of our Kilt Pins, or damage it in any way, we will fix it or replace it.

We make a variety of different Kilt Pins. Many of the designs are based on old Scottish, Irish, & Anglo-Saxon designs. We originally produced our Kilt Pins for the Scottish re-enactment community (people interested in historical forms of Scottish dress) and we still make Kilt/Plaid Pins in a variety of different historical styles. But, because of their versatility and attractiveness, many wearers of the modern Kilt have chosen to incorporate one of our Kilt Pins (Shoulder Brooches) into their dress in some traditional and non-traditional ways.

Many ladies (especially ladies with a brightly colored plaid) like to use one of our Kilt Pins as a distinctive centerpiece in the pre-made rosette of their sash. When not using their pin as a shoulder piece, some ladies remove the pin back & wear the piece as a necklace. Our Kilt Pins can also be worn as a Shawl or Cloak fastener.

Gentlemen also find a number of different ways to use our Kilt Pins. They can be worn at one or both shoulders. And, although they tend to be fairly heavy, a few gentlemen have chosen to wear them as hat pins. We have also occaisionally been requested to modify the fastening mechanism on our Kilt Pins so that they can be incorporated as a fitting on a custom sporran. (All of our Kilt/Plaid pins can –by request– be modified for use on a sporran or saddlebag. Many of our Kilt/Plaid Pin designs can also be made with a matching belt buckle!)

A word to the wise: Due to modern innovations in metal working, our hand-fabricated Kilt Pin backs are generally a fine enough gauge that they will not damage the medium-tightly woven wool of a modern plaid. However, it is inadvisable to use these pins on a light weight fabric, fine silk, or poly-wool mixture. For a purely decorative Scottish brooch (suitable for a lighter weight fabric) please see our Scottish Pins. If, for fashion purposes, you would like to wear one of our heavier brooches with a lighter weight plaid we suggest having two loops or a bracer sewn on to the jacket or shirt you plan to wear with the shoulder plaid: This will reduce wear and tear on your fabric and ensure that the plaid does not slide out of place.

Daffodil Brooch

Custom Pewter Work

As a courtesy, Nagle Forge & Foundry provides custom design and casting services for Clans, Clubs, Bands, Corporations and Events interested in creating a quality commemorative pin or medallion.

All of our custom pewter work is done to the same high standards when making our own designs. And all of our custom commissions are made in the same California workshops where we make all of our regular line. We are proud to be an American based company and we are proud that all of our items are designed and made in the United States of America.

A custom commission is a complicated and rewarding process that, hopefully, results in just the right object for the right occasion. However, although we would like to help as many people as possible, we are well aware that custom work is not always the best option for everyone. And, as we also have a busy schedule of our own (design work, model making, casting and finishing), and custom work is often quite time consuming, we have had to design a few rules to make custom work feasible for both us and the client.

1) For any Custom Medallion or Pin order we have a 50 piece minimum.

Due to the design and mold making process we use, it is generally not cost effective to even consider a custom job involving less than 50 pieces of any one design. This minimum is for the initial order only, and we are happy to serve re-orders of one or two items at a time.

2) In order to quote a job we require at least some rough artwork, the desired dimensions (within 1/8th of an inch) and the quantity of the initial order.

However, we are always happy to help in the design process, or to fully design a piece (to suit a particular purpose) if necessary. And, if possible, we will offer suggestions that may help to lower the overall cost of the piece or increase the strength of the finished item.

3) For all of our custom pewter work we use the same high quality lead-free-pewter alloy that we use for our own art pieces, we use the same non-toxic antiquing process that we use for our own pewter brooches, and we produce everything in our same work shop here in California.

We do not believe in making a lesser, or disposable, line. We believe that if something is worth making, it is worth making to last. As a result, we offer the same guarantee Oris Replica Watches for our custom pewter medallions, pins and badges as we do for our own pieces: If a piece is broken or damaged in the course of normal use, we will fix it or replace it.

4) Because we guarantee all of our work, and because we intend to be in business a very long time, we keep all of the molds that we have made in our archives until they are no longer useable.

Any molds that we have made remain in our possession. We will never produce a custom client’s design for anyone else. However, any molds that we have made remain in our possession. We do not make molds for other producers.

5) We require a minimum of six weeks lead time (from the time the artwork is agreed on) to produce any custom order.

Completion times vary depending on the size and complexities of a specific job, as well as the other jobs we are working on. Once we have agreed on artwork we will guarantee a specific completion date.

Daffodil Brooch

Making One’s Mark

The present day expression ‘making one’s mark,’ implying some special achievment, is based upon traditions that date back at least 700 years. In the Middle Ages, a craftsman producing a product marked that product with a special symbol denoting that he or his shop (or she or her shop –more on women metal workers of the middle ages later) made that product. The mark varied and could denote many things: Royal licensce, guild membership, purity, city of origin, etc. The marks did generally stand for quality and reliability; the maker was not afraid to back his products with his good name.

We at NAGLE FORGE & FOUNDRY feel that this practice of making a mark is as important today as it was hundreds of years ago. Our company mark appears wherever we can fit it on the piece! Our smaller NF&F stamp appears when the piece is not large enough for our full stamp, and our smallest pieces often carry only the split N. These are all marks that tell people we made it and we stand behind it.

Sometimes, in addition to the foundry house mark, other marks will appear. These are the individual marks of the person who worked on the piece or component. Several of our master craftspeople (such as our prized miniaturist and model carver, MKJ) have their own marks. (Michelle, aka MKJ actually has several marks of her own –if you design your own, why limit yourself to one?) Occasionally a piece will also bear the signature of the designer. Some of our limitted edition or one-of-kind pieces will also bear the individual signature of the artist/maker and, if it is a limitted edition, the number of the piece and the total number of pieces made in the run. (This is true in the case of Brian Nagle’s limited edition greenpeople.) This tells everyone who made the piece, and who is responsible for it. In any given year we use at least 6 different versions of the company mark as well as several different versions of the personal marks of our craftspeople. We are proud of our work and mark every piece. If something is special enought to make, it is special enough to mark. By making our marks we acknowledge our work, our labor, and our responsibility. To make a mark on one’s work is, as the term implies, special.

Depending on the amount of space available on a piece an entire story can be told and read from the marks of the maker. Entire books have been written about the history of makers’ marks. The marks of metal workers, particularly pewter and silver workers, can be particularly intriguing. Because of the number of marks used over time, and the combination of generic and personal marks, learning to read the marks on a piece of jewelry can be a life’s work. No one ever knows every mark. But, be assured, every mark means something.