Sunday, April 29, 2007

Finishing the seams of 14th/15th century pouches

The outward seams of (embroidered) textile pouches can be finished in at least two ways. One method is to cover the seams by tablet weaving. There are some examples of textile pouches finished with this technique in Dress accessories (Egan, G., Pritchard, F. (2002), Dress accessories. c.1150- c.1450, London: The Boydell Press). The side seams of the 14th century London textile pouches discussed in this book are covered with tablet weaving.

Another technique is that of “embroidered braids”. The technique is described by Frida Sorber (Ceulemans, 1988, in Dutch) and she calls it “lussenvlechten”. I haven't found an English translation yet, so I just call it “embroidered braids”, because that's what the technique is all about. Some authors present descriptions of pouches, and seem to try to describe this type of braided finishes. In his embroidery manual “A stitch out of time” Wymarc, for example, describes his observations of the finishing of the German14th century pouches in the Victoria & Albert as follows: “The seams of the bag are covered with a decorative stitch. The stitch is composed of alternating colors, red and what might have once been gilt. I cannot be sure how the stitch was done, but I have re-created it using two needles (one for each color) and threading each color up through the previous stitch and back down, in a kind of double running stitch.” (p 41) Schmedding (1978) describes the finishing of a Swiss 15th century purse as follows: “Alle Kanten sind mit Grünen Seidenzwirnen und Goldfäden (...) in einer Art Flechttechnik befestigt.” p 190

It seems to have been quite common technique in the European mainland in the 14th and 15th century. You can find examples of purses finished with embroidered braids in these books and/or musea:

the Netherlands , Maastricht St Servaas Cathedral
Staufer, A. (1991), Die mittelalterlichen Textilien von St. Servatius in Maastricht, Bern: Abegg-Stiftung Riggisberg
Belgium, Tongeren
Ceulemans, C. (1988), Tongeren. Basiliek O.L. Vrouwe Geboorte. I. Textiel van de vroege middeleeuwen tot het Concilie van Trente, Leuven: Peeters
Germany, e.g. in Victoria and Albert Museum
Wymarc, “A stitch out of time”
Switzerland, Zürich, Sweizerisches Landesmuseum
Schmedding, B. (1978), Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz, Bern: Abegg-Stiftung
Schneider, J. (1975), Textilien. Catalog der Sammlung des Schweizerischen Landesmuseums Zürich, Zürich: Verlag Berichthaus

Some conclusions drawn from the literature discussed above and my own observations of purses in Maastricht and Zürich:
each seam is covered with a braid
use contrasting colours in silk or silk and gold thread
tassels are attached over the seams

This is how I apply the technique:

attach two loops of thread (A and B) to the inside of the pouch

attach loop A

attach loop A, finished

pull loop B through loop A and attach loop B

pull loop A through loop B and attach loop B

cover all sides


Laren said...


I love the look of this finishing technique. Are you sewing the loops down with the thinner blue thread??


Machteld said...


Yes, basically, you work with two loops and one thin thread (it should be "invisible") to sew the loops down over the seam.

See for example the second picture. In that picture, the thin blue thread sews the white loop down.

Isis told me the technique is also used in clothing and she wrote something about it here: