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

Making a Leather Purse With a Brass Frame – pt 3


After looking at all of the historical purse frames that I could locate I decided to make mine from Brass. The majority of the purse frames that I found were some sort of copper alloy, so this seemed appropriate. I purchased the brass in the form of ¼ inch round rod. I determined the size purse frame that I wanted and sawed the rod into the proper lengths for the stretchers. These lengths were then roughly bent into “C” shapes (to make them smaller) and placed into my kiln to anneal. In period, the pieces would have been placed in a forge or furnace, but I don’t currently have access to either of these. The annealed brass was then hammered on an anvil to flatten and shape the rods. A metal hammer was used to forge the brass and a leather mallet was used to shape the brass. Whenever the metal became too hard I placed it back in the kiln to anneal it again. This process was repeated until the frame had assumed the desired shape, which is based on the Sutton Hoo purse. At that point I hammered the ends of the rod flat, perpendicular to the remainder of the flattened rod. They had been left in the round up to this point. I then rounded then with a file. Holes were drilled in the ends of the stretchers to accommodate the support rod.

– There’s more yet to come. Keep watching!

Making a Leather Purse With a Brass Frame – pt 2

I used deer hide for the leather. “Dress Accessories” documents the use of deer hide in purses.[1]

The use of a decorative plaque on the purse lid is illustrated historically by the Sutton Hoo purse. In the case of the Sutton Hoo purse lid, the decorative pieces are set with solid inlay garnets and milifiori.  The decorative pieces were riveted to the lid.[2] I chose to make an enameled roundel and rivet it to the purse lid. The design for the roundel was copied from the St. Mathew page of the Book of Kells.[3] Designs of this type were commonly incorporated into jewelry and other items, both enameled and plain.[4] I chose an Irish design because a considerable quantity of loot from Ireland ended up as jewelry in Viking graves. The reuse and reworking of looted items was extremely common. [5]

In the case of the Sutton Hoo lid the stiffness was provided by a sheet of ivory – something that was not on my shopping list, so I settled for a thin sheet of birch, which I covered with leather. I chose birch because it was a commonly used hardwood in period and is dimensionally stable. I chose NOT to cover the inside of the lid because I felt that the interior of the pouch would not have been considered important enough to waste a lot of effort on. Things like rivets and peaned over nails often show on the back in period crafts.

-But wait! There’s more coming!

[1] Egan, p. 342

[2] Evans, p. 96

[3] Cirker, p. 10

[4] Campbell, p.65, Meehan, p. 18

[5] Campbell, p. 177,  Almgren, p. 50, 213