16th c. Black German Honeycomb Smocked Apron – In progress!

Adding to my earlier work, the 16th Century German Style White Apron, I am working on a black linen apron with honeycomb smocking and drawn-work hemstitch. Pleated and embroidered aprons were fashionable for functionality and adornment for women of the tross (aka. Trossfrau) (examples in woodcuts and drawings below and “Landsknecht Woodcuts: Kriegsvolker im Zeitalter der Landsknechte”). The tross / train followed mercenary Landsknecht Soldiers during their campaigns in the late 15th through 16th centuries (Richards, 2002, p. 25-27).

Many aprons of the early 16th c. from Germany and neighboring regions appear to be white or off white in paintings. However, other colors such as black are documented in clothing lists from the 16th c. (Zander-Seidel, 1990) and appear in some artwork (e.g., The Hours of Charles d’Angoulême. (BNF Latin 1173, fol. 1), De mulieribus claris (BNF Fr. 599) Amie Sparrow – 16th C. German Costuming, 15th-16th centuries: Pamphile of Kos (fol. 40), Thamyris (fol. 50), Paulina (fol. 77v), and Epicharis (fol. 79v) Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture, these images and more are shown below).

Logic follows the life of a woman in a tross would be pretty dirty, and possibly a natural or darker color apron may have been advantageous; however, most images of women in the tross are woodcut prints or drawings color is unknown. Black may or may not be appropriate for trossfrau as it was an expensive dye color. Which may or may not have been prohibitive, with wealthy paid officers and spoils of war, it’s possible it could have been a favor for a beloved or traded for work. I have more research to do on this front.

Also, this time, I am creating a uniform honeycomb smocked pattern across the top, which appears in woodcut examples. The apron will almost wrap the total around the waist. The width of the aprons in some trossfrau woodcuts are wide and appear to reach around to the back of the garment. These elements are visible in woodcuts and art from the period.

I am going to further experiment with drawn-work hem-stitch embroidery. As discussed in my previous research of the white apron it was present on the German-style aprons of the 16th century. Drawn-work hem-stitch, also known as single openwork or Italian punto trato, is a type of embroidery where threads are removed from the weft or warp of fabric, and the remaining are sewn together to create a pattern (The Complete Encycopedia Of NeedleworkDe Dillmont, 1886, Single and Cut Openwork). Wiess arbeit (white work) is a technique of white embroidery on white linen with elements like drawn-work. The German pattern books, such as Schönsperger, 1529, have patterns that appear to have drawn work elements (German Modelbücher 1524-1556 – A Compilation of Eight German Needlework and Weaving Pattern Book, McNealy 2018). There are several extant examples of shirts with drawn work from the 1560s in Patterns of Fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women C. 1540-1660.

black apron pleat running stitches
Running stitch to create pleats 1 cm, row 3.
black apron running stitches
5 rows down, 2 to go.
Black apron pleats
Final 1 cm tight pleats.
Black apron drawn work
Start of the drawn-work hem stitch.
Black apron drawn-work
Almost done with the drawn-work side, then on to the hemd section of the incredibly wide apron.
black apron drawn-work
Close up of the double drawn-work hem stitch.

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