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Re: [medieval-leather] Thread question

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  • T Goat
    Hear, here! Alasdair makes excellent points. Sewing with linen is a joy; sewing with synthetics is a chore. g ...
    Message 1 of 36 , Mar 15, 2005
      Hear, here! Alasdair makes excellent points. Sewing
      with linen is a joy; sewing with synthetics is a


      --- Alasdair Muckart <silver@...> wrote:
      > On Wed, 16 Mar 2005 07:22, Bret Orrell wrote:
      > Hi,
      > > I'm planning on making myself a pair of boots. Not
      > necessarily period
      > > I've seen posts about using linen thread. I know
      > Tandy sells nylon
      > > thread. Is there any advantage to one over the
      > other? One stronger?
      > I would stay well away from sythetic thread at all
      > costs. Despite having a
      > higher tensile strength than linen thread it does
      > not wear as well, and in
      > fact it's tensile strength is so high that it is far
      > more likely to tear out
      > of the leather than linen thread is. Good linen
      > thread is plenty strong for
      > shoes. I can't break the stuff I use by hand.
      > Synthetic thread is also a dog to sew with, I've
      > encountered far far more
      > instances of the needle punching through the thread
      > in the middle of a stitch
      > using synthetic thread than I ever have with linen.
      > Synthetic thread also
      > frays horribly during use.
      > Linen, being a natural fibre is suceptible to water
      > damage and wear. You get
      > around this by waxing it properly before you
      > assemble the item. The trick is
      > to get each strand of the thread waxed, not just a
      > coating of wax over the
      > whole thing. There are two ways of doing it. The
      > easy way is to buy pre-waxed
      > thread which has been spun from waxed strands to
      > begin with. The other way is
      > to get non-waxed thread, unwind it into a ribbon and
      > run it through your wax
      > then rewind the cord.
      > If possible don't use plain beeswax to wax it, use a
      > 50/50 mixture of beeswax
      > and pine rosin (available from art shops). This
      > gives a more sticky wax that
      > holds the thread together much better.
      > See Marc Carlson's "footwear of the middle ages" web
      > page for instructions on
      > how to wax thread.
      > > Also I've seen some web sites that list #3 or #5
      > linen. What do the
      > > numbers mean and what would be the best one for
      > boots, etc?
      > Be a bit careful about buying linen thread over the
      > web - a lot of the linen
      > thread is built for embroidery not structural
      > sewing. If you can get to a
      > leather shop or a saddlers then get your thread from
      > there.
      > --
      > Al.

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    • ana_deissler
      Here it comes at last: the DIY instructions on how I make scabbards. Please note that I am mostly self-taught and there may be huge gaps in my knowledge that I
      Message 36 of 36 , Mar 31, 2005
        Here it comes at last: the DIY instructions on how I make scabbards.
        Please note that I am mostly self-taught and there may be huge gaps
        in my knowledge that I am not aware of. If you spot such gaps or just
        have a differing opinion, please share it on the list or get in touch
        with me off-list. It is not my aim to unwittingly spread
        There are three line-drawings to go with this text. Would the person
        who offered to put them on the web on my behalf please contact me off-
        list to sort this out? Thanks.


        How to make a Seax Scabbard with a Metal Edge Binding
        (by Ana Deissler)

        The majority of finds for seax-scabbards show the widely spaced marks
        from riveting holes rather than stitching holes. These scabbards were
        edged with a strip of metal, the sharp edge of the blade facing
        towards the metal edge. And if you have ever accidentally cut through
        the stitching of a sewn-up scabbard it immediately makes sense. A
        metal-binding also stiffens the scabbard which again makes a lot of
        sense if you wear it suspended horizontally from your belt and move
        about a lot – no accidental stabs in the belly or similar. The
        following instructions describe how I make such scabbards, using
        totally unauthentic techniques, but the result looks right. I am sure
        that there are other and better ways of making a seax-scabbard with a
        metal edge, but here follows my version.

        I use copper-edging - it is not clear what material the edge would
        have been - to my knowledge there are no finds with the edge still
        on. If you know of any, please let me know. All the evidence I have
        seen in the flesh was an exhibit at the Museum of London with an iron
        rivet still stuck in it, but no metal-binding left. In the absence of
        clearer evidence I choose to use copper for the edge and the rivets
        and vegetable tanned leather for the scabbard itself. Do not use
        modern chrome-tanned leather for this as it does not stretch
        sufficiently and the metallic salts in it may interact with the seax-
        blade when wet.

        Developping the pattern for the leather of the scabbard:
        For this you cut a piece of thick but pliable vegetable-tanned
        leather into roughly the right shape, leaving a lot of trimming
        allowances all round. Seax-scabbards are longer than on modern
        knives and also encase approx. 2/3 to 3/4 of the length of the
        handle. In order to be able to draw the seax properly the opening of
        the scabbard must be loose enough to stick one finger inside when
        drawing the knife. Allow for this extra room and extra length when
        cutting the rough shape of the leather. Then you soak it in water and
        when it has gone all floppy you just mold it around the seax with the
        cutting edge of the blade facing towards the centre-line of the
        leather. It might be a good idea to wrap the seax in clingfilm first
        to prevent it from rusting when doing this. Mold the leather tightly
        around the seax. Mark where the seax inside stops and the trimming
        margins begin. You do this with a scratching tool like a thick
        darning needle or similar tool - not with a pencil or biro that
        leaves permanent coloured marks. When marking around the butt of the
        handle remember to measure and shape around it with your index-finger
        held alongside the handle inside the scabbard to allow for room for
        this finger when drawing the seax later.
        Then add to this outline the seam-allowances that will later be
        covered by the metal-edge. This is where you determine how tightly
        the scabbard will fit later. You will want it a bit too tight so that
        the leather needs to stretch a little in the last stages of scabbard-
        making . These stretched areas will grip the seax firmly enough to
        keep it safely in the scabbard when you are moving around. Before
        adding the seam allowances add approx. 5% of the scabbard length to
        the tip-end of the scabbard and re-shape the outline with this longer
        and pointier tip. Work out the width for each seam-allowance as
        follows: Halve the width of the edge of the metal-strip minus 1.5
        times the thickness of the leather you are using. Mark a parallel
        line along each side of the scabbard at the calculated distance and
        cut this shape out of the leather.

        If you want to decorate the scabbard by tracing patterns on it, this
        is the time to do it.
        Take a pattern from an archaeological source and re-draw it to fill
        the pattern and shape for your knife.
        Allow the pre-cut scabbard to dry out first, then dampen it by
        wiping it with a wet sponge - do not soak.
        Get a piece of solid cardboard - not the corrugated kind - the shape
        of the pattern. Cover in clingfilm. Put the leather on top. Cover in
        clingfilm. Fix the drawing of the decorative pattern on top. Fix by
        sellotaping to the cardboard carrier. Transfer the decorative pattern
        onto the leather by tracing it with a pen that has run out of ink or
        some other such implement. Done.
        Alternatively you can decorate the leather by piercing scratching or
        slashing - check the archarological sources for what was done -
        mostly blunt tracing as described above to my knowledge.

        Preparing the scabbard before attaching the edge binding:
        Let it dry if you made it damp.
        Cut a feather along the edges where the metal-strip is to go. This
        means that you cut a long strip of a triangular cross section off
        the flesh-side of the leather so that the edge is less than the
        original thickness of the leather. This makes it easier to encase it
        in the metal strip later.
        Cover both long edges in glue and glue together to give the scabbard
        its raw shape.

        Preparing the metal edge:
        If you cannot get sheet copper, bronze or maybe iron (iron will
        blacken the leather when wet, long before it starts to rust), make it
        yourself by cutting open and flattening a copper pipe. Alternatively
        a copper-pipe of reasonable thinness can be hammered flat without
        sawing it open first. Cut into a rectangle approx. 2cm longer than
        what you need and round off the edges with a file (raw edges will
        chafe your clothing and may cut your skin).
        Cut also two strips of copper approx. 1cm wide and 4cm long - these
        are to be two fittings, later to have two rings inserted and then
        leather loops attached to hang the scabbard horizontally, tip
        pointing slightly downward from your belt. Just put them to one side
        for now. They are to become two v-shaped bits to be riveted to the
        main metal-strip, holding a ring in the bend. Later a narrow strip of
        leather will be fed through the ring, sewn into a loop and then the
        belt threaded through the leather-loop.

        Bend the large metal strip lengthwise to an angle of 90 degrees in
        the bench-vice. Mark a centreline first and clamp it in the vice
        lined up with the upper edge, protruding just the same amount as the
        thickness of the metal sheet you are using (this ensures that the
        crease is going to run down the centre of the strip rather than being
        slightly off to one side). Hammer over the edge of the vice.
        Mark the future location of the rivets on the metal strip.
        The first rivet should be approx. 1cm from the knife-tip-end of the
        strip, then one approx. every 2-4cm depending on the size of the
        scabbard. Do not mark the location for the last rivet at the handle-
        end as it will not end up exactly where you hope it will.
        Mark two special riveting points but make them part of the riveted
        One approx. ¼ of the length from the tip-end, one approx. 1/8 of the
        length from the handle end.

        I use copper rivets of no more than 2mm diameter with not too
        prominent a head if I can get them. This is at least in dimension
        correct from what I know of archaeological examples although I am not
        sure if rivets made of copper were used or if they were all made from
        mild steel.

        Attaching the metal-edge to the scabbard:
        The trick is to force the curved edge of the leather scabbard into a
        straight shape. In order for this to work you must start at the knife-
        tip end of the scabbard. You will gradually bend the metal-strip
        closed around the leather-edge and rivet, then force the leather into
        the metal-groove and rivet the next section in place.
        To start this process hammer the groove in the metal-strip closed so
        far that the tip-end of the scabbard can be squeezed in. Take a piece
        of strong string and tie it into a loop with a knot that does not
        shift. This loop should be large enough to slide over the scabbard-
        tip and only large enough to allow it to slide up the scabbard and
        edge approx. 2cm away from your first riveting point thereby pushing
        the leather-edge into the metal groove and holding it there.
        Hammer the metal edge closed over the tip. Immobilize with a clamp.
        Drill a hole for the first rivet and insert a rivet. Leave the little
        stalk that is to be peened over rather small to give only a small
        riveted finish, not a large lump.
        Make another slightly larger loop of string, slide it farther up the
        scabbard to force
        The next section of the curved edge into the metal-groove, hammer
        shut. Depending on the size of your seax this second rivet may
        already be one of the fastening points for hanging the seax
        horizontally from your belt. Take one of the small metal-strips and
        bend it in half in a V-shape (not lengthwise this time). Insert a
        ring into the bend and slide it over the metal-edge, position it
        flush with the edge of where the metal meets the leather. This ring
        should be rather small. It is only there to slide a strip of leather
        through it that then will be sewn into a loop that will be threaded
        onto your belt. Drill through all layers and use a longer rivet to
        allow for the extra thickness.
        Get the next loop of string – obviously you can remove the strings
        once the rivets are in place – and work your way in sections towards
        the handle-end.
        When you have nearly reached the end, and you can see where exactly
        the scabbard is going to end when inserted into the metal-strip, cut
        it off at the right length with the tin snips and round off the edges
        with a file before hammering the groove shut.
        Continue and finish riveting the full length of the scabbard. Do not
        forget to put the second fastening strip for the belt-fastening into

        Shaping the scabbard and finishing off:
        Insert the seax with the sharp edge facing towards the metal edge and
        try for size.
        It will be slightly too small. That is intended.
        Remove the seax and fill the scabbard with water and leave to soak.
        Leave on the draining board to let excess water run off for a while.
        Wrap the seax into several layers of clingfilm. Then wind a single
        layer of sellotape round the entire length of the seax. If it is a
        sharp seax attach a few strips of sellotape over the cutting edge
        before wrapping in clingfilm.
        Your scabbard should be drip-dry now. Insert the seax. Yes it will
        not go in as far as you hoped. And no wonder, the shoulder in the
        blade is now facing the"wrong" way and the bulk of the handle hits a
        tight spot too. No problem, you chose to use vegetable tanned leather
        and it will stretch. Gently bash the scabbard vertically on the floor
        with the handle-end to force the seax deeper into its scabbard. Now
        it is nicely stuck.
        Leave over night to dry at room temperature. Placed on a towel or
        some such, never on a profiled surface and definitely not on top of a
        In the morning gather all your energy and if possible a helper. Pull
        the seax out of the scabbard. This can be hard to do. If you are
        really stuck take a hammer and gently tap the edges starting at the
        tip-end. That should loosen it up enough to get the seax out again.
        Once you got your knife back out remove all the clingfilm and sello-
        tape. And leave the empty scabbard for another couple of days to dry
        out properly. If you put the seax into the scabbard now it should
        slide in well and be "gripped" by the tight leather sections that
        were stretched. It should be just tight enough to hold it inside the
        scabbard safely when you are moving about.
        Now you can oil the leather or paint patterns on (but I know of no
        evidence of how they were painted).
        Feed two flat leather strips through the metal rings. Stitch
        together flatly to leave the loops just wide enough for the belt to
        feed through.
        The tip-end suspension loop should be longer than the one at the
        handle-end so that the tip points downwards at an angle of approx. 15

        The Archaeology of York – The Small Finds – 17/4 , Finds from
        Parliament Street and Other Sites in the City Centre, Dominic
        Tweddle, published 1986 for the York Archaeological Trust by the
        Council for British Archaeology

        The Archaeology of York – The Small Finds – 17/16, Craft, Industry
        and Everyday Life, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Skandinavian
        and Medieval York, Quita Mould, Ian Carlisle and Esther Cameron
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