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

Making a Leather Purse With a Brass Frame – pt 1

Leather Purse with Brass Frame

History and Materials

My goal was to produce a decorative Viking-style leather purse, with a brass frame, that might have been purchased or stolen by a Viking. The general form of this purse is based on many sources. The use of a metal frame to support the fabric or leather of a purse is common from at least the Sutton Hoo burial (Anglo Saxon 600-900AD) through modern times. I have personally viewed several metal purse frames in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of London, mostly from the 14th and 15th centuries.  The general form that I based my purse frame on is a bar with stretchers attached so that they are freely hinged. The purse frames usually have some sort of metal attachment which allows them to be suspended from a chain, strap or chord. I chose to make two metal loops, through which leather straps can be fastened as my method of suspension. The use of leather straps to support a purse is seen in the Sutton Hoo purse and several purses in the Museum of London book – “Dress Accessories”.  This type of purse is fairly common in tapestries.

Stay tuned – there’s more on this topic coming!