… there’s an account over on the National Leather Collection blog.
Sorry about the delay between updates. That’s my workshop, right in the middle of the purple bit to the west of Sydney. We took the thermometer out there in the last heatwave and it got to 57°.
It’s been like this since December, we get 3-5 hot days followed by two relatively cooler days in the low 30s. Rinse, repeat, rinse a couple more times.
Progress has been slow, because the embossed and moulded parts need me in the workshop making the moulds. Here’s the progress so far.
Transfer the patterns to the leather and cut out the shapes. The triangular bit of waste at the bottom right is used to make one layer of the suspension lugs. The stringy bits will get used too.
Mould the bottom bits. This is the front, it took about 20 minutes to get it to shape, I just used hand pressure to hold the leather in place while it set. The embossing (copied from the original) helped it sit the way it was supposed to.
The back comes further around to the front. Another 20 minutes in stupid heat with hand pressure. I used my thumbs to work out any small ripples in the surface. The front piece is drying in the background.
The account in Die Lederfunde Von Haithabu shows narrow folded bits of calf-skin and suggests that they may have been used to edge the larger pieces. I’m going with 1mm calf-skin and using 3mm diameter cotton piping cord inside to help give it shape. While there’s no trace of fibre inside the folded fragments on the originals, there is leather filling the top roll. It’s what I would have done had I been making the original. Dipping the ends of the cord in beeswax stops them fraying.
To help hold everything together and avoid puckering or bagging, I used basting stitches to hold the piping in place before attaching the multiple layers together. In this case, on the lower front piece.
The mounting lugs are made from two layers, with a moulded ridge so they sit further back on the hip than would otherwise be the case.
The front is complete, I’m about to attach the suspension and then attach the back. Basting stitches again hold the piping in place until I can get the parts all stitched together.
I’m now a bit further along than shown in the picture, but I haven’t yet got to the point of splashing dye around. I’ll do another update when I get there.
I had a great idea, but not one so great that my foot fell off. Why not make a copy of the bracer in the British Museum?, I thought. It will be easy, I thought. I have the report with a nice clear drawing.
It looks fine, right up to the point where you compare it with the photograph of the real thing…
When you try to use the published drawing, you find out there’s all these little fiddles like changing the size of the spots to make it work. The height of the decorated panel is okay but the two narrow ones above it are compressed. The lettering is all over the place as well and the sides of each panel don’t line up with each other in the same way they do on the original. Oh well, I’ll have to redraw it for the next one. The photo also shows how the gilding runs.
The process is simple enough. Transfer your design to the leather – because this one is to be gilt and painted, I just used plain old office carbon paper.
Straight off one of the problems becomes apparent. The pockles on the right have considerably more room than those on the left. I cut the outlines with a small straight blade as we’re predating swivel knives by several hundred years.
Empockelate appropriately with a 1.6mm nail punch, using kitchen utensils and home made punches as appropriate. Punch the holes for the strap, realising that they are too close to the edges and are the reason all the other holes were put in later for thong. Also realise that one hole in the drawing is too far to the right when compared to the other three. I tried swearing at this point, but it didn’t move the hole, so you can skip that if you like.
Enstrap and buckle. I either have to get faster at buckle making or give it up and buy them, I spend far too much time making the wretched things. I’ve gone with a copper alloy double oval loop buckle with moulded pin rests, making it date to between 1550 and 1650. [Whitehead, R., Buckles 1250-1800, Greenlight Publishing, Chelmsford 1996]
Paint. The BM says some trace of pigment remains, having contacted them, it’s just a possible hint of red on the letters but they couldn’t tell me what the pigment was and if it was colour or bole (primer for the gilding). I’m going with colour, mainly from an ostentation point of view. Minium (red lead) substitute, rather than iron red in this case because it will be the same as on the rose. I also think the gilding is shell gold rather than leaf due to the way it sits down into the background rings and the narrow strips along the top and back would just be way too fiddly. There’s no evidence of the use of size under the gold in this case, either.
I’m doing a Tudor rose, contemporary with the text, rather than a Yorkist white rose to match the tradition. It’s slipped and crowned (which may make it as late as Henry VIII or even Elizabeth) which didn’t happen with York white roses and I’m doing brown and ochre oak leaves and acorns, just because.
Yeah, it’s acrylic paint. Yes, I know I’ll have to apologise to Jesus, but I’ve been lead to understand that he’s fairly forgiving.
So I think I’ve finished it, it’s gone well as a fair copy of the reported illustration but I’m largely unsatisfied with it. I’ll have to have another go later.
While we’re on the subject, I need to vent a bit. The report begins on p208 of the Antiquities Journal with the sentence, “THE archer’s bracer illustrated in the fig. on p. 209 is of cuir bouilli, …” The BM repeat the assertion in their online catalogue.
I’m not sure what the fascination of antiquaries/archaeologists of this period is with cuir bouilli, they see it everywhere. Cuir bouilli, as the name implies, is a heat curing process that by its nature precludes tooling of the finished article. If you’re after more information on the subject, have a look at Marc Carlson’s Hardened Leather which also has some experiments on different methods.
IMOLC have recently discovered that they don’t own the collection of jacks, bombards and bottels that they’ve had on display in the old museum for the past 70 years. They have until the start of March to crowdfund £33000 otherwise the collection will be broken up and sold off. For details, see IMOLC’s blog post.
This article serves a number of purposes. Firstly, for me to show off a couple of the scabbards I’ve made and secondly, to discuss the trends in scabbard construction and fashion during the late Stuart period.
Here is a photo of two scabbards I’ve made. What is unusual about them is that they are glued rather than stitched in the conventional manner.
The front and back of the knife scabbards,
click to eviscerate.
There. Now showing off is safely out of the way, lets get on with the construction. Both are based on scabbards from London in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Interestingly, there appears to have been a decline in the number of scabbards found during this time, but no corresponding decrease in the number of knife finds. This reflects a change in men’s fashion, where wearing a scabbarded knife was no longer de rigueur. In fact, there are a total of three scabbards known from this period, two of traditional construction, and one showing all the techniques of bookbinding instead. It is this last one I copied for the regimental scabbards, taking a bit of artistic licence making it one of a matched pair. Apart from it being a chance to practice my embossing skills, the main reason for the choice was that there is no stitching for buggers to cut when putting the knives back.
The top of the original scabbard is damaged, so I’ve based the way they fit the knife handles on some earlier scabbards and an early 17th century pen knife in the Museum of London.
After making a paper pattern and roughly cutting the leather to shape, the leather was dampened and shaped by stretching and clamping around wooden knife-shaped formers the same shape but slightly thicker than each knife.
The gluing was done once the leather was dry, before any of the design was applied. This was mainly to ensure that the shape was more or less final and embossed parallel lines were approximately parallel and the lines going around the blades didn’t spiral. If I’d done the embossing first, it would have changed shape where the leather stretched. If you prefer to do the embossing flat and then mould and glue, go ahead: that’s how I do scabbards with knot work designs where distortion of the design is less noticeable.
The design consists of stamped diamonds, fleur-de-lis and arabesques, framed with straight lines and highlighted with short parallel lines and dots. I made the diamond and lily stamps from scraps of metal lying about, the thin curves from the edge of a bit of thin steel cut off a forged spearhead socket, the rondelling with a plastic gear from Andrew’s Meccano and the dots with an old bit of brass rod. The frame was embossed in the now traditional method with the back of a butter knife.
With both these scabbards, I deliberately avoided using any modern leatherworking equipment. One reason was because I could, but the main reason is that it’s unnecessary and proves there’s no any excuse about not being able to find or afford the gear. Total time from start to finish was three evenings while watching telly.
Egan, G., Material Culture in London in an Age of Transition – Tudor and Stuart period finds c1450-c1700 from Excavations at Riverside Sites in Southwark MoLAS Monograph 19, London, 2005
I’ve recently had contact with Richard Gardner, of Richard Gardner Antiques about the sale of Mindum’s Hinson shoehorn from 1600. Permission has been given to Richard for the catalogue to quote me extensively, and the website provides links to the catalogue and the relevant pages of this blog.
The sale page is here. The Featured Image is Richard’s copyright.
The usual disclaimer applies, I have no financial interest in the sale but in this case there is a debt of gratitude owed to the current vendor for trusting me alone with the horn and a camera for four hours one day.