Sunday, October 4, 2015

In Progress: Red Wool Pilgrim's Bag

Before I get into today's topic, I want to thank everyone that has participated in my reader survey. I've gotten a great response. The survey will remain open for the remainder of today (until about 10:00 pm EST), so there's still a chance to take it if you haven't.

So a few weeks ago, I shared that I was really keen on creating a new pilgrim bag so that I didn't always need to carry around my light-colored canvas bag. I purchased a beautiful deep red wool, and I poked around in the scrap stash and found a brown linen for the interior (that there was just enough of). I will also be making tassels for the bag, and I believe I will use a light cream-colored wool yarn for those.

Horae ad usum romanum.
My period inspiration comes from a collection of various colored and sized bags, all with roughly the same style, found on folio 25r of Heures de Marguerite d'Orléans (BNF Latin 1156B). [Click here to go to the high quality scan where you can zoom in.] I LOVE this page. It's easily my favorite illuminated page of all the pages I've viewed over these many years. There's a story here, and so many tiny, lovely details to see. The margins depict the Camino de Santiago pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela, located in Spain. Along the way, the pilgrims pass an over-sized flower forest, giant moths and snails, and a couple birds. And each of the figures are unique, like characters in a play.

Here's a zoomed in shot on two bags from the illumination:

When I'm working on projects, especially these types of things that can go together a few different ways, I do a lot of sketches. I'm a visual person, so it's easier for me to wrap my brain around how a project can go down if I can see it. I draw it out as I think it through, and make notes. Here are the four separate sketches I made of this bag. The last is in the bottom right:

I gained a better understanding of the specifics as I continued to draw it out, and I changed my mind several times. This is only half the process, mind you, since the other half is a combination of mentally "building" the bag and thinking through the steps I can take, and looking around for inspiration. Here are some bags I found through the inspiration process:
When I find that I'm drawing the same things over again, that's a clue that I've found the solution that appeals to me the most (and that I likely understand the most).

For this bag, I had a couple more goals in addition to somewhat matching my inspiration. First, I want the bag to be smaller than my canvas bag. That bag was made specifically to allow me to carry an embroidery scroll frame, but I've only ever actually done that once. So the bag is really just a little too large otherwise and I end up carrying around a lot of stuff. This was a problem at Pennsic when I felt like I was carrying a quarter of my encampment around with me. So this bag should be smaller. The other thing was that I wanted to achieve a certain rounded shape. I didn't want the corners to be very pointed. That's mostly a personal preference.

After a bit, I decided I liked the bag somewhere in the neighborhood of 12" wide by 9" tall. That's still large enough for most paper items I carry at events, but is just a bit more demure than the canvas bag. For comparison, here's a piece of paper at the size of the new bag laying over the canvas bag:

From my sketching/mentally-constructing process, I had decided to go with a single panel for the front, back and flap (one long piece), and a long strap that would also make up the sides of the bag. Playing around with paper some more, as well as drawing out what the flap should look like, I almost had my pattern:

I say "almost" because there was still math that needed to happen, plus a whole lot of willy-nilly, eye-bally adjusting (which happened throughout the rest of what I'm showing today). Particularly I needed to add in the depth of the base of the bag (which also needs to be accounted for at the top) and figure out how long that strap piece needed to be in total. Then seam allowances, of course.

Ideally, I would have liked that side/strap to be one whole cut piece, but I didn't have that length in my material. But when all is said and done, it will be treated like one piece.

There are two of each of those side pieces, and two of the strap pieces.
I took extra care to cut the pieces out to preserve as much of the material as could (just in case I screwed something up, but also because it's really nice wool). After taking the photo above, I realized that the flap had gotten off kilter, so I fixed that. And I'd made the strap pieces .5" narrower than I was supposed to, so I adjusted the side pieces to account for that. I also made sure to pull on each grain direction to make sure I wasn't putting the stretchy grain vertically in the bag. Otherwise the whole thing would droop and warp as soon as I put my first heavy thing in it, and that would be no good.

I had seen once, I don't remember where, that regular medieval sewing thread (as opposed to threads for decorative items, embroidery and weaving) was either natural, white, or black. I don't know if this is true, but it makes a lot of sense. So I'm going to sew this bag together using 60/2 black linen thread. I'll check out the Gutterman silk options at Joann's and see if I can find a close match to the crimson for the visible finish stitching I'll need to do, but I may opt to continue using the black. Or maybe white. Who knows.


  1. I can hardly wait to see it finished!

    1. I'm shooting to have it for the event this coming weekend, so hopefully you'll get to see it soon!

  2. I can't wait!!!