Tag Archives: projects

A Pleatwork Apron – Flemish Style

Inspiration strikes at the oddest times. I was visting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my husband and was walking around enjoying the exhibits when we stopped to look at a tapestry. It was pretty cool, having a harvest scene surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. I walked away, stopped and walked back, something catching my eye.

There was a pleated apron on one of the women in the tapestry. Not only that it was different than anything I had seen before. So I took a picture and continued on wandering around the museum. After I got home, I started looking at the few picture I took and there was the picture of the tapestry and that apron. I HAD TO MAKE IT!!

Now I have been making pleatwork aprons for almost 10 years. I own two, I have given piles away. I really dont need another one. So I put the call out to see if anyone wanted one if I made it. Well one of the people who answered  happened to have a middle class Flemish persona (in the Society for Creative Anachronism). Her research has been in cooking. Who better to need and get an apron!!.

My challenge with this project was just trying to figure out what the heck was going on. The apron was a strange merger of what I consider a Flemish Apron (rectangle of fabric) and the pleatwork aprons that were a favored accessory in the Germanic areas during the 16th century.

What I found was more and more pictures of aprons. While I did not uncover another image that looked like this one, what I found were images of aprons that had various elements of my inspiration image. Once again, it all came together and a new apron was born.

This was my third entry in the Kings and Queens Arts and Science Competition for the East Kingdom of the SCA and the one I think was the most “fun”. I actually had to keep trying it on to show people all the fun elements. I have been accused of spreading apron fun through the SCA. If this is the influence I have had, then that is a good thing indeed. I mean really, who does not love a pretty fun accessory:)

As with the other projects, below is a link to the write up, and some pictures.


The Finished Project

The shirt is finished and it met all my expectations. When I set out to make this shirt, I wanted to first make a side opening version, because they are rarely seen, and two I wanted to test out some construction theories:

  • Stiff collars
  • Stand out from the neck
  • Rounded top edge
  • Geometric embroidery

I really feel that I accomplished what I set out to do.  By folding over the fabric for the collar, the edge once pleated provided a nice clean edge. The double fabric allowed for thick, stiff pleats. The added benefit is that you need less fabric in the body to pleat up the neckline. The pattern darning created the geometric patterning that I see in the inspiration portraits.

This was not the easiest project. I put a lot of hours in to rip out embroidery and redo it. But with each failure came more understanding and further success.

Below is the link to the documentation for the shirt. It was recently presented in the Arts and Science Competition for the East Kingdom of the SCA. I am also recapping details of the shirt below in a full gallery.


Pleats, pleats and more pleats

The pleating for the new shirt is done.  Because I always get questions about the pleating process I thought I would spend some time talking about it.

Figuring out the pleats is probably the hardest part of the entire process.  The shirt needs to fit a 19″ neck. This style will fall a bit below a normal “shirt” neck, so I am figuring on the actual size being about a 21-22 inches around. I will be constructing the shirt using four panels of fabric: front, back and 2 sleeves. The linen is about 58″ wide. Using a full width for the back and front and 1/2 a width for each sleeve it adds up to 174 inches minus and inch or so for seams.

The neckline is not ruffed at the top, so rather than finish the edge, I am folding it over the depth of the proposed embroidery. This will give me a finished edge at the top, and will give more body to the neck. If you look at the inspiration shirt and others similar to it, they look very stiff.

Pleating up the fabric: Pleating is easy. It is simply rows of stitches. Each stitch should be approximately the same size and distance apart. Each row should be parallel to the previous row. They do not have to be perfect! If there are slight variations in the size the actual embroidery will even them out. They do not have to be perfectly lined up either. That being said if they are too far out of alignment the pleat will twist. See examples of the gathering rows in the images below.

Test samples: I did about 3 test samples before I even touched the actual shirt. I finally settled on a pleat size of about 1/8 in. The test sample that I liked ended up being about 6 inches of fabric to make  1 inch of pleated fabric.

The ungathered test piece

The ungathered test piece

gathered up

gathered up

Round one:  172 inches on a 6:1 ration puts the  neckline at 28″. Way too wide. I pleated two rows to double check ( I was optimistic it would work). Nope… too big ( time spent 4 hrs)

Round two: Since I had to reduce the neckline by 4-6 inches, it meant I needed to reduce the amount of fabric, or increase the size of the pleats. I didn’t want the neck too thick, so decided to leave the size the same, and reduce the amount of fabric.  I had two choices I could trim a few inches from both the sleeves and the body, or I could rethink the design.

My first pleatwork shirt, from a later period, did not pleat in the sleeves. By following the same design, it would solve all the size problems. But, after studying the portrait I felt that this was the wrong approach. So I reduced the amount of fabric from each side, then again ran two rows of gathering threads around the entire neckline . The neckline was now going to be the right size, but the shirt no longer had the volume of fabric that I wanted or that the portrait indicated. Back to the drawing board ( time spent – 4 to 5 hours).

Round Three: I went back to the original sized panels for the shirt and decided that I would make the pleats a big bigger. I know from doing other pattern-darned projects that I could also tighten up the pleats more than I did in the sample. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Showing the gathering threads

Showing the gathering threads

A couple hours later, I pull up the gathering threads to check the size. I love how the natural curve of the neck is starting to form. The neckline is still too big, but I am going to run with it and see what happens. At the worst I can fudge the size somewhat later.

Neckline is curving

Neckline is curving

Completed pleating: I ran a total of 8 rows of gathering threads, placed about 1/4″ apart. I recommend that you pleat up at least one row more than you need in order to give yourself a good foundation for the embroidery.

Neckline is pleated.

Neckline is pleated.

Final Notes: I am often asked about using pleaters, or dots for doing the pleating. Pleaters are great tools. I have one, I have used it. They produce perfectly even pleats. However, they can be challenging to use, they are expensive, and you can’t adjust the depth of the pleats.

Another method is to iron on dots or use a ruler to “dot” the fabric. You then “pick up” the dots. This also produces even / regular pleats and if you are using a ruler you can adjust the depth of your pleat. I am not a fan of the dots because it is time consuming to mark out the fabric and you are also only running the gathering thread through the top portion of the pleat. This lets the pleats fan out at the back and I find them much less stable to embroider.


The road to a new project is paved with speedbumps and potholes.

So its time for a new major project. I have done some smaller ones over the past few months, but nothing that required a huge amount of research and planning. It’s amazing how an idea sounds good and looks good and you get all excited about it and then the work starts and it hits you: what the heck did I just get myself into. Especially when things start going bumpy.

In my world, for a project to work its got to have The 5 rights of project work:  

  • Right inspiration
  • Right materials
  • Right technique (can I do it)
  • Right design
  • Right time ( or enough time)


This new project is near and dear to my heart. It is a new pleatwork piece, which is what I call period smocking, something I have been researching for over 10 years.

I actually asked a friend if I could make a garment for him, and he graciously said yes. The deal was he supplies the linen and I go have fun. It was delayed a number of times and he was sooo patient but its now time to get it started.  So here we go.

1. The right inspiration: The inspiration for the project is  “Portrait of a Man” by Franciabigio c 1522

File:Franciabigio - Portrait of a Man - WGA08191.jpg

2. The right materials: And we hit our first road bump. My patron, found lovely 2.5 oz linen from District 96 Fabrics . Its a good close weave with reasonably fine thread thickness vs some linens that get the low weight by making it a lower thread count. However its still not fine enough. To get the look in the portrait it needs to be done in a very fine fabric in the weight of a fine batiste, but it is almost impossible to fine a true linen batiste anymore. I have done 3 test pieces and I am still trying to get the tension to work on the pleats. More to come.

3. The right technique:  This will be pattern darned. The exact pattern is not yet picked out.  A bit of a bump, It’s a very easy technique to do. It is a type of counted embroidery in which you draw the fabric either over the pleat or through it. The challenge is the pattern.  So onto the right design.

4. The right design: You can certainly try to chart a pattern if the artwork is clear enough to actually identify the stitches which is very rare. I prefer to use extant patterns such as Nicolas Bassee’s New Modelbuch. This is where the bump comes in. It takes me hours and hours to go over the patterns. You have to look at them, envision how they will look on the pleating, test them out if you have to and then find a new one if it doesnt work out.  And yes, I am still looking. More to come.

5. The Right Time: Ahhh my pot hole. I have a deadline of November 16th. A regional competition. So far I  have put in about 15 hrs into it, and managed sew together the front back and 2 sleeve sections at the top edge (4 inches down from the top). Fold the top edge over and put in a small running stitch hem. And put in 2 rows of pleating stitches on a body and sleeve section 3 times, then tear them out again. Yes, here is my pot hole.

Why am I posting this? Because, I so very often hear from novice artisans that they don’t try things out because t5. hey look at the finished items and are very intimidated. I have explained that they don’t ever see the miss-steps, the hours of trial and error, the piles of ruined materials from the errors and the learning that comes from the journey to the end result.

See you in a few days….

Period perfect?

Last night I had some great discussions with a few friends about what seemed like a zillion topics. One that stood out was the discussion on perfection, or more aptly: period perfect.

It started with a discussion about extant embroidered item.no shock, the were not perfect. A hanging meant to be viewed 30 feet away did not have neat tiny stitches. The people making it were probably more concerned with getting it done.

We also talked about inventorying stitches: a modern concept. They wouldn’t have commissioned a piece and said “I want you to do it in this stitch”. They would have said ” I want an embroidered hood with gold, pearls ad my heraldry.” The crafts person would then make it in the technique they were trained to do, or what the design called for.

Okay I know, you are going to point out that there are certain techniques that are mentioned in period, but most of the time they refer to a style not a pacific stitch. Archeologists, Victorians, historians put most of the labels on things. If they did embroidery in both cross stitch and long arm cross stitch, does it matter which you use on your project if they may have been used interchangeably?

It’s like cooking with rabbit vs another protein. What did thy have? They I’d not say.. You can only make this if you have venison.

So how does this impact us? I think we are too focused on perfection or “period perfection” and not focused enough on the interpretation, exploration and understanding of period practices.

I read on a list recently that pearl purl ( a type of metal used in goldwork ) was not period, a form called lizardine was more correct. How do we know? One is flat metal wound up the other is round wire wound up. Why would both not have been used? Just because we don’t have extant examples, we don’t have extant examples of many things before the 17th century. It doesn’t meant thy dint exist, they may have just not survived.

We know from primary accounts that precious materials or items were picked off , cut apart, repurposed and were usually part of a household’s inventory. Also most of the items that survived from before the 1600’s were com churches, very wealthy / princely families. And those would have been the best of the best.

Now I am not saying its okay to run amok and start mixing forms, materials and designs and claiming its period. But I am suggesting that we step back a bit and not expect re-created items to be exact.

If they used silk, linen, or wool for an appliqué interchangeably does it matter which you use as long as it makes sense for the item? I am not saying go use silk appliqué on your 10th century Norse wool garment, because that may not make sense for a number of reasons. But for that appliquéd banner, look at what was used regionally and available and have fun.

As far as those perfect stitches. I am all for being judged on my work being museum perfect because let me tell you, they are usually own right sloppy.

Thanks Denise, Joe, Rick and Kandi