Cross-dressing for Dancing

I mentioned in my post about Celebration de Medici that I was surprised I hadn’t written about making that outfit… it turns out I did! I just never posted it. So here’s the post, originally written in 2020 about a project from 2018. Wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff, I know. I’ve added commentary from 2024 in italics.


Yet another project from 2018! This is the last one, finally.

The Academie Atlantienne de la Danse (of which I am Chatelaine) held a dance competition at the Kingdom Arts & Sciences Festival in February 2018. My canton decided to enter two versions of the dance Leoncello.  (You can watch our performance here. Ragna and I also danced an encore which you can see here.)

[I stepped down from the position of Chatelaine for the Academie when I stepped up as Minister of Arts & Sciences for my local group.]

I had been doing a lot of work on the evolution of 15th century Italian dance and wanted to showcase that. We picked Leoncello because it was the first dance I had traced like that as well as the fact that we had performed it a couple of years prior so we already had good familiarity with it. Leoncello was also one of the most popular dances of the 15th century. We can document it being danced for nearly a hundred years. We danced the original version by Domenico in 1455 and then the latest recorded version from 1517.

We decided as part of our performance to also include the clothing. We wanted to have group members to represent the evolution of clothing that happened over the course of the evolution of the dance. Several of the group members already had appropriate clothing for the end of the era, around 1500 to 1520. No one had outfits appropriate for when the dance was originally written around 1455. (Although the manuscript it is from was written in 1455 we believe Domenico created the dance some years prior to that.) So Ragna and I ended up dancing together and determining to be the couple in the earlier clothing, which meant that we needed to make pellandi. (Houppelande is the French term for this garment that was popular all over Europe in the 15th century. Italy seems to have abandoned it a lot sooner than Northern Europe as well.)

I decided to cross-dress and make a male outfit for the competition because, well, look at those guys: don’t you want to feel that fabulous too?

Inspiration images from Sienese frescoes – – scroll down to “Feeding of the Poor (detail)” and look at the gentleman in blue.

The Layers

I cheated rather a lot on the bottom layer. I wore modern leggings because I didn’t have time to make hose. The men’s version of the camisa also generally had a different neckline than the women’s, but I already had this one so I wore it. The boots are the same modern ones that look vaguely appropriate that I wear with a lot of my garb.

The second layer is the farsetto or doublet. I forgot to take any in-progress photos. The fabric is just a linen I got from fabric-store. In order to pattern this we started from one of my gamurra bodice and sleeve patterns. (There were multiple guilds of tailors for different thins in Venice in the 15th century, however, the same tailors for mens doublets made womens gowns. Seemed a reasonable starting point.) We drafted the skirting panels based on a few images. For the sleeves I added width to the top half of my existing sleeve pattern and then gathered that into the regular bottom half. I am not certain how it would actually have fastened in this timeframe but hooks and eyes existed and seem logical. [I actually never got the hooks and eyes sewn on and it was pinned in place on the day of.]

The final layer is the pellando. I had the green/gold brocade in my stash. I think I was originally planning to make a giornea out of it, but I’m not sure it would have been enough fabric. I patterned this based on Cynthia Virtue’s houppelande patterning ideas. Some of the pellandi in the images from this timeframe appear to use a different construction method, with a yoke at the shoulders and then pleats below. The pleats were probably set in place with a tape behind them. If I ever make another I would like to try this method.

Ragna and I developed the sleeve pattern based on the images and some basic measurements of my arm, along with a lot of guess work. We were very pleased after we had already cut and started work on the sleeves to find other people’s patterns for this style of sleeve that matched ours, as well as images that showed the seam placement in the same place as what we had done. I did a lot of hand-finishing work on the sleeves. They are the only part of this that is fully-lined as we did not have enough of the brown velvet to line the whole garment.


I liked how this turned out. We looked good together and everything really came together how I wanted it to with the pellando. Also, do you know how much stuff you can fit in those sleeves? I walked around with a water bottle in one sleeve and a sandwich in the other for a large chunk of the day. (Not a little sandwich, a hoagie.) I don’t know how much difference it really made to my dancing, although I felt bouncier than when wearing long skirts.

I wish I had had time to make a fabulous hat like the gentlemen in the frescoes. The hat I used worked but isn’t nearly as amazing. I think that’s my main regret about the outfit. [I substituted a green flat cap this time and it worked better than the other one I had in 2018 but I still want a fabulous hat for this outfit.]

2024 Reflections

I LOVED wearing this outfit again to teach dance at Celebration de Medici. The sleeves are fun, it still has full skirts for maximum swoosh but also you can see my legs as I explain how to do complicated steps! I may have mildly sprained my ankle jumping around like a fool because it really does inspire that kind of behavior.

I’m planning to make some mild modifications to the farsetto and make an actual appropriate under-shirt this year. I would also like to make a masculine giornea for warmer weather. That pellando is WARM. Overall, I think there’s a lot more masculine 15th century garb in my future.

Display on Flour Milling for Kingdom Arts & Sciences Festival 2024

My display with Valla-Ragna in Spaka for KASF

This past Saturday Ragna & I displayed the first stage of our enormous research rabbit hole that started with a seemingly simple question about flour in Viking Age Scandinavia. In order to narrow our focus down to something manageable we chose to display what we’d learned about millstones specifically. Ragna even brought samples of the types of stone most valued for making millstones out of for people to pet! (I brought sourdough bread because of course I did.)

What follows is most of the text of our display.


The initial question that started this project was: Would someone in Viking era Scandinavia have access to something resembling modern all purpose wheat flour?

The whole idea for this started with looking at a handout on Viking Food from an SCA class on the topic. We don’t have recipe books to refer to for the Migration Era so of course the handout discussed the evidence from archaeology and what we know of what grows and lives in the region. There was some discussion of bread in the hand out, and that’s where the inspiration started. We’re both experienced bakers and used to considering the importance of our ingredients and comparing them to what was available historically. Master Galefridus had also taught a fascinating class last Pennsic on different grains and their characteristics which provided inspiration as well. We started to wonder: what flour was available to someone baking bread in say, 800CE in Norway?

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered in order to answer this seemingly simple question: What grains were available? How were they milled into flour? How was that flour sifted before use (if at all)? It also inspires other questions: What sort of leavening (if any) was used? How was the dough kneaded, risen and baked? What tools for baking were available? What sort of oven was used? In the long run, we would like to follow the whole process to end up with a possible loaf of bread produced as it would have been in that context. For this display we chose to focus on the milling aspect of flour production.

Modern flour is produced using metal roller mills. They grind the flour finer and allow for better separation of the different parts of the grain than stone mills. Whole wheat flour is generally milled and then recombined to include bran in modern industrial processes. This allows modern flour to be shelf stable longer and to be produced to tight specifications. Roller mills were invented in the 19th century and flour milling prior to that era was done by various types of stone mills. This tells us right away that our 9th century Norse bread-maker would not have had something resembling modern all-purpose flour, as their flour would have been ground on a stone mill. It could have been sifted to reduce bran and create a “white” or at least not “whole grain” flour after the milling process, but it would have more of the bran and oils than our modern flour.

Types of stone flour mills available in northern Europe before 1000CE

Saddle Quern

The saddle quern is the oldest implement for turning grain into flour worldwide. These have been found pretty much everywhere humans have tried to refine husked grains. They are operated by rubbing the upper stone back and forth over the lower. This is not only hard physical labor but has to be done in a very uncomfortable position.

Rotary Quern

The rotary quern comes in several variations but always consists of a round lower stone and upper stone with some kind of handle attached. The flour is milled by the rotation of the upper stone. The stones often had groove patterns carved into the grinding surfaces to assist with the process.

Water Mill

Stone mills powered by water wheels still used the basic concept of rotary grinding, with much larger stones than were used in hand turned querns. The earliest water-powered flour mills were developed in Rome and Greece and were based on donkey-powered mills in which the bottom stone was a cone and the top stone was an hourglass or beehive shape.


Note: our timeline includes Greek and Roman developments as there is some belief that milling technology spread from the Roman empire northward in Europe. However, milling technology such as saddle querns appear to have been simultaneously invented all over the world and there is evidence that rotary hand mills spread into Britain and then Scandinavia from Spain independent of Roman influence. This is an area of active historical research and discussion.

  • 5000 BCE – Earliest evidence for quarrying of basalt for millstones at Mayen, Germany
  • 4000 BCE – Earliest finds of saddle querns in Britain (also found elsewhere in the world at this time)
  • 500 BCE – Earliest evidence of rotary hand mills in Catalonia, Spain
  • 400 BCE – Rotary hand mills introduced to southern British Isles
  • 185 BCE – Donkey-powered rotary beehive querns become primary type of mill in Greece, Rome, Mediterranean region
  • 100 BCE – Cato describes the “Spanish mill” in “On Agriculture” in contrast to donkey mills and saddle querns used in Rome, it is believed to be a rotary hand mill
  • 25 BCE Earliest evidence for geared water-mills in Vitruvius’ “On Architecture”
  • 43 CE – Roman army brings first German basalt quern stones to Britain
  • 77 CE – Pliny’s “Natural History” describes natural processes and volcanoes
  • 200 CE – Earliest archaeological finds of rotary querns in Scandinavia in Stavanger, Norway
  • 200 CE – Geared and water driven mills becoming widespread in Rome
  • 300 CE – Finds of stationary boulder-bottomed rotary querns throughout Scandinavia
  • 400 CE – First portable rotary querns in Norway
  • 500 CE – Waterwheel driven rotary mills are primary type in Rome and much of Mediterranean
  • 700 CE – First quarrying of millstones in Hyllestad, Norway
  • 855 CE – Certification agreement between Mayen and Niedermendig quarries in Germany for Millstone production
  • 1000 CE – Water mills first appear in Norway

Types of Stones Used for Millstones

Strom (1820) classified quern stones into 3 categories:

  • Millstones that required no surface dressing (eg. vesicular basalt from Mayen)
  • Intermittent grinding with sand (eg.Hyllestad garnet/mica schist)
  • Periodic hewing of furrows (eg. granites and sandstones)

Norway was dominated by querns made of local rock, usually schist or gneiss. Hyllestad was the major supplier of garnet/mica/kyanite schist quern stones for Scandinavia. Hyllestad stones were found in some North Atlantic settlements, most likely brought with them when they settled. In Rogaland (region in SW of Norway) the quern stones were often made from erratics (rocks that have been transported and dropped by glaciers, found all over fields in Norway). Some of the earliest rotary querns in Scandinavia used local boulders that were carved and used as the bottom stone of the quern.

Mayen Basalt stones were found in Denmark and much of Europe, but did not extend much into Norway or Sweden. Mayen Basalt was the preferred stone in much of Northern Europe since Roman expansion. Local stone was still often used due to cost of transport of stones, even if it was not as efficient (eg.Sandstone).

Hyllestad/Norwegian Garnet/mica schist

The Hyllestad garnet/mica/kyanite schist are metasedimentary rocks, meaning that they were once ocean bottom sediments that were uplifted and compressed, undergoing pressure and temperature change, during the Caledonian mountain building event during the Paleozoic (starting 500 mya). Schist is a mid-grade metamorphic rock in which one of the diagnostic characteristics is the linear alignment of mica grains with some crystal differentiation and some metamorphic mineral formation (eg. Garnet and staurolite).

In the quern stones the mica is a softer mineral that is more easily abraded leaving the harder garnets as a grinding surface. 

Mayen/German vesicular basalt

The Mayen basalt is an extrusive igneous rock which was formed in a large lava flow. The lava flow solidified into multiple layers, one of which (the one that was primarily exploited) was columnar basalt. Basalt is a mafic igneous rock, meaning it is made of minerals which contain more iron and magnesium. It is also an aphanitic rock, meaning that it has fine grained (not visible to the naked eye) crystals that formed from fast crystallization on the surface when the lava was extruded. The vesicles in the vesicular basalt are formed from gas that was trapped in the lava as it was crystallizing. These vesicles are continuously exposed as the quern stone is abraded, as they are distributed regularly in the rock, providing a fresh cutting surface continually through the life of the quern stone.


Conclusions / Next Steps

Our first conclusion as mentioned earlier is that modern all-purpose wheat flour is not a good substitute for stone-ground flour. I didn’t mention it on the display but one experimental study found that even the stone-ground flour with the highest rate of extraction had 3 times as much fiber & ash as similar flour ground in a roller mill.

We are continuing our research- at the moment I am looking into sources of information on sifting after flour was ground. We have also found some information on the grains available in Scandinavia and the cooking/baking implements and techniques based on archaeological finds. There’s also some research on finds of bread as a grave good that may give some insight. One of my biggest questions has been about whether leavened bread was even a common food item in Scandinavia at that time? Hopefully some of the archaeological reports we’ve gathered will shed light on that.

We are hoping to convince a friend of ours who works stone to make some quernstones of the right stone to play with. (He seems interested and there is garnet-mica schist in our region.) In the meantime, there are a few historic mills operating in the area that sell stone ground flours of a variety of grains. We are thinking of trying some comparative baking experiments with stone-ground vs roller-mill flour.

We plan to update and expand our display as we learn more. See you this time next year at KASF!

Helena & Ragna

Dances for “Celebration de Medici”

I had the pleasure of hosting dance for Caer Mear’s “Celebration de Medici” event on February 17th, 2024. What follows is my dance list and thought process in selecting dances for the event. I’ve linked descriptions for those dances I have uploaded on the site. (I know! I need to get the dance pages fixed.)


Most of the dances that we know of from the 15th century come from the treatise of Maestro Domenico da Piacenza, written around 1455. Domenico’s primary patron was Leonello d’Este, Marquess of Ferrara but he was also a dance master for a very important connection of Cosimo’s, Francesco Sforza. Francesco was a condottiere who with the support of Cosimo took over the Duchy of Milan by marriage to the duaghter of Duke Visconti in 1450. We know that Maestro Domenico composed dances for the weddings of Francesco’s children in the 1450s. 

Another dance master strongly connected with the court of Francesco in Milan in this time was Guglielmo Ebreo. (He later converted to Christianity and changed his name to Giovanni Ambrosio). He wrote two treatises on dance, the first of which was from this same era in the 1450s. Much of it contains the same dances and other dances attributed to Maestro Domenico. I’ve included two of those  as well as one of his original choreographies. 

The marriages of Francesco’s children where these dances were performed created alliances between Milan and Naples.  Through this network of powerful allies, Cosimo created a balance of power in Italy between Florence, Milan, Venice & Naples that allowed for a time of (relative) peace in which the arts could flourish.

Set 1: Perfect Major

In music notation of the time, the terms perfect/imperfect and major/minor were used to denote the time signature of pieces. Perfect and major were triplet relationships, while Imperfect and minor were duplet relationships. The first set of dances I have nicknamed “perfect major”. This would be a 9/8 time signature in modern terms. All of these dances are for multiples of 3 people.

  1. Belfiore by Domenico, for lines of 3 people
  2. Jupiter by Domenico, for lines of 3 people
  3. Spero by Guglielmo, for 3 people in a row
  4. Gelosia by Domenico, for 3 couples

Set 2: Imperfect Minor

This set is called “imperfect minor” which would be a 2/4 time signature because all the dances are for 2 or 4 people.

  1. Petit Rose from Guglielmo but attributed to Domenico, for 2 people
  2. Lioncello by Domenico, for 2 people 
  3. Rostiboli Gioioso from Guglielmo but attributed to Domenico, for 2 people
  4. Anello by Domenico, for 2 couples

Set 3: Perfected Minor

These dances are versions for three people of dances for two we already learned.

  1. Lioncello Novo by Domenico, for 3 people in a row
  2. Gioioso in Tre by Giovanni Ambrosio, for 3 people in a row


I really need some time to get the dance pages on here finished. I would like to have my work in reconstructing them which is currently spread out across multiple physical notebooks, Evernote, Google docs and emails in one place. I would to have short-hand and more in depth directions for each dance easily accessible. It would have been nice to easily copy-paste all that into a dance booklet for this event. I do have a hand-written notebook for these dances, where I have my shorthand versions to refer to when teaching my regular dance practice. That’s not great for a scenario like a ball.

On the day I had about 12 dancers join me, with varying levels of experience in historical dance. We did not quite follow my set-list as written. We did the first set, and then after the break dance Petit Rose and Rostiboli Gioioso from the second set, and then wrapped up with Gioioso in Tre. That was a lot in 2 hours!

I originally had the sets switched in order and also had 3 sets of 3 dances each. I rather wish I’d kept that plan … 4 dances in a set seems reasonable for a set if you can just do them, but when you are teaching every dance it is a lot. I also think Petite Rose would have been an easier introduction for the newer dancers.


Like many other people, I’ve had some weight and body composition changes since the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately that means that much of my finest 15th century Italian clothing does not fit any more. I have also not really been able to fix that problem since I was in a car accident last August and injured my wrist. I am only slowly returning to crafting as I am still going through physical therapy and treatment from my wrist surgery.

In light of all that, the idea of what to wear for this event was a bit terrifying!

But, I lucked out! My mid-15th century masculine outfit still fit pretty well after all. It was fun to dance in too!