Drawn Thead Work: The Hemstitch (Tutorial)


Tisbe by Hans Baldung Grien, 1530

Drawn thread work likely began in the 16th century and was popular in Italy, Germany, Sweden, and England. I discovered it while researching pleated aprons and I theorize that some German aprons utilized drawn thread techniques based on imagery. Drawn thread work can be seen in a simple form on the 1567 Nils Sture shirt (in the Cathedral Museum) and in a much more elaborate forms beginning at the tail end of the 16th century. Drawn thread work is also sometimes referred to as cutwork, pulled thread work, Punto Tirato, or whitework.  The defining technique of drawn thread work is that some warp and or weft threads are drawn (removed) from the fabric.

The simplest form of drawn thread work is the hemstitch, which is both pretty and practical. The hemstitch allows you to hem at the same time you decorate the edges of your fabric, which makes it so much more fun than a standard hem. Here’s how you do it:

1. Prepare your linen by squaring up your edge(s) evenly on the grain. This is typically done by drawing one thread very near to the edge and then cutting off the excess (here’s my tutorial on how to square linen). In this tutorial, the warp threads are the horizontal threads and the weft threads are the vertical threads on the fabric shown in the photos.


Squared linen

2. Calculate the width of your hem (1/8″ or 1/4″ is typical), multiple that number by 3, and mark that point at the corner of one edge. For example, if I want to make a 1/8″ hem, I measure 3/8″ from both edges at one corner and mark it clearly.


3. At the point you marked in step three, gently cut one warp thread — and only one thread — as shown below. You can use small, needle nose scissors as I do, or you can use a seam ripper.


4. Gently tug the warp thread you cut (it may help to use tweezers here) until the fabric gathers along most of the edge, but do not pull it out yet. Stop pulling when you see the material gathering or tugging about 1/2 inch from the opposite corner.



5. Following the tugged thread all the way to the other corner, measure the same distance you marked in step 2 (i.e., 3/8″), find the point at which your tugged thread meets that point, and snip it.


6. Pull the thread out along the full length of your fabric.


Tip: Most linens you can buy today have rather weak threads that tend to break while pulling, which leads to frustration and fuzzed threads in your linen. If you encounter this problem, try pulling out shorter sections of thread by snipping the tugged thread at intervals along your fabric. The easiest way to do this is follow the tugged thread and then use something like a needle to pull it up a bit (as shown below), then insert your scissors and snip. Now you can pull that thread and it is less likely to break midway.


7. If you wish to remove more warp threads, which I recommend for this tutorial, snip the warp thread(s) at the two ends just above where you removed your first warp thread and pull out the thread(s). It’s much easier to remove threads once you’ve got the first one out. For this tutorial, I removed 8 threads.


8. If you plan to hem the other sides(s), you should also snip the same number of threads going in the other direction. For now, you can snip them at the bottom and allow them to stay to pull later.


9. Fold your hem twice so that the top edge of it is in line with the bottom edge of pulled threads, as shown in the photo above. Press the hem with your fingers and it’ll likely stay in place without pins.

10. Prepare a needle with waxed thread and knot the end. Insert the needle in the hem, just to the left of the area without any warp threads. Pull the needle through the fabric, making sure the knot stays in the fold of the hem.


11. Place your needle behind several of the warp threads. For this tutorial, I recommend exactly six threads.


12. Pull the needle through to the front, making sure to keep the thread toward the bottom of the hem as shown below.IMG_9639

13. Insert the needle again as you did in step 11. Notice how I am holding thethread toward the bottom with my thumb.


14. Pull the needle through and gently tighten the threads so that the weft threads are pulled tightly together at the base, but not so tight that the material bunches.IMG_9639

15. Insert your needle in behind the hem and out again to secure your hemstitch.


16. Now just repeat steps 11-15 across the full length of your fabric, like so:


Here is a diagram of this hemstitch:

Hemstitch (diagram copyright Genoveva von Lubeck)

Hemstitch (diagram copyright Genoveva von Lubeck)


This hemstitch is the most basic and I’ve heard it called the Mouse Teeth hemstitch. There are two other variations on this you can do. To make a ladder hemstitch, repeat the same stitching across the top of the pulled threads, like so:


Note: Rather than use a knot on the end of your thread when you begin this stitch, start by weaving your needle a bit through the threads above the area you’ll begin working with and then stitch over it as you go along. Later you can snip the end of the little tail and no one will be able to tell where you started. To end this stitch, weave your thread back through threads of the linen and completed stitches along the edge, then snip off.

To do the serpentine hemstitch, you repeat the same stitch across the top edge of the pulled threads but this time you stitch half of the threads from one bunch and half of the threads from the other bunch, like so:


To turn corners, snip the folds of the hem at the corner (to reduce bulk), then fold up the hem on the adjoining side, press with your fingers (or pin), and use a button hold or satin stitch around the corner square to secure it in place.

You can do hemstitch on as little as one pulled thread or as many as a dozen or more — it all depends on the look you want and the weight of your fabric. Hemstitching can be done without needing to be right on the hem, which means you can also stack lines of hemstitching for a more complex look. In the 1569 Nil Sture shirt shown below, you can see how there are three stacked lines of hemstitch, with the two outside lines being smaller (fewer threads removed) than the inside line.


Drawn thread work can get much more elaborate. If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend the free book, Drawn Thread Work in the Antique Pattern Library. You can download the full book as a PDF.

I will be teaching this hemstitch technique at least twice this summer. Once on Wednesday, June 17 at 1 pm at Lilies War (Grand Pavilion A). And again on August 5th at 2:00 pm at Pennsic War (A&S 3). Here is the handkerchief students can make in my class:


Here is a link to my class handout: Drawnwork-Hemstitch-Hankie-Handout

Pleatwork Guide: The Gather Method of Creating Pleats


[This is section 1.3 of my Pleatwork Guide. See the Introduction (Main Page) or the Table of Contents to learn more.]

The gather method of creating pleats involves sewing evenly-spaced running stitches in parallel lines to one another and then pulling the threads to gather the material into folds. This method is generally accepted as the most likely method of creating small pleats in linen in renaissance Europe. The gather method allows one to precisely control how wide and deep one sets the folds, allowing for the very fine folds seen in 15th and 16th century European portraiture.


A front view of parallel and even running stitches in fabric. (Illustration copyright Genoveva von Lübeck)


When the threads are pulled, the fabric gathers neatly, as shown below.


A top view of the evenly-stitched thread(s) pulling and gathering the fabric. (Illustration copyright Genoveva von Lübeck)

The tighter the threads are pulled, the tighter the fabric doubles upon itself, which you can see in the next illustration.


A top view of the evenly-stitched thread(s) pulled tightly and the fabric folded upon itself (Illustration copyright Genoveva von Lübeck).


While it is not essential that the stitches be evenly spaced in the running stitch, it is important to note that if parallel lines of stitches are used (for longer folds), the stitches must exactly mirror the parallel stitches below and/or above it in order for clean, straight folds to form when the fabric is gathered. If an uneven running stitch is employed (see fig. 6), the bulk of the fabric’s folds fan out on one side of the fabric (see next two images). This results in a less stable set of pleats that are later difficult to secure.


Uneven running stitches, paralleled and mirrored. (Illustration copyright Genoveva von Lübeck)


A top view of the thread(s) pulling and gathering the fabric in uneven running stitches. (Illustration copyright Genoveva von Lübeck)


A top view of the thread pulled tightly in uneven running stitches, with the fabric folded upon itself and the bulk of the fabric fanned out on one side. (Illustration copyright Genoveva von Lübeck)


While we cannot know for certain whether or not an uneven running stitch was employed in the 15th and 16th centuries, we can glean important information from Find 121 at Castle Lengberg (Nutz, 83). In Find 121, the top of the fabric, near the pleating, is pointed, as shown in the illustration below.


Author’s depiction of the pointed fabric from a pleated shirt at Castle Lengberg, based on the line drawing provided in How to Pleat a Shirt in the 15th Century (Nutz, 83). No photo of this pointed fabric in the extant garment has been located at the time of writing. (Illustration copyright Genoveva von Lübeck)


This may seem confusing until one considers the usage of this fabric and its context with the whole shirt. The pointed edge of the pleated fabric is encased in a fabric casing. One can theorize that the sempstress trimmed the edge of the pleated fabric before adding the casing, and if one compresses the fabric and cuts it at an angle (which is more likely to happen with the very large amount of fabric gathered in the pleats), the result is a zig-zag. The pointed edge would have also have minimized fraying. This theory was attempted with a piece of linen that has been tightly pleated and the effect was similar to Find 121 (see photo below).


Points formed after cutting the edge of pleated fabric at an angle.

While the pointed, zig-zag effect could come from a pinking tool, it does not seem likely as the points of the fabric correspond to the sharp edge of folds exactly in Find 121. What this pointed fabric could reveal is that the folds were densely and evenly folded when cutting, which would be significantly more likely with evenly-spaced stitches creating the folds than unevenly-spaced stitches. Additionally, the trimming strip attached at the top of the fabric of Find 121 employs evenly-spaced running stitches as well.

From the evidence available for Find 121 from Castle Lengberg, it is probable that a combination of the Gather Method and the Press Method of folding the fabric was historically used. The Gather Method may have been used to create the very tight and even folds, and then the Press Method may have been used to compress the folded fabric (perhaps while wet) with a slickenstone or a press to form the sharply-ridged pleats.

How to Mark the Fabric for the Gather Method

The most exact way to sew even running stitches that gather neatly is to mark your fabric first. Regardless of which method you use, always be certain your fabric is cut on the straight (warp or weft) by either pulling a thread or tearing the fabric. Here are as many different ways that I know at the time of writing:

1. AWL PRICK: Prick the fabric with something pointy, such as an awl, in an evenly spaced grid pattern. You can make your own grid pattern in the spacing you want, or use one of my pre-spaced grid patterns: 1 inch (very large and ideal for beginners), 3/4 inch, 1/2 inch, and 1/4 inch (the most historically-accurately size).

IMG_5702 IMG_5707

2. TOOL PRICK: Prick the fabric with a set of pointy things already fixed into with the grid pattern you wish. Mistress Milicent Vibbert created such a pleat marking tool from four toothpicks and a scrap piece of wood when she made her Saxon gown (view photo of her pleating tool). The advantage to this method is that no grid is needed –you can prick the first holes, and then move down the fabric setting the first set of pointy bits into the last set of holes and pricking a new set of holes. This way you can create an infinite number of evenly spaced holes. (Note: Milicent notes that her toothpicks were getting dull by the end of her project, so one may want to experiment with using tougher pointy bits, such as nails.)

Pleating tool

Photo copyright Grace Vibbert

3. PEN: Mark the fabric with a water-soluble fabric marking pen using an evenly spaced grid, like those linked in #1, with each dot pre-punched so the tip of your pen fits through. If your fabric is thin, you can place it over a grid, which should be visible through the thin fabric, and just mark it that way. You can view a video of me marking dots for gathering here. You can also just use a ruler to mark your dots. [Note: As fabric-soluble pens did not exist in the 15th and 16th centuries, this would not be a historically accurate method.]


4. CARBON: Using a carbon copy paper and a grid like those linked in #1, sandwich the carbon paper between your fabric and the grid. Now press on the dots on your grid to transfer the carbon mark to your fabric. [Note: As carbon paper did not exist in the 15th and 16th centuries, this would not be a historically accurate method.]

5. IRON ON: Iron on dots set in a grid pattern to the wrong side of the fabric. Such dots are available for purchase from smocking supply outlets. You can also make your own dots on a laser printer (not an inkjet printer) using just regular white copy paper then use an iron to transfer them to the wrong side of the fabric (the toner will transfer to your fabric dark enough to see). Note that toner is more or less permanent, though it may fade in time. Iron on dots should be able to be washed out. [Note: As iron-on transfers and toner did not exist in the 15th and 16th centuries, this would not be a historically accurate method.]

6. MACHINE MARK: You can use a Bernina (930 or old 1130), or another machine with the capability, to mark your fabric. To do this, starch your fabric then run it through the machine at a long stitch length, unthreaded, with a thick needle. (Method contributed by my friend Noel Gieleghem.)

How to Sew the Fabric for the Gather Method

There are variety of ways to sew the running stitches so you can gather your material into pleats.

A. MARKED: If you marked your fabric first, sew each row of holes/dots with strong, waxed thread, pushing your needle into the first hole/dot, pushing it out the next hole to the left/dot, pushing it into the next hole on the right/dot, and so on until you reach the end of the row*. Always work from right to left. Each row should be sewn with one length of thread only. Pull on all threads at once to gather the folds. [Note: I employed this method of the Dorothea Meyer hemd — see tutorial here.]


* There is an alternate method called “picking up the dots” where you push the needle on one side of a marked hole/dot and out the other side (see the fourth, fifth, and sixth illustrations at the start of this section above). This method results in an uneven running stitch, which may or may not work well for you as it produces a lopsided gather that is less stable. I do not use this method in my work as I prefer more precision. I do not currently have evidence that this method was used historically, but I haven’t ruled it out, either.

B. COUNTED: If you didn’t mark your fabric first, you can count the threads in your linen and sew your running stitches exactly straight on the grain and an exact number of threads from one another. Be sure each row of running stitches is one length of thread and one length only. When done, pull on all threads to gather the folds.

C. NEEDLE LENGTH: If you didn’t mark your fabric first, you can use your needle as a measuring tool to judge the distance between running stitches — you may wish to mark you needle with a pen or a piece of tape for a consistent distance each time. Be sure each row of running stitches is one length of thread and one length only. When done, pull on all threads to gather the folds.

D. EYEBALL: If you didn’t mark your fabric and aren’t concerned with your stitches being the same distance from one another, you can just eyeball the running stitches. It’s a bit messier, but that is sometimes fine for certain things. What’s most important with each subsequent and parallel row of running stitches line up with the previous rows so that when you pull the threads to gather the pleats they fold neatly.

E. MACHINE SEWN: You can use a pleater to sew the running stitches for you. A pleater is a non-electrical machine with a series of needles around a drum. You feed your material into the pleater, which inserts the running stitches for you. The pleater was invented in the late 1940s. [Note: I do not have a pleater and cannot attest to its usefulness in pleatwork, though many of my friends like them but warn that a pleater isn't always easy to use and it can be difficult to line the running stitches up with the grain. And as pleaters did not exist in the 15th and 16th centuries, this would not be a historically accurate method.]

My new baby

Read Pleater (photo copyright Nylh)

Am I missing any methods for marking or gathering? Let me know in the comments!

Regardless of which method you use, the gather method usually ends up looking something like one of these photos once you have gathered and pulled your threads:


1/4″ running stitch, gathered tightly (great for securing with stem stitches or casements)


1/2″ running stitch, not pulled tightly (great for securing with the honeycomb stitch)


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

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

Pleatwork Guide: The Press Method of Creating Pleats

In addition to folding pleats into fabric, you can also press them in using a variety of techniques.

No manual from the 15th or 16th centuries is known to exist that explains the press folding method of creating pleats, so it is unclear if the sempstresses of this era would have employed such a method to pleat their cloth. However, we can make some educated guesses based on the extant pleated fabric found in Castle Lengberg—specifically, Find 121 ( a section of pleats from a shirt sleeve cuff created in the late 15th century) was found to have a sharp pleat edge which may have caused the cloth to break along the edges of the linen as it dried over time (Nutz, 81). An edge sharp enough to break the linen fibers over time would likely need to be pressed into the linen with something like a smoothing or creasing tool, or perhaps a frame that tightly compressed wet fibers. One possible tool which could be used to fold the fabric is shown in the image below from the cover of Furm oder model büchleini, which depicts a frame with what appears to be pleated and secured (pressed or clamped) fabric. No extant frames which visually match this description are known to exist, however, so it is not clear how this tool functions (and I suspect it has an entirely different function in pleatwork–more on that later in the guide).


Detail from cover of Furm oder model büchlein


Another possibility for pressing the folds into the linen may have been the wooden or marble slickenstone (similar to the one shown below), or linen smoother, which was used to smooth creases out of damp linen after it had been washed and starched. The same tool that could remove creases would have been able to add creases if the fabric was damp and folded.


Slickenstone made from lignum vitae (Birmingham Museum, Accession No. 1965T669)


Recently I tried to construct a device that would press the folds into a piece of linen. It was a board made of ridges of wood, set at 45 degree angles, upon which you placed a piece of wet linen. Then a second ridged board was placed on top of the linen, perfectly matching the board below. The idea is that you would press the two boards together to create ridges in the fabric and as the linen dried the ridges would become more or less permanent folds and could then be sewn together to secure them. This experiment was a failure, however, because the tension of the fabric is so strong that it does not fold when the ridged boards are pressed into it. It’s possible that if the top set of ridges was made to be flexible that you could manipulate the fabric into the press better, but a flexible set of ridges seems a bit too unlikely for our ancestors to have fiddled with. I am still considering ideas for it, though.


My failed pleater board.


Update: Thanks to a reader (Sarah), I’ve since learned that the Egyptians liked to pleat their clothing. A finely pleated tunic is still in existence in the Louvre. It’s unknown how the Egyptians pleated their cloth, but one theory is that carved, ridged boards like this one at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (inventory 2691) may result in a pleats if wet, starched fabric is pressed onto it. It looks similar to my failed pleating press, except it is just one board, not two. Thus, I think my pleating press deserves more testing. This article on “Costume in New Kingdom Egypt” (Sasson, 1995) theorizes how Egyptians may have used this pleating press, and even comments that tests were undertaken with them.

There is another modern method of pressing folds into cloth, used today by couture fashion workers. They have a device called a Pleater (or Pleating Board / Pleating Press) which involves folding fabric (usually polyester) around a sort of flexible, accordion-style frame and then heated in some fashion (you can see it in action in this video). This doesn’t seem likely to be a 15th or 16th century practice because of the frame’s need to be flexible and the fact that this works best with man-made fabrics, but I thought it worthy of mention here for the sake of completeness. If this method is appealing, you can make one yourself with this tutorial.

Next up: The Gather Method of Creating Pleats
Previous: The Fold Method of Creating Pleats

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

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. I recommend you dampen your fabric to make it easier for it to keep the folds as you work (and this has the added advantage of keeping the folds better later because the fabric dried that way, too). 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

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.