German Tellerbarret Make-and-Take Class This Saturday, November 2 at RUM

1014179_488627497895897_898210308_nThis Saturday I’ll be teaching my German Tellerbarret Make-and-Take Class at RUM (Royal University of the Midrealm) from 11-1 pm. This year, Royal University of the Midrealm is located at Cleveland Central Catholic High School and St. Stanislaus Church Social Hall, 6550 Baxter Ave., Cleveland, OH 44105 — there is a $12 entry fee ($17 for non-members). If you’re not an SCA member or otherwise familiar with the SCA, this event is open to the public — we just ask that all participants make an attempt at pre-17th century clothing. There are more than 100 classes this Saturday, all are free and some have low-cost material fees. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn something new!

Here is the official class description for my German Tellerbarret class:

A hands-on German hat-making experience! Students will view several examples of different *Tellerbarret* hat styles and constructions, then be instructed in creating their own hat — complete with slashing, if desired. No experience is necessary. Students will cut, slash, and sew their own hats. These hats work great for keeping your face shaded at outdoor events! Please bring your own scissors. Handout limit: 30. Materials limit: 5 ($10) or BYO materials: 36″x55″ (one yard) of wool + 24″x24″ (2 sq. ft.) of wool or linen in contrasting color.


Making hats!

Making hats!

For those interested in taking my class this weekend, please know that this class was very popular at Pennsic, much to my surprise. 20 or more people showed up, even though I only had materials for 5. Three people actually ran out to the marketplace and bought wool on the spot so they could take the class. I don’t know if it will also be so popular at RUM, but if this class is important to you, I urge you to bring your own wool — then you do not have to worry about not having what you need. Remember you need 36″x55″ (one yard) of wool + 24″x24″ (2 sq. ft.) of wool or linen in contrasting color.

There are other things you can bring so you don’t have to share with others, such as a measuring tape, needle, and thread. And don’t forget your fabric scissors!

Additionally, there’s one thing you can do at home before you arrive to maximize your time in the class slashing and sewing your hat: Make the hat band. Here’s what to do:

1. Cut out a 10″ x 76″ strip of wool (you’ll probably need to piece two strips together to get it this long — just make sure you are left with a square of wool at least 24″ x 24″ for the top of your hat. Below is a cutting diagram for your yard of wool to help you visualize what I mean).

cutting-diagram2. Sew a 1/2″ casing — with a strong braid or cord inside it — along one edge of your wool strip. Leave the ends of the braid or cord hanging out either end of the casing.

If you do not have time to make this strip with the casing and cord, don’t fret — it can be done during the class. Just keep in mind you may not be able to completely finish the hat during class if the hat band is not ready to go.

Any questions, comments, or concerns before or after the class, please contact me at genoveva (dot) von [dot) lubeck (at) gmail [dot] com.

Honeycomb Pleatwork Apron Tutorial Video

As I promised my students at Coronation and the folks on the German Renaissance Facebook page, I’ve made a short video of how to make do simple honeycomb pleatwork. This is made from the video I took while I was making the white apron with the 1″ pleats, so it’s quite easy and I was able to complete it in one hour.

Because I didn’t think anyone actually wanted to watch a one hour video, I sped up the sections on marking the dots, sewing the running stitches, and the actual pleating. But if you need to see something closer, you can pause the video. I recommend you also download the instructional booklet and use that in conjunction with this video. You’ll find the dot templates on the Patterns page.

I hope this little video allows many folks to create their own aprons! They are lots of fun to make and wear, and appropriate for many time periods and places.

Video Information: This video shows how do honeycomb smocking (a.k.a. pleatwork). Watch as I take a 55″ wide piece of linen, pleat it into 1″ folds, then create the honeycomb pattern. Add a strip of linen to the top and you have a functional, pretty apron completed in on hour. I’ve sped up most of the parts of the video for your sanity, but you can pause if you need to see something in detail. A downloadable booklet with step-by-step instructions on creating the honeycomb apron are at, as are dot templates ranging from one inch (very large) down to 1/4 inch (small). German Renaissance music pieces performed by Jim Sayles and used here with permission — see Video Length: 7:04

Mary of Hapsburg’s Hemd: Chemise Pleatwork and Pattern Darning Notes

Detail of the pattern darning on Mary's chemise

Detail of the pattern darning on Mary’s chemise

One of the few extant pieces of early 16th century female garb (1521) remaining today is Mary of Hapsburg’s wedding dress. Mary was the granddaughter of Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian. The gown and chemise are housed in the Hungarian National Museum. The hemd (chemise) may or may not go with the gown (according to museum docents), but it is believed that the hemd is from the 16th century. I suspect that this hemd does go with the gown, or at least one very like it, for there exists a stove tile from 1490 which depicts a similar gown with a similar hemd. I don’t think a brustfleck would necessarily be worn with this gown either, as we have more pictorial evidence that it was not worn.

If you’re interested in making this hemd, first you need the cutting diagram. Credit for the cutting diagram goes to József Höllrigl (did an analysis in 1929), Mária V. Ember (wrote an article in 1962), Julia Palotay Szent-Györgyi (translated article and cutting diagram), and Cynthia Virtue. For more information on the attributions, see

Detail of the cutting diagram showing the hemd pattern

Detail of the cutting diagram showing the hemd pattern (click to view original image)

Important note on above diagram: The three panels are NOT cut out as trapezoids; they are cut out as rectangles. They only become trapezoidal after the pleating.

From Maria Ember’s 1962 article, “The blouse’s front and back are each made of three trapezoidal pieces. The pieces are 40 cm wide at the top, 60 cm at the bottom. They’re attached to each other with 1 cm wide lines of silver embroidery in a blanket stitch. The two sides are widened further by two triangular gores, each 60 cm wide. The three front panels are gathered to a width of 21 cm, forming the front of the neckline. The gathered section is about 6 cm wide [Ed: I think they mean “deep” ie, width of smocking embroidery], secured by geometric satin-stitch embroidery in silver thread. The back sections are also gathered to 21 cm, with embroidery 1 cm narrower than on the front. The long, full sleeves are also assembled from three pieces attached to each other with silver blanket stitch. The sleeves are straight rectangles, 65 cm long, 122 cm wide, with the top sections gathered to 28 cm, and forming the sides of the neckline. The embroidery securing the gathers is only 3 cm wide. The neckline is enclosed in a 3 cm wide band. The wide sleeves are gathered to 24 cm at the wrist, sewn to a 1.5 cm wide cuff. The gathers are decorated with narrow silver embroidery in an interlocking half-circle pattern. The underarm gussets are 25 cm squares. The shirt’s material is a closely woven fine evenweave linen.”

I should note that there is some debate on the chemise and its pattern on the SCA-Garb Yahoo group, as seen here:

Once you have the hemd, you need the pattern for the pleatwork at the top. Glynnis Hollindale patterned the pattern darning on the pleatwork, and she’s given me permission to share it with you here. (Many thanks, Glynnis!)

Original pattern with fylfots

Original pattern with fylfots


Glynnis has three patterns for the pleats, along with notes on materials, pleat size, and stitch size:

  1. The original pattern at the top of the hemd (with fylfots): GHMaryofHapsburgfrontpatternV1.0
  2. An alternate pattern for the top of the hemd (no flyfots): GHMaryofHapsburgalternatefrontpatternoptionsV1.1
  3. An option for the sleeve cuff (which she could not see): GHMaryofHapsburgsleeveoption2009

To learn more about pattern darning over pleatwork, check out the fall 2006 newsletter of the Needleworkers Guild in the Kingdom of the West, which has a whole issue on pattern darning!

My first attempt at Mary’s pattern is this apron, which is still in progress:

In-progress pattern darning over pleatwork

In-progress pattern darning over pleatwork

The biggest issue with my first attempt above is that the pleats are too deep and, thus, the apron is quite narrow. I think I have 1/4″ or 1/2″ pleats here, but they really should be more like 1/8″. The pleat depth didn’t effect the pattern darning, but it’s just a lot of material. This is fine if you have a lot of material that you want to pleat into a small space, but that was not the case here.

I also found it challenging to keep the pleats from tightening together as I stitched, and that had a lot to do with how tightly I pulled my stitch; once I realized it wanted to tighten, I went easier on my pulling. It worked out, as you can see the pattern above clearly and I don’t seen a variation between the top and the bottom width of the design.

The above pleatwork was just an exercise; I have no current plans to recreate this particular hemd.

If anyone out there makes a hemd after this pattern, I’d love to see it!



How to Apply Pearls and Beads in Smooth Lines

Brocade and pearls for the brustfleck

Brocade and pearls for the brustfleck

German women in the 16th century were partial to putting pearls on their garments and accessories. My research indicates that this has a lot to do with the fact that pearl-producing mussels (pearlenmuschel) flourished in the Saxon streams and rivers of Germany in the 16th century5. Unio margaritfera is the principal pearl-bearing mussel in this part of the world. The pearls produced were divided into three classes (first, second and third) and it is the third class that by far most pearls fell into. These pearls were known as sandperlen, and though of poorer quality, they had sufficient whiteness and luster to be used an ornaments. Unforunately, Saxon pearls are nearly unknown today due to the widespread destruction of the habitat by pollution. I like to substitute either small glass pearls (when I need regularity) or small (3mm) natural freshwater pearls (when I need the real thing).

If you apply pearls in a straight line, you have more options — for my goldhaube, I experimented with both couching down a strung line of pearls and with applying each pearl individually (see my goldhaube documentation for more details). But when you want to apply pearls in curves that flow naturally and smoothly, these techniques are fraught with issues. So as part of my Artisan Quest, I asked Mistress Melisant how she beads and she taught me a wonderful technique. I used it on the brustfleck for Katayoun’s Saxon court gown and it worked perfectly. The pearls remained in lovely curves, even when the brustfleck was being worn.

What You Need:

  • Good beads – To get the best effect, be sure you use evenly-sized beads or pearls. If your freshwater pearls are slightly different shapes and sizes (as they often are), take the time to sort and organize the pearls by size before you begin. Also be wary of using beads that are too large, as it will be harder to turn corners. I recommend a size close to 3 mm.
  • Milliner’s Needle – A long, thin needle (thin enough to pass through your bead), such as a milliner’s needle, works best.
  • Thread – If your pearls have smooth holes (which they probably do), use regular sewing silk or polyester thread (avoid cotton, which swells). I like silk — you can get the Gutermann brand at JoAnns.
  • Beeswax – Use it to wax your thread before beading.
  • Material – I’ve used silk, brocade and linen. Consider how stiff you want your finished piece to be and if you should back your material with linen or something stiffer, like buckram. (The brocade for the brustfleck was backed with linen.)
  • Hoop or Frame – It’s easier to bead when your material is tensioned properly in a hoop or slate frame. (I used a circular hoop for the brustfleck.)

How to Bead:

1. Prepare your material and tension it as needed with a hoop or frame. Cut off an 24-36″ length of thread. Wax and iron your thread to allow the beeswax to penetrate the fibers (the wax makes the thread less likely to tangle and strengthens the thread to boot)–be sure to surround your waxed thread with paper before ironing. Put the thread through the eye of your needle, double it, and secure the end with a double knot. Put your beads in a bowl.

Beads, needle, and waxed thread ready to go.

Beads, needle, and waxed thread ready to go.

2. Bring your needle up through your fabric, from back to front, where you’d like to begin beading. Some beaders make three small stitches at this starting point in the fabric to keep the thread secured (I did this with my goldhaube). Mistress Melisant says she doesn’t bother with this starting technique and it all works out for her. (Note: I neglected to take a photo of this step. Just picture a thread pulled up and through a piece of material.)

3. Pick up three beads with your needle — you will sort of “scoop” them up in the bowl. [Tip: Reader Ellen suggests using a soft cloth rather than a bowl to avoid having to chase the beads around!] You can use your thumb and forefinger to keep the beads on the needle as you scoop up all the beads you need.


4. Pull your beads down to the end of your thread, making sure they lay flat against your material and do not “bunch” or “bubble” up because they are too tight against one another.

Pull the beads down to the material

Pull the beads down to the material

5. Bring your needle and thread down at the end of the last bead, or even a touch beyond it (to avoid overcrowding and “bubbling”), and pull through.

Bring your needle down just beyond your third bead.

Bring your needle down just beyond your third bead.

6. Bring your needle up between the last and second-to-last beads and pull through your material.


7. Now insert your needle through the last bead’s hole and pull the thread through. This secures that third bead AND creates an anchor point for the next bead.

Bring your needle through the last bead.

Bring your needle through the last bead.


8. When your beads and thread look like this, you can repeat steps 3-7 to continue beading in long, flowing lines.

Ready to begin again!

Ready to begin again!



  • You don’t always have to do three beads at a time. Depending on your design and how tightly your curves are, you may want to do two, or even just one.
  • Watch carefully for your the dreaded “bubble” effect from beads that are just a bit too tight against one another. Don’t be afraid to back up and re-do the beads. I did it a number of times.
  • If you have a pearl that just doesn’t want to stay in the correct position (happens in tight curves), feel free to go back and couch it down into the right spot.
  • It’s a good idea to tie a knot in your thread up against the fabric every so often, to secure the beading in the event of breakage. It’s best to do it between steps 5 and 6.
Making a note in between steps 5 and 6.

Making a note in between steps 5 and 6.

Here is the finished piece. Note how the pearls remain in their lines even when the fabric isn’t flat.

Detail of the front

Detail of the front


Writing this tutorial makes me want to pearl more things!

German Landsknecht Beret (a.k.a. The Starfish Hat)

schlappe-red2Of the many hats worn by Germans in the 16th century, the beret — often called the Starfish hat by enthusiasts — is one of the more iconic. It’s nickname comes from the broad loops that are arrayed around the hat like, well, a starfish I suppose. Another version of the beret, known as the schlappe, has ear flaps as well. Some have a folded square upon the top; others are simply bag-like. Looking at the woodcuts, you’ll see a wide variety of styles, some of cloth, some of what may be thick felt or leather, and some that could be knitted. There were a lot of variations. I made a simple cloth version, which has no ear flaps and no square on top.

This beret was actually the very first specific German Landksnecht item I ever made, just one month after joining the SCA. Thankfully, it still passes my “reasonably authentic” test. It’s made of natural materials, hand-sewn, functions, fits, and is based on a woodcut from the correct era and place. Here’s my original reference image from Reislaufer Musicians by Urs Graf (1523).

Detail from Reislaufer Musicians by Urs Graf, 1523

Detail from Reislaufer Musicians by Urs Graf, 1523

So here’s how to make a simple German Ren beret in the “starfish style:”


  • 1 yard Medium to heavy-weight wool, fulled a bit in your washer/dryer/whatever
  • (optional) 1/2 yard of linen as a lining
  • Scissors, thread, needle, measuring tape


1. Measure the crown of your head (where you want your hat to lie), add one inch, and cut out a 3″ wide strip of wool in that length. Fold the top down and the bottom up, then fold in half lengthwise (like bias tape) and iron flat. This will become your headband.

2. Test the fit on your head, making a note of where the headband should be closed, then turn inside out and sew the two ends of the headband together at the appropriate place. Turn right side out again.

3. Cut 8 strips of 6″ x 8″ wool. Fold in half lengthwise (to become 3″ x 8″), stitch closed into a tube, then turn inside out. This will give you 8 tubes. Iron flat with the seam centered on one side of the tube, then fold in half width-wise.

4. Cut out a 16-18″ diameter circle (bigger = floppier), one each from wool and (optionally) linen. (Note: The hat top in my photo is composed of four sewn sections only because I didn’t have a large enough piece of wool to cut one large circle.)

5. Fit the circle(s) inside the fold of the headband, pin, and sew to the underside of the fold. I simply pinned small pleats in place to make it fit, but you could gather the wool before sewing to the headband if you preferred.

6. Pin the folded strips from step 2 around the circumference of your headband and circle, equally spaced and sandwiched between the headband and circle.

7. Now sew the headband closed, effectively sealing in the raw edges of the circle and strips. Voila!

Inside of the hat

Inside of the hat

It doesn’t take long to make one, so I recommend you use some scrap fabric and do a mock-up first. That way you can play with circle and strip sizes to achieve the look you want. Here’s my first version:

Mockup of hat

Mock-up of hat

And here’s the finished version — note that I made both the circle and the strips bigger:

Completed hat!

Completed hat!

Common colors for hats were black, blue, red, gray, blue, white, and green.

If you have questions, please let me know!

Honeycomb Pleatwork Apron Giveaway!

It’s my birthday! To celebrate, I am giving away a honeycomb pleatwork linen apron, in your choice of colors (white, gold, red, etc.) and your choice of sizes. I’ll make it just for you and ship it to you anywhere in the world.


Anyone can enter. To be in the running, go to the GermanRenaissance page on Facebook and comment or share the giveaway status (see link below) and let me know what color you’d prefer.


I will draw one name randomly on lucky October 13, 2013 at 9 pm ET and announce the winner on the German Renaissance Facebook page. Good luck!

Tip: If you want to make an apron yourself and not take your chances on this giveaway, there’s complete instructions on my Patterns page at

Cranach Saxon Court Gown: Pattern, Materials, and Construction Notes

Saxon court gown on my dress form (different size than gown)The lovely 16th century Saxon court gowns, made popular by Lucas Cranach, his son, and his workshop, are a study in feminine charms. They are curvy and luxurious, emphasizing the swell of the breasts, flattening the midriff, and creating gracious, flowing lines to the ground. The Saxon court gown is also one of the more complicated German styles to create, as its construction is somewhat of a mystery with no surviving garments in existence. We have only paintings, drawings, physics, and our own common sense to guide us in recreating this style.

Katayoun in her German Saxon Court Gown at Coronation

Katayoun in her German Saxon Court Gown at Coronation

I recently created my first Saxon court gown after a fair amount rumination and research. I made it for a friend, Katayoun, who wore it to Coronation. I was working under a challenge — less than two weeks to make it and too far away to do fittings. But I’m pleased to report the gown came together without any serious hitches. She looked wonderfully German. I learned a great deal in the process which I am eager to apply to my second gown, which I will make for myself. I wish to write down all my notes, observations, and tips for myself, as well as for others who find themselves wondering how on earth to make this gown while avoiding the many pitfalls. Here follows my general notes, lessons learned, and questions answered on creating a Saxon court gown.

Of What Materials Were The Gowns Made?

Based on the paintings, I have conjectured that the fancier gowns were almost always made of velvet. I believe that wool was also used, but probably not for the court gowns. Most gowns in this style, regardless of material, are in shades of red—this is by far the most popular color. Black and green are also seen. Blue and dark purple were not popular, if ever used at all. Gold is popular as an accent color on the guards.

Brocade and pearls for the brustfleck

Brocade and pearls for the brustfleck

Note: If you opt for velvet, I recommend cotton velveteen, as I feel it looks and drapes closer to the paintings than other types of velvet. I chose red velveteen for the gown and black velveteen for the guards.

The brustflecks were likely cloth of gold, brocades, velvets, and silks — the nicest fabric a person could afford. They were often adorned with pearls.

What Pattern Do I Use?

Katayoun’s gown came to me partially constructed (bodice and sleeves together, plus an unattached skirt, all in velour). I decided to take them apart and use them as a pattern to re-cut them in velveteen, so my focus was on the construction rather than the initial fit. However, I have developed a pattern for myself based on my German goldwork gown, which you can resize to your figure. The key points are you’ll want to cut the front edges of your bodice short so there is a slightly graduated gap of about 5-10″ (depending what looks good for your figure) and you’ll want a curve over the breast (depth variable for your proportions) for that curvy look. The sleeve is tapered and as tight fitting as you can stand, but long (to the knuckles). The skirt is a rectangle.

saxon-gown-patternPDF Pattern: saxon-gown-pattern.pdf

To Corset or Not To Corset?

Katayoun-Saxon-Court-Gown2I do not believe a boned or reeded corset would have been worn. Not only do we have no pictorial evidence for a boned corset at this place and time, but we have no surviving boned corsets from this early in history either. I still believe something should be worn underneath, but whether it is a form-fitting kirtle or soft, wool or linen corset (or “bodies”), that is unclear. I was unable to make such a garment for Katayoun because of time and distance constraints, so while the gown fit, I believe it would have been improved with a kirtle or soft bodies beneath. (For a good kirtle pattern, visit — I made several of these, with alterations for my style of dress (wider shoulder straps, slightly longer waist), and they are perfect under this gown.)

To Line or Not to Line?

Lining of the bodice and sleeve

Lining of the bodice and sleeve

I lined the bodice with linen and canvas, the sleeves with linen, and the skirt with muslin. I think this made a huge difference in the overall look of the finished dress. I will do it again.

How to Cut the Bodice Guards?

I have an entire post on guard cutting. I ended up cutting the guards for this gown in two parts (bodice side and half of neckline x 2), but I think would have been better to cut three parts (bodice side x 2, neckline x 1) because the back neckline wanted to stretch too much as its curve was right on the bias.

How to Keep the Bodice Guard Smooth?

Front guards and lacing while worn by Katayoun

Front guards and lacing while worn by Katayoun

I was really worried about the front edge of the bodice gaping and bagging, as I’ve seen it do in some reproductions. So I edged the bodice with thick hemp cord along the inside edge, under the guard, to provide more structure when lacing, and it worked. Here is the gown laced and you can see no gaps. Definitely a winner and I’ll do this again!

How to Attach the Brustfleck?

This was a challenge and I did a lot of research trying to answer the question to my satisfaction. What I did was create a white panel with two pieces of canvas and a piece of linen, about 14″ long, and sew it to the waistband so it would lay under the front guards. The canvas was to stiffen it and reduce wrinkling, which worked. The decorative brustfleck was just pinned on to the top of the white panel (so it could be removed when washing the gown). I sewed two large eyes to the top corners of the brustfleck, with two corresponding hooks on the underside of the guards. Tension kept everything in place. The only things I will change for next time are to move the eyes on the brustfleck further in so the brustfleck top corners could not be seen at all, and I think the hooks/eyes also need to be moved up a little higher so the white panel doesn’t sag down at the waistline. Otherwise, it seems to work well!

How to Decorate the Brustfleck?

I used pearls, as most paintings depict a pearled brustfleck. I have a tutorial on how to pearl a brustfleck for a fluid, even look.

How to Pleat the Skirt?

Rolled pleats! They looked just like the paintings. I have an entire tutorial and calculator on how to make rolled pleats. The pleats on this gown were 1.5″ wide pleats (made of 7.5″ of fabric, rolled). I attached a twill ribbon to the inside when I tacked the pleats down (by hand) to give them a little extra stability, then I sewed the pleats to the bodice, from the inside, with an overcast stitch. I tried sewing them from the outside, but the stitches were much more obvious. Sewing from the inside provided a smoother look.

The gown is now in the possession of Katayoun, but I took a number of photos for reference purposes. The photo are on my own dress form, which is a different size, so please ignore fitting issues:

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

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

Lower sleeve

Lower sleeve



Detail of the front

Detail of the front

I plan to go in depth on several topics, including the brustfleck beading and sleeve paning. If there’s something else you’d like me to describe in more detail, please let me know!

My thanks to Gebhard and Katayoun for talking to me about creating this gown—I was feeling challenged by this dress and this was exactly the inspiration I needed to push through it. (Please note: I do not take commissions; this was a gift for good friends who had done me a great service.) I challenge Gebhard and Katayoun to apply guards to the bottom half of the skirt, and I will show them (and you) how in a future article.

My inspirations:

  • Alyxx Ian who made a lovely Cranach dress and a diary to go along with it 10 years ago (the diary is no longer online sadly)
  • Mistress Melisant for teaching me how to bead the pearls so prettily
  • Mistress Thea for suggesting the hemp cord
  • Lucas Cranach 🙂

Please come join my new Facebook page where we can discuss German Renaissance garb together at

A Place for Conversation about German Renaissance Garb and Accessories

I keep seeing requests to “be a part of the conversation” so I’ve created a new page on Facebook just for this site, its followers, and fans of German Ren at

This Facebook page is not just for me to post my articles and photos; it’s a place where we can all talk about creating, and re-creating, the German Renaissance Dream. The page is open and anyone can post questions, topics, and photos. I know there are many of us out there, and I welcome everyone — whether novice or expert, SCA or general costuming — to join in on the conversations. I’d like to see a larger community participating. I know we’re out there … let’s come together and share our thoughts!

Also, as tomorrow is my birthday and my personal birthday tradition is to give gifts to others, I will have a GIVEAWAY on the new Facebook page. So watch for it tomorrow, October 9. Here’s a hint:


Note: I know not everyone is on Facebook; if you are not I encourage you to join the GermanRenCostume Yahoo group (I am not an admin, but I am a participant!). No giveaway from me there, but it’s still a great place to ask questions and share ideas.

Hope to see you at! Come over, like the page, share a photo, and participate. 🙂

Saxon Gown Brustfleck: Study Guide and Construction Notes

German Saxon court gowns of the first half of the 16th century, made famous by painter Lucas Cranach’s ladies, have one particularly defining feature: a plastron (brustfleck) with a decorative band at the top and a laced-over bottom (usually white, but not always).

I’ve been studying this style for more than a year, trying to work out the construction. After looking at many, many portraits, woodcuts, and photos of reconstructions by other enthusiasts like me, I’ve come to some preliminary conclusions:

1. The brustfleck is sewn, pinned, or hooked into the sides of the bodice.

2. The white material at the bottom seen below the brustfleck is probably distinct from whatever hemd, kirtle, or underdress, and may or may not be attached to the decorative band at the top. I usually do not see any wrinkles in the white section that would lead me to believe it was just a hemd. It appears that the simpler, lower class gowns of this design are more likely to show the wrinkles, and the fancier, court gowns do not.

3. No boning was used; rather canvas and possibly a flexible buckram was used to stiffen it. The brustfleck definitely seems to curve. Plus we have no evidence that boning was used at this point and place in time.

I draw these conclusions from several images I found of women in various states of undress.

Detail from Christ and the Adultress by Lucas Cranach, Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.60.35)

Detail from Christ and the Adulteress by Lucas Cranach, Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982.60.35)

In the above detail image, we can see a woman with her dress partly undone. The main interest for me here is the rectangular piece hanging off her right side. It looks to me like it could be the backside of a brustfleck. [Nope, that looks like the armored hand of the man holding her, which you can see if you click on the image.] Also note she is wearing a very diaphanous hemd as well as a more opaque, separate (and loose) hemd over it. It looks too loose to be a kirtle, though. This is not a court gown; it is a lower class gown.

Suicide of Lucretia by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Hoston Gallery of Fine Art)

Suicide of Lucretia by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Hoston Gallery of Fine Art)

In the above image, we can see a rectangular piece of fabric pulled down, and a hint of the other side (a golden material that could be the brustflect). This fabric looks flexible (not boned). It appears to be attached to the skirt. This is a court-style gown.

Suicide of Lucretia by Lucas Cranach (location unknown)

Suicide of Lucretia by Lucas Cranach (location unknown)

And finally in this image, we see a similar rectangle (or trapezoid) hanging down and some black lacings. It also appears to be attached to the skirt. This is also a court-style gown.

So, based on this pictorial evidence, I’m going to make a rectangular/trapezoidal shape, at the top of which will be the decorative band, and at the bottom attached to the skirt. I will use one-two layers of canvas and a layer of linen to give the brustfleck some stability as that will surely help it stay put, but I will not bone it. Here’s a diagram of what I plan to do:

My Brustfleck Construction

My Brustfleck Construction


Note: I -might- experiment with padding the upper section to give it the rounded chest while keeping the flat tummy. We’ll see!

One other thing — I came across this mention of brustflecks in Textiler Hausrat, Kleidung und Textilien von Nurnberg, 1500 – 1650 by Jutta Zander-Seidel, pages 149-150, translated by Katherine Barich.

6.5 Brusttuch – Brustfleck
Breast cloth – Breast piece

The “breast cloth” (brusttuch) or the “breast piece” (brustfleck)
served to fill in a cut out neckline, where is covered as an
insert any objectionable neckline depth, or as and additional
clothing piece to protect the chest in cold weather. The latter
was valid above all for the wool breast cloth (brusttuch) made
from high quality scarlet (fine wool, not necessarily red), or
less desirably from arlas (high quality wool) or wurschet (middle
quality wool), as in the not better described citation “old red
wool breast piece (brustfleck)”. (435) Besides this are “rauhe”,
namely fur lined breast cloths (brusttuch) recorded, (436)
however, predominately for men. Breast cloths (brusttuch) are
found with wide borders or “smocked with gold (mit Gold
gefitzte)”, (437) and are referred to until the late 16th
century as the small embellished accessory in Nurnberg women’s
pictures, where it covers the cut out areas of the clothing, going
over the white “goller” (partlet style) or the shirt. In Hans von
Kulmbach’s picture of an unknown woman in 1512 the gold border
spreads over the cut out. (Illustration 141) Distinctly visible
connecting stitches connect the breast cloth to the adjoining
linen goller (partlet) as though following the wording of a
clothing mandate of 1490, that a too deep cut out requires a
breast cloth (brusttuch) and an “attached goller against one
another”. (438) This pattern essentially corresponds further as
shown in the clothing of Barbara Möhringer by Hans Hoffman in
1573, however appearing without the by then usual velvet goller.
(Illustration 133)

In the inventories the decorative inserts stay confined expectedly
proportionately to the upper class bequeaths. Ursual Spengler
left behind in 1529 “several smocked breast cloths
(brusttuchlein)” and a “breast cloth (brusttuch) with a gold
piece”; (439) “one breast cloth (brusttuch) with gold” was in the
record of Helena Schlaudersbach, deceased in 1554, valued at 12
pfennig. (440) In later decades “inlay border” (einleg
Porten), “throat border” (Halßoporten) and a “virtue border”
(fürthue Porten) took their place. (441)

435. Anton Tucher, 1512 (W. Loose, see footnote 14, page
94): “Item, A.D. 16 October bought 3 scarlet (schlarlache – cloth,
not necessarily red) breast cloths (Prusttücher), one for me, the
other 2 for Anton and Linhart Tucherin, paid for these 21 Pfund. –
Ursula Imhoff 1520 (see footnote 10) “ 1 red scarlet (scharlach)
breast cloth (brusttuch), valued at 6 Pfund, 9 Pfennig.” –
Margaretha Rieter, born Kress 1548 (see footnote 10).
436. Margaretha Birlinger 1538 (StaN, LI 2, fol. II4r-115r): “3
fur lined (rauhe) breast cloths (brusttucher), 1 trimmed with
squirrel, 2 gulden.”
437. Anna Haller, 1528, (footnote 23): “4 breast cloths
(brusttuch) smocked with gold, 1 gulden, 1 wide border from a
breastcloth (prustthuch), 1 gulden”.
438. Vgl. Page 48.
439. StaN, LI4, fol 116r-175v.
440. GNM (see footnote 410).
441. Helena Baumgartner 1567 (see footnote 6), 1 virtue border
(fürthue Porten) with a small ruffle/lace (kresslein), 1 pfund, 1
inlay border (einleg Porten) and 1 throat border (Halßoporten) 6
pfund, 9 pfennig.

141 – Hans von Kulmbach: Picture of a woman with a Linen partlet
(goller) and a breastcloth. 1512
133 – Hans Hoffman – picture of the 32 year old Barbara Möhringer,
born Herz, with red cloth covered braids. 1573.

The big question in my mind right now is how to get the sides of the gown to lie flat against the brustfleck. I’ve seen too many re-created gowns where the sides bag and gap, and it doesn’t look good. I can find absolutely no evidence of pins to hold it in place, though I did see one painting with little golden buttons, but they were only shown at the top two corners. I’m hoping that the weight of the dress keeps the bodice down, but I will not know if that is true until I make it.

So let’s make the brustfleck!

German Ren Dress Guards: Cut Straight or Cut to Shape?

I get asked about the guards on German dresses with a fair amount of regularity. I distinctly remember the good gentle at Gulf Wars who saw me from a distance in a German dress with a double guards at the bottom and yelled out, “Love your dress! How did you do your guards?”

First, what are guards? Guards are the strips of fabric seen at the edges of a dress, including the neckline, the bodice, and the hem. They aren’t necessarily placed right at the edge, but they do run parallel to the edge. Typically guards are a contrasting color. Sometimes guards are more expensive fabrics, such as damasks and cloths of gold, and in this case they serve a more decorative purpose. We also see guards that are made of less expensive fabrics, usually at the very bottom of a hem, and these serve to protect the gown from weather, dirt, and the ground.

Portrait of Dorothea Kannengiesser Meyer by Hans Holbein the Younger (1516)
Portrait of Dorothea Kannengiesser Meyer by Hans Holbein the Younger (1516) — she has black velvet guards on her red wool dress.

Portait of a Young Woman by Lucas Cranach in first third of 16th century - Statens Museum for Kunst

Portait of a Young Woman by Lucas Cranach in first third of 16th century – Statens Museum for Kunst — she has cloth of gold guards at her neckline, cuffs, and sleeves


I should note that “guard” is a modern term. German tailors in the 16th century would probably have called this verpräm or verprämt, which I’m finding difficult to translate — possibly “suture” or “barricade.” I found the use of verpräm on page 36 of the Leonfeldner Schnittbuch, a 1590 tailor’s book.

But, back to the questions — how do I cut out dress guards? Are they straight or shaped?

The answer lies in the shape of your base fabric. If it is curved, cut your guards to shape. If it is straight or mostly straight, cut your guards straight.

But, one might ask, would cutting to shape be terribly wasteful? Our ancestors were very economical with fabric and surely would have cut their fabric straight, would they not?

You have only to try to attach a straight guard to a curve to understand that is just doesn’t work, wasteful or not. You’ll get wrinkles, puckering, and pulling on your dress if you try. (A very slight curve can be done with straight fabric cut on the bias, however.) And cutting to shape doesn’t have to be wasteful if you separate your curves into sections. For example, let’s look at the Queen Mary of Habsburg dress in the Hungarian National Museum, the only extant woman’s dress from the region and time period (1475-1500). Here are two good photos by Taryn East of the guarding at the curved neckline of Mary’s gown:

Mary of Burgundy's gown - front closeup

You can clearly see a seam just below the shoulder in the photo above. From the seam down to the waist, the fabric’s grain is parallel with the guard’s edges, meaning it was cut straight.

Mary of Burgundy's gown - back closeup

In the photo above, you can see the the fabric’s grain does not follow the curve, meaning it was cut to shape.

So Mary’s guards were cut in three sections: two straight sections (along the opening of her bodice) and one curved section (along the neckline from shoulder to shoulder). That’s not really so much wasted fabric when we look at it like this.

If you’re wondering how the guard is attached at the neckline/bodice edge, here’s a close-up photo:

Mary of Burgundy's gown - shoulder seam - front closeup

You can clearly see the threads at the edge that hold down the guard edge. It looks like a widely spaced overcast stitch to me. This is done after attaching the guard at the neckline edge (sew right side of guard to wrong side of fabric, clip the curves, flip the guard out to the right side, fold the guard edge under, and sew down). I plan to do a tutorial showing how this is done.

There’s much more we could talk about when it comes to guards, such as backing a lightweight guard material with a heavier material, including a non-stretchy cord at the neckline under the guard when your gown has some stretch, whether or not to put guards on top of the skirt fabric at the hemline, whether to cut on the bias or not. But these can wait for another day. Ask me if you want to know! 🙂