Looking around at some of the lovely autumnal colours that Mother Nature provides us, it’s easy to see where some of the influences come from when we decide on our shades for our leather work at Beaver Bushcraft. It’s the stunning natural hues that Nature creates that can be seen in some of our leather work.
All our leather products are hand dyed by us in our work shop using natural veg tan dyes. Some of the shades we use have been inspired by the woodlands that surround us in our little part of Kent, (sometimes known as the Garden of England) such as Chestnut Brown, Hazel Brown, Mahogany, Forest Green & Berry for example.
Natural tones & shades suit the leather and will enhance the natural texture of the leather. We have always said we like our leather to look like leather. We like the tones & patina that hand dyeing creates, rather than the flat plastic sprayed on dyes used by modern retailers. When hand dyeing, the leather tends to take on and absorb different aspects of the dye, so each leather piece will have its own little subtle character.
Rather like Mother Nature where no leaf will be the same, with us no shade will be exactly the same rather like our Key Rings. Each of our leather key rings is hand cut, tooled,hand dyed, balmed and buffed. Each one will be a little bit different even though the design is the same, just like Mother Nature’s autumnal leaves.
Whether they are for Film sets, TV programs, Museums, Collectors or for personal use, our traditional style handmade leather bottles are certainly becoming more and more popular. Made using only the very best vegetable tanned leather, bees wax and pine resin our traditional leather bottles are all made by hand in our Kent based Workshop. Each bottle is individually cut, stitched, wet-formed and then waxed by us, in-house, from start to finish. This allows us to have full control over the manufacturing process, which effectively means that we can guarantee that each bottle that we make is superior quality.
It takes us approximately 7 to 10 days to make each leather bottle. We carefully select matching, left and right handed leather bottle blanks from a single hide of leather that will allow us to homogenously wet form a leather bottle, after they have been carefully sewn together.
During the wet-forming process each bottle is individually assessed and then carefully shaped, to enhance its own natural characteristics. It is carefully formed into a beautiful and unique, yet consistently accurate traditional leather bottle shape. Picture above right shows Mark shaping one of our bottles by hand.
Once a bottle has been wet-formed, each is fitted with its own individually leather Stopper Ring and Stopper that is custom tailored to the bottles neck and mouth.
Once the bottles have naturally dried for at least week, they are then fully submerged and impregnated in a full immersion bees wax bath, before being fully lined and sealed with more bees wax. Picture above left shows getting the wax to the correct temperature.
Once the bottles are fully harden, we can then attend to the final stages of the manufacturing process before they are finished off by giving them a good polishing and then buffing with a soft cloth.
As you can see they certainly are a labour of love!
Over the years we have added different styles from large to small, from making them for large corporate events for Whiskey Tasting, Grouse Shooting or having them covered in Reindeer Skin for the films such as ‘The Huntsman’. We even made a batch of mini ones to be worn around the neck as gifts for a woodland wedding party. Each bottle comes with care instructions as we would hate the thought of them being abused. With care these bottles should last a long time and we’ve known people from the other side of the world use them regularly when they are out in the Wilderness. They are suitable for water, cider, beer, wine etc. they can be used for sprits but do please follow the care instructions.The photos above show some of the Reindeer Skin covered Bottles we made for a Film set a few years ago.
A Brief History of Leather Bottles:
We at Beaver Bushcraft like the idea of continuing traditional skills, particularly the tradition of making leather bottles. Leather bottles – as opposed to animal bladders and intestines - have been in use since the Neolithic period and probably earlier if the truth be known, when they discovered that leather/skins could be shaped by wetting the leather and letting it hardened by boiling it or leaving out in the heat of the sun.
It could be said, that leather very much was the material of choice, for the personal transportation of small quantities of liquids, from the earliest days of Human history right up to Tudor times and beyond, for its availability, durability and lightness of weight. Certainly, by way of contrast, leather bottles, would have been much easier to make and to carry than the heavier more fragile, and without being fully glazed, porous in nature earthenware pots of the time.
Throughout history, leather bottles have been adapted, shaped and designed to suit their purpose. For example the leather bottles found on the wreckage of Tudor ship the Mary Rose, where made wider and flatter on the bottom to stop them rolling around whilst at sea. The photo above right shows a copy we made of one of the Bottles found on the Mary Rose. We deliberately made it look very old and rustic.
During Elizabethan times, it was only the rich that could have afforded genuine glass wine glasses due to the high cost of glass and the skills needed to make them. Wine glasses would constantly have been filled by a servant holding a leather bottle who was known at the time as the ‘Botellar’, a term and position in life today that is more familiarly known as a ‘Butler’.
In the village of Hallaton, Northamptonshire, the sport of bottle kicking was very popular. The bottle was originally made of leather making one wonders, if this was the origin of the leather football !!!
Early Eastern ‘primitive’ leather bottles were really just a ‘bag’ made from tanned or untanned skins of entire animals, such as kid, goat, cow, camel or buffalo. And were in most cases made from the animal entire body, after the legs and head were cut off and sewn or tied closed!!! When filled, these leather bag bottles grotesquely retained the shape of the animal. The Photo above shows a modern version of a bottle made from the skin of an animal.
Certainly the use of whole hide bottle bags is still widely used by nomadic Mongolian tribes, who often use them for storing fermented milk, butter and cheese’s as well as water.
Other bottle bags used by our ancestors for storing wine or oil would have been tanned by plants rich in tannins such Oak bark and leaves etc., and then seasoned in smoke, a process that apparently gave a rather peculiar tang to the flavour to the wine. I’m glad to say the process of storing these liquids has become more sophisticated since then, especially since the invention and widespread availability of glass! The Photo above right shows a hand stitched version of a bottle made from the hide of an animal.
How Leather Bottles Have Shaped Our History
We have already mentioned the word ‘Botellar’ and how it changed into the word ‘Butler’. The Bottle on left shows one of our hand stitched traditional style leather Flask.
When Leather is worked wet (so that it can be shaped) and then air dried, it becomes what is known as ‘Jack Leather’ and medieval leather drinking utensils thus became known as ‘Jacks’. The use of the word ‘Jack’ continued until Nelson’s time when they were known as ‘Jack Boots’, hence the naval phrase "Fill up your Boots" meaning "have a drink"!!!!. In fact the term ‘Jack boots’ is still used to this day ‘German Jack Boots’ is a good example.
There isn’t an awful lot of information about the history of leather bottles through the ages; hence the brief history. We can only really go by what is found in archaeological digs, museums, paintings, the odd reference in literature i.e. Charles Dickens but also in the odd pub name such as the ‘The Leather Bottle’ in Cobham or the ‘Leather Bottle’ in Earlsfield and one in a place called Mattingley.
We love the way leather bottles as well as leather drinking vessels have helped shaped the social drinking habits through the ages and we at Beaver Bushcraft just love the idea of continuing this great tradition and keeping this skill alive.
If you are interested in ordering any of our Bottles for Corporate Events, Film/TV Props and Weddings etc. then please contact us at: [email protected]. We’ll be more than happy to talk you through your order. Initials can be added to our leather bottles, but they have to be done at the very beginning of the process.' To see our full range of Ready Made Bottles that are aviable on our website, please click here. Skoll '!!!