Dawn's Costume Guide

The Ruff

From about 1560 to 1600 well-dressed Europeans wore a neck ruff, not always, but often enough. It could be attached to a shirt, like our modern fancy collars, or made separately, and was just a ruffled strip that framed the neckline. After 1600 the ruff widened to dinner-plate size, and by 1610 the falling collar --a wide, lace trimmed version of our modern shirt collar-- had begun to come into fashion.

If you are going to dress up as middle or upper class you need a neck ruff to complete your costume. Consider it the Elizabethan equivalent of a necktie. If you want to look respectable or wealthy you gotta wear one. The Elizabethans were pretty hung up on social status and displays of rank, and anyone dressed nice with out a ruff would be immediately pegged as the poser he was.

At the time, to make a ruff you had to fiddle with yards of bleached and starched linen (in the days before bottled Clorox, electric irons and starch in a spray can) and maybe some tediously produced and impossibly expensive handmade lace. (Thus, your average peasant didn't wear one) You can recreate one using the same techniques with modern fabrics, if you really want to.

I didn't really want to get into it *that* much, so I developed a method that looks good with a few shortcuts. For starters, we're going to use wired holiday ribbon instead of a linen strip and lace. Since the wire holds the ruffles in shape, it gets whole lot easier to put together.

These instructions will help you make an earlier period neck ruff, such as might have been worn until 1600 in England, Germany, Spain, and other western European nations. For a later period ruff, which would be wider, you can add stiffened lace to the outer edge of the ribbon to get the right kind of look. Consult history books for portraits that will show you what you're aiming for.

This isn't a terribly difficult process, but it is slightly fiddly and very tedious. It requires patience and time to complete. Give yourself a day or two to finish this.

What you need:

A roll of wired ribbon 2-3 inches in width. Fancy holiday ribbons with gold and silver edging arrive in stores in late summer and go on sale in January. They vary from 6 to 10 yards per spool. You'll need at least 3 yards per ruff, probably closer to 4. Try to get some that isn't plastic-looking. Also look for the ribbon with the wire sewn into the edge instead of glued on top. The sewn kind works much better.
1 inch wide white satin ribbon. Get enough to go around your neck, usually at least 16 inches, maybe more.
hand sewing needle

Measure the neck of the person who is going to wear the ruff. Get a comfortable measurment, not too loose or too tight. It should fit right over the shirt collar. Cut your 1" ribbon to this length plus two inches. Fold each end of the cut ribbon in an inch and crease it so you have a neat edge.

Do not cut the wired ribbon off the spool. Work from the length on the spool. This way you won't accidentally get it too short and have to throw away hours of work.

Pleat your wired ribbon in 1 inch intervals. You can make it 1.5 inches if you have 1.5 inch ribbon instead of the 1" above. It helps to do this on a gridded mat (such as in the picture) but you could use a ruler as well. As you work try not to crease the wire too much. You want to bend it, not break it.

When you have made a few dozen pleats go back with a pencil or a dowel and fold the ribbon around it so you have nice even round pleats. The wired edge will hold these in place, more or less, after you set them. You can go back with the pencil if they get a little out of shape while you are working on them. I happened to use the handle of a craft knife, but I wouldn't recommend it as you need to hold it from the ends, and there's that sharp bit in the way.

Fold the cut end of the wired ribbon under so the wire doesn't poke out. You want a nice folded under edge so it is neat and doesn't poke you.

Starting at one end lay the 1" wide ribbon on top of the pleats and sew down each pleat. You may have to hold them in place next to each other if the wire is springy. Work carefully so you don't crush anything. It will feel like you need eight hands to do this, so be patient. Sew down one edge of the ribbon and go back after and sew down the other side. Make sure your stitches go around the wire on the edge of the ribbon.

In the picture below I have started to sew the ruff onto the ribbon band. You can see how the side that is not sewn is expanding out a bit into a natural curve.

I find it works best if I pleat some, and sew on a few inches of ribbon, and pleat some more and work in stages.

If the wire pops out -- and it will do this on the ribbons where it is only glued down not sewn in -- just sew the wire and ribbon pleat as best you can. This edge will be hidden in the ruffle and not really visible, so you can get away with it. If the wire pops out on the outer edge of your ruff it is going to look bad, which is why you wanted to get the sewn-in kind.

When you get to the end of your measured ribbon, fold the last bit of wired ribbon under, as you did at the beginning so you have a nice neat end. Sew a piece of narrow ribbon or cord onto each end of the ruff so you can tie it on. A 12 or 18 inch tie ought to be sufficient.

Wear and Care

Elizabethan gentry wore ruffs most often tied in the back. There might have even been buttonholes worked into the back of the doublet collar to tie the ruff into. Women sometimes wore their ruffs open in the front, particularly if they were also wearing an open partlet with a low cut bodice that exposed their bosom. In that case the ends of the ruff were tucked down into the inside of the neckline and secured under the bodice.

You're going to sweat into your ruff band. To keep it looking nice you ought to wash it after wearing it, and not let it sit around and get nasty and permanently stained. Hand wash it in the sink with a little warm water and mild soap, and let it dry on a towel.

Store your ruff in a sturdy flat box. During the Renaissance these were known as "band boxes". You ought to be able to find a gift box that will do the job of keeping your ruff clean and shaped.

If your ruff should get crushed you can easily reform the accordion shapes with your dowel or pencil.

All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2001 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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