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