the West Kingdom Needlework Guild

Decorating with bezants




— by Christian de Holacombe, Guild Chronicler

Once you have your bezants, what can you use them for?

Studying period examples suggests using bezants to decorate garments, purses, cloth-covered boxes, wall hangings and book covers, and as mounts on belts. Borders with bezants can be applied to tunic necklines and cuffs, the front openings of coats and cloaks, and perhaps hemlines as well. (In period, most of the elaborate bottom borders seem to belong to “saints, angels, queens, allegorical characters and other people who don’t have to worry about getting their hemlines dirty,” comments Robin Netherton.)

The author’s first bezants, sewn onto wool
A few of the author’s first bezants, sewn onto wool.

Sewn bezants can be used on anything you can get a needle through. If you need more needle holes in the metal, and it’s not the soft brass that can be pierced by a sewing needle, more holes can often be carefully punched with a small brad and hammer, using a padded surface underneath. A set of small jewelers’ files is inexpensive and can be used to smooth edges and any burrs from making holes. It’s probably a good idea to secure sewn bezants with something a bit stronger than sewing thread, and to smooth any rough or sharp edges before sewing them down.

Nailheads are very easy to apply: just place them where you want them on the fabric, carefully push the prongs through to the wrong side, and use a thimble to bend the prongs toward the center to secure each nailhead. Check placement on the right side before bending down the prongs: they can be unbent and re-bent for adjustments, but if you bend them too many times they’ll break.

You may need a rivet setter for the riveted types of mounts; the setter isn’t expensive and can usually be found wherever you got the rivets. An awl is helpful for making holes for rivets in fabric without breaking the threads of the fabric.

Bezants do well attached to a fairly heavy fabric, which won’t be distorted by supporting the additional weight of the metal. It’s often useful to attach the bezants to a layer of fabric first, and then apply it to cover a box or other solid object. Items like purses can also be lined to help support the decoration on the outer fabric, and to protect the stitches or other attachments on the inside.

The author's belt made with cotton webbing and nailheadsStudded belts can be easily made from cotton webbing and nailheads, and more elegant and authentic versions from a silk or leather base with riveted mounts. Considering how many satires mention “rich girdles of silk,” they must have been a common small luxury item. A sturdy tablet-woven or warp-faced belt would make a good base.

Bezants provide lots of opportunity to play with decorations in various techniques. Now that you know how easy it is to make and use them, perhaps the Current Middle Ages will see a new fad: bezants, a touch of glitter.

 


Box for Communion breads with beading and spangles
Eleventh Century Byzantive purse with pearls and bezants
A covered box for Communion breads,
covered with beading and studded with spangles.
A Byzantine purse from the second half of the
11th century, with pearls and bezants.

Thirteenth-Century Czech beaded altar hanging with bezants
Bezants on a spectacular 13th-century Czech beaded hanging for the front of an altar.

 

Broder with bezants
Border with bezants from Lunenburg, Germany


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