Tag Archives: Sweet Bag

Sweet Bag at the Met

Last month several of us visited the Ratti Textile Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were very friendly and accommodating of our visit. Anyone can get an appointment to view textiles, but the items must be in their department – no costumes/clothing unfortunately and the items can not be on view in the Museum. We were allowed to take as many pictures as we wanted as well. Appointments were limited to 2 hours.

We were allowed 10 items and viewed both embroidery and lace items from the 16th and early 17th centuries. It was amazing to see these items in person. They were all laid out on a table with bright lights for easy viewing. We are not allowed to touch anything, but Isobel, our docent, was happy to flip the items over so we could see both sides.

I will gradually post about the items we saw and share my observations. I cannot share my images online but am happy to show them to anyone that is interested at a work weekend or event or if you want to come by for a visit. The images I have posted here are from the Met website. Unfortunately for the first item all they have is B&W, one of the reasons I choose this bag to see in person.

Bag, first half 17th century British, Silk and metal thread; L. 4 5/8 x W. 4 5/8 inches (11.7 x 11.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.21) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/222248

Bag, first half 17th century
Silk and metal thread; L. 4 5/8 x W. 4 5/8 inches (11.7 x 11.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.21)

The first item we saw was 29.23.21 a sweet bag. I was overwhelmed by how exquisitely delicate it is. Embroidered on white silk satin, the threads are incredibly delicate and fine; every stitch detailed.

The main motifs were different on each side of the bag. Something I haven’t seen before. The side not shown has a lovely pink/white tudor rose in middle, a blue borage in the upper right, a yellow and white pansy in the upper left, some blue leaf like thing in the lower left and a honeysuckle flower in the lower right corner.

The silk threads are a variety of soft whites, pinks, yellows, blues and more bold greens and blues used in a satin stitch for the motifs.  I am sure there is some fading with age, but I thought the piece in remarkably good condition. The motif on the lower left shown above has an underlying satin stitch fading from dark blue to light blue to white with gold silk threads couched on top to create a grid pattern. Then inside each grid is a tiny french knot.

The pailletes are incredibly tiny, about 2mm in diameter. Each one is secured with a tiny piece of purl. The coiling stems are pieces of couched purl (looks like rough purl – round gilt as opposed to flattened gilt) out-lined with a 3-ply twisted gold thread that is also couched down with a gold silk. The metal threads are a combination of tarnished silver and gold.

I briefly viewed the interior of the bag. The interior pink silk lining is quite pale and deteriorating. The purse string is the Green Dorge pattern I did for my sweet bag, 4 pink silk threads bordering two gold threads in the middle. Seems to be a popular pattern. It was easy to weave.

There are no tassels anywhere. The bead is woven similar to that described in Jacqui Carey’s book on Sweet Bags and that I used to make mine. There are turks head knots as well. The sides just look like they are sewn together and then lined with the 3 ply twisted gilt thread.

I enjoyed viewing this item in person, it was an incredible experience to see it, experience it and take the time to really look at it. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

Turks Head Knot by Ester Pickering

The turks head knot, a decorative, yet challenging little knot. It was commonly used on sweet bags and is still used today as a decorative knot and seems to be popular for Boy Scouts as a Wood Badge Woggle. Initially I used the instructions from Jacqui Carey’s Sweet Bags book but was confused that it didn’t match some of the knots shown in the close-up images of period bags. There seemed to be various sizes of the knot.

After perusing various books, I found a wealth of information on the internet. It seems there is an entire class of knots known as Turk’s head. They are characterized by leads and bights. What are those you ask? Leads are the number of loops the knot is created from and bights are the indentations created by the weave pattern.

So the knot instructions from the Carey book on Sweet bags is a 3 lead 4 bight knot, which was perfect for the small knots. However, I wanted a wider knot for the top of my bottom dangles and that matched the knot seem in some of the sweet bags shown in the book. I found instructions for a 4 lead 5 bight knot. This was perfect. This is a 4 loop knot with 5 indentations.

I found great instructions for this knot from The International Guild of Knot Tyers. They call it the 5 x 4 Turk’s Head on Hand. I started the knot on hand as it set up the weave. Then tightened this down over a chopstick. The knot is then transferred to the sweet bag and tightened further. You can’t tighten too much as you need room to weave 2 more passes of thread to bulk out the knot.

I used #4 Gilt Smooth Passing Thread from Access Commodities. It is challenging to tighten this knot down evenly before you start weaving, but the result was a nicely woven knot that covered the area I wanted. Instructions for the smaller 3 lead 4 bight knot are found in the Sweet Bags book. Carey gives great instructions. The initial weave also makes a decorative flat knot also found on sweet bags usually made from gimp.

3 loop knot

3 lead/loop Turks Head knot flat made from gimp

4 lead Turks Head knot start

4 lead/loop Turks Head knot start

4 lead 5 bight Turks Head Knot in place

4 lead/loop 5 bight Turks Head Knot in place

3 lead 4 bight Turks Head Knot

3 lead/loop 4 bight Turks Head Knot