A Mary Rose Arrow Bag: Research & Instructions

I became interested in traditional archery after attending several local Society for Creative Anachronism shoots with a friend. I wanted to make a traditional quivery rather than spend the money in the store for a modern quiver. I have described my process and included my research for making a Tudor-style arrow bag based off of remains found in the Mary Rose and reviewing others’ information on their own arrow bags.

The Mary Rose

The Mary Rose is a mecca for all those interested in traditional medieval longbows, but it’s also a very real human tragedy. The Mary Rose was built in 1510 under the order of Henry the VIII. She served for 34 years before she sank during the Battle of the Solent with the French in 1545. It is unclear exactly why the Mary Rose sank during this battle; theories include: human error, a gust of wind, the French (it was a battle, after all), or overloading. I am less interested in these theories than in the human tragedy that resulted from the sinking and the archaeological evidence that has enriched our knowledge of medieval archery.

When the Mary Rose was preparing for battle, anti-boarding netting was installed, which prevented boarding the ship by enemy combatants. Unfortunately, this netting also prevented the English from escaping their sinking ship as they became trapped by their own defensive fortifications. Although there was a crew of well over 400 souls, fewer than 10% survived the sinking of the Mary Rose; the rest drowned. Some emerged from the hull of the ship to be able to see freedom on deck—but were dragged down with the ship because of the netting. Though tragic, the Mary Rose offers an incredibly important glimpse into what daily life was like for commoners. For example, 500 pairs of leather shoes were found in the wreckage of the ship, which is a veritable wealth of information on what commoners wore on their feet during the Tudor period.

My interests are clearly more archery related than in footwear, and the Mary Rose does not disappoint. In the wreckage, more than 130 longbows and thousands of arrows were found. These medieval longbows could have draw weights that exceeded 100 pounds, which sure makes my 40-pound longbow seem quite puerile by comparison. Additionally, many of the men who died had suffered from os acromiale, which is condition that archers suffer—even professional archers today. Essentially, it’s a condition that affects the shoulder blades and is caused from the stress and strain of using the shoulder muscles to draw the bow. Since so many of the skeletons show signs of this condition and so many archery-related artifacts were found in the wreckage, archaeologists and researchers have concluded that the ship was carrying a sizable number of longbow archers for the battle and that, consequently, longbow archers still played an important role in warfare during the Tudor period.

The Arrow Bag/Quiver

Mary Rose spacers with arrows in situ.
Mary Rose spacers with arrows in situ.

Among the longbows, armguards, and arrows were the remnants of arrow bags, which were used to transport a sheaf of arrows, which was 24 arrows. There is some debate about these arrow bags also being worn during fighting. The only piece of which that survived after centuries underwater was the leather spacer.

The leather spacers had 24 holes punched into them for arrow spacers. Some also had slits, presumably to allow for broadhead-style arrows to be more easily stored in the bag. Many of the arrow spacers also had small holes around the circumference of the leather spacer, which would indicate that a linen bag—since deteriorated—would have been sewn around the spacer.

I read some tutorials on how to make such a bag, including a couple of very informative youtube videos done by a man whose hand sewing skills far trump my own. Because I had the scrap leather, scrap fabric, and extra thread, I made this quiver for nothing. Below are the steps I took to make my own bag modeled on the Mary Rose leather spacer.

(1) I drew out a template for my leather spacer. I used pennies to draw out the template. I decided not to cut out the extra wedges because I do not shoot broadhead arrows and I read that it made the leather significantly less firm. I reduced the number of holes to 12, which is more what I would have available in my quiver at any time and would better fit my frame.Geekitude 010

(2) I transferred the template to a piece of scrap leather that my husband had and drew it onto the leather.

(3) I used a leather punch to punch the holes for sewing—and the holes for the spacers. I tried an Exacto knife, but I found it incredibly frustrating. I basically punched out a hole use the spacer and then used sand paper to smooth the interior edges of the holes. I cut the Geekitude 011leather out using a pair of high-quality leather scissors and also used sandpaper along the exterior circumference to smooth those edges.Geekitude 014

(4) I used water to harden my leather spacer. First, I presoaked the leather spacer for about 10 minutes until all the air bubbles stopped escaping from the leather (i.e., that it was fully saturated). Then, I heated a pot of water to 180 degrees; it’s best to actually use a thermometer at this point rather than guess. Drop the leather spacer in the hot water and wait until it starts to shrink and darken around the edges, about a minute. If you leave the piece of leather in longer, it will become more inflexible—sometimes too much so, so watch it carefully! Let the leather spacer dry. Note: I definitely recommend trying out a test piece of leather or two: you don’t want to ruin your spacer after all the hard work of making it!Geekitude 019

(5) I measured my fabric. The width of your fabric should be the circumference of your arrow spacer; add an extra inch to your circumference length for the seams of the bag. For the length of your bag, measure the arrows that you’ll be using in the bag. Arrow length will depend on your draw length and whether the arrows are made custom for you. (Mine are). Add four inches to the length of the bag so you have sufficient space to create the drawstring at the bottom (and seams) as well. To measure the space you need for the top, I preferred to insert one of my arrows into the arrow spacer to better visualize how the bag would lay out. Another four inches-give or take—will give you the space to have the drawstring and seams at the top of the bag. Experiment a little with your bag so that the spacer is at the right height to hold the arrows comfortably without damaging the fletching. Cut your piece of cloth to the appropriate size based off of these measurements.

(6) I joined the long sides. I prefer to use a hot iron to iron the sides down to make a better seam before pinning and turning the bag inside out (again, for ease). Make sure to only sew up to where your spacer will sit because the rest of the bag will lay open. Sew back the stretch from the spacer to the top of the bag to make a nice edge. Turn the bag right side out again.

(7) Now it’s time to make the channels for the draw strings. You’ll fold down the top/bottom edge of the fabric once to hide the selvage, and then another time by about an inch to make the channel for the drawstring. Sew along the bottom part of the channel to keep it in place.

weddingandmisc 005(8) I sewed the spacer into the linen bag; this sewing has to be done by hand. I didn’t mark along the interior with chalk to make sure it was level; I eyeballed it and sewed in the pieces by working in opposite pairs. For example, pretending it were a clock face, I sewed in the 12 o’clock position and the 6 o’clock position, then 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock, and then filling in the remaining stitches in the same way to keep the spacer balanced. I sewed each hole individually.

(9) From here, I pushed some cord I purchased at the hardware store through the drawstring channels to make my drawstring.

(10) I had a very difficult time trying to add a pair of loops so I could wear the bag. I wish I had incorporated the loops when I was making the original long seam along the bag because it was a LOT of material to sew through, and it didn’t look particularly neat. I made two rectangles of fabric, folded them over to make the edges look nice, and sewed them to the exterior part of the bag by hand (only because my sewing machine refused to do so). I use an extra cord or belt to then hang the arrow bag around my waist as a side quiver. weddingandmisc 007

(11) I stuffed some old scrap fabric into the bottom part of the arrow bag to keep the arrows from going through the bottom part of the bag. Traditionally, it seems that archers stuffed hay into this part of the arrow bag.weddingandmisc 006

I have been using this arrow bag for regular archery practice for several months, and I still really like it. It does take a little bit more time to put the arrows away after I’ve collected them from the target since you can’t collect them all and drop them into one receptacle. However, I never have to worry about my arrows jostling each other when I’m transporting them to a range. I also have a little modicum of pride whenever I show off my arrow bag to someone else and get to explain that I modeled it after an arrow bag that had been in use in 1545—and that’s not something you can buy in the store!

On my way to an event–with my arrow bag!



4 thoughts on “A Mary Rose Arrow Bag: Research & Instructions

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