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Last time we looked at adding embroidery to a white Tudor-style shirt and I promised to show you how I added a ruff to the collar. If you want to recap, click here.

The pattern I have used as a base for this shirt is the Simplicity #4059 pattern set. The pattern includes a version with gathered lace at the shirt collar and sleeve cuffs, which required little adjustment for the embroidered panels and the addition of the flat lace at the cuffs. However, adding the cartridge pleat ruff deviated slightly from the “plan”.

This walk-through will show how I adapted the pattern to include a ruff collar and gives my walk-through for making a cartridge pleat ruff for your own costume projects.

For more tutorials/walk-throughs, go to Tutorials


A little bit of research

When I made my original Tudor-style shirt for my knight’s Banquet kit, I decided (ambitiously at the time) to go all out Tudor/Elizabethan style and make a ruff. I had never made the pattern before; I was working with materials kindly gifted by a friend (but had no idea how much I had); and as usual with banquet kit I was working to a fixed deadline of the night before travelling to the fest. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth, however the garment was made and worn and people were very kind and complimentary about it. A Black Knight has class, don’t you know.

As I had, after thinking about making this ruff in the run up to the banquet, scoured the internet for helpful walkthroughs/tutorials on making ruffs – except I wasn’t entirely sure what the pleats were called, which proved extremely unhelpful. Cue the first of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would continue with the red shirt. However, I came across the Manical Medievalist’s walk-through of how she made a 16th century partlet for herself. When I saw the pictures of the finished collar piece waiting to be attached to the partlet (which is a garment ladies wore over or under the low front of their gowns for modesty in the 16th century) I had my inspiration moment. It looked like I wanted, and that made sense to me. So I read back through her walk-through and reviewed my pattern instructions with this in mind. After fighting the garment every step of the way (from not having enough material to breaking sewing needles on a schedule, to learning to gather on my sewing machine and then snapping gathering and pleating threads more times than I care to recall) I promised myself that I would not attempt to do such a collar ever again.

I’m terrible at keeping such promises to myself, particularly when a friend asks if it is possible to get a similar shirt for their wardrobe. However, armed with my prior knowledge, I decided to have another go.


The difference between cartridge and knife pleats

Pleats are a method of gathering cloth from a wide piece to a narrower piece such as a collar on a shirt, waistband of a skirt or a seam on puffed sleeves. There are different types of pleats (box, knife, cartridge, honeycomb, rolled etc), each with their own way of gathering cloth which effects the fit and shape of the end garment.

Knife (or accordion)  pleats are tight pleats found on skirts or sleeves and allow lots of movement in a garment – think of cheerleader skirts or kilts and you’ll have the right idea. They form a smooth line when gathered into a seam, usually overlapping where they are sewn into a seam or waistband. They are formed by folding and pressing each fold of cloth along the “grain” line of cloth – the vertical lines in cloth. Each fold is folded, pinned and pressed before folding another pleat. Key tools – pins and an iron.

Cartridge pleats gather a large amount of cloth to a short edge without adding lots of bulk, but they do kick out from the seam. They were common on 15th and 16th century garments, but also saw a revival in the ’70’s to accommodate the wide flares narrowing to a tight waistline of the trousers of the age. They are gathered rather than pressed into shape and rely on lines of running stitches along the bottom and top to guide the stack before they are sewn into shape. I’ll be using the look and shape of cartridge pleats to make the ruff for my Tudor-style shirt. Key tools – thread, needles and marking implement.


Making the ruff

I want to call this “making outrageous ruffs”, but sadly these are fairly tame compared to some of the historical depictions of ruffs. Take this one for example …

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt

Portrait by Michiel Jansz van Miereveldt

After preparing and cutting all the pattern pieces (and decorating as appropriately) I pieced together the shirt yoke and body until I got to the point where I would add the collar. At this point I stepped away from my machine sewing and made the ruff.

Cutting for the ruff

Using leftover scraps of cloth (which I ironed before marking) I cut enough pieces to make up 4 yards worth of cloth. These pieces ranged in length but were all 2 2/8” (about 6cms) or – as shown above – two widths of a metal ruler I used with my (new) water soluble pen. I wanted the ruff to stand a decent way from the collar to do it justice and because these pieces would be folded in half before pleating, and including the 5/8” seam, I would be left with only 1/2″ worth of ruff. Also the metal ruler provided me a good straight line to work against, which helped when creatively cutting some of my off-cuts.

A note about using water soluble pen – it’s like using tailors chalk but in a felt tip style pen. As you can see it’s a bright blue colour which helps when working on white (as I only have white chalk to hand …) and it vanishes when water is applied. However, you need to spray the cloth (or apply a damp cloth to your marks) before ironing to avoid setting the ink. It’s like magic watching your marks vanish with a bit of water, though I may have got a bit too enthusiastic with wetting my cloth and had to wait for the cloth to dry overnight between marking sessions. After that I sometimes had to dampen the cloth another couple of times as the ink hadn’t fully vanished for whatever reason (after each wetting the blue got less, so my current theory is an over-enthusiastic application of the pen). Once the whole shirt is pieced together it will have a thorough washing to clean out any dirt gathered whilst being worked and to get rid of the blue marks for good.

After soaking out the marks and checking I had roughly enough material according to the walk-through I was referring to, I ironed each piece and folded it in half so that the RIGHT side of the cloth was on the outside. Duck cotton has a “normal” warp/weft pattern on one side and a diagonal pattern on the other. When making the shirt I had decided that I didn’t want the diagonal pattern on the outside, so I was careful to make sure the ruff pieces followed the rest of the shirt.

Fold in half

After ironing all the pieces (I found working in batches helped get through making this ruff), I marked 1 cm sections along the folded length. These dictate how narrow your pleats are – if you want larger pleats you just have a larger gap between sections, but you will need more material for the ruff as it will shorten your finished length of pleats. I’d suggest going no smaller than 1 cm between each section as it can get a little fiddly.

Preparing to pleat

On the section lines I marked three points down each section – two near the bottom and one near the fold at the top – which would be the points I would run my running stitch through to gather the pleats together. I did mine at approximately 0.5 cm, 2.0 cm and 2.5 cm, measuring down from the fold. I marked these on ALL the pieces before I started stitching in earnest. I perhaps should have put a warning up that cartridge pleating is really fiddly …

Threading the lines

Threading a needle I then passed it between each of my marks going to the front and back of each section as can be seen in the photo. I used a double thread for strength and kept my tails at each end long and knotted just for security.

Three lines No marks three lines


This meant for each piece of cloth there would be three lines of running stitches of about 1 cm spacing (give or take an eyeballing). I suggest you put on some good music or a background film or something. Once finished I spritzed out all the blue pen (it’s like magic!).

Block of pleats

I then drew in my pleats. Tying one end of the three threads together I held the other in one hand. I then hooked a finger into the gap between the top and middle threads and pulled the cloth back towards the knotted end. The pleats slide along the loose running stitches and fold themselves up until you have a nice “packet” of pleats waiting to be sewn together.

Checking length

After gathering all the pleats I did a quick check to see if I had enough to go on the collar and was pleased to see I had. These blocks of pleats were then sewn together using an overcast stitch (but basically it’s sewing two bits of cloth together). I tried to hide this seam among the pleats so as not to have a lumpy seam on display which would ruin the seamless effect.

Sewing pleat edges

Once the blocks were all sewn together I pinned them to the embroidered piece and slowly worked my way along, sewing two lines of back-stitches along the seam and sewing pleats on the other side of the panel together to help them keep their neat shape.

Sewing on the facing


Once I was happy the seams were sturdy, I sewed the facing to the other side. The edges that are not attached to the ruff will be sewn with a sewing machine when I sew the collar to the shirt at the notched edge., following the instructions for making the shirt.

Sneaky Peek Pleats

However, here’s a sneak peek as to what the finished product will look like …


And here’s one I made earlier. This is the original red shirt worn as banquet kit by my Black Knight character.

Red Knight Shirt Red Knight Pleats