This particular project took a long time to finish – the stitching is very tricky! I originally began it about 2 years ago when I decided to make a new scabbard for my Petersen Type H single edge sword. That was the easy part. I began the research with Cameron’s Scabbards and Sheaths and it became obvious that the stitching was not going to be simple or straightforward. Virtually all the surviving Dublin scabbards are stitched with an edge/flesh stitch. The grain surface is on the outside so the stitching is inside the scabbard and not actually visible from the outside. I remembered reading John Waterer’s paper on Irish Budgets and Satchels, some of which were made with a similar stitch and I decided to try his interpretation of how the stitching might be possible.
I chose DLS 294 as a pattern as it also includes the remnants of a thin wooden lining. Several other scabbards retain traces of animal hair lining as well, hence the strip of sheepskin visible in image 1. Further evidence for scabbard lining comes from a sword blade recovered at the Kilmainham/Islandbridge cemetery ( check out Stephen Harrison’s marvellous work on Viking Graves and Grave Goods). The two wooden strips were shaved with a knife blade to about 1 – 1.5mm thickness and the skin glued in place with flour paste. So far, so good.
The scabbard leather is about 1.5mm thick and it requires patience to pierce the edge/flesh stitch without tearing the edge. I decided to complete a line of stitch holes along one edge first and then make the opposing stitch hole to match as the seam advanced.
Stitching medium was a long length of thin artificial sinew. 5 or 6 stitches were made and left loose before being drawn tight to close the seam. In this way the stitching advanced in short stages down the length of the seam. The seam remained straight unlike in an earlier effort where it had pulled to one side. I used a serpentine stitch, passing the sinew from side to side as in a shoe lace.
Once the stitching was underway the strap slide could be put in place. After that, it was just a matter of slow and patient progress. The finished seam is flush and no stitches are visible. I finished off the tip of the scabbard with a closed seam.
Next stage involved the decoration. I decided to decorate the front face with a series of motifs taken from various Dublin scabbards DLS 16,DLS 11 and DLS 5 as well as wooden box DW 6. I use the scabbard as a reference in talks on leatherworking and it is useful to have a variety of decorative motifs. The baldric is based on Wilson’s suggested sling as illustrated in Cameron (2007, 44). You will notice that there are an empty pair of slits just below the sling strap. I originally placed the strap at this point but the scabbard did not hang correctly. By moving it upwards slightly the balance changed and the sword hangs comfortably. By an interesting coincidence the original DLS 294 also has two pairs of slits!
The final image shows the completed scabbard and a reconstruction of a pouch using replicas of the purse mount fittings (R2409 and R2411 – Islandbridge 1866B) recovered from the Kilmainham – Islandbridge burial complex. I made this about 20 years ago in a joint project with Russ Scott, who produced the replica fittings.
Cameron, E. 2007 : Scabbards and Sheaths from Viking and Medieval Dublin. National Museum of Ireland. Dublin.
Harrison, S. and O’Floinn, R. 2014. Viking Grave and Grave Goods in Ireland. National Museum of Ireland. Dublin.
Lang, J.T. 1988. Viking Age Decorated Wood: A study of its style and ornament. Royal Irish Academy. Dublin
Waterer, J. 1968 Irish Book Satchels or Budgets. Medieval Archaeology, 12.