Wrist Clasps – What are they and How to use them

What are Wrist Clasps, how are they used, and who used them?

First of all – what is a wrist clasp?

Etsy 38 close

This is an example of a formed metal sheet wrist clasp set.

The mechanism of a wrist clasp is a metal hook and eye closure. The closure is used to close the wrist opening on a tunic. Now wrist clasps are not all literally hook and eyes in appearance, but that is how they function – there are two pieces to each clasp, a hook plate and an eye plate. The Wrist Clasp sets can be cast, formed sheet metal, or formed wire.sheet metal wrist clasp






When I first began investigating Wrist Clasps I read an article online about how reenactors hated to wear Wrist Clasps because they were hard to use and they didn’t stay closed. Well, I thought about that for a while and decided that there was probably a good chance that someone was doing something wrong with the way the clasps were being used. Now first let me say that I am probably much older than most of my readers. I remember when wearing stockings meant wearing a garter belt, not because you were trying to be sexy, but because that was what there was – panty hose had not been invented yet. So, I have the concept of things being a bit fussy, particularly things associated with women’s clothing and even more specifically dressy women’s clothing. But if a thing is going to be used, it must be functional. It may require some occasional adjustments, but it must be functional.

Now, one of the problems that we have as reenactors is knowing what people wore on an everyday basis, verses what they were buried in. I never knew that my grandfather had a suit until I was at his funeral. He was buried in a suit, but never in my 14 years of knowing him had I ever seen him wear a suit. Did Vikings and Anglo Saxons wear wrist clasps in everyday life, or just for “fancy wear”? Well, in all honesty we really can’t be sure. If we assume that most folks did not have a large selection of clothing and wrist clasps were considered to be a regular part of a decently dressed individual’s clothing, then the wrist clasps had to function. So what were the reenactors doing wrong?

I made a copy of a basic sheet metal wrist clasp, and I played with it. And it worked. It worked just fine. I have a tunic with wrist clasps on the cuffs. They are a little hard to close, but they usually stay closed all day, without any adjustments. They are not uncomfortable. I had someone explain to me that Wrist Clasps were uncomfortable because the metal dug into their wrists when they leaned on a table. How much time did Vikings and Anglo Saxons spend leaning on a table? I don’t spend much time at all leaning on a table. I designed my sleeves to open along the outside edge of my wrist, so that the wrist clasps would show when my arms hung down straight. I made the sleeves fairly tight at the wrist, so that closing the clasps was a bit difficult, and the tightness of the sleeve held the hook of the Wrist clasps firmly in the “eye” of the receiver plate. They worked. They worked just fine.

From a historical standpoint, Wrist Clasps are considered to be an important piece of dress accessories for both Vikings and Anglo Saxons. Wrist clasps appear to have originated in Scandinavia.  They were brought to Great Britain in about 475AD, probably by Norwegian Vikings. While commonly called “Wrist Clasps”, some people think that Viking men in Scandinavia used them as both wrist and ankle closures. I have not seen definitive proof of this. Women wore clasps at the wrist and the bosom, and also occasionally appear to have used clasps to close pouches. Traditionally it was believed that once the Vikings arrived in Great Britain, only the women continued to wear the clasps. One of the problems with this conclusion is that recent DNA research shows that the majority of Viking men who settled in Great Britain took local wives, who would have been Anglo Saxon. Anglo Saxon woman wore wrist clasps.

Among Anglo-Saxons the wrist clasps were often used in combination with tablet woven bands on cuffs and in some areas (Lincolnshire) leather bands replaced the tablet weaving. In the East Anglia and Cambridgeshire regions an additional triangular piece of metal, known as a “gusset plate” was used to cover the slit area of the sleeve opening.

seam gusset and clasp

Another interesting difference between Viking and Anglo-Saxon use of the wrist clasp was the method by which the clasps were attached. The Anglo-Saxon women sewed their clasps on, while in Scandinavia the clasps were frequently riveted to the clothing.

Vikings and Anglo-Saxons have three types of Clasps in common:

  1. Basic Hook and Eye Form
  2. Cast geometric or zoomorphic form
  3. Formed Metal sheet rectangular clasps

Here is an example of a simple cast Anglo Saxon Wrist Clasp Set




Follow-up on The Leather Purse with Metal Frame – pt 1

The original documentation that I wrote for this leather purse with metal frame project was intended to be read while actually viewing the purse. So I decided that I needed to write another article which included pictures of the purse. Unfortunately I did not have a digital camera at the time that I made the purse, so there are no “in progress” shots, but I still have the purse and have used it for many years. I learned a LOT from making this purse, including what I will do differently next time!

Since I made this leather purse with metal frame, I have seen even more types of purse frames, including purse hangers. Museums and curators often describe both purse frames and purse hangers as “cast.” Some purse frames and purse hangers are definitely completely cast, but I think that parts of the plain purse frames are just hand formed. They did cast many of the pieces that I soldered together as one piece. Soldering was a difficult process in period, so casting in one piece and riveting things together were the preferred techniques. I used silver solder to put things together, but much “low end” period soldering was done with tin and lead solders.

The leather purse with metal frame that I made is too big for me. It has a natural tendency to collect ten pounds of “stuff”, something that I have never liked even in the “real world”. The actual size of the purse lid is   7 1/16 inches wide by 5 1/16 inches tall. The purse bag portion is almost 9 inches deep with a bottom insert of 9 ¾ by 3 3/8  inches.

When I made the purse lid, I was concerned about it opening and things falling out. So I added a hand made leather toggle and a handmade silk tie to wrap around the toggle. What I discovered is that I never use it! It is just in the way when I want to get into the purse in a hurry. The weight of the purse lid and purse frame tends to naturally hold the purse closed. I suppose if I did a lot of jumping jacks or running, the flopping around that leather purse with metal frameensued might allow things to fall out. Under normal walking conditions the purse lid stays closed. If I were to put LARGE things into the purse so that it barely closes, I would use the leather toggle and silk tie. I would also use it if I was concerned about pick pockets.

The first picture that I am including is of the purse in the position that it is in when it is on my belt. The picture shows what I mean about a natural tendency to stay closed. The pivot of the purse lid is against my body and supported by the leather loops, so the purse frame and purse lid tend to naturally hang down flat.


The next picture shows the purse lid. You can see the frame and rivets clearly. The Purse lidenameled piece is also riveted in place. The rivet that sticks up in the middle of the edge of the purse frame is bent over on the other end to form a loop, and the tie (handmade red and yellow silk cord) is tied to this loop.



The inside of the lid, showing the birch board, the long rivet that has been turned into a inside of lidloop, the silk cord, the peaned over rivets that hold the enameled medallion in place and the more neatly finished rivets around the edges that hold the frame to the lid.


An up close shot of the hinge area. The support bar is slightly bent from use (it is about 12 hinge areayears old), but it was originally straight. The distance from the end of the finial on the left end of the support bar to the end of the finial on the right end is 5 7/8 inches. You can see where the upper and lower portions of the purse frame fit on to the support bar and allow it all to become a big hinge.


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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!