The Museum of London leather jerkin in close up photographs.
Thanks to the Archaeological Leather Group for pointing it out.
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.
This post is a follow up to Archer’s Bracers and Wooden Stamps (again) of the year before last. It’s mostly me showing off, with some self-justification to explain the decisions I made about dye colours and buckles. I started writing this post in September 2014, so forgive me if things seem a little outdated.
I’m quoting from Gervase Markham’s The Art of Archerie (1634) here, mainly for my own convenience because I can cut and paste from the ebook. Markham was a publisher and like his peers, made his money from the sheer number of different titles he sold rather than the more modern approach of having fewer stronger selling titles. Accuracy, readability, veracity and respecting ownership of intellectual property were not his strong points. In this case, he’s written a new dedicatory epistle to the king, a new first chapter (A general encomion or praise of shooting both in peace and war) and then basically plagiarized the second book of Ascham’s Toxophilus when he thought everyone had stopped reading. He has modernised Ascham’s language somewhat and added the occasional paragraph of his own.
…the bracer serves for two purposes, the one to save the arm from the stripe of the string, and his doublet from wearing; and the other, that the string gliding sharply and quickly of the bracer may make the sharper shot, for if the string should light upon the bare sleeve, the strength of the shot would stop and die there…
This next bit seems to be Markham’s own work and reflects mid-17th century practice rather than 16th c, Ascham is silent on the appropriate types of leather.
The bracers are made for the most part of Spanish leather, the smooth side outward, and they be the best, sometimes of Spanish leather and the flesh side outward, and they are both good and tolerable, and others are made of hard, stiff but smooth bend leather, and they be the worst and most dangerous, and thus much is spoken of the bracer.
When looking at the Mary Rose bracers, all are skin side outwards and only a couple are candidates for being of Spanish leather. I’ve used harness butt for all mine, it’s thick, flexible and takes stamping well. Most of the Mary Rose bracers are rectangular or octagonal, with a couple having curves on the long sides. I made a couple of each design, patterns were just the drawings from the MR book blown up to life size on a photocopier. Cut out the leather, case it and decorate with the stamps you made two years ago. Attack with the back of the butter knife if your design needs it. You may have done that two years ago as well…
Buckle and strap
Cut the straps to the correct width to fit the actual or hypothetical buckle and punch the holes for the rivets and mounting the buckle. I used a thin 1.5mm carving leather for the straps on the commercial buckles and a 3mm on the ones I’d made. “Y” shaped straps can be made by splitting a straight strap for part of its length, dampening the branching area and then stretching and squeezing to shape.
Dye the bits as required with your choice of leather dye. I used red on a couple to represent Spanish leather (the red colour came from a step in the tanning process), the majority are black or brown.
Mild steel buckles
My bracer has a forged buckle, but to show what you can do at home, I made these from a piece of 1.6mm sheet mild steel I’d picked up from the local hardware. The shapes are entirely hypothetical because none of the Mary Rose bracer buckles have survived. The holes have been drilled and then opened up with files. On some of the square ones, I stitch drilled and then cut the webs with a cold chisel. Decoration is with sharp or blunt cold chisels and a centre punch. The buckle tongues are horseshoe nails with the heads cut off and then bent to an appropriate shape. Don’t forget to clean and debur the front and back.
The finish is a simple heat blue, a stable oxide of iron. I use a similar process to this, either using a propane torch or gas ring depending on what the gas bottle is connected to, but finish with a spray oil rather than a dip. Just do it outside and don’t breathe the fumes. You can blue in your oven if it can heat to 290°C/550°F.
Assemble all the bits using copper harness rivets (the impressions in the leather match the Mary Rose examples) and wax or seal to taste.
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