9th Experimental Archaeology Conference demonstration – Nicholl

Shoes, Satchels and Scabbards – a demonstration of some sewing techniques used in Early Medieval Irish Leather-work

John Nicholl

Since 1995 my research has been focused on Medieval and Early Medieval Leatherworking in Ireland. Initially the purpose of the research was to explore the construction techniques used in Turnshoe manufacture in order to make accurate replicas of archaeological finds for use in presentations to the public in venues such as the National Museum of Ireland, the Irish National Heritage Park and other heritage sites.

Following my retirement from teaching in 2005, I undertook a period of study at the School of Archaeology in UCD and have continued to work closely with the developing programme of Experimental Archaeology there. In my role as Chairperson of the Gael agus Gall Living History Society, I organise a number of Experimental Archaeology / Re-enactment events every summer in the Irish National Heritage Park in Co. Wexford as well as Experimental
Archaeology Seminars for students from UCD. Outside the academic sphere I currently work as a freelance writer of Specialist Reports on leather finds for various companies based in Ireland.

The turn-shoes I have examined show that the most commonly used construction seam employs the Edge/Flesh stitch. This method produces a tight butted seam, with the tread or thong sewing medium protected on the inside when the shoe is turned, a relatively easy process. However, this stitch was also used in the manufacture of some of the 10th century scabbards recovered from Dublin and also in book satchels such as the Breac Mohideach which are on display in the NMI. While it might be possible to assemble a satchel inside-out and then turn it as in shoemaking, this approach is impossible with a scabbard.

John Waterer in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 12 (1968) proposed a method of sewing a book satchel or budget with an Edge/Flesh stitch which does not require the finished article to be turned. The article is sewn from the outside with the stitch initially left loose and then gradually tightened as the sewing progresses. Such an approach would also appear likely to have been used for stitching a scabbard with an Edge/Flesh stitch. I have employed this method successfully in the making of a replica satchel. In this demonstration I will show the approach I used and how it might also be applied to scabbard construction.

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