Medieval girdle purses - How do I make them now


Ever since the cool commision mentioned in the previous article, which I am still really greatfull for, I started to collect those small articles and trying to put together more coherent picture of the differences between well published 15th century pieces and the earlier ones. I intend to continue this adventure of discoveries and I am looking forward to have more and more of those :)

What I do now with the information collected is, that I take the fragment of a purse, print it 1:1, make it symetrical for the cutting pattern (as I expect them to be perfect when made, and deformed by enduring those 700 years in the ground) and I try to fit it with the remaining parts as Olaf Goubitz suggests in his book using the ratio and rules applied on the pieces which have more pieces intact. So when you read the description of my products, there is usually a note of which part is the original part and what is made up by me.

The two pieces mentioned below ilustrate this process quite well. I based the work on an excavated fragment of front panel of the back pocket (using Goubitzes theses) from Konstanz (Schnack 1994, taf.44, 518/552) from late 13th century. The leather fragment was identified as caprinae (goat / sheep skin) so I made at least one of these two out of vegetable tanned goat leather (using several thicknesses of the leather according to its use on the purse). Only the outer pouchlets are made out of chrom tanned leather serving as a substitute to tawed leather. The decorated piece is made out of vegetable tanned beef leather. The overall shape is taken from the excavated fragment, and using analogy of the newer and more complete pieces I made the front part slightly bigger. Some of the dutch pieces and definitelly the complete mini piece from London from the previous article have the back part smaller, and sometimes not copying the front shape  as precisely as one would expect. Also in the contemporary art of 14th century the purses usually seem as one shape which would support the theory of smaller pieces being on the back. 

The shape of the loops for the belt is taken from Romance of Alexander, and I used two shapes from the same manuscript (fol. 98r; 82v). I used this manuscript, which dates to 1338 - 1344 which is later than the purse, but as there are not very many such purses depicted in earlier manuscripts (and some reenactors who follow only the depicted sources would not be convinced by this shape) and I did not have as much time to research I used it. It is possible, that even with more time it will be hard to get a picture in art of this shape. But as it is not the only detail which is dated to an earlier date by archaeology than it is dated by art historians, I think it should be ok. This discontinuity in art and archaeology mentiones C. Driel-Murray in her article about the scabbards from Leiden - NL dated to 1st half of the 14th century on an example of rainguaards. (Driel-Murray 2017, Fourteenth-century sword sheaths from Leiden city centre, page 44: "...four rain-guards (figure 9 no.1-4), little leather caps covering the join of he grip and quillons and sometimes, but not always, fitting over the mouth of the sheath. Rain guards do not become common on depictions until well after 1350, but this association suggests that both they, and the long handled swords, were already in use long before artists began to record them"). But it is true, that my digital collection of pictures from manuscripts and contemporary paintings is mostly from later 14th century and lack of depictions could be originating from there.

In the depictions are the purses mostly black. By going through the Czech and Slovakian sources I found also red (Liber Viaticus, the man has the red purse even embelished with some small pieces of something), brown (Knížky šestery Tomáše ze Štítného; Právní kniha písaře Jana; frescos in a church in Podolinec SK) and I expect also different colours in different sources. That is why I make also colourfull ones, but if you want to be super sure on accuracy go for black (or brown, or red)

In my day to day production I cut and dye the purses by hand, but following the demand of availability in price I do not sew them by hand except for the parts where the hand sewing is necessary, and the really tiny pieces where it does not eat up too much of the overall budget. But I use thick linnen thread for the machine sewing, and I think, that the visual difference in between this type of machine sewing and bad hand sewing is not that obvious (it might be more neatly done by hand, you can check the French purse for comparison... that one is actually fully hand sewn). I am able to make a hand sewn piece as a comission, so if you are interested in such thing do not hesitate to contact me. It will cost more money though.

The back panel of the front pocket is quite often made out of several pieces sewn together by edge - flesh seam. This detail, if present on the purses of my making, is always made by hand. In case of goat leather, which is precious to me (almost as all leather probably was to medieval craftsmen) it makes sense to me even from the point of saving the material (otherwise it usually does not pay time - wise except for the fact that it is a cool detail... :) This detail is also visible on one of our Czech pieces from Chrudim (Frolík&Sigl 1998). You can see my interpretation of that here. That piece is really cool for Czech region, as it is almost complete, only the front part of the back pocket is missing. You can even see it in ethnic museum in Chrudim right at the start of the exhibition following the history of the city. Go and have a look at it. 

I enjoy making the purses, and I have many plans in my head and in my files with potential patterns. Latest plan (and the replicas of the buckles arrived last week) is to try some pretty 15th century piece with that avoided closing strap, and that really tiny decorated 13th century one. The earlier one will probably take time, as I want to find more comparable pieces before I start to draw the patterns :)

The great disadvantage of making the purses 1:1 to original size is, that the 14th century pieces are usually too small to fit a mobile phone :D (where are the times where the smallest phone was the coolest one, I am looking forward to that fashion to come back... ) But I believe, that for some reenactors the accuracy will be good enough reason to get one in the correct size. 

So the plans are set, and I hope to get at least some o them finished in forseeable future, and if you have any special idea about purses you would like to have made don´t hesitate to contact me, I am open to new ideas and sources :)