Pleatwork Guide: The Fold Method of Creating Pleats

Material can be pleated in a variety of ways. The most basic method, and likely the very first method our ancestors ever employed, is to simply fold the material. Let’s look at the research and the actual practice of pleating material using the Fold Method.

Research: Some undergarments were pleated with the fold method, which involves doubling the material upon itself and then pressing, pinning, or stitching in place. Evidence exists to suggest that this method was employed in pleated garments based on the Castle Lengberg finds, specifically Find 273.14 which is a small fragment of a pleated sleeve or neckline with a bit of its trimming strip missing. The raw edge with the missing trimming strip shows indications that the linen was folded at regular intervals (Nutz, 81) and no gathering thread was found. Find 273.14′s pleats were spaced three centimeters (1.2 inches) apart, however, which is very large. While one could create folds in this manner, it produces less-consistently spaced folds and would likely not have been used for shirts with very fine folds (such as those in Find 121 from Castle Lengberg, a section of pleats from a shirt sleeve cuff created in the late 15th century).


Illustration of pleated fragment made with the fold method (copyright B. Nutz).


Practice: Folding fabric to make pleats is doable, but a bit cumbersome and less precise than the gather method. I don’t recommend this method for pleats with a depth of 1/4″ or smaller, but it works fine for larger pleats. Here are some pleats using the fold method:


fold-method-hand 1/2″ pleats folded and creased by hand

fold-method-pin1/2″ pleats folded and pinned

fold-method-stitch1/2″ pleats folded and stitched

Tip: If you use the fold method to make your pleats, you’ll probably want to iron them to keep them folded as you work on securing them. If that doesn’t seem like enough, consider using white vinegar to keep your pleats folded. To do this, spray a pressing cloth with a 2:1 water/vinegar solution, iron well on the proper setting, then allow to cool. The vinegar chemically sets the folds.

Note: Folded pleats are quite common in outer garments. If you’re looking for a method to make rolled pleats for a skirt, please see my Rolled Pleat Tutorial and Calculator. Cartridge pleats are made using the Gather Method, discussed elsewhere in this guide.

Next up: The Press Method of Creating Pleats (coming soon!)

Go to the Introduction (Main Page) or the Table of Contents


Pleatwork in the 15th and 16th Centuries: An Introduction to Pleatwork (m.k.a. Smocking)

PleatworkIntroductionGraphicPreface: I’ve been studying pleatwork (known modernly as smocking) for several years now. Last year I wrote a research paper called “Techniques of 15th and 16th Century Pleated Undergarments” which discussed the nature of pleatwork and the various stitches that create and secure it. I didn’t put the paper online, however — instead, I fussed over it. Well, it’s time to share my research. This is the first of many posts about pleatwork. It’s not my research paper, but it contains much information pulled from it.

An Introduction to 15th and 16th century Pleatwork

For early modern Europeans, life was not too short to fold their underwear. As the “Little Ice Age” crept into 15th and 16th century Europe and access to materials increased, underwear became bigger, cozier, and, in some cases, fancier. The linen undershirt, known in the German states as a hemd, began to employ a larger and larger amount of fabric, which needed to be gathered and secured at the neckline and wrists. One solution was to gather the fabric into small corrugated folds, also known modernly as cartridge pleats, and then secure those pleats in place. An analysis of 15th and 16th century undergarment pleating and recent research reveals important fabric gathering and fold securing techniques: fabric was corrugated and secured in different manners and gathering threads, when employed, were not used as the sole means to secure the finished work.

Pleating fabric was not a new technique by the late 15th century when the more voluminous undergarments began to appear. Evidence of cartridge-pleated undergarments appears in 21 of the 52 graves excavated in Birka (Hägg, 12) dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries. Pleats appear in other garments beyond this, as well, including the 13th century pleated wool fragment from Sankt Peder in Sweden (Kusmin), and the 14th century woman’s gown with a pleated front found in the Uvdal Stave Church in Norway (Guhnfeldt). Yet it isn’t until the late 1400s that we see cartridge-pleated garments appear regularly in surviving artwork and extant garments of the era.

durer-selbportrait-smallRenaissance portraiture is marked by innovations that more realistically portray their subjects, including attention to natural light and shadows, which is very helpful in identifying and analyzing pleated undergarments. We are fortunate to now have access to extremely high resolution scans of portraits which portray very detailed pleats, including Selbstporträt by Albrecht Dürer in Prado (1498), available at a resolution of 19,047 x 24,047 pixels in Google Earth, which is over 600 ppi (300-500 ppi range is about the limits of the human eye). In addition to this, more highly-detailed paintings give us important clues, including Bürgermeisters Jakob Meyer und seiner Gattin Dorothea Kannengießer by Hans Holbein (1516), Portrait of a Young Man by Ambrosius Holbein (1518), and Portrait of a Boy as Saint Sebastian (1490s) by Giovanni Antonio Boltrafflo.

Extant garments with pleats are few in number, but they do exist and there have been some recent, well-documented finds. Important finds include the 14 pleated textile fragments found at Lengberg Castle (Austria) in 2008,  two pleated shirt fragments from Kempten (German) in 2011, and two pleated linen shirts found in Alpirsbach (Germany) in 1958. Key to this research is an article published within the past several years in Archaeological Textiles Review, How to Pleat a Shirt in the 15th Century, by Beatrix Nutz which indicates pleating sizes and methods of securing folds. Two books, Die Ausgrabungen im Mühlberg-Ensemble Kempten (Allgäu): Metall, Holz und Texil by Rast-Eicher and Klaus from 2011 and the earlier Texil- und Lederfunde by Ilse Fingerlin, show extant textiles with three different techniques of securing folds. Photographs of 15th and 16th century extant garments with pleats, currently housed in museums around the world, are also helpful to a certain extent.

The purpose of this guide is to understand how the pleats in the late 15th and 16th century pleated garments were actually created and secured. While it is possible for to create a pleated garment that looks similar to those portrayed and found using modern smocking techniques, there is particular interest in the techniques employed in the 15th and 16th centuries, which includes how the folds were formed and how the folds were secured. Special attention is paid to the idea that gathering threads, when used, were later removed (or covered) and other means were employed secure the folds. To this end, I have analyzed photographs of extant garments, photographs of high-resolution paintings, and peer-reviewed archaeological journal articles, with the goal of creating a well-researched guide that can be utilized by those who wish to confidently pleat authentic 15th and 16th century style undergarments.

Next Section of Understanding Pleatwork: Creating the Folds

Pleatwork Reference Works

Making and Wearing a Steuchlein with a Wulsthaube and Schleier (German Bulge Hat and Veil)

Genoveva-Steuchlin-WulsthaubeThe steuchlein is quintessential headwear for 16th c. German women of virtually all classes. You see steuchlein on Landsknecht trossfrau, farmer’s wives, and burger’s wives—in other words, married German women. I am wearing a steuchlein in the image on the right. A steuchlein is composed of four parts:

Umbinderlein – linen strip at hairline
Unterhauben – linen undercap
Wulst – round or ovoid bulge
Schleier – veil

I’ve long thought that the wulst’s bulge is meant to indicate (or more likely simulate) a very full and thick braid (real or fake), as there are several extant images of German woman with braids wrapped around their head in a similar position. Given the enormous size of some wulsthaube, I seriously doubt it’s real braids and feel confident the wulst is a padded roll. Do we know for sure? No, as no extant steuchlein remain that we are aware of. Thus, be advised that some of this is guesswork. I feel confident this is excellent quality guesswork, as I’m standing on the shoulders of giants who’ve already blazed the research and recreation path here.

Steuchlein Materials:

Here’s what you need to gather to make your own steuchlein:

  • Linen
  • Cord or fingerloop braid (about 60″)
  • Wool or cotton batting (the kind that comes flat)
  • 1/4″ reeds or millinery wire – 4 pieces of 60″
  • twine
  • Headform and thin stocking if you are making this for yourself
  • pins, needles, thread, beeswax
  • pattern:


Steuchlein Instructions:

1. If you’re using reeds rather than millinery wire, start them soaking in water (you’ll want to give them a 2-3 hour soak so they are flexible enough to bend).

2. If you’re making this steuchlein for yourself, you’ll be happier using a headform—you can get simple styrofoam headforms at JoAnns or hair care supply stores for about $4. Measure your own head, compare that size to the headform, and pad the headform to match your own head. Put the stocking over the headform after you’ve padded it to keep it all together smoothly. For more advice on making your headform, watch this video by Dame Sophia Kress (Marion McNealy):

3. Iron your pre-washed linen and cut out the pieces in the pattern straight on the grain (to avoid too much stretch). If you have a particular large or small head, you may want to adjust accordingly.

4. Tie the umbinderlein around the head (or headform) at the hairline, tying it in the back. This provides stability. I use just a strip of linen cut on the grain, unhemmed. No one sees it but you.

5. Wrap the unterhauben around the head (or headform) in the same position at the umbinderlein, making note of how far it comes (or overlaps) at the nape of the neck. Now fold and sew in knife pleats at either end of the unterhauben so that it is at least two inches shorter than your head circumference measurement. I marked the general position of the knife pleats with blue dotted lines on the pattern. My knife pleats ended up being 2″ deep, meaning the finished length of the front edge was 23″ (originally 27″). The two inch shortfall is necessary to give you stretch room, as the unterhauben will stretch a bit under pressure.

6. Fold over the front edge (the edge with the knife pleats), sewing in a cord or braid as you do that. Center it along the front edge. Your ties are long because they will wrap around your head later. Place the unterhauben on your head (or head form).

7. Form your softened reeds or millinery wire into a circle or ovoid shape, depending on the look you’re trying to emulate. You want it larger than your head, but how large depends on your image source. They can be modest or enormous. Here are some images to guide you:

Portrait of Dorothea Kannengiesser Meyer by Hans Holbein the Younger (1516)

Portrait of Dorothea Kannengiesser Meyer by Hans Holbein the Younger (1516)

Woodcut of a trossfrau woman with a high-collar smock

Woodcut of a trossfrau woman




Note: If you don’t have reed or wire, you can simple make a round tube stuffed with padding. I have one like this and it works fine.

8. Once your reeds/wire are in the shape you like, begin padding it by wrapping the batting around the wire, make sure the edges overlap. When done, use the ties you cut to hold the batting in place, then twist your twine around the padded frame to keep it all together. Watch this video, also by Marion McNealy, to see how to pad and secure the wulst:

9. Place the finished wulst on the back of the head (or headform), under the unterhauben. Wrap the unterhauben around the wulst and pin it into place all around the wulst. Take the ties of the unterhauben and wrap them around and over the head, tying them on top. The video above shows how to do this very clearly.

10. Baste the unterhauben down to keep the wulst in place. Your unterhauben is now complete and the unterhauben and wulst together are often called the wulsthaube.

11. The schleier (veil) varies in length—generally longer for wealthier women, shorter for the lower classes. I did not include the veil in the pattern for this reason, but know that you’ll need linen or even silk that is at least 16″ long to cover your head (front to back), as the schleier usually sits lower on your forehead than your wulsthaube. There are several different ways to wear the schleier, three of which you can see in this video:

I like the long tail of the schleier when I am wearing upper class dress (like the picture at the top of this post), but otherwise it is just too cumbersome as you’re always keeping an eye on your tail and tucking it into your arm. So I’ve made a short version that I pinned into place in nice folds in the back, then cut and tucked up the tail, and sewed it all down — this allows me to just pull this little schleier on top of my wulsthaube wherever I am (often standing outside my van using my windows as a mirror) quickly and easily. Here’s what my little cut and sewn schleier looks like from the back:


Keeping all this on your head is sometimes a challenge. Braiding and pinning your hair properly makes a HUGE difference — that’s a subject for another post, but basically I braid it and wrap it over my head, then pin it in place. The umbinderlein also really helps — if it slides too much, you can also experiment with make it out of silk to see if it stays on your head better. I also find that tying my unterhaube ties in front of my braid, rather than in front of the wulst, helps keep it on my head. Wearing a tellerbarret on top also keeps it in place. If all else fails, pin the unterhaube down really well!

Steuchlein Resources:

As I said, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants here! In addition to the videos already linked, here are several excellent resources for making and wearing steuchlein and wulsthaube, as well as helpful research and images:

Post Note: I haven’t added photos yet of the process yet because when I originally made mine I took no photos. So I will make a new one and add photos later. If you really need something explained better, please post and I will reply or point you in the right direction!

German Split-Brim Beret Hat Tutorial

Genoveva-Split-Brim-Beret-TOne of the iconic German hats seen in paintings and woodcuts is an oversized, brimmed hat with cuts/overlaps in the fold of the brim. They appear frequently in Cranach paintings, for example. To my knowledge this hat has no name, so I’m naming it the German Split-Brim Beret! Knitted versions of this hat, or ones very like it, appear in the Germanishces Nationalmuseum, but judging from the paintings some of them are made out of velvet or felt as well, which is what this tutorial shows. In many ways, this is a just large flat cap with a wide brim that is flipped up. Here’s a very quick and dirty tutorial on how to make a German Split-Brim Beret for one of my readers who needs to make one TODAY to wear this weekend. Plus, today is my birthday and I took the day off from work and dashing off a quick tutorial was a fun treat for myself.

German Split-Brim Beret Tutorial:

  • Velvet, Heavy Felt, or Heavy Wool (no wimpy materials) — the color you see this hat in the most often is RED!! I only picked brown because I had a heavy brown velvet and I wanted it to match my pink and brown gown.
  • Iron-on interfacing (not period) or some sort of glue stiffener (more likely period)
  • Two dozen ostrich feathers (optional)
  • Thread, needle, scissors, chalk
  • My Split-Brim Hat Pattern


German Split-Brim Beret Steps:

1. Cut out your pattern pieces from your hat material. You need four brim pieces and one crown piece from your hat material, plus two brim pieces from your iron-on interfacing. If you decide not to use the interfacing to essentially meld the two pieces of brim material together, this is possible but you’ll need to take more care when making your cuts in the brim later on (the cuts are optional, however).

2. Iron the smaller brim pieces to the larger brim pieces, wrong sides together, centering the smaller one inside the larger one. The 1/2″ edge where one piece is longer than the other piece will be called the margin from this point forward.


4. Fold over your brim pieces into a trapezoid shape with the longer margin facing out. The wider edge of the trapezoid is the top and the narrower edge is the bottom from this point forward.


5. Sew the two side edges of a brim piece closed along the narrow margin edges (stay at the edge of the margin where there are two layers, not four layers), then turn it inside out. I marked the place you should sew with a red dotted line on the pattern. Repeat with the other brim. You should now have two brim pieces with three finished sides and one unfinished side along the bottom.


6. Now take your crown piece and turn it wrong side up. Using chalk, mark the circle into four equal parts. You’ll use these marks as reference points when you pin in the next step.


7. Pin half of the crown edge to the bottom of one of the brim pieces, right sides together, pleating the crown as necessary to allow it to fit on the brim. That 1/2″ margin at the bottom edge of your brim pieces is there to help you pin and to avoid unnecessary bulk that makes it hard to sew. Do the same with the other side of the crown circle and the other brim. Note that you want the ends of the two brims to overlap slightly, which both hides the edges and gives the hat it’s proper look.


8. Sew the crown to the brim where you pinned it in step 6. I used a sewing machine, but you could do it by hand, of course.

9. Turn the hat right side out and flip up the brim. Now cut the brims halfway down each side from the top down about 1-2″ depending on your preference. Refer to paintings, such as this one of the Saxon princesses, for placement and depth.


10. Curl your ostrich feathers. I did this by gently bending the spine of an ostrich feather over the edge of the dull back of a table knife, starting at the bottom of the feather. I walked the moved up the spine, bit by bit, gently bending and pressing the the feather against the blunt edge with my thumb. This makes a series of small dents. Avoid deep cuts or creases, which might cause your feather to break.

11. Place the feather spine stems in between the brim and the crown, so they curl over the outer edge of the hat, and sew down.

Voila! You have a hat. Note that the hat was oversized on me on purpose — the hat had to cover my goldhaube and it sits at a pretty drastic angle on my head.


German Renaissance Costume Re-creations


GermanRenRecreationsI’ve been very busy with work lately but I’m itching to blog, so a short blog post must suffice. Thus, I am sharing some of my favorite photos of 16th c. German costume re-creations with you, as I’ve lately been working with others to help them make their own costumes. These are all photos taken by me over the years. This is less about authenticity and more about enthusiasm for making and wearing this wonderful clothing! These photos are of me, my family, and my friends! Click each picture to view the full size photo and please feel free to share and pin these photos. Enjoy!


Gwenllian, Beatrix, and Genoveva in their Germans


Master Konrad at the German American Festival

Master Konrad at the German American Festival


Showing you how to hike up your skirts when it’s raining, muddy, or hot!



My mother in her first German dress


Sweet mother and daughter


Master Max’s awesome waffenrock


A few of the 30 tellerbarrets I made for an event


Pretty Azriel and handsome Fearghus at Max’s elevation


Even my doll gets German clothing!


Staying warm in his wool coat and fur hat


Me wearing my zopfe (fake braids) in a style reminiscent of a Saxon princess
































Here’s all the photos in a handy thumbnail grid to help you find something easier:

Trio-Of-German-Ladies German-Mother-Daughter IMG_7518 gaf2
TealGermanDress gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
gaf2 gaf2 gaf2 gaf2
IMG_3030 lederwams-gregor genoveva-skirts genoveva-zopfe


I really want to add more photos to this collection! So don’t be surprised if I ask you if I can take a photo (or share your photo).

My Pleatwork Frame: An Exercise in Experimental Archaeology

Necessity really is the mother of invention. Or in this case, maybe a re-invention. When I was working on the Dorothea Meyer hemd earlier this year, I reached a point where I was pinning the pleated linen to a board, like this:


Pinning it allowed me to position each set of pleats the proper distance from each other, which was really important in achieving Dorothea’s hemd design. Once they were pinned, I realized I needed to get to the pleats from the OTHER side (the pins were in my way), and it would be ever so helpful if the pleated linen just sort of hung there, allowing me to view the drape of the fabric as well. I turned the linen around and tried to hang it off a wooden box I had, when suddenly this image appeared in my head:


Here’s a closer look:


This image is from Furm oder model büchlein, a 16th century modelbook. I and others have long thought that the woman was using it for some sort of pleatwork, based on the way the fabric appears to be pleated at the top and how it drapes on the frame. I hadn’t been sure how it would work, but now I had an idea based on a real need.

So I asked my partner Gregor to build me a frame based on my specifications. I wanted it to be wide enough that a pleated ell of fabric would fit neatly in it, I wanted the bar of the frame to be about eye-level when seated, and I wanted the bar to be removable for positioning and storage. Here’s what he made me:


The top bar unbuckles to allow it to come off completely:


The bar has brass nails which Gregor filed down so they were smooth like pins.


I then used the pleating frame to hold my hemd while I worked on it the front section, and it worked well. I didn’t overtension the stitches and I could see how the linen and cords flowed.

I brought the frame to Pennsic these last two weeks (it comes apart to pack flat) and had it on Artisan’s Row for Pleatwork/Smocking.


The frame made it very easy for people to try their hand at pleatwork, too. Here’s a practice pleated piece I whipped up while at Pennsic (the white linen) besides a piece I worked on without the frame that suffers from tension issues (the gold linen).


Is it how 16th c. Germans would have used a tool like this? I am not sure without having more information, such as more illustrations or accounts of use of similar tools. I can only say it is working well for me so far.

That said, I think it is possible that the business end of the frame looked and worked differently. I can envision rows of movable pins that allow one to place linen on and then slide along a track to effectively fold and pleat the material for stitching. The problem with that idea is that it would require a longer frame in order to pleat even a moderate amount of fabric, so I’m not so sure it makes sense. If I come up with an idea on how to do it, however, I will try it! If anyone out there has an idea, please share it here.

German Wams Pattern Based on the Alpirsbach Doublet Find

My son needs a new wams (doublet). He’s been happily wearing two doublets for the past three years, but they were made from commercial patterns and it’s time to see if he’ll go for something more historically accurate (he’s nearly 10 years old, so the days of dressing him in clothing he does not like are over). And I just so happen to have information on an extant linen doublet, originally made for a boy about 10-14 years old — the doublet was found in Alpirsbach monastery and dates to 1540–75. Perfect!

Based on the original pattern, I’ve drafted a new pattern for my son’s measurements. I am not making this a tight-fitting garment, however — there’s definitely room to grow here so he can (hopefully) wear it for several more years.

wams-doublet-patternClick image to see a larger version.

The information on this extant doublet comes from the “Textil- und Lederfunde” (Textile and Leather Finds) article by Ilse Fingerlin, which was printed in Alpirsbach Zur Geschichte von Kloster und Stadt.Herausgegeben vom Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Württemberg. 2 Textbändeund 1 Bildband in 2001. I translated the relevant part of the article here (forgive any mistakes):

The textiles and leather from the second half of the 16th century found at Alpirsbach, discussed below, fall into the time of the Protestant monastery school. Understanding the nature of the finds is not as simple, however. The measurements have played an important role, such as the small sizes of the garments and the small shoe length. This evidence suggests they were most likely made for a 10-14-year old boy. The doublet (Cat. No. 25; Fig. 815, 816) seems very small, but one may assume the same scale that we use today. From the mid-17th century, a boy costume trousers and jerkin is handed down from the John L. Nevinson and it was assumed that the wearer was three to four years old(154). The back length is 25.4 cm, with a waist circumference of 45 cm. Therefore, the assumed age would already have to be revised upwards because in the 16th to the second half of the 18th century, boys under the age of five wore long skirts like the girls. Only after the age of one do the boys dress in pants like the adults.

Far closer to the Alpirsbacher a doublet digging and from the parish church Kirchberg in northern Hesse. There, a sleeveless leather doublet (goller) was recovered in grave 22, with the Dietrich Hundt (died on November 9, 1612) was clothed. The anthropological determination gave an age of eleven to twelve years. The front length is measured consistently with Alpirsbach 30 cm, the back length results on Kirchberger copy was only 27 cm, because there is no collar. The waist on the Alpirsbach find is 57 cm, and the 58 cm waist on the Kirchberg find is similar. On the boys’ doublet from the Crypt of Lauingen, the length 25 cm. It is difficult it is to estimate the proportions of children’s clothes with a small bodice shirt fragment of linen. The intact long sleeve measures 32 cm, the length of the bodice only 18.5 cm. The age determination with a one year is certainly too low.

Resizing up to adult sizes, we move the numbers for the back length to 36-43 cm, and the difference in the waist circumference becomes even more glaring at 84-95 cm.

The doublet of Alpirsbach remains sewn together as an intact garment. It is made of linen fabric, woven in plain weave and has coarser material from the same weave as a lining. This suggests that it is outerwear, which is not typical earlier in the 15th century. Only at the end of the century look has become so well away from home, yet 1503 is on sale in the Bernese Chronicle “in bloss hosen und wammes gon, das ein gross schand was gsin (160)”. During this time a tight-fitting garment that reached almost to the waist was usually worn. At the bottom of the doublet were eyelets that connected the doublet to the pants with cords. The center front has a deep V-shaped neckline haven (Fig. 708) or a front half overlapping, are closed at the side and on the shoulder. In addition to the long-sleeved version, there were mentions of “goller” without sleeves. Both were seen with the same cut and thus we can compare original and pictorial representations.

Here are photos of the extant doublet:

linen-doublet-back linen-doublet-front linen-doublet-detail

This is just the pattern — now I must make the doublet itself. I will likely leave off the full sleeves — my son doesn’t like them much and that will be more comfortable for him in the hot weather of Pennsic anyway. I may attach very short sleeves, or just sleeve caps, like this:

Detail from the miniature of Caspar Stromayr (1559)

Detail from the miniature of Caspar Stromayr (1559)

I will use linen. I probably will not point the waistband, as my interest in historical accuracy does not extend to helping my son tie and untie his points every time he uses the facilities (you know that’s going to happen). Also, trim is going to be an issue — my son likes to bling up his doublets and this doublet had no trim (that we can see, at least). We’ll see if I can convince him to tone it down a bit.

January 2015 Update:

I made my son’s wams and I think it turned out VERY well. The wams are blue wool with a gold linen lining. As predicted, he wanted no sleeves — but I added sleeve caps at least. I did add the hidden band with the lacing holes in it to help him old up his hosen — they are so high waisted that it’s really necessary, at least in the back. He’s comfortable and there’s a touch of room for growth. I call it a resounding success.


Butter and Snow: My Son’s 16th c. German Cooking Entry at Kingdom A&S

regional-butter2My son Alexander (9) is a very creative kid who really enjoys the arts and sciences aspect of the SCA. He adores teaching, but also likes making things for A&S displays. Last year he displayed his wax candle clock at It Takes My Child to Raze a Village and became the Youth A&S Champion. That sparked him to ask about entering the competition that I do, namely the Middle Kingdom Regional and Kingdom A&S Competitions. A little research revealed that youth could indeed enter, so off he went to consider his options.

green-leaf-awardOriginally Alexander wanted to make another type of clock, but we determined the skills needed were a bit beyond his abilities at this time. He then switched to dishes he could make (he loves to cook) and began researching 16th century German cookbooks. He found a recipe for “snow” (a sweetened, diluted whipped cream) online, and since he was going to make that, why not make butter too? And that was that … he experimented with ways to make butter (shaking/churning) and together he and Gregor made a wooden dasher (plunger) for an existing wooden bucket we had. He’s made a LOT of butter (unsalted and honey). He entered his butter at It Takes My Child to Raze a Village again this year and became the Youth A&S Champion again, as well as the recipient of the Green Leaf (an A&S award that recognizes potential in young artisans).

butter-churningThis year at Pennsic Alexander will be teaching a youth/family class on how to churn butter — participants in his class will use mini butter churns to make and take their butter back to their camps. His butter class is on August 4th at 2:00 pm in A&S tent 11 — here’s the description: “Come learn how to churn butter from simple cream. Participants will use a mini-churn to create their own batch of butter to take back to their camp, plus also get the opportunity to help churn a larger batch in a wooden churn that everyone can sample. Prepare to get a wee bit messy. Material fee of $3 covers mini-churn and cream to make the butter.”

Alexander did very well at both Regional and Kingdom A&S — he made improvements in between (i.e., he tried churning his butter for a longer period to see what would happen) and gained proficiency in presenting his project to his adult judges. Youth do not receive scores or awards, but that did not distract nor deter him. Alexander, and many children like him, just want to be taken seriously by adults despite the fact that their skills are developing. Isn’t that true of all of us, really? I’m very grateful that we have this avenue of expression for him, and grateful for his judges — you were thoughtful and encouraging while still offering him real feedback.

We encouarge parents to let their kids to try their hand at entering an A&S display or competition, too! Here are some tips:

  • Let your child make want they want, within their skill levels, even if you don’t think it will garner rave reviews from judges — your child needs ownership of their project and they will learn from the judge’s comments.
  • Encourage your child to do most, if not all, of the tasks associated with their project within their skill levels. Alexander helped make his tools, went shopping with me, did all his own churning, wrote the meat of his documentation (see below — I did not correct his mistakes), and most of the cleaning (though admittedly I cleaned the bucket because it was usually past his bedtime by the time he’d finished churning).
  • Let your child do the talking to their judges. At regional, I simply sat in a chair behind Alexander and provided proximity support without any talking — your child may not even need this. At Kingdom, I came and went. I think it’s important they present their project to their judges themselves, as this is a big aspect of the competition.
  • Stress the value of setting a goal and entering the competition, rather than winning an award. Alexander did get a certificate, but mostly I think he just liked hearing his name called in court and being RECOGNIZED.

If you have questions about a youth entry in a Midrealm A&S competition, feel free to contact us!

Alexander’s A&S Documentation for Butter and Snow (click the link to view the actual PDF or read the text of it below).

16th c. German Snow and Butter

by Alexander von Lübeck

Division V: Cooking Single Dish (Youth Entry)

What I Made:
Butter, Honey Butter, and Snow

How I Made It:
butter #1
this butter is made by a butter churn.
this is how the butter churn works.
there is a stick then 2 planks in a x shape with holes on the stick and its in a bucket.
you pull it up and down.(for 30 mins).

butter #2
butter is simple to make, you can make yourself with cream and shake’n.
put it in a jaw and shack for 2 mins. and wait 2 mins. and repeat…

honey butter — its just honey in butter

snow is the german translation for slightly wipped cream.
you put cream in a bowl with a little water (4 parts cream to 1 part water) and stir with a eggbeater. put on bread then sprinkle with sugar.

Who Would Have Eaten It?
16th century German people

Recipe for Snow
from Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin, 1553

The Welser were members of the mercantile patriciate of Augsburg, international mercantile bankers and venture capitalists on a par with the Fugger and the Hochstetter. The manuscript was edited by Hugo Stopp and published as Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin. (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag) 1980. It is one of a very few primary sources for the history of German cuisine.

55 To make snow

Dilute cream and put it in a pot. And take an eggbeater and stir it thoroughly, until it forms snowy foam on top. And toast a Semmel (bread roll) and lay it in a bowl and sprinkle sugar over it and put the foam on the bread, then it is ready.

Ain schne zú machen

Nitz ain milchram vnnd thú den jn den haffen/ vnnd nim
ain klúxen vnd rier jn dúrchainander, bis es ain schne oben
gewint/ vnnd bee ain semel vnnd legs jn ain schissel vnd see
daraúff ain zúcker vnnd thú den schom aúff das brot, so jst es berait.

Dorothea’s Pleatwork Hemd Smock Tutorial: Pleats, Pleats, and More Pleats — Part 2

hemd-part-twoWelcome to part 2 of the tutorial on re-creating Dorothea’s pleated hemd from her 1515 portrait by Hans Holbein. In part 1, you cut out your linen, attached the top several inches, made your gathering stitches, and pleated your fabric to the measurement of your neckline. What’s next? More pleats … and SECURING those pleats!

Taking a closer look at Dorothea’s hemd, you can see that the front section’s pleats extend further down. Based on my estimations (i.e., measuring her clavicle bones and determining average distance in females), I think the front pleated section is 27 cm. wide by 7.5 cm long. You’ve already done 2.5 cm, so we just need to pleat 5 more cm down and 27 cm across.

So let’s resume the tutorial at step 9 (steps 1-8 are in part 1):

9. Line the gathering grid up along the top edge of your fabric starting at one side of the front section. Make sure the first dots line up with the stitches already completed. I used pins, pushed through the holes in the grid and then pushed through the last stitches in the fabric, to line up my grid and keep it in place.


10. Now mark the three orange lines as well as the four blue lines (seven lines in total) along the full 108 cm of the front area.

11. Sew the same gathering stitch (this time using seven threads for the seven lines) along the top section. When done, wet the linen and pull the stitches to pleat the fabric. Pay special attention that your pleats are nice and neat.


12. Measure the front pleated section to see if it is now 27 cm in width; if not, adjust your gathering threads and pleats until it is exactly 27 cm. When the front pleated section is 27 cm in width, knot the edges of your threads very well to keep it from changing size.


13. Now measure the entire pleated hemd neckline and compare it to your own neckline measurement. If it is smaller, evenly spread out the other pleats (not the front pleats) just enough so that the circumference of the pleated neckline equals your neckline measurement. If it is larger, pull the threads of the other pleats tighter to reduce the size. Pay attention to spacing of pleats and try to get them as even as possible. Now knot the ends of the threads so that the neckline does not widen as you work on it. Leave the threads in.

14. Now we need to secure the pleats, as the gathering threads are not strong enough to hold them forever. Take your casing strip and sew the two ends of it together so it matches your neckline measurement (I recommend another flat felled seam).

15. Fold over the top and bottom edge of the casing strip by 1/2″ then iron so it keeps the fold. Now fold the top edge down again by 1″ and iron. While ironing, add a gentle curve to the band by wetting one edge and pulling it while ironing it.


16. Place the folded casing strip over the top edge of your hemd so that the pleats are covered by the strip (you want to be able to feel the top of the pleats nestling in the crease of the casing strip fold). You want .5″ on the outside and about 1.5″ on the inside. Position the casing strip so the seam is in an inconspicuous position, either centered along the back edge or (my preference) matching one of the back sleeve seams. Pin in place.


17. Stitch the front edge of the casing strip to each pleat using a whip stitch. Yes, that’s a lot of tiny stitches. Do your best to stitch the casing strip straight along the pleats — use the gathering stitches as a guide for keeping your casing strip in the right position.


18. Sew a stem stitch along the bottom of the pleated area (so where the third orange line appears on the grid). If you don’t plan to attach trim, using gold metallic thread; but if this will later be covered, white thread is fine. I put the stem stitch on the outside of my hemd, because I wanted the gold metallic thread to show. You could put it on the inside if you were using white thread, but honestly, I think all those stitches are nice to look at it and I’d still the stem stitches on the outside. Either is period appropriate, however. This stem stitch should go around the entire circumference of the hemd, even along the front pleated area.


19. Now sew the back edge of the casing strip to the underside of the hemd — again use a whip stitch and sew through each pleat.

20. Sew two more rows of stem stitches in the front pleated area — one at the second blue line and one at the fourth blue line from the top of your grid. You could, of course, sew stem stitches at every blue line, which is what I think I see on Dorothea’s hemd. I chose to only sew the two because I was using metallic thread and I liked how it looked better like this. It’s also fine to just use white thread here as well.

I will stop again at this point. Right now the top of your hemd is more or less complete — the silk cords are purely decorative (don’t worry — I’ll get to those). But the body and sleeves are undone. Let’s make your hemd wearable in part 3!

Dorothea’s Pleatwork Hemd Smock with Cord Tufts and Tassels: Pattern & Gathering Tutorial — Part 1


When I began my adventure down the rabbit hole to 16th century Germany, the first image that really captured my interest was Dorothea Meyer in her 1515 painting by Hans Holbein. Her intricately pleated hemd (smock/shirt) with the little tufts and tassels was just fascinating to me. I set out then to learn how to pleat linen (what we mundanely call smocking), but it was a long journey. Along the way, I made four pleated hemds and three pleated aprons — plus wrote a research paper, “Techniques of 15th and 16th Century Pleated Undergarments” (to be published online soon) — all in my effort to understand what Dorothea was wearing and how to make it properly. I finally found the tenacity to try my hand at the hemd, and I’m delighted to say it is now finished! I entered the hemd into our regional arts & sciences faire this past weekend and it received a first place award and my highest score to date (28.86/30). Much more importantly, I’m very pleased with how it turned out!

Would you like to make Dorothea’s hemd, too? Of course you would! First, you need some material, tools, and a pattern:


  • Three yards of medium-weight linen (go for a high thread count, if you can afford it)
  • 10 spools of white silk thread (I used Guttermann’s from Joanns)
  • 1 spool of gold silk thread (also Guttermann’s)
  • 1 spool of DMC metallic thread


  • Scissors,
  • Tape measure
  • Awl, large needle, or fabric marking pen
  • Needle (long milliners and tapestry)
  • Water
  • Gathering Grid printed on card stock without any resizing
  • Time (I estimate it took me 85 hours from start to finish — your mileage may vary)


Below is my pattern for a low-neck smock, which is my best guess on the construction of Dorothea’s hemd (without the actual hemd, I cannot be 100% sure). This is a deceptively simple shirt construction, created based on my experience with period cutting methods, extant garments, and study of the Holbein painting. The shirt is constructed of four rectangular panels (front, back, and two sleeves), plus a gusset under each arm (as shown to the right). The four panels join one another in a circle, creating a large neckline to pleat down to the required size. And like several extant garments (including a 1575 garment in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), the shirt has neither shoulder straps nor armscye; the sleeve tops become part of the neckline. There are gussets under the arm, adding extra room where it is most needed. The shaping of the shirt is the result of the pleating.

Size: This pattern should fit most adults, as the smock is not form-fitting. It will produce a neckline that is 43.5″/110cm when finished. The sleeves are 28” (71cm) wide, which is the period loom width. The front and back are twice this amount (56”/142 cm) wide (but as you have access to modern 55” fabric, you can simply use the full width of it rather than piecing it). It’s important to use all this material, even if you are a slender person, so that you can get enough pleats into your neckline. If you are very small or really abhor all the material, do this: measure your neckline where you want your finished smock to lie (use Dorothea’s portrait as a reference as to position). Divide your measurement by 43.5″/110cm — the result is the percentage at you can cut out your fabric.

Sleeves: You’ll also want to pay attention to your arm length and be sure it is long enough for you. You want longer sleeves than you might expect so that your material can puff out in any slashed/paned garments you wear (your pleated wristband will keep the sleeve from falling down your arm). My shoulder-to-wrist measurement (point of your shoulder and along the slightly bent arm to the wrist) is 23″ — if your measurement is longer, cut longer sleeves.

Rise: You could also make the hemd longer, if you wished — I chose to keep this knee-length so that it would not show when I kirtled (hiked up) my skirts.

PDF pattern file: low-neck-hemd-pattern.pdf


1. Cut out your linen according to the pattern. Pay particular attention to cutting your linen straight on the weft — I used this technique for squaring up my linen.

IMG_5748Drawing a thread so I can accurately cut my linen straight on the weft

2. Sew the top 3-8″ inches of the hemd together, as shown below. I used a flat felled seam, but a French seam would also be fine here. (I did the top 8″, but you could do a bit less if you are a very small person. Do at least 3″ — you can always go back later, try it on, and sew longer seams.)


3. Identify the center front point at the top of your hemd and place a pin in it to mark it. From the centerpoint you marked, measure out 54 cm. along the fabric to either side and place a pin to mark. This gives you a 108 cm. marked area on the front. This will eventually become the front pleated area.

4. Print the Gathering Grid PDF — be sure to print it on card stock and do NOT resize it when printing.

hemd-gathering-gridThis is what the grid looks like — be sure to print from the PDF version, not this JPG version.

5. Using the Gathering Grid, mark three lines of dots at each orange crosshatch point at the top edge of your smock. I recommend starting this at the left edge of the front area (so just where the front area ends). You can mark these lines using a large needle or awl (place the fabric in front of you, line the top edge of the grid up along the top edge of fabric, and use a needle or awl to prick the fabric through the grid), or you can use a fabric marking pen (pre-punch the grid with an awl, place the fabric in front of you, line the top edge of the grid up along the top edge of fabric, and poke the tip of your fabric marking pen through the grid). For now, marked just one grid’s length of fabric.

IMG_5702I used an awl to mark my fabric — it worked very well and did not tear or harm my linen fibers (you should test your fabric first, however).

IMG_5707Here’s what my fabric looked like after marking.

6. Take your white silk thread and cut off a long length (about two yards — yes, it’s very long), thread a milliner’s needle, double the thread, and knot it at the end very well. Now begin stitching with a running stitch, using each mark or dot as your guide. In and out, in and out. When you get to the end of the marked section, leave your thread in your needle (do not cut it), tuck it somewhere out of your way, and repeat with a new needle & thread for the next row, and then again for the third row. When your running stitches are completed for this section, it will look something like this:


7. Now wet the fabric slightly (a mist from a spray bottle works great) and pull on the three silk threads to gather and fold the fabric evenly. You may need to tug slightly on the fabric to get the folds neat. Allow the fabric to remain in this position until it dries.


Note: Not all linen is the same, and your ability to fold your linen may differ from my experiences. If you find your linen does not fold neatly, even when wet, ungather the fabric carefully (keep your threads in place), and stitch two new lines in between the existing three lines, following the same stitches in the same places. This gives your fabric two additional points at which to pull and gather, resulting in cleaner folds.

8. Repeat steps 4-6 going around the top of your hemd, stitching, gathering, and folding. Stop when you get to the starting edge of your front area. It’s very important to watch your stitching as you go to make sure it lines up with each other — if it does not, you must unstitch and fix it. So check frequently to avoid time-intensive fixes.

This is the end of part 1 — these first steps will keep you busy for a while. Watch for part two next, which will cover the pleats in the front, the attachment of the casing strip, and the stem stitches to secure your pleats. Questions? Comments? Please post them here and I’ll respond back!