Intarsia Pouch

by Lady Sorcha Fhionn inghean ui/Ruairc
(June 2008)

My pouch is based on a 13th century Seal Bag from the Reign of Edward I. I liked the simple design and techniques of this bag. Seal bags were used to protect the delicate wax seals attached to legal documents throughout the medieval and early modern period. This example is attached to a document dated 26th Nov, 1280 and protects the Great Seal of Edward I. This Seal Bag is held at Westminster Abbey in the Muniment Room.

Materials and Techniques They Used

The main fabric used in the bag is twill wool (green for the ground, red for the shield and yellow for the lions). It is lined with a blue linen fabric. The various details, such as the eyes, talons and foliate design are all worked in split stitch using silk thread. The trefoils were done in red yarn using split stitch…..

The technique used for the design is intarsia, a form of appliqué. In this technique the design is cut out of the fabric and a contrasting piece of fabric inserted into the gap. In this case, the red shield is inserted into a shield shaped cut in the green wool ground and the yellow lions are inserted into cut outs in the shield shape, so that there are not three layers of fabric in the finished design, but only one. Then each shape is outlined using linen cord. This type of technique is used in similar secular items of the period and is used elsewhere in Europe, especially in Scandinavia.

The hanging cords are separate and often sewn up the sides of the pouch, although they could also be attached over the draw cords. This is a much more secure system than hanging by a draw cord. It is also much easier to use – you need not remove the purse from your belt to open it. The hanging cords might be attached at the sides of the mouth of the purse, or sewn as decorative reinforcement down the sides, perhaps ending in a knot or tassel. If the pouch is meant for a seal bag, money purse, gaming purse or burse, it does not need hanging cords….

Materials and Techniques I Used

I used 100% wool (black) for the main pouch background. I used green and yellow 100% wool felt for the shield. The shield is applied to the background using the Intarsia method (cut out shield shape in pouch and inserting wool shield piece), thus keeping with the one layer of wool instead of two layers. I lined it with green 100% linen.

Since this pouch is a gift, I did change a few of my techniques:

1) Instead of using linen thread, I used Patarnayan 100% wool yarn, in split stitch, for the trefoils and vines around the outside of pouch.

2) Being as the original shield was one solid color and her device is two colors diagonally, I hand stitched the diagonal seam, using back-stitching and my handspun linen thread, and did not couch anything over the adjoining seam.

3) The acorn design, on the device, is worked in split stitch using Eterna silk. The acorn caps are laid and couched as I wanted them to be textured and raised a bit more than the acorn itself.

4) I used the same trefoil and vine design for the back of the pouch, but I embroidered her initials into the center. Again, I used Patarnayan 100% wool yarn, in split stitch.

5) I used Eterna silk to whipstitch the device into the cut-out on the pouch front, and then I used gold gilt leather couched with yellow Eterna silk for outlining the shield. (I am given to understand that the difference is that in England they used cording, and on the continent they used the gilt leather for outlines).

6) Since I do not have any black wool yarn, I hand-sewed the seams for the pouch using backstitching and black linen thread.

7) I used Eterna silk in buttonhole stitches, around the eyelets for the cording (Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450, pages 164 & 170). I finger-looped the cording and made the small tassels using Eterna silk, again keeping with the green and yellow colours.

8) I hand-sewed the seams for the lining using backstitching and 100% silk thread. (I turned over the raw edges and hand-basted them down using linen thread to prevent raveling.)

Since this is a completed project here are images of the backside of my stitching.
Here are images of the FRONT & BACK of my finished pouch.


Medieval Embroiderers by Kay Staniland, University of Toronto Press, 1991,
ISBN 0-8020-6915-0 (page 34)

Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450 by Elizabeth Crowfoot, Francis Pritchard & Kay Staniland, The Boydell Press, 2001,
ISBN 0-85115-840-4 (pages 179-180)(pages 164 and 170)

Historical Needlework Resources

Last updated: 11/2/2008