Monday, January 16, 2017

HSM Special Occasion: A set of ruffs...almost...there!

As the title says, I'm almost there.  Almost done with the year long project of making a 1570s German suit--all that remains is the hat.

Christ Blessing, Surrounded by a Donor Family.  German Triptych.  1570s
Note the untidy ruff.

The Project:

This is a complete set of ruffs--neck and wrists--to go with the 1570s Germans.  While not based on any particular example, they are perfectly typical examples for the period, with the ruff being fairly modest.  As it should be--as it must be in order to get the right spring--I made it of the finest linen I could get my hands on and did the project completely by hand.

Männertracht aus Braunschweig (23v).  Brunswick man on Foot


Contrary to popular belief, ruffs would be worn by whoever could afford them, and to have them laundered (a specialist job in and of itself)--not just the uppermost classes.  Still, this is intended as more of an upper class example, with the laboriously stitched edging, and that it isn't quite as modest as it could be.


For once, I wanted to get as close to a period example as I possibly could, using all period materials (almost) and doing it completely by hand.  I decided on this particular example as being the most likely to go with the painting of the full suit I've been working on--again, fairly simple and modest.  Plus, I wanted to make one--I (and my Pelican/Donna) have been talking about making a set for several years; now it's her turn *evil laugh*. Since I almost always hand finish everything which can't be hidden, hemming the piece by hand was really the only choice (I do enjoy doing rolled hems, though).

Again, for once, I actually don't have any reverse goals--things the project is not intended to be.

Garment Description:

Most of you (I assume, since you're reading this) already know what ruffs are, and what they look like.  Essentially, it is a strip of white linen, gathered or pleated into a neckband, and starched into usually a figure 8 shaped set.  All in all, pretty simple (until you get to the starching stage).

1570s French
As a rule, they existed as a status symbol--a visible white item of clothing would be considered a sign of wealth, since they showed dirt so easily.


This is rather simple, since there is only one choice for ruffs...linen.  Preferably the finest, tightest woven white linen available for the ruffles themselves.  The neckbands, however, can be a somewhat coarser linen.  Any lace...also linen.  Construction thread?  Guess what...linen.  The only other materials which may show up is in coloured silk or even gold thread to decorate them, which you can see below.

1578s, Edward Hoby?
My materials were accurate this time--the linen was a lovely 2.8 oz from Wm. Booth, Draper, with the neck/wrist bands made of the 5.3 from  The linen thread--three sizes, 16/2, 35/3, and 60/2 (I think)--are all from Wm. Booth, Draper as well.  On the other hand, the black thread for the edging is cotton, rather than silk...the cotton being chosen for availability, and price.  If I were to do it over, I would probably invest in silk thread for any decorations.


Really, ruffs aren't a complicated garment...a rather long strip (three fabric widths, in this case) of linen for the ruffle, cut from the width of the fabric.  And a piece about 8 inches wide by the neck circumference for the neckband (this gets folded lengthwise into fourths).  That's all.

Sir Edward Hastings, 1573
There are a couple of tricky bits, however--mainly the neck circumference, since the thickness of the gathered ruff edge adds some.  On the other hand, there several examples of ruffs which don't go all the way around, so it's not a horrible thing if it ends up too short.

I decided on the measurements quite simply--three fabric widths for the neck, and 1.5 for each of the wrists.  The neck/wrist bands were done to fit.


Quite simply, there aren't a lot of seams, and I went off of the suggestions in the tutorial for the most part.  A running stitch for gathering, backstitch for basting, and a small overcast stitch to actually secure the ruffle to the band.  A staggered backstitch is used on the wrong side of the band to secure the gathers even more.  The final stitches are a rolled hem, and a buttonhole stitch for decoration.


Like the pattern, construction was also fairly simple.  I started out by finding the cutting lines with drawn threads to keep my cut on the grain.  This was a pain.

With my strips cut and joined, I used a rolled hem to finely hem it.  A rolled hem was chosen for ease and speed.

Once hemming was done, I went back over it with a widely spaced buttonhole stitch in black embroidery floss, at 8-10 stitches per inch.  At the time, I was also buttonholing the slashes of the seemed like my life consisted of doing buttonhole stitches.

You can see the buttonhole stitches more closely here.  With all the hemming done, I could prep for construction by marking 1/2 inch in from the edge for my gathering line....then actually run the line of gathering stitches, keeping them around 8 per inch.  Then repeat between that line and the bottom edge, keeping the stitches parallel.

I didn't take as many progress pictures as I should have...sorry.  Once I actually began construction it went extremely fast--under a couple of hours.

 The gathering threads were pulled to gather up the cloth to the right length, and pinned to the neckband at center and ends.  To secure it for the real stitches, I used a large backstitch through the seam allowance, then flipped it over and used a fine overcast stitch.  Each stitch only caught a few gathers and threads.

Then the band was folded over, and the overcast stitch repeated on the other side.

Here, you can see that the staggered backstitch I used on the wrong side of the neckband to further stiffen and secure the seam allowance of the ruffle.

 The last actual sewing step was to decide on a closure--obviously, I chose eyelets and ties.

Laundering and Starching
I soaked the ruffs in a strong solution of One Step, a sodium percarbonate which is available from homebrew supply shops--it's essentially the same thing as oxyclean, but much cheaper.  This bleached the linen.  After bleaching, they were tightly rolled into a heavy towel for a little while.  Because my water is currently orange, I used bottled.

And the starching... In one way, it was fun in a messy way.  But it was still a pain to do.  I boiled up (microwave) 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in 1 cup distilled water.  Once it cooled enough to handle safely, it looks like this.

To work the goo into the fibers of the ruff, I just took a little on my fingers and worked my way along the length of ruffle.  Using only a little starch at a time kept it from getting super-saturated and covered in a thick my first wrist ruff.  I suspect it will dry stiff enough to slit throats....

While the wrist ruffs are small enough that a standard wine bottle works as a stand, I had to use a demi-jon full of fermenting white wine.

I'm sure the Dutch of a few decades later would appreciate the combo (link to Dutch paintings with wine)

While the starched ruffs began to dry, I used my fingers to work them into extremely ruff setts (sorry-not-sorry)

Conclusions (and What I Learned):

Overall, this was actually a fairly relaxing, fun project, and I obviously learned a bit about making the blasted things.  While none of the techniques were actually new to me, since they were basic stitches, the starching will be (it's on the schedule for this week).  Additionally, I learned the best way to pick up a buttonhole stitch when your thread breaks or runs out....and that when you're running a gathering stitch, pull the full length of thread off the spool, even if you don't cut it yet.  It turned out that my linen thread had tie in it, and that caused all kinds of annoyance when it came time to gather.

As for in the starching I learned that the best way to work it in is just get a small amount of starch goo onto your fingers, and work your way through so that you don't end up with a huge amount of extra starch in the fabric.

What I'd do Differently next time:

Really, not much.  The only things are to check the gathering thread, as mentioned above, and use silk thread for any decorative stitching.  In the construction, I should have removed the blue chalk marks before gathering (oops...); the other thing is instead of measuring 1/2 inch in for my seam allowance/gathering line, I should have measured from the other side so that any variations in width would be taken up in the seam allowance.

How Accurate is it:

Extremely.  I couldn't be happier with the accuracy of this project--just the use of cotton decorative thread brings it down slightly.  The other thing is that the starching is being performed with corn starch because I never picked up the more period wheat.  I'm giving it a good 97%.


Not actually as long as I thought--only 32 hours 20 minutes (approximately; I lost some of my journaling at the beginning of the project).  When I started it, I thought the project was going to take ages.  Most of that time was in hemming and doing the decorative stitching--once I finished the gathering stitches, it only took a couple hours to put it together.

 HSM Challenge Info:

The Challenge: Special Occasion. While ruffs weren't necessarily worn only for special occasions--even the common man would wear one if he could afford it--they weren't exactly an everyday thing, either. More along the lines of Sunday best, and at court (or portraits). Plus, for me, it really is a special occasion, since I doubt I will wear it except for special occasions.

Material: Linen. 2.8oz linen from Wm, Booth for the ruffles, and 5.3 for the bands.

Pattern: Based on the instructions by Noel Gielegham of the Elizabethan Costuming group.

Year: 1570s

Notions: Thread! Mostly linen for sewing, but the black buttonhole stitched edging is in fine cotton floss.

How historically accurate is it? Extremely, other than the cotton thread, which should be silk. Going to say 98% on this one, as it used all period methods, and was completely handsewn.

Hours to complete: 33 hours, 20 minutes.

First worn:  Again, not yet. Technically, it's not 100% complete, although all the sewing is. I still have to starch and shape it, but am waiting for a few more weeks (until closer to debut, since it's easier to store unstarched). Like several other HSM projects this year, it goes with my 1570s German suit.

Total cost:  15$ US, or so. I used a bit under half a yard of the good linen, the bands were scrap, and I did have to buy some of the floss.

Gieleghem, Noel.  How to Create a Stand-Alone 1570s Style Ruff

© John Frey, 2017. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.


  1. Ohh, I am impressed! Simple as construction may be, there seem to be so many tricky bits to ruff-making, like you said. But these came out so well! Also love your twist with the black edging. Can you make me a set too?? (Kidding! I am looking into maybe making more of a flat lace collar for a lady about 50 years later, but this is a big maybe since this is currently more of a general research plan...)

    1. Thank you!
      You should, and good luck with the lacemaking!

    2. Thank you! Actually I will get around the lace making because I recently scored a large roll of more or less period accurate bobbin lace. Okay, it is cotton but acts and feels like linen. :)

    3. Awesome--that was a nice score. Where did you find it? I need to keep my eyes peeled so that maybe the next ruff can have lace edging as well, since I have no desire to take up bobbin lace any time soon.

    4. Yes, many brave men have gone there trying to make it... LOL Well it was a 10m roll from a local florist wholesale in Hambutg that deals in ribbons and lace. This place:
      It is a bit like Olivanders, only for ribbon...