A Purse for Magister Giano

by Þóra Sumarliðadóttir (Rachel Steffensen)
www.morethancod.net - e-mail: medievalcod@gmail.net

I created a draw-string woven purse with card-woven edge and tassels as my gift to Magister Giano Balestriere in the first Drachenwald A&S Exchange (AS XLVIII). This document provides a very brief overview outlining the creation of this purse.


A few key words from Magster Giano about his persona let me know that I had a real challenge; the transition 12th/13th century in Naples region during the Hohenstaufen period is previously unfamiliar to me. Magster Giano also shared a fondness for practical, useful, hard-wearing items.
After some online research for extant textiles and exploring manuscript images, I found the image of a belt purse that could serve as inspiration. I have provided links to this image under “image source” below. This image is reminiscent of some cloth purses or reliquary bags from the London excavations (Crowfoot, Pritchard and Staniland; Egan and Crowfoot), even though these date slightly later to the 13th/14th century (Egan and Crowfoot, p. 348).
This purse is not an attempt to reproduce one particular purse, but rather to draw on inspiration from Magister Giano’s persona as well as techniques and materials familiar to my persona (12th-14th century Northern Norwegian).

Materials used:

  • 1 piece 18 x 40 cm wool cloth: I wove this cloth in a point twill variation using 2-ply Rauma Brodér spelsau* gold (warp) and Rauma 1-ply Prydvev spelsau* madder red (weft). 8 ends per cm in the reed.
  • The same gold yarn used as the warp was used for the cardwoven edging, tassels and sewing the eyelets.
  • Rauma 1-ply Prydvev spelsau* natural brown was used to create cord for the drawstrings, hanging cord and ties for the tassels.
  • 1 piece unbleached linen cloth ca. 21x42 cm for the lining and linen thread to sew lining.

*Spelsau is an old, double-coated Norwegian breed that produces sturdy, hard-wearing fiber that can be spun finely (Robson and Ekarius).


Like the London purses, this purse is made with a oblong strip of cloth, folded to form the base (Egan and Pritchard, p. 348). This cloth was woven at 40 cm width, so the short ends forming the open edge of the pouch are selvedges and the pattern stripes woven horizontally appear vertical on the finished purse.
To strengthen and bind the raw edges of the cloth, I used a technique called “singling”. Singling is a process where an additional thread is sewn in, weaving across the outermost centimeters perpendicular to the cut edge (Østergård). To the right, this is shown before drawing the thread tight as it is nearly invisible. The brown starting edge was trimmed away after the singling was sewn.

The next step was to finish the sides by tabletweaving a border, sewing the weft in to bind the edge of the cloth as the weaving progresses. In the photo to the left, the singling can be seen giving strength to the edge of the cloth.
For this binding, the golden warp yarn was again chosen. Eight tablets were threaded alternately and all turned in the same direction. This gave a uniform finish similar to the photographs of the London purses (Crowfoot, Pritchard and Staniland).

Across the top of the purse, the pack of tablets was divided, working each side separately before rejoining the cards to word down the opposite side, as described for the London finds (Egan and Pritchard, p. 348). This process can be seen in the picture to the right.

Unlike the London finds, I finished the ends of the cardweaving to the inside of the purse instead of using the ends integrally in the tassels. This was because I wanted to use a contrasting yarn to tie on the tassels.
I made two types of cord for this project. The thicker had eight threads of the single-ply brown yarn in each of two cordels, and this was sewn to the inside of the cardwoven band to form the hanging cord. Thinner cord used four threads in each of the two cordels to make drawstrings and cord for attaching the tassels.
Three lengths of cord were knotted along the bottom edge of the purse and tassels were formed on these cords.

A lining was sewn out of linen and all raw edges hemmed before it was whip stitched along the inner edge of the purse.
Six eyelets were sewn on each side through the purse fabric and lining for the insertion of drawstrings. These were also finished with tassels, recreating a look similar to the inspirational image.


Image source:

Bodleian Library of University of Oxford’s manuscript collection, accessed online (January 24, 2014).
MS. Lat. th. b. 4: Gregory IX , Decretals, with the apparatus of Bernard of Parma, in Latin Italy, Modena/Bologna; dated 1241. (link to selected parts of document on Bodlean’s web pages)
Link to detail image of “fol. 151v (detail) Bishop marrying couple”. Look at belt purse to woman at center of image.

Other written resources:

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2001. ISBN: 1-84383-239-9. Fig. 84, page 114 and Plate 16, page 164.

Egan, Geoff and Frances Pritchard. Dress Accessories 1150-1450. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2002. Pages 348-350. ISBN: 9-781-84383-351

Robson, Deborah and Carol Ekarius. The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2011. “Spelsau” pages 323-325. ISBN: 978-1-60342-711-1.

Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: textiles from Norse Greenland. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004. Page 99. ISBN: 87-7288-935-7.

All photographs, text and textile work by Rachel Steffensen. A Purse for Magister Giano by Rachel Steffensen (also known as Þóra Sumarliðadóttir) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
(Published March 30, 2014)