I wasn’t going to post another knife scabard just yet, but Hugh’s comment sort of prompted me. This was the first decorated piece of leatherwork I’d attempted, all the previous efforts had been roughly hacked out bits of plain leather with a couple of rivets. It’s also the one where I decided to use tools that were either readily available or could be found or made in a normal suburban house. Or as normal as re-enactors get. My motivation was to do a piece of top-shelf work without leaving the excuse for other people that they didn’t have the tools.
Glenda had won a small knife with a rosewood handle a few years earlier and Iwanted to make a scabard for it. The one shown below from Parliament Street, York seemed to fit the bill. It was rather nice to have both sides of the original for once so I could see how the pattern should be laid out on the leather.
As the blade of the new knife was straight, I simplified the design by omitting the raised section along the back of the blade. Many of the Saxon knife scabbards I’ve seen cover both the blade and most of the hilt, and have different patterns on each section of the scabbard to indicate which is where.
When making knife scabbards, I make a copy of the knife in wood to use as a last so I can mould the leather to the knife shape without rusting the blade or staining the leather black from the iron in the blade. Some people just wrap the knife in plastic and use that, but I enjoy making the wooden model and sometimes draw the hilt decoration on to see if the design works in three dimensions.
Make the pattern on paper by tracing one side of the knife, then the back, then the other side, allowing a bit extra for the bend radius of the leather (I allow half the leather thickness at each right angle bend), some more for the stitching margin and just a bit more for good luck. Then I draw the design of the scabard decoration. Using the awl or a sharp needle, prick small holes in the paper at the intersections and at sufficient points along the lines that the pattern will come through. Lay the pattern on the leather and mark the outside. I use a fine black felt-tipped pen and kid myself that it’s okay because 17th century embroidery was marked up with black ink and a crow quill. Put the perforated pattern on top of the leather and rub some ground charcoal or chalk through the perforations in the pattern. Join the dots with a pencil or ink if you like.
Dampen the leather and emboss the lines using the back of the butter knife. I find curves are easier if you roll the knife towards the point as you folow the curve. The photo below shows the stamps – a couple of bits of knocked off the corner of a fence post, a nail with the point knocked off and a curved bit of scrap iron from a spearhead socket. The spots along the bottom edge were done with the back of a series of different sized drill bits.
Once the embossing was finished, I dampened the leather again, wrapped it around the last , taking care to shape the flare from the flat blade to the round hilt and stitched the seam. While still damp, I dyed it by dipping in a tray of spirit based leather dye.
Reference: Tweddle, D., The Archaeology of York The Small Finds 17/4 — Finds from Parliament Street and Other Sites in the City Centre. York Archaeological Trust, 1986.