16th century “phallic” purse

My finished purse (pouch side)

My finished purse (pouch side)

In an earlier post, I discussed the “phallic-shaped purse” (aka, the penis purse, lute-shaped purse, scissor-shaped purse, or flask-shaped purse” which, after seeing Morgan Donner’s example, I really wanted to make!

Warning -this  is a pretty image-heavy post, but I found that I was really looking at other costumers’ photos in progress for assistance, so decided to offer the same for my own!



Surviving examples of this style of purse, seems to be limited to the 16th century however – not a time period I’m currently exploring with costumes, but still… It’s so unique! One existing example is from Italy (Venice) three more from the Netherlands (one of which is dated as “after 1580”), and another example from England. This one is dated as 16th Century, but there’s speculation that it may have been a gift from Henry VIII to “Anne Bullyne”, which would place it somewhere around 1526 (when their flirtation began) to 1536 (when she was beheaded, dates according to Wikipedia), if the history of the purse is accurate. A final example of this pouch/purse style is from France, and is “identical to the Dutch” example, though no separate discussion of date was provided by the source I referred to. Another costumer refers to a German source for one of these bags as well, and a Flemish painting where there are four women in the foreground, and two of them are wearing these bags hanging from their belts.

So, once I’d done some research… I still wanted to make this bag -and figure that if I ever opt for a German, French, Dutch, Italian, Flemish, or English costume from the mid to late 16th Century… I’ll already have the purse! (Though I’d probably also wear it with my Italian Renaissance costume which is based on artwork from 1480s Florence all the same… )

Making my phallic-shaped purse

I’ll walk through some of the steps I took to make my purse here.

Tools & materials

I used the following tools & materials to make my purse:


  • Paper, pencil, compass
  • Sewing machine (not really needed, this was only for a really small seam, and totally optional)
  • Iron & ironing board
  • 2 pairs of needle nose pliers
  • Jump ring/eye ring pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Scissors, Awl, Craft knife
  • Hand-sewing needles (variety of sizes), straight pins
  • Rotary cutter, mat, & ruler
  • Doll hair-styling tool to twist thread into cord
  • Plastic card (an old hotel room key) & plastic sheeting
  • Hot glue gun & glue sticks, Fabric glue, Masking tape
  • Rice


  • Velvet fabric (up-cycled from a used skirt)
  • Dark red & gold striped silk fabric (leftover from my Italian Gamurra)
  • Dark red buttonhole twist thread
  • Dark red and purple embroidery thread
  • Gold metallic thread
  • Metallic gold soutache braid
  • Jump rings
  • Brass eyelets
  • 16 gauge silver plated copper wire
  • Foam core poster board
  • 3 gold-tone (plastic) beads


Oh yeah… I luckily had EVERYTHING already in my stash, which means the timing of this, and how I made it fits in PERFECTLY with the Historical Sew Fortnightly/Monthly stashbusting challenge!

 Cutting out the structure

I started using a compass to draw two circles to start the pattern, then cut the pattern out of regular printer paper to get a feel for the size. I wanted my purse to be a fair bit larger than the surviving examples of this purse so that I could fit some of the things I need to carry in it – change purse, phone, lipbalm…

Tracing the pattern to foam core poster board

Tracing the pattern to foam core poster board

I copied the pattern to three layers of foam core poster board, and cut them out using a craft knife. I then cut out a center part from the base of the pattern, transferred this to two of the pieces, and cut out the interiors too. The originals wouldn’t have had this, but I really liked the way that Morgan Donner’s version had this, to create more room, so opted to do the same.

From the scraps, I cut out a few long strips and a few curved pieces – I wanted the purse to be deeper than just three layers of foam core poster board; these pieces would act like spacers to make the whole thing five-layers thick, without having to cut out quite as much foam core.

To the large pattern piece that would go in the middle, I hot glued the spacers to either side, then hot-glued all three layers together. To get a smooth outer edge, I covered all of the edges with masking tape. I had done something similar when making my Anubis mask, and found it worked pretty well. It sticks to the poster board, and glue sticks to the tape, so it works.

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Once the whole thing was secure, I poked two holes through the top to accommodate the lacing using my awl.

Adding fabric

Using the paper pattern, I cut out the back of the pouch, with extra allowance to fold over the sides. I lined it up with the foam core shape, and marked where the holes were. I poked these with my awl as well, and then added hand sewn eyelets over a jump ring for each.

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I applied fabric glue to the back of the foam core form, spread it with an old hotel key card (so that it wouldn’t be too thick in any one area) and smoothed the velvet onto the back, lining up the eyelet holes with the holes in the foam.

Once the glue had set a bit (not totally, just enough that it wouldn’t shift a lot anymore) I snipped the curves, and folded the edges over the sides, gluing them in place (with a few straight pins to hold things in place as the glue dried.

For the front of the pouch, I cut the pattern out of the velvet again, but this time while I left the top of the pattern the same, but cut the bottom part much longer. Like the back, I left an allowance to fold over the sides.

Starting to glue the fabric into the purse cavity

Starting to glue the fabric into the purse cavity

Like the back, I marked where the holes were and sewed two hand-sewn eyelets over jump rings. Then I applied glue and glued down the fabric to the top part, and then just down the inside on the top wall of the inner hole area. As those area dried a bit, I pleated and glued the fabric down into the inner hole area. While I was waiting for it to dry, I filled it with rice – to hold the fabric in place inside the hole without using pins.

After the front and back fabrics were attached, I pressed two long narrow strips of velvet and glued them to cover the sides.

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The pouch

While the cavity in the foam form would accommodate a little bit, the pouch is actually the only ‘purse’ to the historical examples of this purse apparently, and adding the pouch gives the purse a lot more room than just the cavity itself!

Since the pouch covers the bottom part of the front of the purse, the pleating of the fabric doesn’t really matter.

I measured the form from the lowest edge to the eyelets in the form and using Morgan Donner’s example, drew a half-circle with the length measured as the radius. I cut this out of one piece of velvet, and one piece of silk (my research noted that in at least one example this was lined with leather) and sewed around the exterior, right sides together leaving a small space to turn it.

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I turned it, and then used metallic gold thread to apply metallic gold soutache braid to the straight edge. I used the gold thread (as finicky as it is!) because I didn’t want the thread to take away from the gold braid at all, but wanted to securely attach it. If it had been a round braid I might have been able to sew it on differently, but this worked.

Then I pressed the pouch, and marked space for eyelets. In retrospect I should have just done the hand-done eyelets over jump rings, but instead I did them over brass eyelets (so that if the metal showed through, it would be the brass colour instead of the silver colour, and because the velvet was very fluffy, and I had found that too much of it showed through when I just used the rings).

hand-made cord using purple and red embroidery floss

hand-made cord using purple and red embroidery floss

I twisted up some embroidery floss to make a cord, which I’d use to lace up the pouch. (Shown with some of the velvet leftover from the side strips.) Then it was time to hand-sew the pouch to the front of the foam form. I used fairly invisible stitches, although this would be trimmed with gold braid so it wasn’t  vital to keep the stitches invisible.

I opted not to stitch all the way up to the top of the pouch, so that there would be room to gather up the fabric, rather than having it too stiff.

From there I strung a bead onto the cord, then strung the cord through the form holes, then wove the cord through the eyelets on the pouch, through the front, and finished them off with two more beads (similar in colour and style, but round instead of sort of oblong).


To hang the purse I thought back and forth about how to do this – the three different examples I saw photos of had three different ways of carrying/hanging it. One had a loop wrapped and tied around the top, one had metal “eyelets” (how the museum described it) at the top, and one had a cord through the form itself in the upper portion. (I’m REALLY restraining myself from calling this the “shaft”…)

Silver-plated wire forming the "eyelets" to hang the purse

Silver-plated wire forming the “eyelets” to hang the purse

I decided to go with the “eyelet” version, so poked a hole first with a pin, then a large needle, and finally I cut some silver-plated 16 gauge wire at a sharp angle and poked it through following the same hole. Using eyelet/jump ring pliers I curled the wire into two loops, and shaped them with needlenose pliers.

To hang the purse I made more cord, but this time twisted the red floss with two strands of gold thread, the purple with two strands of gold thread, and then the purple/gold/red strands together into a cord.

Cord made with purple and red embroidery floss plus a few strands of gold thread

Cord made with purple and red embroidery floss plus a few strands of gold thread

… and it’s done!

So that’s how I made my phallic-shaped purse. The total amount of time on this was about 12 hours (ouch!). I don’t have a lot of changes – other than not using the brass eyelets, and I think I’d like to try to use brass wire instead of silver for the hanging “eyelets”.

Click any of the photos above to see the photo in a larger size in case you’re interested in making your own.

If you do – please share a link to your finished version in the comments below!

Historical Sew Monthly #3 – March – Stashbusting

The Challenge: “Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.”

Fabric: Purple cotton velvet, along with red and gold striped silk
The cotton velvet likely would have been silk velvet in period, however I’ve been told that modern silk-rayon velvet isn’t nearly as similar as cotton velvet as a good modern substitute.

Pattern: self-drafted based on photographs, and enlarged from the originals which were quite a bit smaller. Although the challenge suggests to have a pattern already, I’m guessing anything that I can create counts – since I didn’t have to buy one.

Year: Surviving examples and artwork suggest “after 1580”, 1526-36, 1594-96, and 1591. For a sake of a rough date, I’d say late 16th century.

Notions: LOTS. Wire, foam core poster board, thread, embroidery thread, metallic thread, metallic braid, jump rings, eyelets, buttonhole twist, beads.

How historically accurate is it? Because I altered it to be more functional, it’s more accurate in look than size. (Though apparently not all of the surviving ones are the same size either.) I opted for foam core poster board where as the originals used cardboard and horsehair, so the internal construction is off, but the external (visible) construction is likely pretty good.

Hours to complete: 12 hours +/-

First worn: Not yet…

Total cost: Nothing everything was in my stash!  (though the silk was a scrap from a dress, originally 30$/meter, on sale for 15$/meter, the cotton velvet was from a donated-to-me skirt, but similar fabric would run about $10-15/meter. The foam core poster board was left over from my Anubis mask, and would be a buck or two if I were to buy it. The braid was from a ‘grab bag’ a few years ago at the Grandmother’s Fabric Sale – if I were to buy it new, it might be a dollar’s worth. The threads, beads, wire, etc was all in my stash from other projects too.)

3 comments on “16th century “phallic” purse

  1. raibert says:

    hello my name is Raibert , could you email me a list of where you found some references, i am having trouble finding them .thank you Think this way cool would like to find out more bout it

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