Last medieval week I ran around with a plastic bottle in my bag, since drinking water is important but plastic bottles are not all that fun I decided to make a leather bottle in stead.
Looking around there is two options, the bottle looking kind and the one that looks like a small barrel. As I do both medieval and 16 century stuff I wanted a bottle that I could use for both. Leather costrels seems to have been around forever, a quick google search found me both museum pictures of costrels from the late 1300 and from 1500 and they were in use at least up until the 18th century.
I also found a picture of huntsmen with costrels.
So I decided on a costrel, I like the idea that it could easily be made so that it would stand on its on to. I looked around at different techniques, some people use wooden moulds but I don’t want to bother with mould making so I went with the sand version. Haandkrafts beautiful costrel gave me lots of help figuring out how to actually make one.
I chose to take away some of the layers that he used, and it worked fine anyway.
Here is the pattern for it, it is in cm and I made one difference from my original costrel, it is only that the outer seam allowance is 0,5cm in stead of 1cm on the sides. There is no difference in function only the look. You need to use vegetable tanned leather for this project. Chrome tanned leather is never healthy, especially not if you use it for storing water that you want to drink. I worked with 3mm thick leather and found that it was perfect thickness for me. This costrel holds 9 dl of water or any other liquid.
Using an awl I made all the holes for the main part. I do not make any holes in the sides, they will be made as we go along with the sewing. Make sure that the holes in the top part matches, count them and make sure, you are sewing these together so they need to be the same amount and at the same places.
I have also prepared for the decoration, using a knife I have cut the decoration into the leather, but only 1mm deep. Mu decoration is based on this costrel but with my initials on it.
I have marked out where the top and bottom are supposed to be, so put the side piece into the “tent”. As I have not made any holes in the side piece, you will need to make these as you go along. Just put your awl in one of the holes in the main bottle piece and push it through the side piece as well, but watch your fingers.
I start in the centre bottom, with the seam that is farthest from the edge. I sew it from the middle to the top on both sides. I don’t knot any threads, I fasten them by making them overlap by three stitches.
I try to not end in the centre top, it is tricky to sew there anyway so I fasten the seams by overlapping a bit down on the sides as you can see it you look closely on this picture.
Sew the other seam, closest to the edge and sew the other side on. It is important to have two seams , it will make you costrel less prone to leaking.
Cut out holes for carrying straps.
Now submerge your half finished costrel in lukewarm water and let it stay there for at least some hours. Then you can force the leather to make the opening, my pattern will give you a opening that is just so wide that you can use a cut of plastic bottle as a funnel. It is also a width of opening that we are all used to. The water will come out just as well as from a ordinary water bottle.
Now you stuff it full of sand. Pour first dry sand into it. When it is full, add some water. Then you continue to stuff it with sand until it can not take no more and feels solid.
Now you can make the pattern if you want to, you will feel if the leather is to wet, then the pattern will not be as distinct. If this is the case, wait a day or so and try again.
I use a modelling tool for leather but you don’t really need any special tools, use what you have around you, a nice rounded stick, a fork to make a pattern with.
I don’t have any leather stamps so I used a edge cutter to make the dotted pattern.
Now let your costrel sit and dry, this might take some time. I put mine in a sunny window and it helps to pour out sand as you go along.
When it is completely dry and all the sand is removed it is time to pour wax into it.
I used beeswax. Melt it carefully, get a old sauce pan from the thrift shop since the pan you use will forever be your bees wax pan.
Pour the warm wax into the bottle (wax is WARM so use caution) you should fill it at least until it is half full. Put a cork into it and move the wax around and make sure to cover all of the inside, it is easy to miss so make sure that the ceiling of the costrel is covered.
When you have done this you can pour the wax out again, pour small amounts into moulds made of of old plastic cups and you will have sewing wax for later. and it is easier to melt if you need more wax some other time.
Some fill the bottle completely with wax and put it in the oven on low heat, then they remove it when they see the wax seeping through on the outside of the bottle.
Now you can test your bottle by simply pouring water into it. You will quickly see if you need to redo the waxing part.
I coloured my costrel with modern leather dye. and this is how it turned out.
I added a carrying straps to be able to put it on my belt. I also carried it a lot as a small silly handbag ;)
It was SO useful to be able to carry around water with me the whole week without any problems, just remember to store it without the cork in to prevent it from moulding.
The first day of use the water tasted very much of honey, it might had been nice it if the water had been something else then sun warm ;)