This post details the decision made during the creation of a medieval-style leather purse, including an enameled copper disc used as a decoration.
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
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.
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.
 Evans, p. 85