For my local SCA Kingdom’s A&S Championship I created and entered the shirt presented in this article. Below are excepts and pictures from my supporting documentation. I will be adjusting this article more later, however I wanted to get the information out there. Please enjoy my sloppy attempt to bend my research paper to a blog article and check back for updates (Oct. 29, 2022).
I created an upper-class early 16th-century pleat-work white linen men’s shirt (German: Mannshemd, hemd) from the southern German region of the Holy Roman Empire with a shirred collar, for lack of a German phrase. I was inspired by the collar of the hemd in the Portrait of Hans Dürr (Brösamer, 1521) and wanted to replicate that pattern.
In extant hemden and portraits from the 16th-century German regions, collars and sometimes cuffs appear tightly pleated with pattern darning or back-stitched (top-stitch smocking) embroidery. See my article on smocking for a discussion of styles. However, a third style of embroidery is seen in imagery that is not obviously pattern darned or back-stitch pleat-work. The concentric diamond pattern of the collar in the Portrait of Hans Dürr is one of those cases. I think this third type is a shirring technique known as Italian Shirring or Sardinian puntu vanu; this is a pleating technique where the pleats are made using multiple rows of alternating length and overlap of gathering thread when pulled to create a complex pattern in the fabric.
Although there are no 16th-century extant German examples of a complete hemd collar with shirring, there is evidence in German portraiture and archeological finds from the 16th century. Additionally, style in southern German regions of the Holy Roman Empire early 1500s was influenced by Northern Italian styles (Boucher & Deslandres, 1996). Therefore, it makes sense to see similar fashion trends.
Materials and Methods
The most complex and novel portion of this mannshemd construction was the puntu vanu collar. I needed to learn this technique and develop a pattern to begin this project. The shrinkage of the fabric into the folded pleat pattern is essential for the calculation of the measurements of the shirt pattern.
First, I needed to learn how to create the puntu vanu patterns and how to translate these patterns to linen. Sardinian puntu vanu uses fine cotton fabric and cotton thread (Lecca, 2010); in 16th-century Germany, they would use linen fabric and thread of silk, wool, or linen (see descriptions of clothing lists (Zander-Seidel, 1990) and archeological finds (Fingerlin, 2001) (Rast-Eicher & Tidow, 2011)). Sardinian puntu vanu is not generally as wide (2-3 cm) as the desired width I had in mind for this 16th-century German Mannshemd collar (2-2.5 in). Additionally, there were no stitch mapping patterns in the book that would be close enough to the desired design, one like the concentric diamonds seen in the painting of Hans Dürr (Brösamer, 1521).
To get started, I drew out and developed a plan on paper for the mannshemd. The design was like ohter hemd I have made; I used the same rectangular pattern cut. I decided to go with a side slit collar opening. I went with this design purely for interest; I had not tried this collar opening before and wanted to give it a go. Unfortunately, I am unaware of any surviving examples of the side slit collard hemden. The side slit collar opening does show up in paintings, and Jenny Tiramani used a similar pattern in the Matthäus Schwarz outfit they recreated in The First Book of Fashion (Rublack, Hayward, & Tiramani, 2015).
I constructed the hemd on the grain with a rectangular pattern where the sleeves are attached parallel to the body and gathered into the collar with a side slit. This style is close to “peasant sleeves” or “raglan sleeves” (Koester & Bryant, 1991). However, unlike a modern “raglan sleeve”, there is no angle in the sleeve and body seam. Instead, the long side of the rectangular sleeves is attached to the side of the rectangular body. The extant example of the boy’s shirt from The First Book of Fashion is cut in this manner (Rublack, Hayward, & Tiramani, 2015). Additionally, a fragment of a sleeve from the Mülburg-Ensemble finds a sleeve attached to the collar and refers to it as a “raglan sleeve” when translated (Rast-Eicher & Tidow, 2011).
I decided on a simple hemmed finish for the cuff of the sleeve. Most of the hemden found at the Mühlberg-Ensemble (Rast-Eicher & Tidow, 2011) and Alpirsbach Monastery had simple or no treatments to the cuffs (Fingerlin, 2001). Furthermore, hemden were usually worn under wams (doublet) or gowns, and the cuffs would not be visible. Lastly, I chose to use handmade hooks and eyes to close the collar and planned for a look similar to that seen in the portrait of Philip.
Finally, I went with a continuous shirring pattern from collar edge to edge, which was challenging due to the continuous length.
The stitches I use to construct hemden are all documentable in the 16th centuries in Patterns of Fashion 4 (Arnold, Tiramani, & Levey, 2009), Textil- und Lederfunde (Fingerlin, 2001), and earlier in the Lengberg Castle find shirts (Nutz & Stadler, How to pleat a shirt in the 15th century, 2012).
Fabric and Preparation
I started with 4 yards of a white tabby weave lightweight linen fabric (made from flax fibers) with approximately 22 vertical warp and 24 horizontal weft fibers per centimeter. Linen or Leinwat is a tabby weave commonly used in the clothing of the 16th century (Barich & McNealy, 2015). A tabby weave is a simple pattern where lengthwise warp yarns are fibers held stationary in tension on a loom while the transverse weft is drawn through and inserted over and under the warp creating a crisscross pattern of right angles (Structure, 2022).
I felt this was an appropriate approximation of the type and weight of linen for this project, a tight weave not overly fine with some durability. The selvage width was too wide for period fabric; however, I was cutting it down to a width that would have been available at the time. Janet Arnold notes shirts had several different selvage widths, ranging from 25 to 41.24 inches wide (Arnold, Tiramani, & Levey, 2009).
The shirts documented in Patterns of Fashion 4 are described as lightweight linen ranging from fine to tightly woven and fine to coarse (Arnold, Tiramani, & Levey, 2009). There were 17 pieces of shirt found at the Mülburg-Ensemble with varying cuts from simple to adorned with embroidery and pleat-work (Rast-Eicher & Tidow, 2011). The researchers found the more elaborate the decoration, the finer the linen fabric (Rast-Eicher & Tidow, 2011). There is an excellent discussion of linens in Drei Schnittbücher: Three Austrian Master Tailor Books of the 16th Century (Barich & McNealy, 2015).
I washed and dipped the linen in bran and warm water mixture (1 cup bran grain in a linen pouch per gallon boiled). I prefer to starch my fabric before construction to add to the stiffness and protect the fibers. However, it is unclear if starch would have been used (pre or post-garment construction) in German regions this early in the 16th century. However, modern linen is generally softened, and once it loses the coating or size, it has a very soft hand. See my post about starch for more info. Once I starched the fabric, I hung it to dry in the sun and periodically smoothed the wrinkles while it dried. Finally, I ironed it on a high-temperature setting when the fabric was almost dry.
I’ve made a lot of pleated 16th century shirts, so I have a pretty good feel for fit. I made sure the overall measurement of the body and the arm rectangles were greater than six times that of the finished desired neck, about 15-15.5 inches, and thus the finished circumference needed to be around 98 inches. I allowed 1/2 inch for the seams and added several inches for wear ease. Again, I did not want the sleeves to be overly voluminous; the hemd will be worn under a sleeved garment. Therefore, I tried to use as little fabric as needed in the body and sleeves to achieve the desired neck measurement. The measurements were as follows: front and back body rectangles were 29 inches wide and 44.5 inches long, the sleeve rectangle 20 inches wide by 37.5 inches long, and the collar lining 16 inches long by 3 inches wide. I planned 6-inch square gussets. These dimensions are similar to those seen in shirts later in the 16th century.
I cut the pieces out following the cutting diagram. The final Mannshemd was cut on the grain with the vertical as the warp. I measured out the rectangle using my yardstick and cut slits at the edge of the pieces. I pulled threads along the warp and weft to create straight cutting lines and cut along lines carefully to ensure the parts were straight along the grain with 90-degree angles at the corners. I took great care up front to ensure the fabric pieces were as straight as possible.
Once cut, I pinned the sleeves to the
body pieces at the top using brass pins
approximately 11 inches down. I used the
Bohin size 10 needles with linen thread and
lightly ran through beeswax. I sewed the
seam using a running stitch and added a back
stitch about every 3 stitch. I did not sew the seam of the left collar to the armpit, this is the opening slit, and the Shirring will run from the right to left sides. I double-folded 1/4 inch of the top edge to create the rolled hem, creased the fold with the bone tool, and whip-stitched it down using a blind hem stitch, making a 1/8-inch hemmed edge. Before continuing with the hemdconstruction, I switched to the collar embroidery.
I worked on many swatches to develop a pattern and finalized my desired stitch pattern map in Inkscape. See my post on folk shirring (puntu vanu) for more info. I printed out the pattern, I hand marked the rows and stitch counts. I started by creating a stitched frame to serve as a guide while embroidering the Shirred collar . I ran horizontal stitch lines in red silk every 6 threads at the top and bottom. I kept these guide stitch lines as straight as possible along the weft threads in the fabric. I also added vertical stitched guides in red silk equal to the red vertical guides in the stitch pattern map, every 30 stitches (starting at a midpoint), just shy of 3 inches. Again, I kept the vertical stitch guide straight along the warp thread of the fabric to keep it as straight as possible.
Once I completed the stitched frame, I started with the puntu vanu. I started at the top row on the right side of the collar at the front side seam slit. I preloaded about ten Bohin size 10 embroidery needles with a length of two strands of 2-ply silk embroidery thread roughly 1/4 longer than the collar section, about 3.5 yards. I kept the thread organized on small pieces of thick paper cut into 1.5-inch squares with a slit to hold the end. I would wrap and unwrap the thread as I went. I would take the needle-threaded doubled-up silk embroidery thread and gently run it across a block of beeswax, then wrap it carefully on the little paper thread holders. I decided to use beeswax to reduce the snarling of all the excess thread (mistakes may have been made, you’ll see…). I reloaded these needles and had them ready
in 10s for the next row until 41 rows were in play. As the pattern was stitched to account for the fabric and drift variation, one or two tread corrections were needed vertically and horizontally. I No embroidery hoop or frame or flat surface is needed, I just fold it up and work in my lap, putting it down and picking it up as needed to get it finished. The biggest concern is thread management, keeping them all organized on thread holders, wrapping and unwrapping.
Once I finished all 41 stitch rows in a section, I pulled the excess thread through the completed pattern section and wrapped the thread length on the paper thread holders, queuing it for the next section. completed the whole pattern in four sections, seam to seam. Front panel first, I would sewed each of the 41 stitch rows, pull the thread through and wound it up on the paper thread holders. When I was ready to start the next section I’d unwrap the thread one by one and repeat through the next section. I kept all the threads organized as I went. It was crucial to make it as perfect as possible; errors affect all the subsequent rows and the overall pattern. I fixed any mistakes as I went. There were times when minor deviations were made in the pattern to adjust for variation in stitch length. There were also several times when I needed to remove the needle and pull the row and start over. Working in sections made these instances less catastrophic. When I finished a row at the end of the 4th section, I finished the row out with several small straight stitches and removed the needles. At each end, I tied the row thread off two by two to ensure I did not accidentally pull any thread. It took about a month of very intense embroidery sessions.
Once the pattern was complete and all 97 inches of the collar embroidered, I carefully cut away the red guide threads. Then, I started to pull the threads tight one by one. At this point, I discovered the wax was going to be a problem; beeswax had built up too much in the last section and kept the silk embroidery thread from gliding through the fabric. I broke a string at the top of the pattern toward the edge. I stopped at this point, remembered I HATE SILK EMBROIDERY THREAD, had a nervous breakdown, and questioned my life choices. After I recovered, I did some Googling and decided to use the low melting point of beeswax to my advantage. I dipped the collar in just shy of boiling water (luckily, I always prewash my linen with warm water and protect the fibers with starch) and melted off the bulk of the thread wax. I then hung the hemd out to dry. Once dry, I gently ironed the piece and could easily pull the threads and collapse the design to the desired width. Luckily the broken thread was near the edge of the pattern and did not cause any issue.
Once I collapsed the puntu vanu pattern to the desired length. I cut the threads shorter and pulled each thread to the inside of the collar at each end. I then secured the threads by taking four rows of thread and knotting them about 5 times to each other (similar to the back of the prototype hemd); then, I cross-knotted each set. Then I braided the remaining strands on each side into three simple three-strand braids. Using a whip stitch on the wrong side of the collar, I carefully stitched each braid to several pleats to grab the fabric on the inside pleat. I clipped off the excess. I did not use any reinforcement fabric as I did on the back seam of the prototype hemd. My hope is the securing of the threads with knots and tacking back the braids will provide more than enough support without adding too much bulk. I also finger- pressed and pinned the edge back, about 1/2 an inch, and double folded it about 1/4 inch over, leaving no border on the right side. I just pinned it for now and moved on with finishing the construction. I also threaded a needle on the broken embroidery thread strand, passed it to the inside of the collar, and tied it off to the inside of a pleat.
Once I completed the collar, I put the shirt together. I also made hooks and eyes by hand to really finish it out. There are plenty of 16th century shirt construction articles and videos on the internet, I will not bore you with details.
I took the three best hook and eye sets and whip-stitched them to the inside of the collar band using lightly waxed linen thread. I started1/2 inch below the top of the collar and spaced them 3⁄4 inch apart. I learned at this point, small hooks and eyes are tough to attach. I would have liked to do a decorative stitch to attach them, but I did not have the space. Once I was happy with the alignment of the hooks and eyes, I hand-washed the mannshemd. I added a little boiled bran water to the rinse, then hung it to air dry. Once the mannshemd was dry, I steam-ironed it and took final project photos.
I am pleased with the finished final mannshemd. It is not perfect by any means, very much a learning experience. I will need to produce patterns and dial them in to really get to a point where I’m producing tight and more consistent pleats. The puntu vanu was very difficult to learn and apply in a short period of time; I spent many hours working on this project. Nevertheless, I achieved what I intended; I created a stylish mannshemd with a diamond motif using shirring that is consistent with early 16th century portraiture and archeological finds. Italian shirring or puntu vanu is the likely candidate for hemd collars that are not clearly top- stitch or pattern darned pleat-work seen in popular German imagery of the early 16th century.
After working with all the puntu vanu swatches and the hemd collars, I noticed that three-dimensional qualities can act like a sculpture. Concave, convex, and in relief patterns can create emerging or retreating visual effects. If you take a moment and look at some of the photographic images of puntu vanu and compare it to the visual elements in some of the paintings of these shirt collars, you will see they have a similar visual effect. The painters, in some cases, seem to be putting some effort into creating a three-dimensional quality to the collars. This effort could just be painters’ techniques, or it could be an effort to capture the in relief surface three-dimensional nature of shirring. Without a dated 1500s extant hemd with shirring from a German find or a time machine, it is impossible to say for sure. Going forward, I’m interested in attempting other puntu vanu patterns on different fabric types.
Overall, the materials and methods worked out very well. The overall construction was very nice and in line with extant shirts and scraps from German regions in the 16th century. However, I liked the linen /cotton blend fabric I had used in swatches better than the 100% linen; this is likely due to the evenness of the weft and warp fibers and the slightly firmer hand. I will likely look for a somewhat heavier fine 100% linen with equal weft and warp fibers for future projects. I will also try to find a good substitute for the silk embroidery thread, probably heavier silk with a twist like I used in the swatches or something out of wool; further investigation is needed. Lastly, I will likely not wax threads used in the puntu vanu embroidery ever again…
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