At Home in the Shire
Computer scientist goes medieval
Deep in the Kingdom of Aethelmearc, Lady Aibell ingen Dairmata is sewing a burgundy-and-blue replica of a 12th-century bliaut. When she's finished, she'll present the garb to the herald who, last year, announced to the Kingdom populace that Aibell (pronounced "AY-val") would apprentice with a master seamstress.
Paying the herald is one of the many medieval traditions followed by the members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an international "living history" organization dedicated to researching and recreating arts and skills from the Middle Ages. Aibell, otherwise known as Lea Wittie, associate professor of computer science, joined the SCA years ago, after a college activities fair.
"There were crazy people in funny clothes dancing on the lawn," she says. "I was always interested in that period of history, but I'd never run into people like that before." She remained a member through graduate school and joined the central Pennsylvania Shire of Abhainn Ciach Ghlais when she became part of the Bucknell faculty nine years ago.
In addition to sewing, Wittie meets up with fellow SCAers to cook medieval recipes using spices such as galangal and long peppers, which resemble small pinecones. "A hallmark of medieval food is that it's cooked multiple times - boiled, then baked, then fried," says Wittie. "Wouldn't you want your food cooked that much if you didn't have refrigeration?"
She also weaves belts and trim for dresses, placing varying colors of threads through holes punched in patterns on cards, and then winding the cards around each other to form a pattern in the fabric.
"The method is similar to the way older computers work," she says. "Weaving has all the basic language elements I teach to my first-year computer-science students."