the ultimate tudor fashion Statement England, 1560-1620
Make your own Elizabethan ruff
While some bishops still wear them on occasion and Vivienne Westwood has dallied with them on the catwalk, the ruff is most famously associated with Elizabeth I. Emerging in the early 16th century, the ruff began life as a simple collar on the edge of a shift but over the decade became ever more elaborate as multiple layers, blackwork embroidery, decorative edging and lace became the fashion. Because of its natural springiness linen was the fabric of choice, much finer than the linens we can find today, and by the end of the decade elaborate pleating, starching and even waxing and wire under-structures had been utilised to create these fripperies of fashion.
Inspiration to make your ruff can be found in portraits of high society of the age, and you can easily chart their prominence and decoration through the Elizabethan era.
01 Prep your fabric
Cut three strips of linen 7.6cm (3“) wide and the width of the linen. Sew together with a flat fell seam to form one strip. Cut another piece of linen 41cm (16”) wide and 20cm (8”) deep for the neck band. Iron each short edge of the neck band in 1cm (0.5”), then in half lengthways. Fold each long edge in again to the middle and iron again.
02 Hem and decorate
Use an overlock stitch to neaten all edges of your combined linen strip – please note, you’re best using a sewing machine for this. Then, using a running stitch, hem the strip up 6cm (0.25”) then sew on your lace. Iron the unhemmed edge as straight as possible to give the finished product a crisp look.
03 cartridge Pleating
Mark a series of small dots 6.35mm (0.25”) in and parallel to the unhemmed edge and 6.35mm (0.25”) apart. Mark a second line of small dots (0.5”) in from the edge, 6.35mm (0.25”) apart and directly above the first line. Using a piece of thread approximately 10cm (4”) longer than the linen strip, tie a knot in one end and sew in the first line of dots.
04 gather your ruff
Divide your neck band into quarters and mark them with a pin. Repeat for your linen strip. Pull evenly on the gathering threads and gather up the each section of the linen strip to each size of each quarter of the neck band until the strip is the same size as the neck band. Take your time and arrange the pleats as evenly as possible as you work. Tie off.
05 attach the neck band
Fold out your neck back and with right sides together, whip stitch onto the ruff above the first stitching line of gathering. You do not need to sew through to the other side, just along the top of the pleats. Make your stitches about 6cm (0.25”) long. Repeat for the back, then whip stitch the ends closed. Make an eyelet in each end above the ridge of the gathers.
06 arrange your Setts
Finally, wash the ruff and starch it – you can use a spray starch, but historically they would have made a potato starch (brought back from the New World to Elizabeth’s England in 1584). Then arrange the pleats – or ‘setts’ as they were known – with your fingers so they are even and approximately 4cm (1.5”) high. It’s ready to wear once dry!