It might be reasonable, and has been the practice among more detail-oriented living historians and reenactors, to assume that sheaths of smaller knives in, for example, the early Anglo-Saxon period, might be miniature analogues of those of larger seaxes, yet fragmentary sheath remains from a handful of well-studied early Anglo-Saxon sites appear surprisingly crude, with amateurish stitching having unattractively contorted the seams in a way that might disgust a modern leatherworker. There is no reason not to think these examples are not well representative, and indeed, many of the later (Viking-Age) knife-sheath remains from York, though often skilfully decorated, bear the tell-tale marks and contortions of this same rudimentary stitch work.
It is always tempting to base the sheaths of our knives on the very fanciest, and neatest archaeological examples to hand, and perhaps neaten them up with some more modern handiwork, but this can lead to a creeping departure from what is truly known of the historic craft culture purportedly represented. In contrast, replicating (to our modern eyes) “unbecoming” examples might provide useful, practical insights into why they were made this way. Such is the case with these apparently crudely stitched knife sheaths – our experiments in replicating them have revealed what might be a cunning Dark Age leatherworker’s “life-hack” which made the tricky shaping of sheaths vastly quicker and more reliable.