Sweete Bag by Victoria Laine
7th September 2018
Sweete Bag by Victoria Laine
During the 17th Century, wealthy aristocrats would commission ateliers to create highly ornate little bags or purses referred to as ‘sweet bags’. These bags were incredibly intricate, hand stitched masterpieces, embellished with threads made from precious metals, gems and all manner of expensive materials.
Image courtesy V&A Museum
They were, after all, used as a form of gift-wrapping when presenting a gift to the reigning monarch and the like, or if used for oneself, a reflection of their personal wealth and standing in society.
Small in size, typically measuring around 7.5cm to 10cm (3” – 4”) square, the name ‘sweet bag’ comes from their other use of carrying perfumed powder or dried flowers and herbs, used to offset the unwelcome scents one would encounter when out and about on the streets in London during a time when sanitation was not what it is today!
It was this fascinating history that inspired designer Victoria Laine to study the collection of sweet bags at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
‘My sweet bag is a modern interpretation of these examples. I wanted to include Australian birds in the design, but kept the traditional flower emblems (pomegranate, peas and roses).
I completed it over a period of 18 months, as it involved many hours of stitching, including the time it took to make the two cords, during which I learned finger braiding but could not make a continuous braid long enough. I then used Japanese braiding to make the cords, which I learned from Jacqui Carey’s wonderful book Creative Kumihimo.’
One of the amazing aspects of this project is that the entire front and back of the bag is covered in stitches, including the silver background, just as the traditional bags were made. With no printed fabrics available back in the 17th Century, the colours were created using exotic threads by covering every square inch of the fabric, just as Victoria has done.
This was perhaps one of the reasons the original sweet bags were so small in size, to help offset the time and cost required to create them. Victoria’s design however is slightly more ambitious than her historical muse with the finished size of her ‘Sweete Bag’ being 15cm x 13.5cm (6” x 5 3/8”).
Large parts of the project are created using tent stitch, a needlepoint technique indicative of the era, as are most of the techniques Victoria has chosen for her design.
If you have never attempted a project 100% covered in stitching, you may be wondering about the order of work – background first or last? In this instance all the colour motifs are stitched first, then the background is stitched around it, with the coiling stems of whipped gold chain worked last. Next, is the construction which is relatively simple and lastly you add the braids for the handle, edging, draw cord and as foundation for the tassels, with the finishing touch being the tassels themselves.
We asked Victoria for some tips as to how to go about re-creating our own Sweete Bag:
‘I experimented with several sized and textured metal threads for the background stitching. On 40 count linen I found that Japanese metal thread number 2 gave the best coverage. Although it can be challenging to work with, as it shreds, I found that the best results occurred when I stitched with my needle 90 degrees to the fabric.
‘Sweete Bag’ Ready-To-Stitch Kit
Also, it’s important to find a linen count you are comfortable stitching with, so perhaps try a smaller sample first to make sure you’re happy, as there really is a lot of stitching!’
Thanks for the advice Victoria and for designing such an exquisite and challenging project, it really is exceptional.
Make Your Own Sweete Bag
Step 1 – Purchase Project Instructions
Sweete Bag by Victoria Laine is a stunning Elizabethan sweet bag featuring flower and bird motifs.
Step 2 – Purchase Ready-To-Stitch Kit
The Inspirations Ready-To-Stitch kit for Sweete Bag includes everything you need to re-create this gorgeous bag: Fabrics (unprinted), wool felt, fusible webbing, jump rings, bee charm, embroidery threads, metal threads, sequins, beads and needles.