Sunday, 8 September 2013

Get Ready, on your marks, Pleat!

Frans Hals, Seated Woman (detail), 1633. National Gallery of Art,
The large ruffs you find in Dutch early seventeenth-century portraits are the results of the time consuming efforts of linen bleaching, sewing, starching and setting. A ruff is constructed from a long strip of fabric, usually very fine linen lawn (Holland lawn was the finest around, made, obviously, in The Netherlands), gathered into cartridge pleats. The length of fabric ranged from a few meters up to nearly 20 meters and ruffs could have anything from 30 all the way up to hundreds of pleats! The famous Dutch portraits often show ruffs of around 200 pleats and we can assume that the painter painted the ruffs fairly accurately. The laundress had the responsibility to starch and set the ruff in the shape required with the aide of a hot poking stick to set the pleats. Rain and wear would 'melt' the starch and would make the ruff go floppy and the work would have to start all over again. In Jonson's play Every Man out of his Humour (1598) a character warns his friend to "keep close; yet not so close, thy breath will thaw my ruff". A rare surviving ruff is in Munich's Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, where there is a linen ruff from around 1620-40 with no less than 530 pleats. It is one of very few original ruffs left in the world ( as far as I can tell at the moment, there are only three original ruffs left, the other being in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and in the Stockholm Armory Museum)
Ruff at the Royal Armoury Museum in Stockholm

Suportasses and ruff, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum.
The museum must be very strict with regards to photographs
as no pictures of it appear on the internet except this vintage one.
The ruff does appear in recent publications such as the 'In Fine Style' catalogue
published this year.

I've had a go at making my own ruff but not satisfied with the
result I will try again! stay tuned...

Ruff, 1615-1635, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

PS: In the end I made a ruff and painted it, see here.

Further Reading:
Anna Reynolds, In Fine Style. The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion, Royal Collection Trust, 2013
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 4, Macmillan, 1988
Nina Mikhaila, Jane Malcolm-Davies, the Tudor Tailor, Batsford, 2006

For an organised list of ALL blog posts that I wrote during the BP Travel Award project (2 years), please see this page on my blog!

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