Pleated Embroidered (Smocked) Apron: Mock-Up #1

First, I finally got the fabric I’m going to use for the side-laced cotte dyed!!

Freshly Dyed Fabric

I love the color! I was thinking it would be a bit more blue-ish, but I am pleasantly surprised by the results. I put it next to my white muslin for comparison.

I ended up using Dharma’s fiber reactive procion colors:

One part #30A Emerald Green

One part #32A Electric Blue

And 3/4 part #46 Brilliant Blue

On to the Pleated Apron

My first mock-up of the embroidered pleated apron is done!  It’s a style of aprons that popped up around the mid 14th century and lasted until the late 16th century without changing much in style. I found a couple of new pictures demonstrating the over 200 year range of this accoutrement.

Luttrell Psalter
1320 – 1340 England

Detail from The Seamstress
Edward Schoen 1535

What I like, other than the bling quality, is that it makes the simple apron not so simple and allows it to be worn with fancier garb.

Last time I left off, I was having problems simply getting the dots straight. Here’s what I worked out.

That green thing in the upper right is a home-made Bat-a-rang I made for my son’s birthday party 3 years ago. I still find those things everywhere!

I made a perfect rectangle of a piece of cotton muslin by pulling threads. Here’s a quick and dirty tutorial on it:

I squared the edges on my large fabric cutting board and used the marks to make a line nearly across the entire apron every half inch.  Half an inch was too big on one of my previous attempts, but with the method I’m trying, it’s perfect.

Keeping the fabric still lined up on the mat, I marked every 1/2″ in the perpendicular direction. The fabric did slip quite a bit, so generally between each row I would re-straighten it on the mat. It doesn’t matter how many rows you make, but it needs to be an even number (we’ll get to that later).

At this point, I have eight long lines going across, and about 70 dashes going up and down.

Somewhere I read a tip that said do all of the gathering stitches at once. So I threaded 8 needles – I used sharp, medium length embroidery needles. I used normal DMC embroidery floss in a light, but not white color. Avoid the urge to use a completely contrasting color, like red. I did that with the cartridge pleats on my partlet, and when I pulled them out, it left red residue in the holes.

The method I used was I ran along the length-way lines. A smidgen before every dash, I pushed the needle through the fabric. Using the same motions used in a running stitch, right after each dash I came back up.

Tie the back ends of the thread together in batches of 2 and 3. It makes it easier to adjust when gathering the fabric.

When you get to the end of your threads, but still have more line to finish . . .

Start pulling the gathers. That’s why you tied the threads off at the other end and why it’s easier to work all 8 rows at once.

When I finished gathering the gathers, I thought that it looked way too small. I knew that I wanted the apron wider than this.

So I set about spreading the folds and trying my hardest to keep the columns straight. Then I laughed and realized that the smocking will loosen the gathers. I re-pulled the threads together, although not as tight as I did at first.

Take a chop-stick, or something like it, and pock into each pocket created by the gathered threads. It is tedious, but when you are done . . .

all of the rows line up nicely, and . . .

the front looks just lovely.

Now for the smocking. It helps if you understand the pattern first before the stitches.

The Pattern

  • You are working with 2 rows at a time. That’s why you made an even number of rows.
  • I labeled the columns to make it easier to understand.
  • Remember: rows go side to side. Columns go up and down, like columns on a building. It’ll get confusing if I don’t make this distinction.
  • Start at the lower LEFT of the whole damn thing. Believe me, it makes a difference. (Yeah, I tried starting on the right – a big mess)
  • At the bottom left corner, Column A and Column B get stitched together. (Stitch explanations come in a minute).
  • Then go up one row, and Column B and Column C get stitched together.
  • Go back down one row and Column C and Column D get stitches together.
  • Go up one row and Column D and Column E get stitched together.
  • Go back down one row and Column E and Column F get stitched together
  • And so on, and so on, until you finish those 2 rows.
  • Here’s a little visual I threw together:

The Stitches

  • Bring your thread up from the bottom on the leftish to middle part of the top of A. In this case, A is not at the end.
  • Bring your needle around the other side of B and push it through both A and B.
  • Do that one more time. Bring the needle around to the other side of B and go through B and A.
  • Now bring the needle around again, but this time slip the needle into B only. You are going to run the needle up B to the row on top of it. BUT you are doing this under the cloth.
  • Now you are going to do to B and C what you just did to A and B.
  • And then come back down C to the first row.
  • Now repeat with C and D. And then with D and E. And so on.

When you get to the end of the row:

  • Connect the last two together and then tie your thread off underneath.
  • Ignore the thread in the middle, it’s just a loose thread that got into the frame.

Starting a New Row

  • Whatever you do, do NOT, I mean do NOT, just move on up to Row 3 and think you’re going to just work your way back to the left.
  • It does NOT work that way. Yeah, I learned that the hard way too.
  • Go back to the beginning of Row 3 all the way on the left.
  • The pattern for Rows 3 & 4 is the same as for Rows 1 & 2
  • Repeat again for Rows 5 & 6, and then 7 & 8.
  • Keep doing it until you finish


All Done, At Least with the Smocking

  • After the first two or three, I grew tired of having to tie off the loose threads in the back. The pleats are still fairly tight, and that made it a little more difficult.
  • Once I was done with the smocking, I took out the gathering stitches.
  • Loosened the pleats.
  • Then I tied down all of the loose threads.
  • Front view

  • Back side

All that was left was to hem it and add the apron ties and waistband.

Do I like it?  Yes, I think it is beautiful.

Can I improve on my techniques? Absolutely! Even looking back through the pictures I saw a couple of things I can do better on next time. All-in-all, smocking can be fun!

Beginning to Smock

I take back all the bad things I said about cartridge pleating and blackwork counted stitch embroidery. Smocking! That’s the real pain in the tush!

It’s for the decorative apron I’m making for my Christmas Revel A&S entry. It’s a project for which I have the documentation. It’s not so big that it’ll take months and months to complete, but it has a degree of complexity.

Yesterday, I looked over the documentation. The pleating part looks like cartridge pleats but on a larger scale. I figured that since I know how to do cartridge pleats, this should be no problem. Wrong! My problem is that it is so much larger and getting the pleating marks even is not easy.

At first I berated myself and told myself that I must be daft if I can not figure out how to do this. That was after I spent 5 hours doing this:

Ignore the squiggly on the side; it’s part of an abandoned project. As you can see, the dots are no where near even. At first I was trying to use the edge to make the dots line up. I gave up on that and drew a base-line to use. Still, even with my fancy ruler they would not line up. Plus I was making the dots 1/2″ apart, and after thinking about it (and 5 hours of cursing) I wanted them closer together.

It really didn’t help that I was doing this on my lap, using a large cookbook as a table. I was kind of in the middle of a Psych marathon with my 14 year old and didn’t want to get up.

So, I gave up on this end. I turned the linen piece around and made a straight edge by pulling threads out and cutting along the missing thread line:

The dots may be hard to see from the faintness, but they are much straighter. I used my favorite ruler that let me see through to match up the now straight fabric edge to the measuring lines. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad. It still took over 4 hours to do (and I’m not quite done yet).

All of this work left me a little anxious to get into the actual smocking, but I realized that I was still unclear about some of the details.

Sometimes before you can learn something new, you need to figure out what not only what things are called, but what questions you need to ask. So I needed to hit the books again and do a bit more research.

My first question was how do you get the pleats (and/or) dots even without going insane.  Turns out that it’s not that easy. My having problems with it wasn’t unusual. In fact they make specific tools just  for getting the dots even when smocking, such as iron-on smocking dots and dot templates. They also make machines that do nothing but make the pleats for smocking. Wow! So I’m not such a nutter-head for having a difficult time doing this.

I got some tips and thought of a couple of creative ways on my own to make the dots even and less time consuming. More on that later.

Then I started asking other questions:

When making the pleats, does it matter if I work from left to right and from top to bottom?

With the dots, do I go up one hole and down the next? Or do I go down slightly to one side of the hole and up slightly to the other side (or vice/versa)?

What about needle angle? Should it always be perpendicular to the fabric? Or can I use a running stitch?

And the type of needle. After it’s pleated what kind of needle do I use to smock? Long or short? Sharp or ball-point?

I found out some of the answers, and the rest I figure I will learn by trail and error.

So I put my nice linen down, cut a piece of cotton muslin and decided that it’s mock-up time. What will I use my mock-ups for? Casual wear. My girls could wear them. Or I just may give one out as a door prize when I teach a class on this stuff.

One things I did discover is that there are very little tutorials on-line on smocking from the beginning to the end of a project.  So I plan on making one. A smocking for dummies tutorial. That will come much later after I’ve learned it myself.

It may seem like I flit about from one project to another, not finishing any – or at least that’s what my husband thinks. But I’m not.

Side-laced cotte update:

  • Washed the fabric yesterday
  • Have one or two more dying test batches to try out before deciding on a color
  • Should be dying the fabric tomorrow

Blackwork Coif:

  • Still working on my needle-case in order to learn counted stitch blackwork embroidery.
  • Have the flowers and patterns picked out for the coif
  • The scroll-work design has been transferred to the linen I’ll be using.
  • I still have to decide on  exact placement and sketch it out, but I’ll do that after my needle-case is done.

Off to sew!

Christmas Revel Prep

I’ve felt run down for the last few days, but I was hoping it was just a low iron week. I added my vitamins back to my daily regimen in hopes that would I feel better, but I’m still tired. This morning I woke up coughing. At least with the vitamin increase, I should be able to fight off this bad boy a bit faster than normal. I’ll just cure it with some hot toddies. Ooo, and I have a grog mix I’ve been wanting to try.  I do have to run out to get the Thanksgiving turkey today, but after than it’s bed for me.

The realization that I will not get done with my blackwork Elizabethan coif in time to enter it into Christmas Revel’s A&S has hit me. Counted stitch blackwork is very, very slow. I’m not even half done with my needle-case cover, and all I’ve done on the coif is planned and sketched it.

So, I spent part of last night looking through the documentation I’ve gathered for projects that I haven’t yet made, and I decided on the pleat-work embroidered apron.  Since my next non-A&S compliant project is the side-laced cotte (I’m just going to  machine-sew it), I want something to bling it up. Not much jewelry was worn in the age of cotehardies. By the time they introduced waist-lines, even the girdle was not tremendously popular. However, in a few manuscripts and woodcut prints you see a very fancy apron.

It’s white, although I have seen a couple of other colors, and it’s most probably linen.  Along the top, normally gathered edge, you see pleat-work, sometimes plain and sometimes with embroidery on top of it. It looks very much like smocking in some of the pictures. I’ve never done smocking (I’m a virgin smocker), but it looks suspiciously like cartridge pleats – rows of evenly spaced gathering stitches.

This apron is seen from the early  14th to the mid 16th centuries. So I can wear it with my cotes or my late period Flemish garb, which makes it a pretty versatile accessory. Here are a few examples.

14th Century Pleatwork Apron

Early 14th Century
Brown pleat-work apron with white edging

Early 15th Century


Mid 16th Century

Now to figure out the how, and hopefully later tonight I’ll start the pleating.


A Cotehardie by Any Other Name Would Look Just as Lovely – Some Thoughts on Research

Terms . . . they make things more confusing than they should be, but that’s life. One of my first big “ah-ha” moments in research is that the word I may use for a specific thing is probably not the word that everyone else in the world uses. Be flexible when looking for something.

For example,  the majority of the world may call it a partlet, but if the best information on the net calls it a gollar, you’re never gonna find it by searching for partlet.

There is a myth (probably perpetuated by those who don’t research) that since the computer age, finding information is as simple as typing a couple of words into google. This anecdote will definitely age me, but back in college before the internet, I remember standing in front of the massive cabinets of the card catalog at my university’s library, pulling out drawers three feet long, and trying to find books on some particular topic. Actually some of my fondest memories are digging through the card catalog for hours and hours. I still remember the way they smelled. But I digress.

It would take hours and hours of sorting through topics and authors to find the books that might contain the bits of information I needed. Researching on the internet isn’t all that different. Sure, if you want some over-generalized, cursory information on a subject, it may take a few minutes. But if you want specifics and primary sources, it will take days. For some projects, I have spent more time researching than actually making the item.  Now, that may be reflected in some of my scores, but I was pretty certain my research was solid.

How does this relate to researching medieval and Renaissance clothing? Here’s a bit of advice.

When labeling a piece of garb, it’s best to be specific, but not term specific.  When writing the documentation for this dress I’m currently researching if/when I enter it into an SCA A&S I would call it a “15th Century Northern European Fitted Gown.” That is a pretty specific title, right?  However, I would not call it a cotehardie or cotte or cote or kirtle. Yes, those are specific terms, but those terms are very loaded and mean different things to different people, in different languages and in different contexts.

Yet, try researching or googling “15th Century Northern European Fitted Gown” and see how much you find. You may only find my blog and not much else that’s relevant. Thus I not only have to use the term cotehardie, which makes me cringe a little each time, but I also have to seed my blog with the terms cotte, cote, kirtle, gown and dress. I write to share the information I find and the conclusions I reach. I write both to help educate others and to get feedback on what I think.  If I don’t seed my blogs with those terms, no one would find these posts on that fitted dress.

Cotehardie is a pretty contentious word for medieval garb. First of  all, that word wasn’t used in period. Not only was it not used to describe what today we call a cotehardie, but it wasn’t used at all. It’s French in origin, meaning something like sturdy dress. I don’t know when it first popped up – I’m not that interested in the term. There is a chapter written on it in “Medieval Clothing and Textiles 4.” You can preview it in Google books here.

To add to the confusion, here are a few more names or variants on the spelling which I use when searching for information on that fitted dress found in the 13th to 15th centuries:

  • Cotehardy
  • Cote-hardie
  • Cotte
  • Cote
  • Kirtle

And that’s just English. Let’s try looking for the “cotte simple” or “Gothic fitted dress” in a few other languages:

  • German
    • Kittle
    • Cotta
  • Italian
    • Guarnacca
    • Cottardita
    • Gonnella
    • Cipriana
  • Polish
    • Suknia  spodnia
    • Suknia rozpinana
    • Jopula
  • Norwegian
    • Kjole
    • kyrtill
  • Swedish
    • klänning
    • överkjortel
    • surcot

Some of these mean “that” specific dress, and others simply mean dress or gown. In my research I’ve learned to say “women’s clothing” and “15th century” in about a dozen languages. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Research isn’t always easy. Don’t look at it straight-on. Try looking at it in as many creative ways as you can. It might surprise you what you may find.

Sometimes I think I should stick with the easy stuff. I have A-LOT of books and articles on period garb. I could just glance through them, pick a project and my documentation would be simple. But then I think, “What fun would that be?”

Side-Laced Cotehardie – I Think I Found It

After several days of searching through 15th century Dutch painters, I think I found what I am looking for.

Visitation – 1463
Master of the Life of the Virgin

  • Side-laced
  • No waist-line

I was so excited last night when I found the picture. I just sat and stared at it for several minutes with glee. But then today I actually read the title: The Visitation. That refers, again, to the point in the Bible when Elizabeth visits Mary, both of whom are pregnant.

Perhaps it’s time to throw in the towel and just admit that an un-waisted side-laced 15th century cotte was mainly used as a maternity dress. In another 500 years, when some futuristic SCA group is re-creating the 21st century, it would look pretty silly for the non-pregnant women to be wandering around in maternity wear. So until I find more evidence, either it’s a side-laced cotte with a waist-line or, if I want no waist-line,  it’s a front-laced cotte.

So what do I have so far?

15th century Flemish cottes could be either laced in the front or the sides, with the former being more common than the latter. But in my own interest, let’s start with the side-laced version. I have not been able to find many articles or writings on the side-laced kirtle, so hopefully what I’ve gathered will help others.

15th Century Northern European (Flemish) Cotehardies

The Deposition – 1470’s
Unknown Master

This is a great example of the side-laced cotehardie. In this painting you can see:


  • The lacing goes from the armpit down to the waist-line.
  • The eyelets are off-set and the lacing is done using a spiral lacing method.


  • A cute little bit of trim on the sleeve edge


  • The dress has a waist-line. The skirt is separate from the bodice.

If you look at the skirt edge, the gown is lined with a green fabric all the way down to the hem.

The Deposition – 1455
Dieric Bouts

Since Mary Magdalene is wearing the dress, I’m assuming that she’s not pregnant.


  • Side laced
  • Lacing runs from slightly under the armpit to the lower hip or thigh


  • Waist line
  • Large pleats in the front

If you look at the rolled up hem, the gown is lined with a grey fabric.

Rogier van der Weyden

This one is, of course, the pregnant Elizabeth.


  • Side lacing goes from slightly under th armpit to slightly below the waist
  • Spiral laced, but laced skipping every other hole


  • No waistline, which makes sense if it’s maternity garb


  • Hem is edged in fur or fur-like trim

I have a few more iffy pictures that could be side-laced, but, until I get versions of them with better resolution, I’m not willing to assume that they are side-laced.

The Elusive Side-Laced Cotte

Finding evidence for this cotehardie that I want to make is proving a bit more difficult than I thought. It’s out there, but under what conditions, I don’t know.

Here’s the problem: for the most, part the pictures from manuscripts are very cartoon-ish.  They give a general shape and idea, but they don’t show seems or closures.

Here’s what I found so far:

Visitation – 1445
Panel painted on oak
Rogier van der Weyden

This is a definite side-laced fitted gown.  Of course, you can’t just look at the what, you also have to look at the who. The lady on the right is Elizabeth, cousin to Mary (from the Bible).  They are both pregnant, Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. Thus the intimate feeling of the bellies.

So yes, the cotte exists, but was it maternity wear?

Abegg Triptych
1445 – oil on oak
Rogier van der Weyden

Yes, it’s the same painter. Also, the side-lacing isn’t completely clear. A search for a better resolution of this pic may be in order.

15th Century

The lady in red is definitely wearing a side-laced gown. It is waisted, and I am looking for unwaisted examples. But it is certainly a side-laced dress.

I’m not sure who painted the one above. Heck, I’m not even sure that the name is correct, but it does look like the same style of der van Weyden’s 15th century Flemish style. It gives me something to go on.

Tacuinum Sanitatis

This one is a bit earlier than I wanted, but not so terribly early that it’s un-useful. Those sleeves, though . . . Wow!

I have a couple of other iffy pics from manuscripts. If they were of a better resolution, I could maybe use them. The only other solid thing I have is this one:

I have no idea where it is from, what time period or the artist, but it certainly is a side-laced kirtle. And a good shot of spiral lacing.

Tip: if you are going to make any kind of medieval or Renaissance laced dress, check out Jen Thompson’s Zen of Spiral Lacing post: It will help you get it right the first time.

One thing I find utterly ironic about this quest of mine is that it has led me to Flemish artists as the main source.  At least for the moment.  I was certain I would find what I was looking for in Italy or France, but never back to Belgium. This whole obsession of mine with period garb started out with the 16th century Flemish peasant dress. So in the last year, I’ve come full circle.

Searching for the Side-Laced Cotehardie

I’ve spent that last 2 days looking for pictorial evidence for the side-laced 15th century cotte. So far, I’ve found very little. The problem is that I have something specific in mind.  I’m trying to find evidence to match what I see in my head rather than looking at what is really there and formulating the idea off the evidence. It’s neither the first time nor will it be the last time I’ve had this problem. Stubborn seamstress may have been a more appropriate title for my blog.

Then, of course, I have two other things working against me. One: I’m trying very hard to focus on the kids’ schoolwork (btw, I’m a homeschool mom as well). And two: I get distracted very easily (“Ooo, shiny! What was I looking for again?”).

Okay. Here’s what I have in mind:

  • 15th century cote, or fitted dress
  • Laced on the sides rather than the front or back
  • Short sleeved
  • Tippets optional
  • Not lined

What I don’t want:

  • Lined, and especially lined with a patterned cloth
  • Floppy sleeves
  • Bizarre neckline
  • Overly baggy

Interesting things I’ve found so far:

In my search I’ve come across some interesting garb concepts.

Gathered lower-edge of chemise

The lower edge in both of the under-dresses in the picture have a definite gathered edge that was also seen on every prom dress made in the 80’s.
Horae ad usum Parisiensem
c. 1475-1500

Cotte lined with a wild pattern

This wasn’t the only example either. There are tons of pictures of men’s and women’s cottes lined with patterned fabric that is no where near the color of the dress itself.
Evrart de Conty , Le livre des échecs amoureux moralisés
c. 1401 to 1500

Really cool Liripipe hood

This hood has an awesome triangular back. I also love the contrasting fabric on the edge, the tassel and the fact that it doesn’t have a tail that Rapunzel would envy.
Horae ad usum Parisiensem
c. 1475-1500

I’m still searching, and I have no doubt that I will find evidence to match at least most of what I have in mind. It’s just a matter of time and patience.