Gram-Letter3-art - 7/19/15
"The Making of a Bottle of Leather, for thy Pilgrimage" by Lady Shara of Starwood, OVO, CMC, AoA. A series of articles on various crafts and medieval life written in first-person style. This is number 3 of 11 articles.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
The Making of a bottle of Leather, for thy Pilgrimage
by Lady Shara of Starwood, OVO, CMC, AoA
Dearest grandchild of my daughter's gentle rearing,
As promised in my last missive, I am sending to you the instruction for the making of a bottle of leather for the transportation of such waters as you will have need of carrying on your journey.....in the event that my last instruction reaches you too late in the season to obtain one from the vine, or you just prefer not to, and would like one of a more permanent nature......and have in thy manor a good harness maker... Tell him he shall have need of some heavy leather. Draw upon some means, parchment or some other material by which he would normally make of a pattern for such, the shape and size, that you want the bottle to be, and then add about a 1.5 cm edge, all around the drawing, except for at the top, where the neck opening of the bottle will be. Have him cut out this pattern and draw around it onto the leather. Cut one piece of leather, and then turn the cut leather to the back side, and with the bottle shape of leather layed back side to the back of the other leather, draw around the cut leather to transfer his pattern to make the other side of your bottle. Cut this out. With the back sides of both cut pieces touching evenly, all around, with small clamps or clothes pegs, clamp around all of the edges (except the neck hole).
Use an awl (a tool that has a short, nail-like point) or make one from a nail put in a short wood handle. The nail should stick out of the handle about 2-2.5 cm, and he will need to file it to a good sharp point, so it will easily pierce the 2 thicknesses of leather.
Then, with this placed on a scrap piece of wood, at the neck area, on the edge of the neck, about .5 cm from the top edge, and about 1 cm from the cut edge, punch a hole with his awl tool. About .5 cm next to it, punch another hole. This is to start his stitching. Cut a long length of waxed cord, (about 1- 2 meters long) used to sew leather, sometimes called 'artificial sinew' fold it in half, and put a leather needle on each cut end. Put the folded part at the top of the 'bottle' and with one needle go all the way through the first hole made by the awl, stopping when the fold is still on top, before it gets pulled through the hole. Then take the other needle, and pass it through the hole from the back toward the front, stopping when it runs out of cord, and a tight loop of cord now seals the top of the leather, front to back, together. He should do this again so that the top edge of the bottle has 3 loops sewn over it tightly (there will be much pressure here, later, from the cork you will put in the resulting hole to seal the bottle, when it's finished). His needles and cord should be going one out the back of the bottle through the awl hole, and one coming out the front through the same awl hole. He should continue to make his holes, spaced 1 cm apart, pushing the awl point through both pieces of leather, and into the scrap of wood, to make holes only big enough for his needle and cord to pass through 2 times, one needle, front to back through the hole, and one needle back to front through the same hole, but do not make the holes any bigger than necessary (he will know of this, but if you must find the service of someone inexperienced, they might want to practice on some scrap leather pieces, to make sure he only makes the holes as large as he will need them and no larger, this is very important to making sure you have a bottle that does not leak. He should only make a few holes at a time, removing clamps as needed to, and sew through front and back, back to front, to make a tight continuos stitch ----------------------------like this. (each little gap being where the hole is) He should sew all around the bottle, until he gets to the top on the other side, at the neck opening, and again stitch several times, over the top edge (leaving the hole open for your cork) and then try to sew the cords going back the way he last came up, for a few cm before clipping the excess ends.
Now, he should fill the bottle with warm (not hot) water, and lower it into a bowl or bucket of warm water, and leave it for several hours, or overnight (the water will cool, but that should be okay). He'll mostly want to get the leather VERY wet, so it will stretch.
After it's well soaked, he is to remove it from the water, pour out the water inside, and using a funnel put into the neck of the bottle, pour about 1 or 2 coffee cups full of warm sand into the bottle. Then take out the funnel and using a dowel stick slightly smaller than the neck opening of the bottle, start to pack the sand very tightly into the bottle, pushing it firmly towards the flat sides of the bottle, to make them stretch. He should keep adding more sand, and packing and stretching with the dowel and sand, until the sand reaches near the top of the bottle and there is 'just' enough room to put a cork in it snuggly. He shold use a cork of a size that will still stick out of the bottle enough to easily remove it later.
Obtain from the kitchen a flat pan, or tray, and place the bottle upon it, and put it out in a sunny place to dry the leather. Turn it over occassionally, to allow air and the sun’s warmth to reach all surfaces well. Leave it in the pan until it (the bottle) is totally dry (cover it at night to protect it from dew, or bring it in, if for no other reason than to protect it from night wandering animals or stray dogs, who are always drawn by curiosity to new smells, and inclined to carry all this hard work away, to chew on it at their leisure.....I once lost a raw turtle shell that way, that I had laying in a bowl full of a strong bleach. I'd had it out side on the ground, because the smell was so bad. I walked out the door just in time to see a hound, grab it out of the bleach, and run, with it flopping in his mouth as if he wished to take it to his un-seen master, for the filling of his next meal...if I hadn't been so mad about loosing my large turtle shell, I probably would have laughed at how funny the hound looked, running away with his prize.
When the leather is all dry, take the cork out. He may need to use an awl, or better yet, an old skewer, with blunted point, to dig and scrape the sand out of the bottle. It should hold its somewhat rounded shape. After the sand is all out, he should either put it back on the pan (minus the cork) to let the inside dry for a few days or using a warm hair-dryer, blow warm air into it. When he is positive that it is totally dry, inside and out, melt some beeswax in a doubled pan and while that is melting (it is not to be left un-attended!) using your skewer, make sure he trys to get any extra sand out of the bottle that may have stuck to the inside. (Any that is missed after this point, will get sealed to the leather with the beeswax, so not to worry about it). Dump all sand off the foil covered pan. When the wax is all melted, he might want to run the outside edges of all the seams through it, and or even ladle some wax over the outside of the leather, front and back, and then, holding it with tongs, slowly pour hot wax into the neck of the bottle, pick it up and roll it some, to coat all inside surfaces with the wax, and then pour the excess back into the double pan. Let the wax cool dry and harden, and perhaps repeat this process once more. Let the wax totally harden. Any excess build-up, on the out side surface can be scraped away with a dull knife, and use a cloth, free of lents to buff the rest to a hard shine. When the wax is totally cooled, he is to fill thy bottle with cool water, to see if it leaks, it probably won't, but if it does,he must needs add more wax to the inside (as done already) and outside seams.
An added note. If he has not done work of this nature previously, he might, before he makes a drink bottle, make a smaller one first, to experiment with and when it's finished use it to store something like salt or seasoning in. Another suggestion is to perhaps add some sort of little 'ear-like' handles, near the top of the bottle, before he cuts and sews it. Make them part of the front and back leather pieces, but sew the bottle together, as if he were making a bottle with no ears, and afterwards, sew the front and back of the ears together, with their cut-out holes. You can then tie a leather carrying strap through the holes.
Fill your new bottle and put a cork in it. And it is done.
And in this way will you have with you a fyne bottle, for thy journey . Once again my dearest, the candle grows short, and my eyes begin to strain from the hour...so I bid you good planning and sound health, as I with-draw to the warmth of my bedding, for already the air is sharp. With promise of the coming cold, and my old bones not being as spirited as they once were, I must needs run, or should I say, limp away from the night I once found full of lights and adventure...... to grow old is not so bad though, and I fear not the last journey, for my life has been good and my joys and loves many....If our Good Lord allows, I ask only that He permit me this one last year, to know you safely home and your journey a success in such ways as I may have helped it so......so be well my sweet love, and write when you can, and keep me abreast of your preparations...for my heart travels with you, as my feet cannot.
(period leather water pilgrim bottles may be seen in illustration
numbers: 93, 94, and 96 of:
Waterer,John. : "Leather Craftsmanship"
G. Bell & Sons, Ltd. London, Eng. 1968)
Copyright 2000 by R.D. Wertz. <windsingersmoon at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.