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Tapestry purse depicting birds, squirrels and flowersTapestry purse depicting birds, squirrels and flowers

Woven with a high percentage of silk thread and an even higher silver thread content, this bag measures 12.5 x 10.5 cm (5 x 4 ¾ inches). It is made up from a single strip of tapestry, sewn together along its selvedge for strength. The finished edge, woven in deep pink weft thread of differing lengths, was used as a decorative finish to the bag’s opening.

detail of purse

The warp threads thus remained vertical, adding strength to a relatively frail object. Eighteen different colours of thread were used to make this purse. It would have been woven on a very small loom.

The same design was used on both sides apart from one element - the squirrel on its haunches is depicted slightly differently on each side. The pattern is regular; at the bottom the squirrel sits between two trailing sprays of honeysuckle; slightly higher, almost a second row, are two five-petalled flowers and two much smaller blossoms; above that two winged birds, perched above toadstools, stand guard over three unevenly sized flower heads placed between them.

detail of purse showing a squirreldetail of purse showing a bird

The top row consists of four flower heads worked in alternating colours and separated into two groups by a spray of acorns, possibly symbolising and acknowledging the accumulation of wealth.

detail of purse depicting a bird

A woven strip threaded through the top suggests it may have hung from a clasp on a belt.

detail of purse (strip)

Its tassels were matched by two others at the bottom, attached to the loops remaining at the lower corners.

purse detail (tassel)purse detail (tassel)

Small purses and fashion accessories like gloves from this time often followed the same sources for their patterns and designs, whether they were woven or embroidered. Tapestry-woven fashion accessories such as this purse are very rare survivals. Embroidered purses or sweet bags (to hold sweet-smelling herbs) are the more common survivals.