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The Inspiration: At Festival AS50, Lady Jeneur le Geline ran a very interesting class on the “fassing” or market wallet, which inspired an idea for a most excellent, and relatively simple, Canterbury Faire giveaway. Lady Jeneur kindly given me permission to plunder her documentation and patterns to produce this, huzzah!
At Canterbury Faire, we have done the common canvas tote bags with screen-printed logos a number of times, and they’ve always felt obtrusively mundane to me. When I saw the undeniably period market wallet and realised how easy they would be to produce, it seemed like a very good substitute. When THL Aveline Goupil put in a bid for Faire in AS51, I suggested a small market wallet as the token, with possibly larger ones available for purchase. So umpteen metres of calico later….
Market wallets go by a number of terms: the Martebo sack, fussing, stuffed sack, shoulder sacks. These all refer to a simple rectangular cloth bag with a central slit, used for the carriage of small goods such as market items (whether for sale or purchased), books, food and so forth. They appear in pretty much unchanged form throughout Europe – with a slight bias towards Scandinavia – from at least the 13th century, in illuminations of monks, pilgrims, labourers and washerwomen, right on up to 20th-century photos of travelling salesmen.
The depictions show the sacks typically:
Making a Market Wallet
Lady Jeneur had examined a lot of different depictions as well as various patterns, and identified six different versions. Looking at the proportions of the market wallets compared to the human carrying them provides an indication of the general size, with them appearing to be around 60-80cm wide by roughly 100-140cm in length. Different illuminations show two main approaches to the central slit, one version running parallel to the long side (I’d call this horizontal) and the other crossing the fabric vertically.
The version I used for the 280 or so Canterbury Faire tokens had a slit vertical to the long sides, made by bringing the selvedge edges of 120cm calico to the middle, then sewing up either side of the 20cm-wide strip. This meant less sewing, as the selvedges didn't need to be cut or hemmed. These were big enough to carry A5 Faire booklets, bottles, fruit and the like. I also made around 50 full-size market wallets for sale as souvenirs -- these were cut from 240cm calico and then individually hand-stamped with a mix of stamps, including a Canterbury Cross in Southron Gaard's baronial colours of red and gold.
Here's a useful PDF summary with diagrams, should you want to make your own and find a visual representation easier than the above verbal one: Market Wallet.
According to Lady Jeneur, based on the evidence currently available, the most common construction approach has a central slit running parallel to the long sides. Certainly she prefers it for its accessibilty, specially for the larger sacks as the slit position makes it easier to fossick around in the bottom. It also is more amenable to being twisted to secure the slit’s closure when slung or carried.
It was great to see people carrying their market wallets around Canterbury Faire, slinging even the small ones over their shoulders or looping it over a belt. It took only a day or two for people to start decorating their sacks -- mostly with penned heraldry, though there was some embroidery and badge attachement too. Interestingly, none of the period examples appear to have any identifying or decorative features at all. There's been some speculation about this -- maybe they were seen as the equivalent of a supermarket shopping bag, a throwaway utility, or maybe people didn't let them get out of eyesight, or there were never enough around for identification to be an issue. Each of those arguments has a counter-argument -- what do you think?
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