Seal Bag from the Reign of Edward I

Seal Bag from the reign of Edward I

Background

One source for extant embroideries from the 13th century is seal bags. These bags are 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. It is held at Westminster Abbey in the Muniment Room.

Stitches and Techniques

Design

The central motif is the arms of the crown of England, three lions of yellow on a red shield. It is surrounded by a scrolling vine and trefoil design. This pattern appears on both sides of the bag. The edges of the bag are decorated with tassels.

Materials

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 technique used for the design is intarsia, a form of applique. 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.

Sources for Further Information

  • Pritchard, Frances. "Two Royal Seal Bags from Westminster Abbey." Textile History 20, no. 2 (1989): 225-34.

  • Staniland, Kay. Embroiderers (London: British Museum Press, 1991)