Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries

Book Review: 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries

(Originally written about 2004, I pretty sure this has been published somewhere, I just can’t find proof)

100 Great Archaeological Discoveries.  Edited by Paul G. Bahn.  Barnes & Nobel Books: New York, 1995.

This book is a fascinating passport into the past.  The clothing, tools and crafts far surpass in skill and detail that a modern person would expect of  “primitive” times.  Concrete bathhouses in the 2nd century AD, intricately tattooed people from 400 BC, a thirty foot stone tower built with an internal staircase created 9,000 years ago and ground ovens over 30,000 years old are just a few of the items left behind by our ancestors.  Mankind ever moves forward, our wealth not based on gold and silver, but the work and discoveries of those that have gone before.  This book gives the combination to the vault of history and lets us take a moment to admire its contents.  Beautifully illustrated, the book is able to be read in short bursts with two or three pages devoted to each discovery.  Skim for the headliners, such as Tutankhamen’s tomb, then go back and read the rest of the articles. You will be amazed at how far we have come.

Applications:  History of Garb, Architecture, Beads & Glasswork, etc… Personas – Viking, Roman, Spanish, Russian.
Cost: $16 through Barnes & Nobel (in 2004).

Book Review: Knights and Castles

Book Review: Knights and Castles

(article submitted for publication in December 2017 to The Phoenix,  Barony of the Sacred Stone)

Knights and Castles. Rupert Matthews. DK Books, a Division of Penguin-Random House: New York. June 2016.

Part of the DK reading series, Knights and Castles is aimed at “L3 – Reading Alone,” about the second to third grade reading levels. Each of the five chapters contains a different subject related to the Medieval times (950 to 1500 ad). Chapter 1 covers the initial wooden forts, including a nice schematic on how to build a Motte-and-Bailey castle. Combined with chapter 2, a reader gets a good idea about the evolution of castles from earthen works through towers to multi-level stone fortifications. Chapter 3 talks about several knights: Sir James Douglas, Sir John Hawkwood, El Sid, and Sir William Marshal. Chapter 5 discusses some of the most famous sieges.

Chapter 4, my favorite, is on monk-knights like the famous Templars and the lesser known orders like Calatrava. I’ve attended some short lectures on the monastic warriors and this book answered some lingering questions.

An informative book, Knights and Castles, is perfect for SCA children, though parents may want to keep it on their own shelves.

Applications: Siege weapons, history, architecture, personas
Cost: $4 cover price, available at Books-a-Million and other locations.

Book Review: Traditional Icelandic Embroidery

Book Review: Traditional Icelandic Embroidery

(article originally published in Summer 2004, Ironmonger, Barony of Iron Bog)

Traditional Icelandic Embroidery, 2nd edition.  Guđjónsson, Elsa E.  2003.

List Price: $35.00.  Selling through the Barnes & Noble site at this time for $28.00.

This book is more of a history then a how-to book, yet it still provides some excellent diagrams on how to execute historical embroidery stitches.  The focus of the book is reviewing extent historical embroideries that were created in Iceland.  The author has done extensive research on the subject and shares her knowledge on these embellished textiles that survive from the 15th century through the 19th century.  She provides details on all of the still existing medieval embroideries and on most of the post-reformation embroideries.  There are only a couple score of historical embroideries that were created in Iceland still in existence; through this book a reader will discover the present location, materials of creation, size of the item, and techniques used to create them.

The only drawback is she tends to write about these items in an overview manner, grouped together by embroidery technique.  To figure out exactly what materials, what colors and what techniques were used on each item, one has to go through a chapter and take extensive notes to reassemble the details on an individual item.  Fortunately there is always less then a score of embroideries for each technique.  If you are interested in the scholarly dissertation of each item and can read Icelandic, the author has published a number of articles covering the individual items she has studied; it is from this body of work, which is listed in the bibliography, that she has created this book for the general public.

About half the book, illustrations and text, deal with information from SCA period.  The best part of the book is the fifteen illustrations from eleven little-seen extent embroideries in beautiful color and focus.  There are more illustrations than these, but only the fifteen mentioned deal with the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  In the back are twenty-four pages of designs the author has created based on historical embroideries.  Unfortunately only one of them is from the SCA period, and it is for a piece not covered in the book.

For SCA purposes, this book gives a good overview of the embroidery in Iceland, though not a clear progress from one embroidery and time period to the next.  Overall the book is for more advanced embroiderers who want to look into the history of embroidery or for those gentles of Icelandic personas.  It lacks coherence and detail for deep research, but it is a good start on the topic.

Book Review: Ottoman Embroidery – 4 Books

BOOK REVIEW: Ottoman Embroidery and Friends – 4 Books

(article originally published in Fall 2004, Ironmonger, Barony of Iron Bog)

At the moment there are three Ottoman Embroidery books available In-Print; a wonderful boom to Middle Eastern embroideriers, or so you would think.  While the Ottoman empire started in the fourteen century, with its roots in the eleventh century, all of the books start covering the embroidery in the very late sixteenth century.  Out of the over four hundred illustrations, there is only thirteen photos between all three books from SCA period.

Each book has its own strengths.  “Ottoman Embroidery” by Marianne Ellis has the most SCA era pictures.  “Flowers of Silk and Gold” is the only book with pictures of people wearing clothes and has the best close-ups.  “Ottoman Embroidery” by Roderick Taylor gives the most historical detail, including descriptions on how the embroidery was actually used in day-to-day life.

But if you want a book on how to do period Middle Eastern embroidery, “Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt” is your best bet.  It covers Egyptian needlework until it is conquered by the Ottoman Empire.  Of the four books reviewed, this is the only one worth adding to your embroidery book collection.

I should note that at Pennsic, I attended a class on Ottoman Garments under false pretenses (not caring at all about the clothing).  Joy of joys, the teacher dumped his collection of books before us and I missed most of the lecture pawing through them hoping against hope to find something, anything about the embroidery.  Among his hoard was “Ipek: The Crescent & The Rose.”  I have ordered the book and am awaiting its arrival.  Once it is read, I will let you know if it fills the void these books left gaping.


Ottoman Embroidery. Marianne Ellis and Jennifer Wearden. V&A Publications: London.  2001.

Far from the definitive book on Ottoman embroidery, this book is strangely disappointing despite beautiful full color photographs of uncommon embroidery pieces.  Drawing exclusively from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection on this mid-eastern embroidery style, it is limited to showing pieces that have migrated to England.  While the Ottoman Empire started in the fourteenth century, the earliest piece shown in the book is from the sixteenth century, the start of the (friendly) English interest in the Turkish domain.  The Empire ruled until the twentieth century.

Two hundred years of primary interest for a SCAdian, when the style of embroidery was developing, is missing.  In addition, the one century from SCA period only has a meager nine illustrations of the 155 vibrant color plates.  The photo section takes up a vast majority of the content of the book, devoting a full nine-by-twelve page to nearly every picture.  The book opens with a nine-page overview of the history of the Ottoman Empire and the place of embroidery within its borders; a pleasing quick, informative read.  It closes with an eight-page chapter on the techniques they used to create the embroidery.  Using this chapter and the excellent photographic representations from the previous section, an embroider may be able to recreate a sixteenth century embroidery using pattern darning, THE embroidery form of the Ottoman Empire, if s/he have some experience in the technique to aid in figuring out the fairly confusing how-to diagrams.

Applications:  Ottoman History.  Embroidery technique of pattern darning.
Costs: List Price $45.00.


Ottoman Embroidery.  Roderick Taylor.  Interlink Books: New York.  1993.

This well-structured book has excellent chapter breakdown:  History of the Ottoman Empire, Design & Patterns, Materials (describing ground fabrics and embroidery materials that were used), Techniques (description of stitches, but no instructions on how to do them), Collections (giving a long list of museums which have Ottoman embroidery), and the Embroideries themselves.  Anything they embroidered is covered: clothing items (described down to size and construction), home objects (including bedding) and larger embroideries (such as tents).  I loved the two pages regarding dyes and the section on prayer rugs, plus an interesting bit of about a page on the textile guilds found within the Empire (weavers, dyers, embroiders, etc.).  I found the section on ceremonial textiles, and the ceremonies they were made for, abruptly brief.

The major lack of the book is hard dates.  At one point early on, the author mentions that there wasn’t much change in the embroidery in six hundred years, and then throughout the book, mentions minor changes happening.  I ended up having to create a timeline of the Ottoman Empire in order to figure out what happened within SCA period.

There are 140 color photographs, not displayed in date order, with each embroidery shown given size, materials, stitch and an approximate date (usually something along the lines of  “before 1700”).  Only four pictures are close-up enough to see the stitches in the fabric and only two of the pictures definitely come from SCA period.  There is a quilt-facing opposite the title page with the description under the copyright information on the back of the title page, very easy to miss. The best picture, for which I would recommend checking out this book thru interlibrary loan to view if you are interested, is of a tent from 1525; this richly decorated tent is a jewel.

Applications: Ottoman History.  Maybe dyes, Ottoman clothing, guilds.
Costs:  Checked out thru interlibrary loan.  A number of libraries in NJ have the book.  Available through Barnes and Nobel for $30 (a sales price).


Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroideries.  Sumru Belger Krody.  Merrell Publications in association with The Textile Museum: Washington, DC.  2000.

This book is a hollow joy for an SCA embroiderer.  Lavishly illustrated with over 100 crisp color photographs, it has only two illustrations from SCA period; neither of which is of exceptional note.  One is of an embroidery, the other is from the Codex Vindobonensis (dated 1590) showing a miniature of ladies sitting in the Harem.  The book was specifically written to chronicle urban Ottoman embroidery from the 17th century to the 20th.

Focusing on the Textile Museum Collection in Washington DC, half the book forms a catalogue with fifty-seven extent pieces, each item having a beautiful picture and description including thread count, dimensions, embroidery style and materials involved.  The balance of the book is broken into three sections:  a brief history of the Ottoman Empire, methods of embroidery production, and designs found in the embroidery.

The best parts of the book, from an embroidery standpoint, is the glossary with several illustrations on how to do some of the more obscure stitches, and the chapter on Makers and Methods which has a number of close-ups of embroideries, allowing a viewer to see the individual stitches.  The map showing the borders of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century is worthy of note.

Unless you actually need to see how the stitches are formed, this book useless to a SCAdian.  If you must view it, check it out through interlibrary loan.

.Applications: Ottoman History.  Embroidery stitches
Costs:  Borrowed from Lady Cellach.  List Price $45.00.


Embroiders and samplers from Islamic Egypt.  Marianne Ellis.  Ashmolean Museum: Oxford, England.  2001.

The collection covered in this book was donated by Percy Newberry to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and contains over 1,000 fragments.  Sixty-six full color pictures were taken of the best of the surviving pieces covering the Tulunid (868-905 AD), the Fatamid (969-1171 AD), the Ayyubid (1172-1249 AD) and the Mamluk periods (1250-1517 AD).  With each picture comes a description giving the thread count of the fabric for both weft and warp, the material of the fabric and thread, the color and twist of the thread, what the original purpose of the embroidery is suspected to be, the size of the surviving piece, and the date of the item.  Most of the dates are guessed based on the design and materials of the embroidery, but some of the pieces have been radiocarbon dated.

This book will spoil you on all further extent embroidery books.  The only thing missing is the diagram of the stitches, but there are plenty of “how-to” books on the market to cover this lack.  The four-page introduction covers how the collection was gathered and a very, very brief historical discussion.  The “must-have” aspect of this book is related to the details shared on each extent piece it covers.  If you are an embroider, and have the basics for your collection, this book is an excellent next-step for specializations.  Most of the embroideries of this book are pattern darning, but there are other counted forms, a few free pieces, some couched items, open work, appliqué and one padded work piece.

Applications:  Egyptian personas (868 to 1517).  Embroidery.
Costs: Available on-line new in hardback and softback, be careful to purchase in the format you want.