Locating Extant Sweet Bags

When I began my search for information to develop my own sweet bag, I researched medieval re-enactment websites for links to textiles of that era and related papers. I discovered a lack of relevant information, so I searched museum websites and compiled photos and object descriptions. I realized that in performing research to develop a sweet bag, I had begun original survey research so I continued with the goal of completing a formal survey of the topic.

From looking at online textile collections, I borrowed a friend’s collection of embroidery books, looked at the photographs contained therein and began to realize that many people were saying the same things about sweet bags, but no one was giving an overall survey of what was available in terms of artifacts. The books led me to more museum websites. I also determined that some sweet bags have disappeared from museum collections or are no longer found in online photo catalogs.

Maddeningly enough, some books by Beck have line drawings of sweet bags in their discussions, but there is no reference to who owns them. Therefore, I didn’t use the line drawings because I couldn’t cite them properly. I believe those sweet bags exist but I can’t attest to their appearance. (Note: Since I originally wrote the paper, I have found most of the real sweet bags in those line drawings.)

After believing that I was the only person studying sweet bags, I was introduced to Melinda Sherbring, who lives in California. She has studied sweet bags for 10 years but has yet to publish her work. She and I have exchanged information about the bags we have located to increase our data sets.

Choosing the Bags to Include in the Study
I did not depend on labels placed by owning institutions to identify sweet bags; as these institutions often give these objects diverse names: bags, purses, accessories, swete bags, etc. In one particular case, The British Library named an object that is clearly a sweet bag a “book bag”. It has all the characteristics of a sweet bag, which I have included it in my sample.

Sometimes objects are labeled sweet bags when, in fact, they are not sweet bags. Also, after looking at a number of these items, I believe at least one institution has also labeled the era of the object incorrectly. (They claim 1601 whereas I believe the sweet bag could be up to 20 years earlier, given the roughness of the design and technique.)

I have also been informed of a sweet bag for sale by an antiques dealer. They had cut the panels apart to sell them separately and labeled them as part of a “sweet meat” bag.

I have examined over a thousand online artifacts in museum textile collections, and only a fraction of those are sweet bags. Read “Data Exclusion” for a small sample of artifacts that did not make the data set.

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