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Demonstrations>Accessories:Western European>Ruffs

Perhaps no other accessory so exemplifies the Elizabethan era than the Ruff. What began as a small, pleated ruffle on the shirt collars of the very early 16th Century, ended as massive, engineered wheel-like collars, requiring specialized tools to keep them pleated. Only the very rich could afford the huge expense in lace, materials and upkeep. Additionally, as the ruff became larger, towards the latter part of the 16th Century, supports for these monsters became a matter of necessity. Called 'rebatos' or 'supportasses', these were generally half-moon shaped and were placed at the back of the collar to keep it at a fashionable, upright angle.

For those of us who recreate this era, the Ruff presents a specialized challenge. In period, ruffs were heavily starched and then sewn to the neck band. They soiled easily and had to be laundered often, requiring that they be unpleated, washed, restarched, and repleated back on to the neck band before they could be worn again. The partlet, a kind of dickie, evolved during this era to alleviate the problem of staining from wearing the ruff next to the face. The partlet collar extended over the ruff, laying between the ruff and the neck and face. Eventually, when the Ruff fell out of fashion, the collar of the partlet became the falling collar of the early 17th Century.

Materials -

The following is a list of materials used to make ruffs in this particular method.

Horsehair braid -

Usually found in the Bridal section (used to stiffen hems). Comes in 1/2" to 6" widths and is cut by the yard or can be found in packages of various lengths. Most stores will usually carry only white but it can be found in both black and white by most mail order services such as Lacis and Greenberg & Hammer.

For most ruffs, if you have an average neck size of between 12" and 15", four to five yards of horsehair will be required. Generally speaking, the wider the ruff, the longer the length so that the figure eight pleats are not squeezed at the edge.

Silk or other types of Organza -

Silk organza comes in both black and white at most upscale fabric stores. It washes up beautifully and wears extremely well. However, polyester and cotton organzas will also work. Always prewash the organza, no matter what type is used. Organza is usually found in the Bridal section of most fabric stores. Polyester and cotton organza comes in all kinds of colors. Historically, ruffs were not always white. Fashion plates of the period often had their laundresses add tints to the starch so that the ruff could be pale yellow, pink, baby blue or any other pale shade. There is evidence, from a portrait of Marie de Medici, that ruffs could also be scarlet. Black ruffs were rare, but were made and worn.

The formula for figuring out how much organza is needed is: ({Braid width X 2}+ seam allowance) X 3 for small ruffs; X 4 for large ruffs. In plain English this translates out to: braid width multiplied by two and seam allowances added. Once this number is found, multiply that by three if the horsehair is of a narrow width or by four if the horsehair is quite wide.

Lace -

Generally the stiffer the lace, the better. Avoid cellulosic laces and any soft, cheesy lace. These usually won't hold up to washing and are mostly unperiod in look. Metalic lace, lace with points, or reticella-looking type laces work the best.

Fishing Line -

50 to 20 lb. test works best. This can be found at some fabric stores, if they have a craft section or at most craft stores. Or, if you live in an area that encourages local fishing, hunt up a fishing store. It will be the least expensive from this source.

Fishing line is used to simulate the wire that was often placed at the outer edge of the larger ruffs to encourage the figure eight pleat. It is not completely necessary for smaller width ruffs.

Helpful hints -

Use a stretch fabric needle on your machine. When you sew the edges of the organza and the horsehair braid together, you will need to be very careful not to let the needle either pierce the horsehair fibers or grab it and shove it down into your machine. The trick is to sew between the fibers, trapping them between stitches. If you are at all paranoid, have a machine that is hard to manage or enjoy hand sewing, you might have better luck doing this step by hand.

If you have access to a serger, use it to finish off the organza raw edges after the organza and horsehair have been sewn together. Otherwise, you will need to turn these raw edges over and finish them off by conventional methods.

The neck band -

Make your neckband by using cotton and interlining with a stiff canvas. The neckband, especially for larger varieties of ruffs, takes some stress. It is important that it be very stiff. In period, the neckband was often embroidered, with the embroidery stitches also acting to quilt the layers together. White on white embroidery and blackwork were both common. To help keep the ruff in place, a pair of eyelet holes was often sewn at the very back of the neckband so that ties from the collar of the outer garment could be threaded through to secure the ruff.

Closures -

Hooks and eyes, ties, and brooches were all used. Whatever method works best for you...

Methods of Construction -

1. Measure horsehair braid width and cut your strips of organza at twice the width plus seam allowance. Cut organza into strips perpendicular to selvedge edge. Cut at least three strips for small ruffs and at least four strips for large ruffs.

2. Sew the organza strips together, selvedge edge to selvedge edge, so that it makes one lone strip. Fold it double lengthwise and iron flat.

3. Insert fishing line into fold crease and sew a channel along the folded edge, completely encasing the fishing line. Remember that this is your outer edge and that the fishing line acts as wire to re-enforce the figure eight pleats.

4. If you are adding lace, open the organza back up, place lace according to the edge and attach. Generally, if the lace is stiff, you can place it fairly close to the edge. If it's not very stiff, place it further back from the edge so that it is somewhat supported by the organza and subsequent horsehair stiffening. It is VERY important not to sew the lace down on both layers of the organza; only to the top layer so that the horsehair can be inserted in between the two layers of organza all the way to the edge.

5. Refold the organza and insert the horsehair braid. Sew along the raw edge of the braid and the organza, encasing the braid between the fold of the organza. Catch the very edge of the horsehair as you sew all the layers together. This is the edge that will eventually be pleated.

6. Either hand finish the edge or serge the edge to finish it. Finish side edges by hand. Most likely, these edges will be selvedge edges and will not need a lot of attention. Make sure you finish the ends of the fishing line in at this point as well.

7. Prepare a neckband by cutting canvas interlining and a natural fabric outer lining and sew together.

8. Pleat organza strip onto neckband as you go. This has to be done by hand! This is the tricky part. The pleating diagram, from Jean Hunisett's Costume for Stage and Screen, shows how the pleats stack upon each other so that, when the entire pleating action is done, the edge of the ruff forms a very nice figure eight. Essentially, a full figure eight pleat takes six folds, stacked one on top of the other. The first three are folded one way and then the material is brought back up on top of these first three folds. The second three are folded on top of these in the opposite direction and the material is brought back to the beginning position for the next series of folds to make the next figure eight pleat. This is where a bit of math needs to be done. The bulk of the fabric usually dictates the size of the figure eight pleat and the amount of fabric necessary to complete one pleat. I usually do a test pleat and measure the width of this pleat. Then I undo the pleat and measure how much material was necessary to make the pleat. The number of pleats needed will depend on neck size divided by the width of the FINISHED pleat. The amount of fabric necessary to make the number of finished pleats is determined by the number of finished pleats needed times the length of material necessary to make one pleat.

If you find that you are having a tough time pleating and attaching to the neckband at the same time, pleat the ruff length first and then attach to the neckband after the pleating action has been accomplished.

9. Once the pleating has been accomplished and the ruff attached to the neckband, you will notice that the figure eights formed at the outer edge are untidy and not in neat rows. At this point, you will need to fuss with the pleats until they sit nicely. Once you have them looking like they should, pin the pleat to the next pleat. Do this for all the pleats in the ruff until the ruff looks nice and the figure eights at the edges are all the same size and uniform. At this point, you can either hand tack the pleats together, using thread or tack and attach a small pearl at each juncture. In period, the pins would have been left in.

10. Add closures. I personally prefer to work without closures, and have specific brooches whose sole purpose is to close the neckband. You will also need one small pin to pin the first and last pleats together so that the ruff closes completely.

Viola! A Ruff. This particular method makes a sturdy and washable ruff. In the photo at the beginning, that particular ruff is over five years old and has been laundered quite a bit. When washing, always wash the ruffs by themselves or with other ruffs in an uncrowded washing machine. Remove them promptly and allow them to drip dry. Some laces will require that you gently pull the points back out so that they can dry nice and straight.

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