Almoner's Purse, French, circa 1340

Text and Photographs by Joyce Miller

There are many examples of richly embroidered purses from the medieval period. Scenes of hunting and courtly love appear to have been popular themes.

I wanted to create something original, but in the style of that time. Knowing that people lifted designs out of books, and that artists were also commissioned to make designs for needleworkers, I looked for designs in the art of that period. I finally settled on the "Grosses Heidelberger Handschrift," also known as the Manessa Codex, which was created in the first half of the 14th century. I selected several pictures, and drew new pictures based on the themes and components from the originals. These are the three source pictures. Click on them to see larger versions.

(Alas, I did not save a copy of my charts, or I would have posted them here.)


I based construction of this purse on two French purses of the mid-1300's, which are pictured in A Pictorial History of Embroidery, by Marie Schuette & Sigrid Mueller-Christiansen (Frederick Praeger, New York, 1963, available through your library via interlibrary loan).

"Plate 216 and Color Plate XI.
France (Paris), about 1340
Hamurg, Museum fuer Kunst und Gewerbe (Inv. 56,137)
16 x 14 cm
Linen, with embroidery in gold and silk. Split, chain, stem and knot stitches. Background covered with gold thread, couched with red silk in zig-zag patterns.
Lit.: Stiftung zur Foerderung der Hamburger Kunstsammlungen, Erwerbungen 1956, p.28"
"Plate 217/218.
France, middle of the 14th century.
Sens, Cathedral, Treasury
21 x 18 cm
On one side a seated lady with a garland of flowers in her hand receives a ring from her lover. On the other side, the return of the lover from the hunt. (Subjects from the poem of the Chatelaine de Vergy). Linen ground. Silk embroidery in split stitch; the ground covered with gold and silk threads in couched work.
Lit.: Chartraire, Le tresor de la cathedrale de Sens: Les Arts, November 1913, p. 14 -- Reallexicon zur Deutschen Kunstgechichte I, Stuttgart 1937, p. 394"

In creating my own purse, I used a beige linen twill for the ground, and I drew the chart directly on the fabric with a pencil. Shaded silk flosses were selected based on the colors found in the illuminated manuscript. The figures are worked in split stitch. When the silk embroidery was finished, I covered the background with gold thread couched down with red silk thread in a zig-zag pattern (no, it's not colored silk embroidery on gold cloth).

The holes for the silk drawstrings were also done in silk embroidery thread, in standard buttonhole fashion. Silk embroidery thread was uused to make the tassels as well, and were attached as I sewed the two sides of the purse together.

Once each side was done, I took a piece of thick wool, and tacked it to the back of the embroidery to make it feel less lumpy. A lining of purple silk was sewn over that.

Pouch Dimensions: 12.5 x 20.5 cm
Materials costs:
Linen cloth: $ 4.50
Silk floss: $40.70
Gold thread: $27.75
Time: ~200 hours (yes, you read that right).

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