The Lincoln Imp

Something a little different this time. You may take this as either something a little off-beat with leather or me just showing off again. Or both, I’m still rather pleased with the result as this was my first attempt at sculpting.

Our younger child was one of those kids. Immediately after an act of the utmost diabolical evil, he’d suddenly turn into someone so incredibly sweet you’d momentarily stop contemplating infanticide. His grandmother didn’t like the only name to which he would respond, Destroyer of Worlds. To Nana, he was Prince of Imps. So when we were invited to a Renaissance Masked Ball, he simply had to go as the Lincoln Imp.

The Imp at a recent banquet, no doubt looking for a Bishop to trip. His clothing is the latest fashion in the 1640s, every stitch hand sewn by Glenda.

According to a 14th-century legend two imps were sent by Satan to do evil work on Earth. After causing mayhem in Northern England, the two imps headed to Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the Bishop. When an angel came out of a book of hymns and told them to stop, one of the imps was brave and started throwing rocks at the angel but the other imp cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned the first imp to stone giving the second imp a chance to escape and end up in another group of stories. So even in the 14th century, they knew the pulling power of a sequel.

The imp mask was made from five pieces. Two for the horns, two ears and the skull-cap. The horns are simple cones, cut as a segment of a circle with the two straight sides held together with edge-flesh stitching. A small wedge was taken out to help with the curve and stitched the same way.  The horns were then dampened and stretched into the curved shape. Ears were simple leaf shapes with folds and veins embossed with a butter-knife. I chose to give the imp an earing with a flower-shaped stamp. The skull-cap was a larger circle, with a small wedge taken out either side of the forehead and one in the middle. These edges were also secured with edge-flesh stitches to give it a curve. The eyebrow ridge was worked through from the back and hairs were then embossed from the front with the edge of the butter knife this time.

The ear showing the embossing and ear-ring and the top seam on the horn.

The “stalk” of the ears were pushed through slits in the appropriate places and secured in place with a couple of stitches, and then curved along the long axis to give them a bit of strength. The horns were sewn to a couple of strips of thin leather, which was then rolled and stitched to the skull.

Inside of the mask, showing shaping seams and ear and horn attachments. The small shaping seam under each horn can also be seen.

Selected red and brown paint to finish, with water gilded tips of the horns and earing. Once the paint was dry, I glued on some fur from an old fur jacket paying attention to the fall of the nap so it resembled the statue and covered all the seams. The ensemble was completed with a pointy tail. It’s had a couple of uses since it was made, and the son has settled down and become a lovely man in the intervening seven years. Infanticide is now only very rarely considered.

Finished mask showing fur, goldwork and eyebrow embossing.


Leather Buckets in London

My friend Helmut has returned from his sojourn in Blighty. On his penultimate day he did a pilgrimage to the Museum of London and finally captured a good photo of the 1660 leather fire bucket that has eluded me for years. In my defence, both times I’ve seen it, it has been tucked in the corner of a temporary exhibit.

Helmut's photo of the 1660 leather bucket in the MoL. Click on the picture to link to his blog

Leather buckets were long used as fire buckets as unlike wood, they didn’t have to be kept wet to stay sealed.  It is supported by a metal wire frame rather than the timber used earlier for added strength and longevity and the inverted shape both conserves wire from around the top and increases stability. This one is a very early example of a riveted bucket, with all seams including the side seam being held closed with rivets on roughly a one inch pitch. Compare this with the sewn buckets from the Mary Rose (1545) and Invincible (1758). By the time of HMS Victory, all ships’ fire buckets were riveted.

Leather bucket from the wreck of HMS Invincible (sank 1758). The pitch lining and metal handle rings can be clearly seen, showing it was intended for use with water rather than gunpowder. My photo from the Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson

Hugh’s stamps

Over the weekend, Hugh found himself in posession of a wood pile, a sharp object, a little time and a Museum of London book. Always a dangerous combination. He’s turned into a stamp making machine.

Hugh has done his own write-up with a stack of photos on his group’s forum here.

Here's a couple of examples. This pair together were about 2 hours' work.

Stamped decoration for a leather girdle.

Click on either photo or here to go to the full set of stamp photos.

Hugh and I both use Australian hardwood for our stamps, Europeans and Americans can use a close-grained hardwood like ash. I’ve found American Oak to be too open and ended up with the imprint of the end-grain on the leather.

Give it a go, it doesn’t take long and you may enjoy it.

Turkish Leather Bottles (taken from Varangian Voice)

The article below was written by a friend some time ago for a magazine called Varangian Voice. It presents another culture’s take on the leather bottle, Steven’s article is useful as I haven’t done enough study on the subject to contribute anything meaningful. What I find interesting is that it isn’t just the English that make ceramic copies of leather containers, and the Turkish potters also felt compelled to put in the stitches. I saw one of these bottles back in May in Geelong, unfortunately I wasn’t able to handle it, having already pushed my luck with the Salisbury Leather Jug, but the photos I did manage to take of it in the open cabinet are at the end of the article.

My only comments about the proposed construction method are that Steven reaches for the glue pot a little too often and that a variation of the stitching method in figure 4 would give a similar result to the backseam shown on the back in my photos. Rather than roll the gusset piece around to the front, simply stitching from the outside of the front to the outside of the gusset, much like putting the end in a costrel or a base in a jack, would get a leak-resistant seal. On the question of sealing, I suspect the Spanish bota has the answer and may show some Moorish influence in its manufacture – pitch is by far the easiest way to seal a leather bottle and because of the way it flows when hot, seals any leaking stitches.

Turkish Leather Water Bottles

By Steven Baker (Varangian Voice Issue 55, May 1999 pp9-12)

I have recently come across two pictures of Turkish leather water bottles which even though they are centuries apart have some striking similarities which enable us to discern the common features of these sort of bottles. The first is an Ottoman bottle from the sixteenth century and the second is a pottery representation of one from the Liao Dynasty of the eleventh century. I will be using the Liao bottle as the main focus and use the Ottoman one as a reference for things like sewing the bottle together.

Likely construction method

I should state up front that I have not constructed one of these bottles yet. So anything I mention here is based on what I can determine from the pictures themselves plus some bits and pieces on leather sewing I’ve picked up from books.

The Liao bottle is constructed from two pieces of leather. The first piece forms the sides, handle and spout of the bottle and the second piece forms the belly which joins the sides together (see Figure 1)


Figure 1 – Basic shapes

The first step is to sew the belly to the sides to do this you first fold the sides together – as shown in Figure 2 – and sew the back edge of the handle. You would then glue the belly overlapping the bottle sides and sew them together.


Figure 2 – Forming the bag

The result at this stage should look like a very strange open handbag. Next glue the two halves of the handle together and sew to reinforce it. To help form the shape of the spout I would recommend inserting a suitably sized dowel (see figure 3) .


Figure 3 – Sewing the handle and spout

The Ottoman bottle uses another way to join the belly piece to the sides. This is done by folding the belly leather over each side of the bottle and stitching through the three layers of leather.


Figure 4 — Alternative sewing method

Another thing I noticed with Ottoman bottle is that the stitching overlaps. That is the second stitch doesn’t start where the first finishes but rather about two thirds of the way along. This probably helps in giving the bottle a proper seal.

There only two other things to consider. The first is that if you stitch through the sides of the bottle you will end up with each stitch hole leaking. The best way around this is to use tunnel stitching as shown in figure 5.


Figure 5 – Stitching path through the belly and side

The last item to consider is how to waterproof the bottle or whether in fact to waterproof at all.

The only compounds I’ve heard of for waterproofing bottles is pitch, tar or beeswax. Which was used or if any at all were used I can’t say, I’m still trying to find more information on that. So if you happen to find out something let me know or better yet write an article and submit it to the Voice so everybody can learn.


Empires beyond the Great Wall. The Heritage of Genghis Khan. Adam T. Kessler. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 1993. ISBN 0-938644-335.

The Age of Suleyman the Magnificent. Esin Atil. National Gallery of Art. Washington. ISBN 0-89468-098-6. 1987

My Photos

The bottle in question is the one in the middle of the image. If you squint, you can see how the gusset is inset slightly. The cabinet was too cluttered to get a clear photo of the whole bottle.

This is the view from what for the sake of the argument, I will call the back. The gusset is inset slightly, lending credence to my theory that Steven's Figure 4 stitching is correct.

Close-up of the top of the bottle. The stitching is indicated by small dots, the thickness of the top is similar to the handle thickness in English jacks. I don't know if the little blokes would have been on any leather archetype or if it's a potter's conceipt.

Thanks to Moorabool Antique Galleries for allowing me to photograph the bottle and Steven for allowing me to reprint his article.

Another old shoe

Archaeologists at a melt (rather than a dig) in Norway report having found a preserved 4300 year old leather shoe.

The news report is here.

Thanks to Gina for pointing it out.

New Category – Skeletal Materials

Rather than fight the inevitable, I’ve decided to embrace it instead. You may have noticed a new category called Skeletal Materials, mainly because I have no self-control when it comes to making things. This category will hold posts about horn, antler, bone, ivory, FDE (a synthetic ivory analogue made from pig tusks or ox bone) and possibly hair. I generally stick to bits from animals that are either recovered without killing the beast, or from food animals. I can’t guarantee I’ve eaten all of them but I have eaten some. Who knows what magna opera may appear…

The blog name will remain the same but I may change the by-line to reflect the new twist. Something along the lines of “Fun things to do in the privacy of your home with bits of dead animals”.

Another 1646 Blackjack

A short while back I wrote about a couple of blackjacks in Salisbury. Looks like there’s another one of the larger sort in the British Museum. I stumbled over the BM online catalogue entry while looking for a dissertation on blackjacks from 1823. I’ll possibly post that in the future.


The BM catalogue description says Leather blackjack; plain except for incised crown and monogram with the monogram given as CR 1646.

External dimensions of the jack are given as height: 540mm, diameter: 275mm, I calculate that as a massive 32L or 7 UK gallons.

There was obviously some sort of mass-production of Charles I memorabilia just before or following his surrender to the Scots and the proposed invasion of England.

Charles III Memorabilia