For characters who regularly use certain types of ritual spells in Fools and Heroes – priests, devotees and mages – writing out all your scrolls can become a bit of a chore. Particularly if you are someone who wants to make their scrolls decorative after the fashion of their character, but who doesn’t want to see it all go to waste.
There is a way to get around this – creating reusable scrolls from artists canvas. This is only appropriate for the rituals used regularly, but with some canvas and simple artistic supplies a number of scrolls can be made and used again and again and again.
This week I would like to explain about preparing and creating these scrolls, to cover the different decorative techniques I have been using another time.
The basis for your scrolls is a rectangle of artists canvas. This can be bought from any art store as unstretched canvas. Buy a length and cut it into smaller sections (approximately the width of a piece of A4 paper or whatever dimensions your system requires).
The other key component is wooden dowelling or something to wrap your scroll around.
Some spells or types of scroll call for particular colours of ribbon. I usually use a piece of ribbon to tie scrolls shut for ease when they are not ritual scrolls, though twine or cord would do the trick. Make sure your ribbon is cut to a suitable length and the edges sealed (either sewn down or melted with fire to stop it fraying).
- Decorative materials – paints, inks, crayons, thread etc
- Text – knowing what you’re going to write is important!
Preparing your Scroll
Before I begin I mark out a set of wide bands across the top and bottom of my scroll with a metal ruler and pencil and decide which will be the top edge. I mark the back corner with a small arrow pointing upwards to remind me so that I don’t lose track whilst working – this is important if you know you’ll be putting your project down between stages.
I mark the bands on the back of the canvas too – the lower of the two pencil lines shows me where to fold the canvas edge to when sewing the channel for the dowelling. I leave this to last, so having a marker helps when laying out the decorative features of the scroll.
I then mark out any borders or boundaries and begin to sketch out the decorative elements, but this could be postponed. What you need to do is know where your decoration is going to be and any gaps you intend to leave between your text and the border/edge.
I then mark out my horizontal lines down the length of the scroll between which I will write my text.
A word of warning – use your pencil lightly, because rubbing pencil lines off artists canvas takes ages, much effort, and never really leaves. I accept that there may always been faint grey lines and just ignore them, but if you want your surface to be pristine and clean except for your text I urge you to experiment or practise writing in a straight line freehand.
Once everything is marked out, I mark any places where the scroll will be cut. If a scroll has to be torn, as they are required to be in my LARP system to activate the spell/ritual and to show the scroll’s power has been used, I cut the scroll in two and join the two halves together each time with some masking tape to give the impression of a complete document. Sometimes I wait until I’ve written and decorated the scroll before cutting it in half, sometimes I prepare this seam in advance if I know I have a suitable break between sections of text and I treat the edges with superglue to stop the canvas from unravelling. This part stinks (literally) and the cloth can get hot as the glue melts the fibres. Treat superglue with caution and leave the treated edges to dry before continuing. The glue leaves a little ridge in your work, but I found I could ignore it when reading from the text when using the prop during a game.
I used to mark the halves with a small number/letter so I knew which piece went with which when sorting out my “torn” scrolls after an event, but that was a personal choice.
If you don’t intend to tear the scroll, don’t bother cutting the canvas in half.
You should now have a prepared surface which can be decorated or written on. I used permenant markers for my original pieces, though have discovered recently that acrylic paints can make a real difference in how a decorative border looks – particularly when attempting to mimic heraldic devices. I have been doing some experimenting as part of an ongoing project, but I will discuss this in detail another time. I still use marker to do my text as I feel more comfortable holding the pen and writing rather than trying to paint lots of runic letters into a confined space.
Once the scroll is all written, decorated and ready for use, I then turn to my sewing machine. Folding the upper edge of the cloth to the back creates the pocket which can hold the wooden dowel / sticks required by my LARP system rules, and rather than sewing through the canvas by hand I prefer to let my trusty sewing machine do the hard work. I pin the canvas in place and working with the scroll face up, I sew a straight stitch along the faint pencil line I drew earlier in white thread.
You now have a canvas scroll that can be carried proudly when in the field – to demonstrate your noble heritage, to demonstrate your right to bear arms, to call down the blessings of the gods or to wreck havoc with the power of soulfire – or simply just have a decorative addition to your in-character tent should you choose.
If you have an interest in turning your hand to actual calligraphy or are interested in reading about calligraphy techniques, I would recommend the blog run by Ian the Green, a scribe of the Middle Kingdom in the SCA . He recently wrote a series aimed at newcomers to the calligraphic arts which may be of interest (click here). I found it a useful resource when I was working on my recent reuseable scrolls for the Black Order, and thank Ian the Green for sharing his knowledge, musings and research with the wider online community.