A Great Bottle – Chorley’s – 10 to 11 October (lot 786)

Holly pointed this one out tonight and I had to embloggen. It’s the leather bottle that Baker talks about on p182 as possibly one of the bottles used to collect the wine tax on the Thames.

This extraordinary bottle came from Chatham, where it had remained in the family of the owner for more than seventy years. It seems quite probable that if not actually one of the great black bottles of the Tower of London, in which the literary water-man of James I’s time was wont to exact dues in kind from every wine-laden ship that entered the Thames, it is one of those that succeeded them.

One side of it is enriched with fleur de lis raised in relief, and outlined with stamped stars, as shown in the sketch and in Plate 24. from which a faint idea of its size may be gained, by comparing it to the horn cup photographed with it.

Note the double stitching across the top , the rivets holding the metal cap and the quality of the stamping.

It’s also the inspiration for the first costrel I made. I obviously took too much time lining up the stamping. Nice to see the original weathered the 20th century so well.

I think I probably owe Holly an ale or two next time we’re in the UK as a spotter’s fee.

[Image: illustration 1 of 3 for lot 786]

Here’s the link to the auction listing: Chorley’s – 10 to 11 October (lot 786).

Lot 786 Description

A gigantic leather bottle with bung hole and hinged iron cap embossed with fleur-de-lis and punched with star, 39cm x 35cm (15.25″ x 13.75″)
Provenance: The W J Fieldhouse Collection, Austy Manor, Wootton Wawen and by decent to vendor
Literature: Oliver Baker, Black Jacks and Leather Bottles, Cheltenham 1921, illustration plate 15 and plate 24, fig 67

Advertisements

Shouting at the Internet (again)

A friend pointed this one out on the Internet and I had to share it and my musings.

auction_33_lot_479-392x440


Lot 479: A Late 16th/Early 17th Century Leather Black Jack/Water Carrier.
The spouted vessel having a crown-form handle to the top and a ropetwist and beaded seam leading down to the circular foot. 14½ ins (37 cms) in height, 13 ins (33 cms) in width.
Be the first to bid on this item!
Sold For: £2200.00

This is a lovely piece and it’s really nice to have the dimensions. The person writing the catalogue entry probably honestly believed the bottle to be English based on the current location and of just an unusual form, optimistically dating it to the 17th century based on the patination and stitching.

I have a problem with the description: I think the bottle form is Arabic. You can see much earlier examples showing similar features here. If you look closely at the top, you can see a hole where a missing strap handle was attached. Similarly, there are a few stitches missing on the spout, it looks like the spout has been damaged and the leather trimmed to straighten it at some point.

I don’t like the date either. I’d be very surprised if it is earlier than 1850. It’s probably a souvenir of the Nile campaign of the 1890s, bought back by one of the soldiers. There’s a more complete example in the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln that is firmly dated to that period and that provenance. It even has the same decoration. Here’s my photos (you knew this was coming, didn’t you…)

Dervish water carrier
Note the height of the spout and the arrangement of strap and cord handles.

Dervish water carrier
Close up of the base showing the base and side stitching and the roped and beaded decoration.

Dervish water carrier
Handle decoration. The edges are bound with another layer of leather.

Dervish water carrier
View of the spout and showing the strap handle in profile.

Dervish water carrier
Inside spout, clearly showing welt and seam.

Dervish water carrier
Top-ish view showing handle attachment. Note the double row of stitching on the top seam.

Mary Rose Leather Gallery

I’ve finally managed to get organised enough to upload my photos from the Mary Rose Museum. “Mary Rose leatherwork”, or a variant on that theme is in the top 5 searches on this blog nearly every day, so there seems to be some demand for it. The museum features very low light to protect the finds from UV degredation, so the colour in the photos tends to be a bit muddy. Some of them have had a lot of work to pull the image from what at first appeared to be a black frame.

I’ve arranged the photos by item type, starting with archery equipment and then move on to other items. You may have seen some of these photos before but hopefully most of them will be new. The photos also link through to my Flikr account. I’ll update the descriptions when more information becomes available.

Archery Equipment

Archer's arm guard

Leather bracer embossed with the royal arms of Henry VIII.

Two archer's arm guards

Left: Ivory bracer with leather straps. Right: leather bracer, with stamped rosettes.

Leather Mitten 81A3292

Left hand mitten (both mittens found were for the left hand). I suspect these were used to protect the bow hand when shooting fire arrows from a longbow. The triangular shape of the thumb cut out can be clearly seen.

Mary Rose leather mitten 81A3292 1545

Fingertip detail of left hand mitten (both mittens found were for the left hand). 260mm long, 150mm wide at widest point. Unidentified leather, the other one found (81A3292 was sheepskin). The leather was stitched with the flesh sides together, then turned inside out so the seams were hidden/protected.

Mary Rose arrow spacer

Mary Rose arrow spacer. These would commonly be used with a linen canvas bag and be slung off a waist belt.

Mary Rose Arrow Spacer 1545

Mary Rose arrow spacer with the remains of arrow shafts in situ. These would commonly be used with a linen canvas bag and be slung off a waist belt.

Leather Bottles and Buckets

MR 79A1232

Back of Mary Rose leather flask 79A1232, 282mm high, 213mm wide and 57mm deep. Stitching is original and there is still some sealing pitch present. This bottle is asymetrical - the front is much more deeply curved than the back.

Mary Rose leather bottle 81A0881

Mary Rose leather bottle of the costrel form, 81A0881. Front is decorated with three vertical ridges with a double zigzag pattern between the ridges and to either side. There are several pairs of parallel tooled lines including a large inverted V and various rectangles on the base and back. The inside is coated with an unidentified subastance. The photo was taken in low-light conditions inside the museum, colours may not be accurate.

Mary Rose leather bottle 81A1214

Mary Rose leather bottle of the costrel form, 81A1214 was found in a chest along with some personal items and woodworking tools. Front and back are decorated with five pairs of parallel lines from top to bottom, framed by a horizontal line at the base and two parallel lines across the shoulders and neck. There are two asterisks on the base, with a saltaire cross (X) diagonally between them, and a saltaire cross on each end. There are reinforcing pieces in the shoulders/lugs and a gasket piece around the inside of the neck. There is the remains of a waterproof coating on the inside surface.

Reconstructed Mary Rose leather bucket

Reconstructed Mary Rose leather bucket. The leather buckets all have rust marks from iron handle rings and some have the remains of pitch sealing, indicating they were water rather than powder buckets.

Mary Rose Leather Bucket handle detail

Mary Rose Leather Bucket handle close-up

Footwear

Mary Rose type 1 shoe construction

Height separated welted shoe components from the Mary Rose (possibly 81A1861) showing the way the layers go together. The colour of the label corresponds to the colour code on the chart behind.

Assorted shoe parts

Assorted shoe parts found in the 2002/3 dig.

Mary Rose type 1 shoe quarter

Shoe quarter from a type 1 shoe, displaying a topband in place.

Mary Rose type 1 shoe

Type 1 shoe (high slip on with the throat raised by the extension of the front of the quarters).

Mary Rose type 1 & 2 shoes

Museum display showing the differences between type 1 (high slip ons with the throat raised by the extension of the front of the quarters) and type 2 (slip on shoes with straight throated vamp and straight top edge on the quarters.

Shoe sole made from old bucket

Replacement partial shoe sole cut from an old bucket. The lines of stitching can be clearly seen, and can the incised arrow marking it as the king

Shoe sole cut from old bucket

Replacement partial shoe sole cut from an old bucket. The shaded area indicates which part of the bucket the sole was cut from.

Mary Rose find 79A0877 Type 3 thighboot

Mary Rose type 3 thighboot (rounded toe, turn/welt construction, secured with four straps), there

Mary Rose find 79A0877 Type 3 thighboot

Mary Rose find 79A0877 type 3 thighboot (rounded toe, turn/welt construction, secured with four straps), outer and innersole. There

Scabbards and Furniture

Mary Rose scabbards and furniture

A display of leather scabbards from bollock knives (top, centre) and a rapier (bottom) together with the copper alloy fillings used to support them.

Mary Rose Rapier Scabbard

Rapier scabbard with incised decoration and hanging strap.

Mary Rose Rapier Scabbard

Mid-section of rapier scabbard with incised decoration and hanging strap.

Mary Rose Bollock Knife Scabbard with stamped decoration

Mary Rose bollock knife scabbard with stamped decoration, the scabbard has two compartments, one for the bollock knife and one for a by-knife.

Pouches

Type 1 leather pouch 81A2685

Fine embossed bovine leather, 275mm x 190mm showing the inner flap and the inside of the outer flap. Outer flap is lined with silk, the inner flap is two layers of leather stitched with the skin sides together.

Type 1 leather pouch 81A2685

Detail of the silk inside of the outer flap of 81A2685, 275mm x 190mm. False colours due to low light levels in the museum.

Type 1 pouch and unknown type pouch

Top:An unidentified Type 1 Leather pouch Bottom: An unidentified leather pouch.

Mary Rose Type 1 Leather pouch 81A1991

Fine embossed calf leather, 278mm x 197mm. The inner flap is plain. Type 1 pouches have two sections for storage, the larger is the same width and height as the outside of the pouch, the smaller is stitched in position between the inner and outer flap. Unlike the other type 1s, this one has a third pouch in front of the others.

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.

References:

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.

Making a stopple

This is a relatively simple task to finish your leather bottle or flacket in an accurate, effective manner.  Most people simply grab a cork from a modern wine bottle (an unbranded one if they are fussy) and make do with that. But is this an accurate representation or just laziness?

The bottle was made on a wooden mould or block, which had a cylindrical projection on which to model the neck. The latter did not project above the seam and only slightly bulged on each side. It was closed with a stopple of metal, wood, horn, or leather, in early times. Some stopples were costly, judging by those bought in 1392 for the Earl of Derby, one of which cost two shillings… Corks for casks and bottles do not seem to have been used till the 17th century. In old prints of that time the bottles and phials, in indoor scenes, are generally closed with bunches of rag or paper. The  first corks met with by Professor Thorold Rogers were in 1627. … I have seen three leather bottles which had stopples of leather, but they are rare.

[Baker, p181]

So using corks in leather bottles isn’t really the way to go.  It seems cork stoppers weren’t imported in large enough numbers to leave a record until the end of the first quarter of the seventeenth century and then were prohibitively expensive, until nearly the end of the century when sufficient economies of scale were created by mass production of glass wine bottles. (Rogers, T., History of Agriculture and Prices in England Vol VI, 1866. pp. 608-9). Here’s some examples of wooden stopples from the Mary Rose and from London.

Stopple associated with Mary Rose flacket 81A2218, 1545.

Stopple found with Mary Rose costrel 81A2034, 1545.

Carved stopper in the Museum of London, l 30mm; field maple. Egan, pp216-217.

Some of the Mary Rose ones, associated with both flackets and costrels, have an additional layer of leather to assist with sealing. I’ll assume you don’t want to use rag or paper as suggested by Baker, particularly if you use your bottle in re-enactment on the march, but don’t let me stop you if you do want to give it a try. As this isn’t the Reverend’s Big Blog of Wood, I’ll concentrate on copying one of the leather wrapped Mary Rose stopples from this point on.

The first step is to carve the wooden part. Take a branch, stick  or offcut of an appropriate timber and remove the bits that don’t look like a stopple with any of cutting, filing, grinding, whittling or other application of brute force until it fits the neck of the bottle in question. If you aren’t going to fit the leather sleeve, congratulations, you have finished. If you are fitting the sleeve, you need to further reduce the diameter of the stopple by the thickness of the leather. How you do it depends on the style you’re doing. Some, like the one I’m doing have a shoulder to help stop the leather slipping up when it’s being jammed in the bottle. Others have the leather sitting proud of the wood. I usually reduce the diameter using files and finish the shoulder with a knife.

In the photos below, I’m using a bit of field maple from one of my trees in the back yard. It had been a cricket stool leg until the application of brute force by a gorilla rocking back on it snapping the tenon. This is the same timber as the London example, used for it’s ultra-fine closed grain and corresponding dimensional stability when it gets wet. I also like the silvery colour and the hand feel when working it.

All the tools you need to do this job

The tool selection is fairly simple, you can get by with needles, and awl and a knife. I used a groover as well to keep the stitching flush with the surface, but a shallow knife cut would also help the stitches lie flat.

Fit the leather tightly to the stopple and cut the ends flush

Wrap the leather tightly around the wooden core and then slice through both layers with a single knife cut. This leaves a piece of leather that is an exact fit for the core. You may find you need to stretch the upper side of the rectangle of leather to get it to fit the taper, the extant originals are fairly rough fitting at the top and bottom.

Use an edge-flesh seam

Stitch the seam and tie off.

I’m using edge – flesh stitches and tieing off with overhand knots in each hole. Once finished, dampen the seam and rub it flat with your prefered slicker.

The finished item, with the sleeve pinned in place.

I’ve found that often the first time you fit a stopple to your bottle, one or other of the lower corners of the seam turns back on itself – as can be seen in the photo above. I don’t worry too much as it can also be seen in both the archaeological drawings. If it is a problem for you, use a little food-safe glue to hold the leather down before stitching.

Total time for this including the woodwork was 20 minutes. I used power tools, even with hand tools it should take less than an hour.

A finished flacket

I’ve finally finished. It shouldn’t have been this difficult but I had problems at almost every stage. The front wasn’t properly moulded, the back went concave on a damp day, I stabbed myself numerous times with awls and needles, once so badly I had to stop for the night. I was using an unfamiliar awl because I’d broken my other one. I’ll do another one soon so I can have one where everything does go right.

I remoulded the front an back to bring the margins into line. To fix the problems with the front piece from last time, I dampened the edges and put it back into the press without the core. This allowed the sewing margins to pull down properly flat so it didn’t stress the back any more. I remoulded the back with the core in to pop it back into shape, then left everything for a week to dry thoroughly.

Finished remoulding without the core. The margins now sit flat.

I cut the front to the final shape before stitching, leaving the back so I could trim it to shape once it was in place. I don’t have a lot of success getting theoretically identical pieces to match up properly, so I use this as a work around.  The stitching is simple, so I won’t go into it here, it’s the same coarse pitch saddle-stitch used on the costrels, jacks and buckets.

Once sewn, trim the back to shape and using 1/4″ and 1″ wood chisels, cut the carying holes. Make sure the bevel is facing away from the hole, otherwise the hole will end up with sloping sides and be too bit on the back. Dye all the cut edges. For the LOLs, try blowing into it and see if you think blow moulding could possibly work.

I use honey pitch for bottles as you can’t see the pitch once the neck gasket is sewn in. This saves my hideously expensive and hard to get black pitch for jacks and bombards where it can be seen. Heat the pitch until is is molten, but not too hot, and pour in. I like to have it at least a third full. Turn the bottle to run the molten pitch along all the seams and the leather and then pour out. Repeat the process, this time mainly paying attention to coating all the leather surfaces and pour out again.

When pitching, I had a blockage in the funnel and ended up with pitch everywhere and by the time I’d cleared that and started to pour it out again, it was too cool and I had to get the hot air gun involved.

Allow the pitch to cool, then test by filling with water and standing in a container that is able to hold all the water if it leaks out. Overnight tests are good. Sometimes a slight leak will show by the water level dropping and a dark or cold patch on the outside of the bottle. If there’s a slight leak, pop it in the oven at around 65 degrees celcius for a couple of hours to reflow and seal. Turn the oven off and leave the bottle there for a few more hours so the pitch doesn’t craze from cooling too rapidly.

Testing for watertightness. The ice cream bucket is in case of catastrophic failure.

Throwing it in the oven usually does the trick. If the leak is more severe, you’ll have to do more pitch and retest. Just like I had to do for this one. Of course it leaked and 4 hours in the oven wasn’t enough to fix it.

The final step is to make and sew in the neck gasket. This is a strip of 1mm leather about 25mm high that goes around the neck of the bottle and helps the stopper seal it. Shave a chamfer on the short edges, one on the flesh side, the other on the skin side. That way they’ll sit flat when finished. Sew in place with the skin side up using a saddle stitch on a 5 or 6 stitches per inch pitch.

The neck gasket ready for fitting. Both edges are skived to sit flat when overlapped.

Finished sans stopper.

Now make a stopper – I usually use a branch from a suitable tree and shape it with files, a knife, sanding or a combination of the three. Some people turn theirs, I’m usually accurate and quick enough without resorting to a lathe. Some of the Mary Rose stoppers have a leather cover, carve/file a step in the stopper so the leather is flush with the timber and secure with edge-flesh stitches.

Ta-dah! A finished flacket with stopper. That took about three times longer than it should have. I’ll do a brief post on the next one so you know how it went and how long it takes, but I have another costrel on commission in the meantime.

Flackets – the other leather bottle

A flacket is a type of leather flask or bottle made from only two pieces of leather, one for the front and one for the back. It has no base, but may additionally have a welt or gasket piece between the front and back. Depending on your cultural prejudices, these are sometimes also known as pumpkinseed- or pear-flasks.

Examples are few, pointing to it being an older design than those we more commonly see, such as costrels and the two- or three-piece leather bottels. Most of the surviving examples come from the Mary Rose (1545) and are regarded as among the last exemplars of the form. Accordingly, Baker is of little help other than on p59, remarking “Flasks (Flascones) as well as bottles are mentioned in Alfric’s Colloquy in the 10th century as being made by the shoe-wright…”

Designed mainly for upright use such as hanging on saddles or being worn on the hip, in common with the three-piece upright bottle, this type of bottle is almost universally asymetrical. The outside face is always deeply curved, accounting for most of the volume, with the back being raised but flat so that it sits comfortably when worn and provides a flat surface for when it needs to be put down.

Flackets from Gardiner

Line drawings of some of the flackets from the Mary Rose. Click on the image for a full page version that might do it justice.

No information about the manufacture of this type of bottle survives, so the usual divide between the rammed sand/grain/shot moulding and the wooden core moulding schools of thought exists, with an interesting twist that I’ll deal with in a moment after I’ve cast some nastursiums. No example I’ve seen produced by sand-moulding artisans has ever accounted for the asymetry required by this design, and very few manage the sharp angles and extreme stretching required to match the Mary Rose examples without resorting to ahistorically thin leather. The third school, to date only present in academic works, shows such naievity and lack of understanding of the mechanical characteristics of sewn leather that I’m including it here almost as an humourous aside. This method is blow moulding (cf Gardiner et al. p454). In this method, two flat pieces of leather the shape of the finished product are sewn together, wet, raised to the lips and blown into, in the manner of inflating a baloon. The wet leather then somehow holds it shape as it dries. I’m unsure when the embossing and stamping is supposed to be done with this method. I have seen a variation of this theme used, where the sewn leather envelope was connected to a garden hose and high water pressure used to stretch the leather to shape. It was then dried and waxed. Note that none of the inflation-based methods allow for the requisite asymetry.

I own a rather nice example made in about 1983 by an (at the time) young lad who’s dad was a member of the Leatherworkers Guild of New South Wales. It and a few other examples they sold were made by nailing wet leather to a board over an approximately shaped mound of newspaper, not unlike lasting a shoe.

I suppose the point of the tirade thus far is that we don’t have any idea how these things were originally made, so as long as your method results in an end result that is near enough to the original to make you happy, stick with it. I’ll spend the rest of this post discussing how I tooled up to produce a copy of one of the Mary Rose flackets (81A2218) for a commission. I won’t go as far as stitching it all together and sealing it as I’ll be doing that as part of a seventeenth century display at the Blacktown Medieval Fair later in May. Drop by and say hello if you’re around. Stitching and sealing were covered in my earlier post on Costrels if you need a refresher.

My technique is more or less derived from my approach to jack making although probably owes it’s heritage to the silk screening equipment I played on as a small boy in the late 1960s. There’s also a nod to the newspaper nailed under leather in this. All of the Mary Rose flackets are decorated to a greater or lesser extent with a combination of cuts, embossing and stamping. Baker observes that stamping requires a solid, stable base, so I’ve taken his advice and built a wooden core for moulding the front, and another for the back. All the embossing seems to run from the high points to the low, and may be a quick and decorative way of working the leather on to the core. I’m going to claim this in the lack of any real evidence and move on in the hope you won’t notice. A frame tensions and stretches the leather over the core.

The first step is to make the wooden cores. In my time-honoured tradition of taking the lazy approach, I enlarged the drawings from the Mary Rose book to life size on a photocopier and then made another copy. The first one I folded about the axis of symmetry and cut out along the outside. This includes stitch allowance and the carying ears and will be the plan of the finished pieces. The other I cut the thickness of the leather (about 4mm) narrower than the inside line of stitching and used it as the shape for both the cores and the cut out in the stretching frame.

The two cores, roughly cut from scrap timber. The dowel was used for the neck.

This is how I drilled the hole for the neck. The front and back are clamped together and the hole is drilled offset as the neck on the one I is deeper on the front than back

The core for the front was made from a substantial piece of spotted gum, a left-over from our back steps. Looking back, it would have been easier to do it from something soft like oak. Or mild steel. It took a lot of work with saws, files and sanding to get it to shape.

The two finished cores. The neck dowel is held in place with a filling epoxy because I’m too lazy to carve it from the one piece.

You can roughly gauge the volume of the finished bottle by holding the front and back core together in a bucket of water and measuring the volume of water displaced. Round down a bit to allow for the thickness of your chosen waterproofing solution. The required volume for this commission is the statuary 1 quart (2 pints or about 1.2l) so my halves may be just a smidge thicker than used on the original although we have no way of knowing if there’s been any shrinkage during 550 years in the Solent.

The next step was to make the frame. The base is from a substatntial lump of radiata scrounged from a building site rubbish pile and the top is from ply for ease of shaping, with a 50x25mm radiata frame to strengthen and provide a surface for clamping.

This is the base (feft) and the top (right) of the stretching frame. I’ve drawn the shapes on the top so I can cut it out and the base to assist in alignment of the core.

After cutting out the hole in the top piece and cleaning up the edges where necessary with a file, the stretching frame was ready to assemble. To keep the tension on the frame even and avoid pincing the leather at the neck end of the bottle, I put two pieces of the leather I had planned to use as a spacer between the top and bottom before attaching the rather substantial hinges. This is to ensure the top and bottom are parallel when the leather is being clamped.

The finished frame with the back core in place for moulding.

Soaking the leather. I know you know how to do this bit but I’m really showing off my first attempts at coopering – the two new staves in the tub.

The frame was now ready for use. While soaking the leather (I’m using 3.5mm carving leather in this case), centre the back core on the frame base using the pencil lines as a guide. Lay the wet leather skin side up on the core and lower the top leaf of the frame. Clamp in place, smooth any puckering or bubbling with firm pressure and leave to dry.

Clamping the back. Make sure you work the leather around the wooden core and the core is approximately aligned before clamping.

The area around the base of the neck seems to be a particular problem so I used an off-cut of leather to cushion the pressure and worked it down with both thumbs until it sat neatly around the core. This left a curved line not unlike the one shown in the dig report illustration. I found the points where the leather puckered on the back coincided almost exactly with the embossed decoration on the back of the target bottle, 81A2218, so I copied the embossing with the back of a butter knife after stamping my maker’s mark. This left the leather conforming tightly to the whole core.

Embossing the back while still wet. The “W” inside the shiled is my mark, based on the Marian “M” on some of the other bottles. Yes, I am using the back of a butter-knife.

We nipped off for a quick pike drill in the park and when we came back 40 minutes later, released the clamps and removed the leather.

The moulded back-piece. Total elapsed time was about 50 minutes and could have been less if we hadn’t ducked out for half an hour.

An unusual inside view of the finished back piece.

I then repeated the process for the front and found the puckering was different as the leather was stretched differently to the back, but again found that it corresponded to the embossed decoration on the original, particularly the double lines at the base of the neck were essential to getting that area to conform properly to the mould.

Here’s a tip. When you are carving a stamp that includes letters in the design, you have to make sure that you carve the letters in reverse to how you want them to appear. I do think my second attempt at the stamp is better. 😉

The completed front. I was able to work all the creases out by dampening them and using thumb pressure.

There’s a couple of changes that I’ll make next time I make a frame for flackets. I had chased a line in the clamping surface of the top piece with a sharp chisel. this was supposed to leave a raised cutting line on the finished piece, but was too fine and didn’t show clearly enough to be useful. I’ll have to think about making it wider and deeper at some point. With the trouble I’m having shaping the base of the neck where it joins the body of the bottle, I think next time I’ll carve an arch in the top so the pressure is more even across that part than just clamping the sides of the neck turned out to be.

This view is meant to show the different shapes and depths of the front and back.

I had expected to have to drill a couple of holes in the base and use dowels to positively locate the cores on the base but found leaving them loose meant they self-centered far more precisely than I could have managed with a fixed location and didn’t end up leaving any marks on the leather from wriggling around while the clamping pressure was applied.

The moulding was all done on a mild Autumn day, with this sort of frame I could mould at least ten halves in a normal working day in these conditions. Three or four would easily enable me to start mass-production, particularly if there was any heating in the workshop.

That’s enough to be going on as you probably already know the rest of the process. I’ll stop at this point and follow up when I’ve dyed, stitched and sealed it in a month or so.


Part 2; in which it all goes horribly wrong

Part 3; in which I have another crack

See also: stick a cork in it