Wednesday, 18 October 2006


The other day, in typical me fashion, I told a friend about a technique I'd only read about (on a website and hadn't bookmarked) - making your own metal aglets.

Inspired by my confidence, we then foolishly proceeded to the local hardware store to buy metal sheets. Of course being a big chain they had nothing even close.

Anyway, I want to make amends now, (and wouldn't mind a metal aglet for myself), so here's the result of a short search.

My Dad, when asked, had some thin metal sheet he calls "scrimming" in his work van. It's very thin (sharp edges!) and looks like it's brass or some similar alloy. It bends easily in the hands and apparently cuts with scissors. This may even be too thin for our purposes, but he says it comes in a variety of weights. It's also a little corroded on the surface in some bits and shinny in others. I'm sure the corrosion will polish off, but it does let us know what the future of the piece will be.

Anyway, this metal sheet came from Blackwoods, whose website lists copper and brass metal sheeting down to 0.5mm and a few other varieties of things that look like metal sheets. But their website won't tell me how much the sheets cost. Annoying, but their 'metals office' is in Dandenong, so I guess I'll try in person If the test piece dad gave me works.

'Ian' has an interesting website which considers modern methods of aglet repair. It's not what we want for the end of medieval laces, but I do find his list of different ways to make aglets interesting.

Marc Carlson (shoe guru) says that "Although they are not commonly found, medieval boot and shoe aglets seem to have been coiled brass wire, while those for clothing were wrapped metal sheets. " Interesting!

And of course I've seen a description somewhere lately - in the notes on lacing of the fingerloop CA. I'm not sure he doesn't make it more work than is needed though. I know they doesn't have good net access or a good library, so I suspect a lot of their work is based on what works, rather than what was done. Still it looks pretty close to what was done too.

Soper lane has an interesting article on the history of points/chapes/aglets, including mention of the chapemaker's guild. (So that's why both aglets and the end caps on scabbards are called chapes!). They say that aglets were generally copper alloys (brasses and bronzes) and riveted on with steel rivets (or crimped on post 1500), and finished with a file. Valuable information, but there's no instructions on how to make your own.

Dress Accessories says they excavated chapes from the mid 13th C to 15th C. "All of the excavated chapes are of copper-alloy sheeting, bent into tubes, with a straight seam along the side.Unless otherwise stated they are complete, tapering, and with an edge-to-edge seam, Several ends have been finished - that is, they seem to have been neatly bent inwards, perhaps by being rotated under pressure while held at an angle against a flat surface, and several others show faceting at one or both ends" (p281ff) It goes on to discuss what the facets might tell us about manufacture, but only says a few of the chapes had rivets (or rivet holes).

Here's an extant chape. It does look a lot like the ones in dress accessories, with no visible rivet hole. An another and another from the UK metal detector finds database - what a lovely site.

Some drawings of extant 'lace tags' (see numbers 16-22, and summary page 7) from Jedburgh Abbey, mostly 15th & 16th C. The site it comes from bears more investigation too - might be a treasure trove of archaeological reports.

And finally, just for reference- tying Elizabethan bows. Or this German version.

Well It's some interesting stuff I've found, but not the site I remember from a couple of years ago that was just what I wanted. I guess I can reconstruct what I want from Dress accessories anyway.

Special thanks to the friend who inspired me to look into this more (you know who you are). I've got some metal to play with now, let get together and experiment.

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