14th Century Pouch

Catherine de Arc


In the second half of the 14th century there were no pockets. This function was performed by pouches. Pouches came in a variety of shapes, sizes, styles and materials. They were used by both sexes for carrying money and other small items. They varied in quality from the plain and utilitarian to works of art in opus anglicanum with gold threads and beads.


Purses could be made from leather or cloth of various kinds. This one is made from wool cloth. There are a number of surviving pieces of wool cloth from late 14th century London. The vast majority are tabby woven. They usually have a z spun warp and an s spun weft though almost a quarter had an s spun warp and weft as this piece does. (Crowfoot, 2002) It has about 12 threads per cm, which is about average for wool cloth of this period. It is not heavily napped but would still be an example of an average broadcloth (from an age when such cloth was one of England’s principal exports and definitely not “average”). (Crowfoot, 2002).

It is lined with linen. Linen does not survive well in the ground and so we have fewer extant examples. Many of those that do survive have a z spun warp and weft and are about 19-22 threads per cm in a plain tabby weave. (Crowfoot, 2002) The linen I used is about 20 threads per cm and the warp and weft threads are spun in the same direction.

The pieces were stitched together with silk thread, which was in common use as a sewing thread in this period, especially for the visible stitching, though it was also used for seams and hems on all types of fabric. It was usually a fine 2 ply thread just like mine. (Crowfoot, 2002) Linen thread would have been a more common choice for this purpose due to its lower cost but I had a short length of left over silk thread ready to go and used that just as they would have.

The pouch is decorated with tablet woven edging and embroidery in wool yarn. This is a plied wool yarn a little heavier than that in the cloth and suitable for weaving and braiding during this period.


Both green and black were known at this time. The best greens were produced by overdying yellow from weld (or any number of other plants) with blue from woad or indigo. (Crowfoot, 2002 & nha-Jandria, 1993)
Black was a difficult colour to produce and may have required combining several dyes. Starting with naturally dark wool would also have helped. (nha-Jandria, 1993) The colours were chosen because they are Nathan’s heraldic colours.


This pouch is made as a rectangle folded in half. This was the most common pattern for the surviving drawstring pouches of this time in London, of either cloth or leather (Egan, 2002). All of these pouches were virtually square. They varied in size from around 60mm square to about 200mm square. My pouch is one of the larger ones, appropriate to the use to which its owner will put it.

It is lined, as were some of the extant cloth pouches (Egan, 2002). The lining will cover and protect the back of the embroidery and add strength to the pouch.

Many of the cloth pouches still surviving from this time have been decorated with embroidery. Some rely on the richness of their fabric (velvet and brocade) and have no further embellishment. Many have perhaps only survived because of their decoration with rich opus anglicanum and precious metal threads. This style was beginning to fall away at the end of the 14th century. It was becoming less common to cover all of the background and brick and satin stitches were becoming more popular (Don, 1990). I am a weaver, so I chose to embellish this pouch with a tablet weaving brocade pattern from 13th century Spain. (Spies, 2000) I worked it in the newer style with less of the background covered though still directly onto the fabric, with satin stitch, which works very well to show the masonry of the castle. The castle motif was the device of Castille. It was also used in English armoury like Nathan’s. The fourteenth century was the time of heraldic display, people wore their device on their clothes, made seal rings with it, and worked it onto their property, including pouches. Much of the surviving embroidery from this time uses silk threads but extant wills and inventories show that embroidery was also being worked in wool at this time, though less of this has been saved. (Crowfoot, 2002 and Don, 1990).

When the embroidery was complete I seamed the lining to the pouch at the top edges with a buttonhole stitch (found in garments of this time, Crowfoot, 2002). This top edge of the pouch would get pulled at a lot in use and the tablet weaving was at its narrowest here. I was worried that the edging might pull off with time and the seam will give a stronger base for the weaving to help prevent this. One of the pouches from the London finds also had the top edge turned in before being finished with tablet weaving (Egan, 2002). I then overcast the sides of the pouch with the same buttonhole stitch to hold them together for the weaving process.

Several surviving pouches from this period were trimmed with tablet weaving which was worked directly onto the pouch by stitching the weft thread through the fabric as the weaving progressed. (Crowfoot, 2002 & Egan, 2002) This gives a strong and somewhat decorative edge.

The edging is completed with tassels made from the warp of the tablet weaving. The centre tassel was made from left over wool and sewn on. There is a certain length of warp in tablet weaving that cannot be woven because there is simply not enough space for the cards. Tassels are a good way to use up this valuable resource that might otherwise go to waste.

Most cloth pouches were trimmed with tassels, usually one at each lower corner, often a third in the centre, and occasionally many along the bottom and possibly up the sides as well.

The drawstrings are a 5 loop fingerloop braid (open lace of 5 bows from MS Harley 2320, the oldest fingerloop braid manual we have, from the15th century) made from the same wool yarn as the tablet woven edging. All surviving drawstring pouches use a pair of drawstrings that pull against each other for closure.

The hanging cord is a “hollow lace of 7 bows” from the same manuscript. All surviving drawstring pouches have a separate hanging cord. It is possible to suspend them from their drawstrings but it is much harder to open them while they are hanging in this way.

Both 5 and 7 loop fingerloop braids have been recovered in London in the last quarter of the 14th century, and at least some of them have been used for purse strings (Crowfoot, 2002 and Swales, 2004). There is at least one surviving fingerloop braid made of wool (Swales, 2004).


Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, Kay Staniland (2002) Textiles and Clothing, Boydell Press, Woodbridge

Don, Sarah (1990) Traditional Embroidered Animals, David & Charles, Devon

Egan, Geoff & Frances Pritchard (2002) Dress Accessories, Boydell Press, Woodbridge

Nha-Jandria, Gwennis (1993) Dyestuffs, Compleat Anachronist 41

MS Harley 2320 as transcribed by Alessandra, Leoflaeda and myself.

Spies, Nancy (2000) Ecclesiastical Pomp and Aristocratic Circumstance, Arelate Studio, Maryland

Swales, Lois (2004) http://fingerloop.org/

http://www.cottesimple.com/ alms_purse_overview.pdf