Making a Leather Purse With a Brass Frame – Finished!


My thoughts On This Project


I really enjoyed this project and will definitely make more purses. Actually building a purse made me better understand some of the details, like rivet locations and the number of stretcher bars, that I had witnessed in English museums. A truly period version of the purse frame would have relied less on soldering and more on rivets to join pieces. Soldering was a difficult task in period and rarely used on non-precious metals. In terms of the roundel, the variations in color within the red are due to the fact that modern red enamels are slightly unstable and burn easily and the fact that I am a beginning enameller. With practice I should be able to achieve a more even color. This is the largest enamel that I have ever done. I knew that red was a fussy color, but I wanted it any way. I have seen the same sort of color variations in period enamels.




Almgren, Bertil, “The Viking”, Crescent Books, 1975


Campbell, James, “The Anglo-Saxons”, Cornel University Press, 1982


Cirker, Blanche, “The Book of Kells: Selected plates in Full Color”, Dover, 1982


Egan, Geoff and Pritchard, Frances, “Dress Accessories, c. 1150-1450”, 1991


Evans, Angela Care, “The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial”, British Museum Press, 1986


Meehan, Bernard, “The Book of Durrow: A Medieval Masterpeice at Trinity College Dublin”, Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1996


Stapleton, C.P., Freestone, I.C. and Bowman, S.G.E., “Composition and Origin of Early Medieval Opaque Red Enamel from Britain and Ireland”, Journal of Archaeological Science, Article No. jasc.1999.0399, Academic Press, 1999

Making a Leather Purse With a Brass Frame – pt 5

I made a pattern for the leather portion of the purse from muslin. I cut out the leather and sewed it to the frame. In period they would probably have used waxed linen thread. I didn’t have any black linen thread, so I chose to use black artificial sinew instead. I used two needles on each cord and double stitched the entire purse. I chose to do this for both strength and appearance sake. Double stitching with linen thread was commonly used in the manufacture of turnshoes.

The purse clasp is made from a toggle and a silk string. Toggles of this type are commonly used on shoes and boots. I have seen them at the Museum of London and the City Museum of York. The toggle was made by rolling up a triangular piece of leather, cutting a slot through the roll with a sharp chisel and threading the end of the triangular piece of leather back through the roll.  Some historical purses use the same sort of pressure fittings commonly used in modern framed coin purses, but it is often impossible to determine how a purse was kept closed from the archaeological remains. The Sutton Hoo purse has an elaborate locking mechanism.[1]

Once the bag was in place I drilled three holes in the edges of the enamel roundel and riveted it to the purse lid. I chose to do a simple clinch rivet because of the danger of cracking the enamel by flexing the copper too much.

= Coming next – My thoughts on this project, and a bibliography

[1] Evans, p. 85

Making a Leather Purse With a Brass Frame – pt 4

The support rod was made from a piece of ¼ inch round brass rod. I used a file to reduce the diameter of the rod on each end until it was small enough to fit into the holes in the stretchers. The stretchers were then slipped in place and finials were soldered onto the ends of the support rod with silver solder. The finials were made from 3/8 inch round brass rod. I used a file to shape the rod, marked the center of the rod with a center punch, and then drilled a hole in the center of the rod to accommodate the support rod.

The loops for the leather support straps were made from 3/16 inch brass welding rod. They were bent with pliers, cut with a wire cutter, smoothed and shaped with a file and then soldered to the purse support bar with silver solder. The contact points on the bar and the welding rod were flattened somewhat to allow for a greater area of contact for soldering. The welding rod was hammered and then filed, and the support rod was filed.

The purse lid required some sort of stiffening material. I chose the best piece of clear birch that I could find. I resawed it with a handsaw to make it as thin as possible and then continued the thinning process with a rasp, chisel, wood plane and cabinet scraper. I then cut the board to the proper shape and glued leather to the board. The board was then riveted to the top of the purse frame. I used a longer rivet in the center front of the purse to act as a loop for the clasp.

The roundel on the purse lid uses a design from the St. Matthew page of the Book of Kells. I etched the design into the copper round, using ferric chloride. In period they would have engraved the design, but I haven’t learned to do that yet. I chose to use red enamel for the majority of the design because it was used commonly in early Celtic enameling and was generally considered to be a high status color. [1]  White is a very stable enamel and was used extensively in ancient enamels. The enamels were placed into the etched areas and fired in a kiln. This process was repeated several times until the enamel reached the same height as the surface of the metal. At that point the enamel was ground down by hand using wet and dry sandpaper until a smooth surface was achieved.

[1] Stapleton, p. 913