girdle book

Embroidered Girdle
Book Cover

Lady Diamante da Berra
MoAS Shire of Donnershafen

The girdle book was commonly used from the 14th to 16th Centuries. It was a convenient way to carry a useful text such as a prayer, medical or law book. It was worn with the knotted end through the belt or "girdle", hence the name. The knot prevented the book from slipping through. The book was placed upside down in the cover so the carrier could simply pick it up and read while walking or on horseback.

Few period examples survive and though I have never seen one of fabric this could simply be because they have long ago decayed. Since I am not skilled in leather working I chose to use wool. My girdle book holds a notebook, not a finished text as it would have in period. The edges of the cover are stitched by hand, and it is held closed by a simple leather strap and a wood toggle.

The embroidered design is the devise of the Withie and Wool Mongers Guild, of which I am pleased to say I am a member. I wanted to create the book cover to show my skills at embroidery and my affiliation with the guild. In the guild the regions of Middle Kingdom are represented by different colors. The choice of red for the wool indicates that I am from the region of Pentemere. The devise is stitched in stem, half cross, split, and back stitches in linen thread, which is fitting for SCA period for the item.

Historical information and photo were taken from the Royal Library of Denmark Online,

Instructions for making your own Girdle book cover

First, I want to give credit to the web sites where I got my initial information. This is the Royal Library of Denmark online. This is a wonderful example of a period girdle book. This is where I got the idea to use wool for mine, as this person isn't a leather worker either. This is where I got the basic pattern below. I changed the measurements to inches.


The first thing I did was decide how big I wanted the notebook. Then I made the measurement changes to the pattern. I came across the wool SUPER cheep at a yard sale and it was more than enough.

The next step was turning our devise into an embroidery pattern. I have a software program that made this pretty easy. This is the final pattern, please feel free to print it and use it if you wish. All I ask is credit if you use it in any form of publication like class notes.


Deciding which stitches to use was the most difficult part. I wanted to use stitches I knew were period so I finally decided on stem for the outline of the plant, back for the outline of the sheep and the words, half cross for the sheep bodies, and after 2 tries with other stitches, split stitch for the filling of the plant. I used Linen floss, which is rather more difficult to work with than I first thought it would be. It tends to twist and break. I am still glad I used it because it looks really good.

To get the design onto the wool I used an iron on pencil trace of the pattern. It worked well enough for me to be able to do the outlining. From there the filling was easy.

Once the embroidery was done, I stretched the cover over the books it was nice and snug. You might want to pin it in place to help keep it tightly against the book. Then I stitched the edges of the cover by hand and attached the toggle and leather strap. This was a pleasant and pretty easy project to do and the great thing is you end up with something that is period, useful and looks kind of cool.


The folks here in Donnershafen liked it so much we are planning a project to make girdle books as gifts. If you decide to use the idea let me know how they turn out.

Lady Diamante da Berra, C.W.

Last updated: 11/7/2006