I have long admired the purse in Realm of Venus‘s extant garments collection, for it’s giggle factor and unusual shape. I think I was rather confused about its purpose: for some reason I thought that the shaped section must be useable. Perhaps the top came off and it was a sort of flask? Perhaps there’s a seam on the side that I can’t see and it actually flips open to reveal the storage space? I dismissed it as a “Huh, that’s weird” object and moved on. But recently I saw a pair of purses on Pinterest that caught my eye due to their similarity to the fancy purse.
Suddenly I realized that the non-pouch part really doesn’t have to hold anything, it can just be a solid form. The form seems too firm for it to just be fabric stuffed with wool or something like a stuffed animal, it wouldn’t keep its sharp edges. The red purse is at least partly stuffed with horsehair, but it is still clearly quite firm, so that cannot be the only thing in there. The green velvet purse has ‘cardboard’ mentioned among its materials list. I suppose that’s one way they could have made them: make a hollow form out of thick paper, and stuff it with something (like horsehair) to keep it from collapsing in on itself.
There were many similarities between the three purses, and as I was writing out my notes on them, I found that they were nearly the same size!
- Covered in silk velvet
- Precious metal braid (one gold, two silver)
- Lined pouch (two silk, one leather)
- Drawstring pull style pouch with cord (two look to be round fingerloop braid, the other is unclear)
- Suspension method, indicates purses were likely worn and attached to the belt (one is a round braid, one is flat, the last has loops that appear to be for suspension purposes)
- Embellished pull beads on the ends of various cords, mostly they appear to also be made with metal threads like the trim.
- Red purse has two pouches
- Dark purse has lots of embroidery, silver and pearls
- No attached suspension cord on the green purse
- Acorn ‘tip’ on the dark purse.
I decided to mostly replicate the green purse, but with the upside-down heart shape of the first dark purse.
I know I said that I should let the solid part of the purse just be fully solid, but apparently I can’t leave well enough alone, so I carved away a section in the bottom so that there would be just a little bit more room in the tiny pouch. I did originally plan to use thick leather or modern corrugated cardboard for my base, but a friend had this little scrap of light wood so I used that instead!
There’s a solid layer of the wood at the bottom, then three layers of scrap bits laid out to fill the perimeter, and a top layer made of one piece. Very messy here.
And now it’s all cleaned up with the help of a dremel and sandpaper. Sorry for the over exposed image.
Then I covered it in strips of paper to fill in the holes in the side (since that area was formed with scraps), and when the glue dried, I sanded it again to smooth out any protruding edges.
Gluing down the velvet, using something called Fabri-Tac. It is similar to super-glue: dries very fast!
I made sure the top was smooth, and tried to get the bottom fairly smooth around the concave area, but I didn’t worry too much about the wrinkles since those will be covered with a pouch.
Top and bottom covered!
The sides will be covered with a velvet strip, but that will come later. Now we will work on the pouch! The drawstring is being made above.
The folds one the extant green purse go back and forth in such a way that it’s actually pretty easy to see how much material I need to replicate that same number of folds. The tricky part was the rest of the purse, so I used a bit of paper towel and trimmed away till it looked like it was about the same fullness as the extant pouch.
If you are following along and working on your own purse, then you should now stubbornly machine sew a velvet and silk pouch without pinning it and totally mess it up.
Then start over with a new set of pouch pieces and pin the daylights out of it before sewing it!
After the pouch is flipped inside-out, I whip stitched the rest of the opening closed.
More whip stitching! Just barely grabbing the edge of the gold cord to secure it down.
I drilled through the base and prepped to pouch with the right folds, so I pierce it in the right spots for the drawstring.
Draw string all done up! Next comes stitching the pouch in place.
Now it’s time for the edge to be stitched down! The bottom has already been done here, and the top is half done (you can see me holding it up with my finger).
Bling time! I stitched gold colored braid over all the seams (many rounds of stitching by now, but all on a fairly small purse, so they went quickly).
Many of 16th century purses have fancy beads to pull on pretty much every time there’s a drawstring on a purse. I am still a little unsure of how exactly they were made but I think I have figured out a way that at least looks similar to the extant ‘beads’. Does anyone know what those things are actually called?
I found this nifty gold braid that stretches when you pull on the sides (just like any braid I think) that works pretty well. I knew that one layer of the gold braid would be too thin, so this way I will get two layers to cover the yellow base.
Flipped down over the first layer!
The rest of the braid gets cut off and the raw edges get hidden under some gold thread.
Done! Time for lots of pictures!
Exciting mini update! A lovely lady sent me an image of purses very similar to this one being worn! Unfortunately this painting isn’t particularly Italian, but sometimes we have to take what we can get and be happy.