Exploring the obscure – my journey

‘Yellow aura across the forehead was uncommonly auspicious’ or The court makeup from the state of Běi Wèi 北魏 (Northern Wei) in Northern China, 5-6th century CE

For a recent Northshield A&S competition I decided to make period color cosmetics and do the makeover in front of judges. I have re-discovered the passion for working with herbs and other ingredients that I enjoyed so much during my high school times.
Based on the preserved artwork, extant cosmetic samples, manuals, and poetry, I plan to recreate the period cosmetics used for the court face makeup in Northern Wei in the 5-6th century CE. The archaeology of Northern Wei is considerably new and we do not have the full knowledge of the culture of the Xianbei people. As there are many gaps, I also use sources that predate the Wei state (Warring States and Han Dynasty, 5th century BCE to 2nd century CE) or are slightly post-date but mention the descent from earlier times (Sui Dynasty and early Tang Dynasty (6th to 7th century CE). Recipes used for making the cosmetics were followed as closely as possible. In case of toxic substances, I made the original ones as a part of display only and to have a reference for matching safer replacements. My recipes are included in the main part of this work while the description of plant ingredients and the recipes for ointment bases are included in the appendix section.
The cosmetics made within the scope of this entry include:
-the Hu powder or the white makeup base (hufen),
-the yellow forehead paint (e’huang),
-the eyebrow paint (daimei),
-the rouge (yanzhi),
-the lip oil (chunzhi),
-the decoration for the forehead (huadian) and cheeks (mianye).
The simplified diagram of the complete makeup is shown below:

face diagram
The cosmetics are presented in a historically accurate style, including the toilet box, containers, applicators and accessories. The application process, performed on my face, will be also part of this presentation.
This entry is a part of an ongoing major project, dedicated to the complete beauty regimen of women of Northern Wei. The lessons learnt from making color makeup will definitively help in the part dedicated to skin care.



Bias cut edging dated to the Liao Dynasty

This is an example of the bias cut edging used to finish the  side wings of a headdress dated to 1000-1163 (Liao Dynasty founded by the Khitans). The edging is made of blue silk gauze cut on bias and  attached around the curved sides of the wings. So far this is the first example for the use of bias tape of sort within SCA timeline.


All images were published in the catalog of Liao Dynasty items in the collection of the Abegg-Stiftung in  Riggisberg, Switzerland.

Schorta, R., Viràg, C. von., & Abegg-Stiftung. (2007). Dragons of silk, flowers of gold : a group of Liao-dynasty textiles at the Abegg-Stiftung. Riggisberg [Switzerland]: Abegg-Stiftung.

Finding my place within SCA

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I went to my first archery practice  hosted by local  SCA group (Society for Creative Anachronism) in October 2012. It was difficult time for me  and I needed a new kind of  entertainment to keep me going in daily life. Archery seemed like a great choice. I was lucky that the archers of Jararvellir are so welcoming to a new person. Yes, I have heard stories about new people who are constantly ignored, pushed away and finally quit and never return. Archery was the starting point. I know I will never excel at it, but I can still enjoy it.

I came to SCA  having a specific persona in mind. Alessandra Salviati Crespelle, a woman living in the early 16th century Florence. Pretty  sottana (dress) was what I wanted. I loved to dress up when I was a kid and this love has stayed with me. I have never before sewn anything for a human, I only dressed my dolls. Looks like I need challenges in my life and within  two years, I have became an owner of  beautiful dresses, custom tailored to my figure and entirely hand sewn (thanks to my Mother’s dedicated work on the long seams). My sewing machine seems to be used mostly as serger  for finishing ends of new fabric before washing. My love for the voluminous dresses was abruptly ended when I went to my first outdoor event, Warriors and Warlords, held in Boscobel, Wisconsin, in 2013. The whole area was drenched for few days with heavy rain and by the time I  arrived at the archery camp,  my skirts were wet and in mud till my knees. It was not getting better with high humidity and heat and my felt-lined bodice nearly suffocated me before the noon. And forget about archery in this kind of dress, it is perfect for a court and not for outdoor activities.

I have learnt from my mistakes and decided to create an alternate persona for summer so I can enjoy events and not suffer all the time. I was not aware that the 600 CE cut off date for SCA start time was no longer in use  (I was considering ancient Greek or Roman persona) and so I settled on the early Kingdom of Italy (or the Kingdom of the Langobards). When I was in college, I read a book on the forgotten nations of Europe and somehow the  Langobards came to my mind. Perfect topic for research as nothing is known about the female costume of the early 7th century CE. I could be a barbarian and at the same time copy all the Byzantine  high fashion. And so my alternate persona came to life – Grisiltruda Fortunata, a daughter of a Langobard warrior and Roman woman. I enjoy researching the early Langobard  life in Italy and I think that my research on the costume has really resulted in a spectacular outfits.

I would not be myself  though if I do not take more routes to explore. I love Chinese costume movies  so I made a Tang Dynasty  hufu (‘foreign clothes’)  outfit for the archery activities. Yes, it is perfect for outdoors. It is perfect for archery. What I did not know in 2013 was that Tang China was not to be my exotic place to have another persona. Studying the Langobards  history before the invasion of Italy, I learned about the Avars who pushed Langobards from Pannonia (modern day Hungary). Who were the Avars? Well, some historians identify them with the Rourans who were forced away from the northern  Asian steppes by the warriors of Northern Wei. Now I know that it is not so certain but Northern Wei came to my attention. An empire that lasted less than 200 years but was the setting point for the glory of Tang Dynasty. Yes, all the best of Tang China, from pipa music, the fashion and make up, from  the considerable freedom of women to the taste for exotica of all kind  were inherited from the Northern Wei culture. The Xianbei  nomads, as they were called by the Han Chinese, created an empire that combined the civilized way of living and the nomads’ love for freedom.

In 2016 I made the final decision to change my primary SCA persona to the Northern Wei one. It may be a fight to get the new name formally registered but I am convinced I have enough evidence to justify the choice of name. Dúgū Jǐnán (獨孤 濟南) seems to fit me perfectly. It may have been a premonition that when I went to test out horsebows for sale in 2013, the only bow that I liked was an asymmetric  Hunnish one. Similar bows were used by the Xianbei. So I can say that my bow purchase was a perfect choice for a persona that I came up with years later. And I am really lucky that the graduate students in Asian studies run out of popular topics and have started solid research on the steppe nomads. Plenty of material to look at and enjoy. And I can make side trips to Korea’s kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla in search of extra information on Xianbei (yes, the enemies were always well informed).

I have finally found my place in SCA. I can enjoy digging into the daily life and customs of not very well known nations and have a lot of satisfaction along the way. I need a place to gather my research  and eventually have a way to share it  so I have decided to start a blog. A blog dedicated to all things Xianbei and Langobards.