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!

Paned or “Puff and Slash” German Sleeves: One Method For a Less Frayed, More Complete Look

paned-sleeve-tutorialPaned or “slashed” sleeves are seen on many German Renaissance garments. The simplest method of achieving this effect is to simply cut your sleeve material in straight lines (on the bias) and then bunch the fabric up onto your arm. I’ve done this with the red wool on my black tie-on sleeves. But, I wasn’t entirely pleased with it. The sleeve would slip down on my arm, unbunching, and was generally a nuisance. I’ve since attached some twill tape to the inside of the sleeve, near the seam line, to keep the  slashes bunched together, but it still is not ideal. Despite the fact that the wool is well-washed (so slightly felted) and cut on the bias, it still wants to fray enough to feel “messy” to me. None of the paintings show fraying. Maybe the artists didn’t paint it in, or maybe the slashes were more finished. It’s hard to say.

Since then, I’ve experimented with another way of creating this sleeve. Several of the paintings show outlines on either side of the panes, as if they are lined with another color of fabric. Some paintings also appear to have added the panes, rather than simply slashed them from the sleeve fabric. I’ve also seen at least one extant garment where the white undershirt is “faked” — a fabric panel was placed inside the panes to give the appearance of an undershirt. These observations have led me to this particular method of creating paned sleeves. It’s considerably more time consuming and labor intensive, but the results look very polished and you don’t have to worry about where your sleeve is at any given time. There’s no fraying, all panes are lined, and the “pouf” of the white fabric underneath is built in. I really quite like it and I pass it along to you in the event it is helpful.

What You Need:

  • Your sleeve pattern (with a sleeve cap patterned in)
  • Enough fashion fabric to make at least four sleeves
  • About a yard of a second, medium-weight contrasting fabric — avoid anything too light or too heavy
  • About a yard of white linen
  • Trim, braid, tape, or extra contrast fabric
  • Scissors, thread, needle

How to Make the Paned Sleeve:

1. Cut out four sleeves from your fashion fabric and two sleeves in a white, lightweight cotton or linen. Be mindful of where the front and back of your sleeve is, as a good sleeve pattern is not symmetrical. I like to make a mark on the fabric (to remind me later) when I cut if it’s not immediately obvious.

2. Take two of the fashion fabric sleeves (a left and a right) and cut them horizontally where your want your groupings of panes to appear. For example, it’s common to have three groupings — top of sleeve (sleeve cap), middle of sleeve (elbow), and bottom of sleeve (a bit above wrist area).SleevePattern2

3. Cut your sleeve segments into equally-sized vertical strips. I recommend they be between 1.5″ and 2″ in width, but in general you want to cut them a bit wider than you wish your finished pane to be. Note: For the top panes of a sleeve, you’ll find it more comfortable if you only have them on the sleeve cap, which means they won’t be under your arm. As that’s a bit more complicated, I’ll show how to do that in the photos below. Here you can see the top of my sleeve (the sleeve cap) plus some additional length, cut into 2″ strips.


You can see where this piece came from in the sleeve in this diagram:


4.  Now cut out a piece of your contrasting fabric (in my case, it was velvet) that is about 50% wider. Cut it into the same number of strips as you did in step 3, which means you should end up with slightly wider strips than your fashion fabric strips.


5. Put your fashion fabric strips on top of your contrasting fabric strips, right sides together.


6. Sew 3/8″ from the edge along one side of the strips:paned-sleeve-pane-sew

7. Turn the strip 180°, line up the unsewn edges of the strip, and sew down the other side:


Your sewn strip will have a D shape because the contrasting fabric is wider. Here’s a close-up view so you can see what I mean:


8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 to sew all the strips. Then turn them all right side out (watch my video to learn how my technique to do this if you do not have a tube turner). Iron them flat so that the contrasting fabric shows equally on either side.


9. Cut a piece of white, lightweight cotton or linen in the shape you want your panes to appear on your shoulder, plus 1/2″ for seam allowance (so you may keep a little bit under the arms as it will later be hidden/removed in the seam allowance). I like to put a curve in the sleeve cap as I think it looks more flattering than a straight line PLUS I’ve seen that in period portraits. We will call this the pane foundation. Here’s a diagram of what I mean:


10. Now cut out a piece of the same white fabric, but bigger and longer than your sleeve cap. This will become the pouf inside your panes. So the larger, the more poofier. For your sanity, I recommend you don’t go too big — it’ll be hard to fit it in. Here was my pouf panel.


11. Lay out your pane foundation and your pane poof on the table, then lay the middle pane on top, lining up top edges. If your fabric has a pattern, as mine did, be sure you’re putting the correct pane in the correct way! Now pin them together at the very top, just inside the seam allowance.


12. Continue laying your panes across the fabric, but pinch or fold the pouf panel fabric as you go and then pin the panes and panel down to the foundation. Your goal is to have a little extra fabric for each pane you place, so that the fabric wants to peak out from between the panes. Don’t fold too much in, or you won’t have enough when you get to the last pane on either end — you want at least a couple of inches left. Here are my panes with the pane fabric folded between them.


13. Flip all but the center pane out of the way, like in the picture below.


14. Fold or push up the white pouf fabric so that the bottom lines up with the bottom of your foundation fabric. Then position the pane where you want it sew the bottom edge down and pin in place. Your goal is to have your pane gently arc over the pouf. You may want to pin and experiment with how it looks on your sleeve before sewing down.


15. Continue pinning all panes over and through the pouf fabric and foundation fabric, remembering to fold/pinch the fabric slightly in between the panes as well.


16. If your panes will have multiple curves, pin your panes down how want them to ultimately appear, as I did in the photo below.


17. Now trim your panes so they are flush with the top and bottom edges of your pane foundation and sew where you’ve pinned.


18. Now position and pin the material you plan to edge your panes, such as a trim, braid, tape, etc. I made strips of fabric from the brown velveteen and put a simple chain stitch in gold thread on top of it.


19. Now position and pin the pane to your sleeve and sew down:

20. Repeat as necessary for any other paning, such as at the elbow or wrist (common places to see it). If you position paning lower on the sleeve, where it will go the full circumference of the sleeve, be sure to leave enough fabric at the edges (especially your pouf material) so that when you sew the seam on your sleeve, your paned section is seamed neatly with the pouf material overlapping but the panes not overlapping. This can be a little tricky, but if you leave enough material, you can fiddle with it until you get it right.

Here are pictures of various paned sleeves I’ve made so you can put all this into perspective:

Paned sleeves on my pink damask gown:





Paned sleeves on Baroness Katayoun’s saxon court gown:


Lower sleeve

Lower sleeve


Saxon court gown on my dress form (different size than gown)

Saxon court gown on my dress form (different size than gown)


Green sleeves for a lightweight linen camp dress (in this case, the panes are just narrow red linen tubes, ironed flat):



Pink and Brown 1515 Swabian Dekollete Gown

PinkDamaskBrownVelvet1515Several years ago I purchased 8 yards of beautiful pink damask fabric in 100% cotton. On a separate fabric buying trip, I found a lovely shade of brown velveteen, also 100% cotton. I held onto both, waiting for just the right way to use these yummy fabrics. Little did I know I’d wake up one morning with the bright idea to use the pink damask and brown velveteen TOGETHER to make a style of German dress I’d yet to try. The result was delicious! Gregor calls it my chocolate-covered strawberry gown.

The dekollete gown style is a bit unusual. We see the brustfleck (that’s the panel with the pearls across the chest) paired with an open-bodiced gown, popularized by Lucas Cranach paintings. But it’s much more unusual to see the brustfleck with a bodice that is lower cut yet still closed and with vertical guards below. Bernhard Strigel’s “Portrait of a Woman” (1510-1515) depicts a style similar to this, though the sleeves are plainer. So I was excited when I found examples of the brustfleck, low bodice, and slashed sleeves in a watercolor made by an unknown artist in 1515 Augsberg, Germany. Here is the inspirational watercolor:


Here’s a closer look at the women in the foreground:


Before I get into the specifics of the dress, I’d like to talk about the myth that “pink is not period.” Dear reader, if you think pink is not period, please allow me to attempt to change your mind. I addressed this issue back when I made my first garb years ago, too. Pink is easily achievable with period dyes, such as that made from madder root. The pink of my dress looks very much like a madder pink — it isn’t quite so bright nor deep as seen in the the photos on this page (it doesn’t photograph well). But, just in case you are in doubt as to whether German ladies enjoyed pink gowns, I point out this detail from the same watercolor shown above:


I color-corrected an image of the fabric to give you a better idea of how it appears to the eye rather than the camera:


Details of the Gown

The pattern for my pink and brown damask dress was adapted from my tried and true Dorothea Meyer gown (see pattern), with modified straps that came further in (closer to the neck) and a lowered dekollete neckline. I brought the straps in closer because the gown doesn’t appear to sit off the shoulder, as many of the other German gowns of this time period do, and the slashed sleeve cap is quite high up on the arm. The bodice is three layers — damask, cotton canvas, and linen lining — which are flatlined together to give a smooth, stable shape. The skirt is the same rectangular construction with 24 rolled pleats which follow the pattern in the damask (I actually tried 48 pleats first, but it did not look right).

The brustfleck is a band of brocade that is wide enough to lie under the bodice, which keeps it in place without the need for pins (though pins help to keep it from sliding down into the bodice over time). It is lined with white linen and has real pearls sewn on it — but I think it could use more pearls! I had a problem finding good, round pearls in consistent sizes, which made it heard to apply them in neat lines and curves (see my tutorial on applying them smoothly). The little red heart-shaped gem sewn in the middle of it was a token left for me at an arts and sciences display — thank you to whomever gave it to me!


The sleeves have paning at the top and the elbow, with a separate foresleeve and a velvet conical cuff. I’m writing up a tutorial on how to make paned sleeves in the manner I do, so watch for that!


The hat is made from the same brown velveteen. It’s essentially a large cap with a wide, two piece brim that is put up, sewn in place, and slashed a couple of times. I’m happy to go into more detail on the hat if anyone wants to know how I made it. The feathers are curled ostrich feathers — there are about a dozen, but I think it could use a dozen more. The cap underneath is my pearl and silk goldhaube that I made last year — this was my first opportunity to wear it with an appropriate style of gown.


Other side of the hat:


And here I am wearing it at Val Day on February 15:



I treat my gowns as unfinished works because I enjoy adding on to them later. Things I’d like to here include adding another brown velvet guard to the bottom of the skirt, making fancier foresleeves with paning, adding more pearls to the brustfleck, and more feathers to the hat. I also have some fixes: more hooks and eyes on the front of the bodice, shorter/tighter foresleeves (they kept wanting to slide down my arm even with a small tie at the elbow), and a repair to hem. Additionally, I think the velvet guard needs some training as it doesn’t like to curve along with the fabric — the velvet is actually pretty thick and heavy. Oh, and I need a fancy gold belt — Gregor is going to help with that.

I was inspired to get this gown finished by Val Day thanks to the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge, and here is the information for that challenge:

PinkDamaskBrownVelvet1515The Challenge: Pink!

Fabric: Damask and Velveteen

Pattern: One of my own creation

Year: 1515

Notions: Gold thread (sewn in a chain stitch around the sleeve bands), hooks and eyes, freshwater pearls

How historically accurate is it? As accurate as I can get based on my interpretations of available data, the modern fabrics (the damask and velvet would have been silk, not cotton), and that some seams were machine sewn (though there’s still a fair amount of hand sewing, too).

Hours to complete: About 30

First worn: February 15, 2014

Total cost: $200

If anyone has questions or just wants to chat about the style, time period, fabrics, or anything, please leave a message or get in tough with me — I love to talk German!

Did the Christmas Tree originate in Renaissance Germany?

xmastreeartistunknownRecently I set out to find the truth (or lack thereof) behind the infamous German Christmas pickle (Weihnachtsgurke) tradition. Never heard of it? Well, the story goes that Germans liked to hide a pickle in their Christmas tree and the first person to find it on Christmas morning would receive an extra present or good fortune in the new year. Here in Michigan, we have a town known as the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World. I don’t personally have one of these pickles, but I wanted to know the real history behind this interesting tradition.

As it turns out, I cannot find any evidence that the Christmas pickle was actually hidden in Christmas trees in Germany. It appears to be an American German (or perhaps American Dutch) legend/tradition. But, as it happens, I did discover something much more interesting … Christmas trees themselves may have originated in Renaissance Germany in the 16th, or perhaps even the 15th century!

Today the city of Strasbourg is located at the modern-day border of Germany and France, but in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. Strausbourg has always been known for its magnificent Christmas tree in the center of town, but how far back do Christmas trees go? In the town’s account of 1546, two men were fined 3 shillings because they “cut trees for Christmas.” The account book for 1549-1565 contains a ruling of the Town’s Council created on Wednesday Dec. 17, 1555: “Nobody is allowed to have a Xmas tree except with punishment.” And in January 1557, the forester of Kinsheim received “2 shillings to guard, and 2 shillings to cut Christmas trees.”

Need more proof? Let’s go back a bit farther. A guild of German merchants from Lubeck, Germany erected a house called the House of Blackheads in Riga. In the Blackhead’s Brotherhood Fraternity archives of 1510, there is detailed accounts of a winter tradition of a Christmas tree, and it refers to earlier  account of it 1476. The accounts mention that the tree was decorated with ribbons, dried flowers, straw dolls, and possibly fruit. There is a plaque in the square that read, “The First New Years Tree in Riga in 1510.” Now while this happened in Riga, which is in current-day Latvia, the custom was written down by Germans in Old German, so that’s still German to me.

There’s also the account of Martin Luther (1483-1546), who is erroneously credited with having the first Christmas tree. Clearly, he is not, but he may have popularized it. The story goes that Martin Luther was walking through the forest one day and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. The sight was so beautiful that he went home and put up a tree with candles in its branches for his children.

There are also accounts of a 1521 image that shows a tree being paraded through the streets with a man riding a horse behind it. The man is dressed a bishop, possibly representing St. Nicholas. I am still searching for an image that fits this description. The woodcut linked above is by an unknown artist.

The truth is that the Christmas tree’s origins are likely to be earlier in history, but are shrouded in mystery. There is a legend that Germanic tribes worshiped an oak tree that represented Thor. When Boniface (675-754), a Christian, cut down Thor’s tree and nothing bad happened, the people began to worship God instead. Boniface declared an evergreen tree to be the symbol of Christianity. I’ve heard varying versions of this legend, but as with many stories, there is probably a grain of truth in there.

What does seem clear (to me) is that tradition of putting up and decorating a coniferous tree around Christmas probably began in the Germanic region. It seems likely it evolved from other traditions, but in the end, it makes sense. A tree that remains green all year would have special significance in Northern Europe during the dark months of winter, especially around the winter solstice and its shortest day of the year (Dec. 21 or 22).

I have more research to do, and I’m sadly lacking primary source citations for anything here, but as I find them, I will add them. But for now, I must go out with my family and cut down a stout Christmas tree. I think we might even hide a pickle in it this year!

Enjoy your tannenbaum and happy holidays!

When I Don’t Know the Answer… (Or, The Case of the Pearl Necklace)

IDontKnow4I usually blog about my projects, but today I want to discuss KNOWLEDGE and lack thereof. On three separate occasions this weekend — one in person, two online — I was asked a question for which I did not have an answer. I notice this is happening more and more frequently. I don’t think it’s my swiss-cheese memory coming into play so much as that I’m writing and teaching classes a lot these days, so asking me questions seems natural.

I have to be honest here. It’s HARD not knowing an answer to something. I love being a source of information for others, in both my hobby and my career. In fact, I thrive on it. There’s a special thrill in being able to answer a question with confidence and plenty of delicious details.

But because I love knowledge so very much, that is precisely why it’s so important to acknowledge when I don’t know the answer to something. Plus, if I made the grave error of just guessing, and my guess were wrong, trust would be an issue. Trust is very important.

And as much as I love knowing the answer, I feel horrible about leading anyone astray.

Even given all this, I still find it hard to simply say, “I don’t know.”

Our culture does not reward those who “do not know.” Teachers mark us down. Employers file bad reports. Customers scoff. And in my case, readers stop reading and listeners stop listening. When I remarked once on a podcast that “I don’t know,” I got a flood of e-mail telling me that if I was going to talk about something on the air, I should KNOW.

I really think it okay to not know, though. It’s okay to admit it. In fact, it’s not just okay, it’s crucial.

But, I must confess. To appease my ego, I will say, “I don’t know, but … I know someone to ask,” or “Wow, that is a great question — now I’m really curious myself.” And off I go to look around, check the museums, and ask other people.

That’s right. Questions are my gateway drug.

For when I realize there’s a question I don’t have an answer for, but that I know an answer must exist somewhere, I find it rather fun. It’s like a scavenger hunt and I must find the answer!

Speaking of which, here’s one of the questions I didn’t know the answer to this weekend: “Were pearl necklaces strung before 1600 knotted between each pearl?” I don’t know much about jewelry, but I looked about and found this:

Detail of a pearl necklace drawing by Arnold Lulls (1560)

Detail of a pearl necklace drawing by Arnold Lulls (1560)

It sure looks to me like those would be string/silk knots between the pearls, don’t you think? It doesn’t look like metal or anything else to me. This image is from an an album of jewellery designs by Arnold Lulls, a Dutch jewelry designer who moved to London (source: Victoria & Albert Museum, D.6:16-1896). In that same album, there’s a simpler string of pearls (no pendant) and it also clearly looks knotted to me.

Does anyone reading this know of an extant necklace with knots between the pearls?

Remember, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” (Though there’s no rule that says you have to post it!)