This is the first in a series of posts in which I plan to describe the making of replicas of the various sheath and scabbard types recovered in the Dublin excavations and published in Scabbards and Sheaths from Viking Age and Medieval Dublin (Cameron 2007). The object of the exercise is to try gain a better understanding of the skills, techniques and difficulties involved in making the originals.
DLS 213. Wood Quay
1180 – 1250 L: 195mm W: 42mm T>3mm
“Sheath; complete. Tapered flap with two holes. Back seam, butted, stitched grain/edge through paired holes at 10mm intervals. Tooled and stamped decoration, front and back. On the front, upper section, the image of a bird, against a background of tiny punched circles. The bird is in a crouched position, glancing up with tail poised. On the flap, oblique hatching. Lower section, a branching tendril and background of punched circles. On the back, upper section, transverse lines in pairs and a vertical line. The sheath is moulded to the shape of a knife” (Cameron 2007, 114).
A little bit of fiddling was needed to get the pattern right for the seam to lie neatly along the back of the sheath. Tools used were a sharp knife, curved and straight awls, a sharpened oak stick as a stylus and a short length of red deer antler tine with the very tip cut of,f to create the circle impressions. The leather I used was a little less than 3mm thick and so extra care was needed in punching the grain/edge stitch holes to avoid tearing the leather. A length of artificial sinew was used to close the seam, starting at the tip and working up the back of the sheath.
The leather was soaked thoroughly before the decoration was impressed using the find illustration as a guide. I did not trace the design in order to apply it to the leather but drew it free-hand. Once the decoration was completed, the butt seam was stitched using the sinew which was passed from side to side to create the wavy edge depicted on the find drawing.
The leather was allowed to dry thoroughly before a water based dye was used to add colour. This stage is really optional although medieval illustrations do seem to indicate that knife sheaths were dyed with colour. Finally a short length of leather thong was treaded through the two pairs of holes in the flap to create a suspension loop.
Reference: Cameron, E. 2007 Scabbards and Sheaths from Viking and Medieval Dublin. Medieval Dublin Excavations 1962-81, Ser. B, vol.8. National Museum of Ireland.