14th Century Alms Pouch

By Lady Femke de Roas

Entered in : Embroidery
Costume Accessory

An embroidered pouch based on examples from the mid 14th century.


The pouch is worked on a linen ground. The figures are worked in split stitch embroidery. Various brands of silk floss were used. Details were added in stem stitch while curls and eyes are knot stitch. The background is gold japan thread #7, couched with red silk. The design is from a page of the Manesse Codex. No knots are used on the back of the work, all threads were worked in, instead. As this was my first attempt at goldwork, the reverse of the pouch is blank.

Costume Accessory

This pouch is done in the style of a 14th century alms purse. Most extant examples are in polychrome split stitch embroidery, with metallic backgrounds. They often have scenes representing secular lovers. The lining is china silk, the drawstring and handle are lucet cords of silk perle. The buttonholes that the drawstring passes through and all of the pouch construction was done by hand.


The design for the pouch was transferred using a piece of Solvy water soluble stabilizer. The piece was worked with the stabilizer hooped on top of the fabric. After the figures were completed, the piece was rinsed to remove the stabilizer, dried, and returned to the hoop for the couching of the gold thread. Colors were chosen following the original manuscript. Several brands of silk were used to obtain enough shades in a given color to complete the scene.

I suspect the goldwork would have been vastly improved by using the smaller size #5 japan thread, which would have been easier to turn. However, japan thread is a reasonable substitute for gold-wrapped silk or linen thread.

On my next pouch, I will either use a double thickness of linen or choose silk tafetta or another closely woven fabric for my ground. The looseness of the linen weave made it very difficult to obtain fine detail without causing puckering.

I used lucet cord for my drawstrings because, at least in my hands, it is firmer and more durable than fingerloop braiding. As I improve my technique, I hope to manage a 3-color fingerloop braided cord for my next pouch, as evidenced in the extant example in the Cloisters' collections.


French purse 1340 [Staniland].
Polychrome silk split-stitch on linen.
Background in laid gold-work. 16cmX14 cm.

Close-up of the embroidery on the above pouch.
The laid gold threads clearly turn repeatedly between the silk figures, rather than floating beneath the figure.
The gold threads appear to be silk wrapped in hammered gold foil.
Scan courtesty of Tasha Kelly McGann.

French purse from the mid 14th century.
Split-stitch silk embroidery with top-stitched silver and gold threads on linen.
Stem stitch outlining, knots for hair.
The Cloisters, New York.
Photo by: Tasha Kelly McGann.

Manesse Codex, Leaf 55.
This was the model for my pouch.

Manesse Codex, leaf 27.
This appears to show two people examining pouches for sale, along with other goods.


Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers. Toronto: Trustees of the British Museum, 1991.

McGann, Tasha Kelly, "Aumônières, otherwise known as alms purses: Embellished textile purses in the European 14th century," (Self-published, WWW: 2005).

Manesse Codex, 1305-1340.

Last updated: 7/10/2005