In which I make Helmut a scabbard and baldric

This post has been in preparation since late 2014. Case and tense is all over the place and my brayne is too addled to straighten it out. I’ve added dates to each section, so you can get a feel for the creative process. Now read on…

My friend Helmut is a musketeer, he wears a black floppy hat and carries a musket that according to legend, weighs 30 pounds. He owns a Spanish cup-hilt rapier that he won from a Spanish soldier in a game of La puta madre during the 30-Years War. Unfortunately, the scabbard and baldric* also date from the 30-Years War and are starting to show it. In this post I’ll demonstrate the process for making and decorating a rapier scabbard, I’ll loosely base the decoration on the Mary Rose one (if anyone challenges me, I’ll hide behind Margaret Rule’s observation that if the Mary Rose hadn’t been so securely dated, all the artefacts would have been dated 100-years later). There’s a joint on the still shawm that wasn’t even invented until the clever French people did it in the mid eighteenth century.


Mary Rose rapier scabbard (my photo). I’m using the impressions to tell me what tools to use in my design. I’m taking the frame and mouth decoration more or less directly, everything else is freestyle using the same tools that I would have used if I was creating this scabbard.

It should be noted that I hold Helmut personally responsible for my dreadful obsession with the work of Mr Mindum, which I sometimes inflict on you poor people. This will become relevant later.


* A rapier is a gentleman’s blade and normally worn from from a highly decorated waist-belt rather than a baldric. For the purpose of the exercise we’re assuming Helmut lost the round the belt was played for and had to get a baldric made by a local leatherworker that didn’t know the difference.

Step 1: Procrastinate (September 2015-March 2015)

I’ve had this since September, it’s now March and I haven’t started on the leather. To be fair, I’ve cleaned the sword and removed the burrs and the worst of the chips from the blade, repaired the grip, straightened the cross and reblued the hilt.

Step 2: Make the patterns (January 2015)

I like to make a copy of the sword blade in hardwood so I can wrap it in wet leather without worrying about rusting anything.  It gives a firm surface for tooling, draws some moisture out of the leather and gives nice, crisp edges. Functionally, it’s similar to a last for shoe making. It can be made a little larger than the sword, so you don’t get problems with the finished scabbard being too tight. Don’t forget to add extra timber to allow for any ears on the hilt that might need to be covered by the scabbard. You’ll also need extra length so the chape can be riveted on without leaving the sword sticking an inch or so embarrassingly out of the scabbard. I know others are happy with just wrapping the blade in plastic, and/or gaff tape. Do whatever works for you.

Step 3: Procrastinate more (January – July 2015)

Yeah, I made the patterns back in January, just needed to fix the shape of the point a bit. Two months later…

Step 4: Oh crap! (July – August 2015)

Realise that arrow order is due in one month, not two…

Twelve arrows later. It’s now April July…

Step 5: Finish the pattern (August 9, 2:10-2:13pm)

It took nearly 3 minutes to finish.

Step 6: Mould (August 9, 2:17pm – August 28)

Cut the leather, wet it and clamp it around the pattern. Once it’s dry, remove the clamps, cut to shape and do the two raised bits around the scabbard mouth. I have a bit of hardwood with a “U”-shaped groove about 6mm wide for this sort of work in leather or brass. Flatten the scabbard out again, wet the leather, put it skin side down on the grooved block and hammer a brazing rod in from the flesh side.

Moulding the leather on the wooden pattern, I'm using a couple of lengths of  primed timber to clamp the seam.

Moulding the leather on the wooden pattern, I’m using a couple of lengths of primed timber to clamp the seam.

Step 7: Stitch (August 29 – September 6 while watching the telly)
Make the awl holes and stitch. I’m using edge/flesh stitches to get a flat seam, other seams may be appropriate according to your period and type.

Stitch the back seam, you can see the pattern poking out the top end. I've wrapped it in plastic film so it doesn't swell when wet.

Stitch the back seam, you can see the pattern poking out the top end. I’ve wrapped it in plastic film so it doesn’t swell when wet.

Step 8: Decorate (September 7)
The decoration is informed by the Mary Rose rapier scabbard, a stack of 17th C knife scabbards in the MoL and other places and 17th C furniture and embroidery designs. I quickly carved a new stamp in the end grain of a bit of broom handle. It took 30 minutes and involved curved chisels, a scriber and a short length of 4mm diameter copper tube. It’s a nod towards the two flowers on Mindum’s Jayne Ayres shoehorn of 1593 and a reference to Helmut’s influence with my obsession interest. I’ve covered stamp making before so won’t go into detail here.

The smaller flower is a commercial stamp from the leather store, the small circles are a 1.6mm ∅ nail punch from the hardware and the rest is done with the back of the butter knife (you knew that bit already, didn’t you?). If the leather has been cased properly, the smaller stamps can be done using hand pressure alone. I’m using the wooden pattern to provide support while I’m leaning on the punches and embossing with the butter knife. The bigger stamp was smote with a mallet, with the wooden pattern in place and the whole assembly resting on a block of softwood.

Decorate to taste. Tools include hand made and commercial stamps, a nail punch and the back of a butter knife. The bone and squirty bottle are for flattening the back seam.

Decorate to taste. Tools include hand made and commercial stamps, a nail punch and the back of a butter knife. The bone and squirty bottle are for flattening the back seam.

Step 9: Embalderise (September 10, 2015)

Cut the straps for the baldric. There will be a lot of decorative stitching on the front where it meets the scabbard. Hold off until after the dying’s done.

Straps and hangers.

Straps and hangers.

The stitched but undyed baldrick.

The stitched but undyed baldrick. I lied about dying first.

Step 10: Dye

Colour and method to taste. The baldric is saddle tan with black outside the line where the decorative stitching is going to be. This should help the idea that the scabbard and baldric were made by different people. On the scabbard I used a tan base and overdyed red with the new “safer” water-based dyes. It’s supposed to be colourfast and waterproof when set.

Step 11: Final assembly

Stitch the baldric together, do the decorative stitching.  This next bit is straight from the MR scabbard – split the wooden form lengthwise and hollow out space for the blade. Glue it in with barley paste, hide glue or PVA, whatever you are comfortable with and can self-justify.

Scabbard with wooden insert.

Scabbard with wooden insert.

Step 12: Wax to finish

A nice solid coat of beeswax and put it outside in the sun to soak in.

Step 13: Helmut tries it out – and it rains

I made an early delivery to Helmut so he could test it and see if there’s any changes or adjustments to be done. The chape is still on the to-do list for later. Helmut used it at the St Ives Medieval Faire. Oh Noes! Disaster! The red dye washed out in the rain, leaving it all spotty where the drops splashed…

Scabbard (sans chape) in the pre-deluge colour and finished baldrick.

Scabbard (sans chape) in the pre-deluge colour and finished baldrick.

Step 14: Repeat steps 10-12 (May-July 2016)

… strip the red dye with hot water and re-dye using red Raven Oil. Let’s see that run!

Step 15: Make and fit the chape (18 July 2016)

This was always going to be the final step after the St Ives test to see if there was any fettling required. Fold a chape from sheet brass, decorate and polish. In the final fitting the chape split along the line of the decoration. I’m beginning to think this scabbard is cursed.

Step 16: Make and fit the chape again (19 July 2016)

Absolutely, finally, completely finished scabbard.

Absolutely, finally, completely finished scabbard.

Step 17: Hand to Helmut and back away slowly (21 July 2016)

… or so I thought. Helmut wasn’t there at the drill, so I’ll take it or send it along to the next event.

Elapsed time: 1 year 277 days, 19h, 11m.
Actual Working time: 14h 8m

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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.

An almost-right saex scabbard

This post is a warning for young players, going back in time to somewhere in the youth of the Internet. Back in those days, a fast connection was a dial-up connection with a 14.4kbps modem, a big website was anything over 1MB, and 800 x 600 in 256 colours was high resolution. The excellent series of YAT publications weren’t widely known here and and the publications that were available were more of the glossy coffee-table types. Online catalogues and web sales were years away and photos were only used on the most data-intensive sites. The images we had access to in the Antipodes were not of the finest quality, and lead to errors such as this.

I’d been given a combat-grade saex with a forged iron blade, leather bound scale tang hilt (the scales were two thickish slices of a branch with the bark still attached) with held together with rough steel rivets. The point was 10mm in diameter and the “edge” was 3mm thick. It had seen some use in combat and was rough, ugly and I couldn’t get my hand all the way around the hilt, but you don’t look a forged blade in the mouth. It didn’t take me long to reshape the point and file and grind an edge, and there was enough meat on the tang for me to be able to turn it into a whittle tang. I made the hilt from a carved lamb bone from a roast we had, with 3mm brass plates at each end. The tang passes through the backplate and is peened over. The buckles are made from the same lamb leg as the hilt, using opposite sides of the lower end of the femur near the joint. I then needed to make the scabbard.

Saex scabbard, loosely based on one from Jorvik. The original has much coarser knotwork but still shows paint in the same colours.

I knew of an illustration on the Regia Anglorum website and spent a ridiculious amount of time trying to work out the knotwork design. I relied heavily on contemporary manuscript knotwork, and drew the techniques from the MoL Knives and Scabbards book. I got it wrong.

This is the original illustration I was working from. If anything, I've been able to clean it up a bit.

It wasn’t until we got to York in 2003 that I realised that I was too keen to see the manuscript knotwork on the leather and that I’d misunderstood how the scabbard was used. The knife should fit almost completely in the scabbard, with the different knotworks corresponding to the blade and the hilt.  Here’s a photo of two similar scabbards I took in Jorvik:

Two saex scabbards at Jorvik.

The upper one shows similar punch work to this one from the Yorkshire Museum up the road.

Saex and knife scabbards in the Yorkshire Museum

The one on the right is discussed in another post. The one on the left is the one I attempted here. I’m happy with the stamped decoration along the edge of the blade, but the knotwork is completely wrong and the execution is 11th-13th century. I’ll have to remake it one day, but I need to work out if I have to shorten the blade first. The York postcard below shows someone else’s interpretation of a couple of scabbard, they have their own problems but aren’t bad.

Postcard: Replica leather knife sheath from The Jorvik Viking Centre.

I suppose the moral of the story is to make sure your references are clear before you begin anything.

References

 J. Cowgill, M. de Neergaard,  N. Griffiths, Knives and Scabbards (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London), HMSO London, 1987

Regia Anglorum, http://www.regia.org/, accessed 26 April 2006.

Leatherwork at the MoL

These photos are from our visit to the Museum of London in 2006. The light levels in the museum can be quite low, so the photos sometimes are underexposed. The level of detail on the placards was also fairly limited, but most of these items have been published by the MoLAS if you want to read up further.

I’ll keep the captions brief and to the point.

Roman leatherworking tools found around London, 1-3C AD.
Roman leatherworking tools found around London, 1-3C AD.
Leatherworking tools, about 14th century.

Leatherworking tools, about 14th century. The small costrel in the middle is often cited as evidence for sand moulding. I can't see how you'd sand mould the ribs or why you'd need to once you'd moulded the ends and neck.

Small decorated knife sheath, 15th century.

Small decorated knife sheath, 15th century.

Leather glove, 15th c. from Bankside Southwark. The cutout for the thumb stall is teardrop shaped, there is a repaired tear across the mitten.

Leather glove, 15th c. from Bankside Southwark. The cutout for the thumb stall is teardrop shaped, there is a repaired tear across the mitten.

Leather costrel, 1400s. More on these in a later blog.

Leather costrel, 1400s. More on these in a later blog.

Arrow spacer, 1400-1500. These were sewn into linen arrow bags, protecting the feathers from crushing. The small notches allow small broadheads to pass through.

Arrow spacer, 1400-1500. These were sewn into linen arrow bags, protecting the feathers from crushing. The small notches allow small broadheads to pass through. We've made a copy of this one and found it worked really well.

Archer's armguard, 1500-1550. Found in Worship Street, another of virtually identical shape was found in Newport, Wales.

Archer's armguard, 1500-1550. Found in Worship Street, another of virtually identical shape was found in Newport, Wales.

Leather ink well.

Leather ink well.

Stylus case for holding styli for use with wax tablets.

Stylus case for holding styli for use with wax tablets.

Jack - the pewter lid is a later addition

Jack, 15th-17th century from the shape of the handle - the pewter lid is a later addition. Compare this with the ones at Warwick Castle.

Jack, handle view. The twist in the body is caused by uneven tension when sewing the back seam.

Jack, handle view. The twist in the body is caused by uneven tension when sewing the back seam. I've only done it this severly once.

Iron-bound leather fire bucket.

Iron-bound leather fire bucket. I suspect this is late 17th century or even more recent.

Sewn leather fire bucket. Decoration is painted, the letters "SB" on the top row, "B" in the middle and the date "1666" on the bottom row.

Sewn leather fire bucket. Decoration is painted, the letters "SB" on the top row, "B" in the middle and the date "1666" on the bottom row.

Pen knife and moulded leather case. Mid-17th century.

Pen knife and moulded leather case. Mid-17th century.

Front left: Leather tennis ball, stuffed with dog hair.

Front left: Leather tennis ball, stuffed with dog hair.

Painted finishes

This is a topic I don’t think anyone’s covered particularly well, so I’m going to have a crack at it. A lot of extant leatherwork from the early medieval period through to the modern period exhibits traces and in some cases, complete painted decoration. Some good examples are the Stonyhurst Gospels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonyhurst_Gospel), the saex scabards at Jorvic and the Yorkshire Museum and the leather jacks in Warwick Castle. Looking through surviving Tudor and Stuart leatherwork that’s in original condition, almost all buckets, bombards and jacks have at least the date painted on them.

Paints

Appropriate paints include tempera, gouache and oils. The selection of paint  depends on the period being represented by the object. Tempera predates Egypt, and was still commonly used until superceded in about 1500. Gouache paints were in use in the early 1400s in mainland Europe and probably migrated into the UK shortly after. The name originally applied to a completely different paint, taking it’s modern form in the 19th century.

Contrary to many claims about a much later date of invention, Theophilus, writing in the early12th century disussed the preparation and use of oil paints using linseed oil as the medium and rosin as the binder (Book 1, Chapter 25). I suspect the Warwick jacks are crested with an oil-based paint. More relevant to us here, he also gave a couple of recipes for a varnish made from linseed and rosin (Book 1, Chapter 20).

Each of the types of paint have their pros and cons, oil paints are easy to use and waterproof when dry, but dry slowly and continue to oxidise and darken as they age. You’ll need to use at least three coats to get any colour density. Gouaches are better at covering than oils, and dry quickly, but aren’t waterproof when dry. I usually thin with a few drops of gum arabic to improve water resistance and then compensate by doing two coats. Tempera is hard to get unless you grind and mix your own, it has most of the benefits of gouache but is often fugitive.

Purists may skip this next section while we discuss modern paints. Art quality acrylics work wonderfully over large areas or in places where the object is likely to get wet: I use acrylics for objects used by kids due to the wearing properties and water resistance. The bigest benefit is flexibility – acrylics can be used on soft items or things that have a bit of spring without flaking. Acrylics aren’t capable of flowing the way gouaches and oils do, so don’t suit my painting style. They also tend to bead when applied in fine lines, so can’t achieve the same clarity as gouache. 

Gel inks  provide good coverage and can be used to provide very fine lines, so can be used to compensate for the shortcomings of acrylics. You have to have a good eye for colour to be able to match the acrylic paint with the gel. These come in pen form with a steel rolling ball, so can be used for fine lines on knotwork that would have originally been done with a steel nib or crow quill. The black comes in handy for correcting the bits where you go slightly outside the lines.

Modern enamels are a pigment in a synthetic oil base. I’ve never tried them on leather, if you have, let me know how they go. I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t work, but may be a bit brittle on flexible objects.

Metal foils and leaf are a great way of highlighting detail. Use the same methods that you would for applying leaf to parchment.

Layout/Transfer

My sketching tends to be fussy and not suited to easily transfer to leather. For these things, I do my layouts by finding an image on the Internet or in books, bung it in a word processor and then put any text required around it. Here’s one I prepared earlier.

Design for James' jack

Design for James' jack

This design was a commission for a jack for James’ birthday. The arms in the were taken from a larger design done by Wendel Hollar for the Honorable Artillery Company in 1643. I’ve removed the supporters, the crest and the mantling. The arms are considerably older than this, but it does show the correct form during the period in question. The initials IW are used as the letter I was commonly used in place of J in the early modern period. The year 1641 is arbitrary, but as James is younger than me, it seemed appropriate that his jack showed a newer date than mine. Paint colours come from a slightly later colour print. 

The design was printed and transfered to the leather using one of a few different techniques. If it’s a flat design painted directly on to the finished leather, I cheat and transfer the design with yellow or white “carbon” paper available from larger haberdashers – that’s why the red pen outline is on the design above.

Left: IW 1641, with the arms of the HAC, Right: WR 1639, with the arms of the Order of Prince Arthur, a company of archers

Left: IW 1641, with the arms of the HAC, Right: WR 1639, with the arms of the Order of Prince Arthur, a company of archers

 For embossed or chased designs I do the work before dyeing the leather by poking small holes along the lines with a needle or awl and after securing to the leather, rub powered charcoal or chalk through the holes, then remove the paper and join the dots before embossing, often using the back of a butter knife to start. Once the relief work is done, the leather is dyed and sewn and then painted.

The pattern and leather with the linear elements of the design embossed.
The pattern and leather with the linear elements of the design embossed.

 I didn’t end up painting the one above, but the principle is the same. Try to avoid handling the area you’ll be painting, particularly if using water based paint as the oil from your fingers will cause the paint to bead and cover unevenly.

Painting

In a manner somewhat reminiscient of the Monty Python Blue Peter sketch, now paint the design. It takes some practice to get paint to flow properly on leather, particularly if the grain is particularly deep. Pick something easy to start off with and don’t be afraid to wash it all off, let it dry and have another go.

Finishing

Again, I look to Theophilus and varnish over the painted design. If I’m using gouache, I’ll use three or four coats of varnish to improve the water resistance and then a good coat of bees wax polish. The jack on the right in the top photo has been in use for nearly 10 years, the only time I had problems with the paint running was last Easter when it was used in a re-enactment tavern in a river valley where the humidity was always over 90%. It was continually wet for four days straight and the bottoms of the serifs started to bleed on the evening of the last day.

See my earlier “Care and Feeding” for more tips on maintaining your painted leather for a good working life.

Examples

Saex scabbard, loosely based on one from Jorvik. The original has much coarser knotwork but still shows paint in the same colours. The bone buckles and hilt came from a lamb roast.

Saex scabbard, loosely based on one from Jorvik. The original has much coarser knotwork but still shows paint in the same colours. Gouache on the leather, the bone has a black paste worked into the groves. The bone buckles and hilt came from a lamb roast.

Costrel neck, in the style of one from the Mary Rose, 1545. It was to have been a copy, but I got the length wrong and had to use different shaped ends to compensate.

Costrel neck, in the style of one from the Mary Rose, 1545. It was to have been a copy, but I got the length wrong and had to use different shaped ends to compensate. Gouache on leather.

Lincoln Imp mask and tail based on the imps around Lincoln Catherdral. Moulded leather mask and horns, embossed ears and tail. The hair is an old fur stole. Acrylic paint and gold leaf.

Lincoln Imp mask and tail based on the imps around Lincoln Catherdral. Moulded leather mask and horns, embossed ears and tail. The hair is an old fur stole. Acrylic paint and gold leaf.

 

References

Baker, O.,  BLACK JACKS AND LEATHER BOTTELLS: Being some account of Leather Drinking Vessels in England and incidentally of other Ancient Vessels,  England 1921

Preservation Brief 28 – Painting Historic Interiors, http://www.nps.gov/hps/TPS/briefs/brief28.htm, accessed 2 October 2009

Theophilus, On Diverse Arts, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/theophilus.html, accessed 2 October 2009

Paint

Anglo Scandanavian period knife scabbard, Parliament Street, York

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.

Find 755 from Parliament Street Sewer trench
Find 755 from Parliament Street Sewer trench

 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.

The pattern and leather with the linear elements of the design embossed.

The pattern and leather with the linear elements of the design embossed.

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.

Home made punches from odd bits laying around

Home made punches from odd bits laying around

 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.

Saxon scabbard, the girdle loop is fingerbraided.

Saxon scabbard, the girdle loop is fingerbraided. Knife by Alex Schiebner, Talerwin Forge.

I took this photo in 2003 of the original, the scabbard looks much straighter than the report drawing.

I took this photo in 2003 of the original, the scabbard looks much straighter than the report drawing.

 

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.

Rus Knife – 9th Century

At one event or other, Glenda and I were struggling with the usual Anglo Saxon sock problem – foot shaped bags made from woven cloth that were probably accurate but weren’t really confortable. Jenny offered to make us each a pair of naelbinded socks in exchange for a small Rus knife that she could wear slung off her girdle.

Picture 006

Reproduction Rus knife, 9th century

The knife is based on photos taken by Chris Morgan at The Hermitage museum in Russia and augmented by photos I took of similar period knives in the Yorkshire Museum in York. To be honest, the blade isn’t the shape I’d first planned, but the steel didn’t want to be that shape so it’s the same as another one that the steel was happy with from the place and date. My black smithing skills are a work in progress. The scabbard is also more complex than the first one I’d chosen, I had planned to do a plainer/easier one but when Glenda’s socks arrived I realised how much effort went in to them and stepped up a notch.

The steel is a medium-carbon (0.6%) cutlery steel from a billet left over from the 1940s that I was given on the proviso that I used it to make “medieval” knives. Hilt is a lamb leg bone, left over from a roast dinner, fittings are brass, the scabbard is 2mm vegetable tanned top grain leather, dyed with one coat of red Raven Oil and one of whisky Raven Oil. The chain is made from fine wire that I thought may be steel, but now suspect is stainless florist wire. Fittings on the chain are tinned brass.

I tried to do as much as practicable with hand tools. The blade was forged and heat treated, then ground to shape. The bone was cleaned, boiled and then left in the sun for the ants to finish off for a couple of months. Dot-circles were done using a tool made from a large iron nail, turned in a drill. I figure they could have used a bow drill to do the job. The brass edge strip was made by working sheet over an iron mock-up of the finished scabbard edge, and the rides in the bands were done in repousse using a block of Sydney Grey Gum (farmed on site) with a groove cut in it and a piece of 3mm brass rod tapped in from behind with a hammer.

My initial sketches of the blade and hilt

My initial sketches of the blade and hilt

The blade and hilt were assembled, and then the leather was wet, wrapped around the knife and clamped to dry. The brass cross and diamonds were cut, embossed using repousse techniques of the Viking period, and then attached to the mounting rings with riveted brass strips.

Initial scabard sketch

Initial scabard sketch

Assembly was a simple matter of holding it all together and banging a few rivets in. After that, the scabbard and knife had the various bits of trim attached with rings. The bells on the hilt serendipitously came from a new skirt Glenda had just bought. The kids were annoyed by the ringing, so they were removed and became surplus. Due to my habit of corroding metal, I wore light leather gloves throughout, and lacquered the hilt and scabbard once complete. The blade has been lightly treated with olive oil.

 Original Examples

The knife in question.

The knife in question.

The knife on the right is the one  I’d originally planned to do… the bands on the scabbard and the edge are really from this knife.

The knife on the right is the one I’d originally planned to do… the bands on the scabbard and the edge are really from this knife.

And some of its friends showing off bone hilts. The top two show a similar flare at the back.

And some of its friends showing off bone hilts. The top two show a similar flare at the back.

9th century bone handled Viking knife, Yorkshire Museum

9th century bone handled Viking knife, Yorkshire Museum

Care

Basically, keep out of the rain, and dry the knife if it gets wet. The blade and bone parts of the hilt could do with an occasional wipe with olive oil, and at least once a year, feed the leather parts of the scabbard by waxing with a commercial pure bees’ wax and turpentine furniture polish from a reputable furniture store, and buff off. I’m happy to do any necessary repairs short of a complete remake.

Sources

Thanks go to Chris Morgan for supplying photographs and design consultation.

Ivarsson, Hersir Ragnar, Accoutrements, www.vikingagevessels.org/documents/D_ACCOUTREMENTS.pdf  accessed 26/08/2005

Stevens, Lora-Lynn, Viking Chain Knitting (Trichinopoly Chainwork), http://userweb.suscom.net/~apolloniavoss/projects.htm#TrichinopolyChainworkClassHandouts, accessed 12/09/2005

Wiseman, N, Knitting with Wire, Interweave Press, 2003

York Archaeological Trust, YAT AWY3 Anglo-Scandinavian and Roman remains at 28 – 29 High Ousegate http://www.iadb.co.uk/waterstones/intro.htm

York Archaeological Trust, YAT AWY7 Excavations at 62-68 Low Petergate http://www.iadb.co.uk/ayw7/index.htm