Leather Bottle






My second A&S entry, I received a 2nd.

It went to kingdom and received a 2nd.



(This is a really bad picture)






The historical evidence that I found for the use of leather bottles comes from the Mary Rose.  The Mary Rose was built between 1509 and1511, and sank in 1545.  When recovered, a leather flask type bottle was found in the wreckage (click here for picture of Mary Rose Bottle)

          The second piece of evidence of period leather bottles was quite interesting.  It comes from the illumination “Hunters pausing for refreshment” from the Gaston Phoebus, Book of the Hunt France, Paris, 15th Century.  As you can see, the huntsmen are drinking from bottles that are very similar in shape and form to the Mary Rose bottle.

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          Unfortunately, I could not find any historical sources on how the actual bottles were made so I had to mainly rely on contemporary sources, and educated guesswork.  I used a variety of online sources for the process of making the bottles, but the most useful was Stefan's Florilegium found online at http://www.florilegium.org/files/MEDIEVAL-LIFE/Gram-Letter3-art.html and a related search for other messages in the string.  I also used the archives of a medieval leather message group on yahoo to come up with pattern ideas and suggestions in making the bottles.



7 – 8 oz. Vegetable tanned leather

Waxed linen cord

Leather sewing needles


Mallet, rubber and wooden

Swivel knife

Tooling tools

Tandy antique leather dyes


Round stick

Paraffin wax


          The only non-period items used were the paraffin wax, the stove to melt the wax, and the dyes.  Most of the documents that describe the waterproofing process of the bottles say to use either bee’s wax or pine pitch.  The problem that I had with these was that I don’t feel confident in the pine pitch being used in something being exposed to food, and bee’s wax is expensive.  So, I used a food safe paraffin wax, commonly used in canning and sealing corks.

And the reason for the modern leather dyes is because I’m not too adept in making period dyes, plus it’s a lot easier. 


The first bottle is made from chrome tanned leather scrap (not to be drunk out of).


The second bottle is vegetable tanned leather, with a simple Celtic cross cut into the front but not tooled.


The third is vegetable tanned leather with a tooled Celtic hound (Design taken from Dover publishing, Celtic animals coloring book, based on the book of Kells).  The reason I presented the first two bottles is to show the progression of the designs and difficulty of the projects.  The third is the entry piece. 

          The first step is to find a bottle design and cut two identical pieces.  The pattern of the first two is of my own design, and the third is a pear shaped bottle pattern taken from the archives of the medieval leather group.

After the pattern is cut, then the holes are marked, then punched using an awl or small nail.  If a pattern is going to be tooled onto the bottle it should be done before the pieces are sewn together.  After the holes are punched and the design is cut in and tooled the sewing begins.  I used a hand stitch, a long piece of waxed linen thread with a needle at each end then passing both needles through the holes (A basic leather stitch).  The stitch is then tapped down with a mallet to flatten out the seam. 

The leather is then wetted, Stefan's Florilegium says to soak the leather thoroughly, but I found that this makes the leather too flexible and can cause deformation.  Now that the leather is somewhat flexible, the mouth of the bottle should be pried open and a round dowel or preferably a funnel.  From here the bottle is filled with sand to fill out the shape and let dry, I let my bottles dry on a window ledge in the sun.  Once dry, stain is applied, the first bottle didn’t get any stain and the second and third were stained.  Then they are left to dry once again.  When fully dry, the sand is dumped out and the walls are scraped clean of any remaining sand. 

When all the sand is out the bottle is ready to be sealed with wax.  The wax is melted in a double boiler on the stove. Once the wax is melted the funnel is placed in the mouth of the bottle and some wax is poured in to seal the seams then poured out.  I let the bottle sit for a while, about 2 or 3 minutes, and then I sealed the walls of the bottle.  When the bottle has been totally sealed, I let it sit and dry, once dry it’s tested for leaks, if it leaks, its sealed again.

The process is fairly time consuming, with the cutting, sewing, tooling, staining, drying, waxing, and testing.  But once finished it makes a very useful and decorative piece of historical water bearing paraphernalia.




Demmary, D. Kent, Antique Leather Drinking vessels, Bosley Corp, Indianapolis IN,





Mary Rose From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,





On Board the Mary Rose, http://www.maryrose.org/lcity/cook/men3.htm



Stefan's Florilegium, http://www.florilegium.org/files/MEDIEVAL-LIFE/Gram-Letter3-


art.html, and http://www.florilegium.org/files/BEVERAGES/lea-bottles-msg.html



Thomas Tanner of Ely, The Leather Bottle, bottle, botteil, flask or flackett,







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