A Venetian 'Falling' Ruff

This ruff was made for the category "Costuming - A Ruff" in the Kingdom A&S comp run during 12th Night Coronation AS XXXVIII, in Krae Glas, Lochac, which I was unable to attend. This page is the (altered) documentation I presented along with the ruff. Although the comp didn't run, and thus my ruff wasn't judged, I still received written feedback from the judges, which I was very happy with.

My thanks to Lady Katerina da Brescia for taking this photo, and providing me with a copy. My thanks also to whichever gentle it was that arranged my ruff (albeit inside-out) for the A&S table. I appreciate it.

A Venetian Open/Falling Ruff in the style popular circa 1570 - 1590s

"Along with the Spanish Farthingale and the corset, the ruff is another of the items that immediately spring to mind when people consider Elizabethan costume."

(All About Elizabethan Ruffs, Drea Leed, The Elizabethan Costuming Page)

Most people, when thinking of the ruff, would picture the usual plate-shaped closed ruff common to many areas, especially Elizabethan England. This style, however common elsewhere, as far as I have been able to determine, was not seen in Venice until perhaps the very last years of the sixteenth century, and the evidence for the style then is scarce at best. I am therefore attempting a style much more common in late sixteenth century Venice - the style seen in the above 1590 woodcut by Cesare Vecellio - "Venetian Noblewoman Dressed for a Public Celebration" (Vecellio, p30)

This project was a re-working of a ruff I had made previously, but which I was not totally happy with, and which had been pulled apart. Since I already had an unfinished ruff project, and no suitable fabric on hand, I chose to finish it for this competition. It had already been machine-sewn from pure cotton voile dress fabric. This fabric approximates the look of the fine linens available in period. It is embellished with machine-made cotton lace which is comparable in simplicity of design to period bobbin-lace. In the above woodcut it appears that the ruff is trimmed with something round-ish. It looks like pearls to me, but since to use larger pearls was out of the question for reasons of cost and weight, I have hand-trimmed the ruff with seed pearls. I was aiming for a plausibly period construction, simplicity and materials in keeping with a persona of the nobility, and a semi-formal look. More detail on the construction method to follow.

Fig 1: A detail from Giovanni Antonio Fasolo's,"Games" (fresco detail), c1565, Villa Campiglia Negri de' Salvi, Vincenza, Veneto. 

This image shows the vestigial ruff. It is impossible to tell if the partlet and ruff are made from the same fabric or not. The ruff appears to be plain, but the partlet is clearly embellished with dot-like items, possibly pearls.

Fig 2: Detail from Domenico Robusti's, Portrait of a Lady in White, c1581-84, Private Collection.

 By this time the ruff is clearly attached to a stiff, upright neck band, which is itself embellished with lace, jewels (perhaps brooches or ouches) and pearls, to match the partlet.

A Brief History of the Venetian Ruff

Overall the ladies of sixteenth century Venice did not take to the closed ruff. Beginning about 1560, their partlets were embellished with open ruffs, no more than frills or ruffles really, which were at first small and attached - not to neck-bands - but directly to the shirt/partlet body itself. (Fig 1, left) As the century progressed the ruffs grew in size, as indeed they did elsewhere, culminating in the large, open, standing ruffs (by now the neckband to which they were attached was visible) seen during the 1570s and later (Fig 2, left). Matching shoulder-ruffs were a peculiarity of Venice, seen in the 1570s and onwards. As for the neck-ruffs, during the 1590s, both small and large open falling ruffs, and larger standing ruffs were in use at the same time. (See Fig 3, below)

Fig 3: Detail from "Woman of the Venetian Nobility" circa 1590, from Cesare Vecellio's Renaissance Costume Book, New York, Dover Publications, 1977. Another style of ruff in fashion at the same time as the open, falling ruff.

Fig 4: Detail from Ludovico Pozzoserrato's (Ludwig Toeput) "Concert in the Garden", circa 1580s, Treviso, Museo Civico. This shows the back view of the informal 'falling' ruff attached to the partlet.

The style I have chosen to re-create, the larger, open, 'falling' ruff, (seen above in the Vecellio woodcut) was in use perhaps for less formal occasions such as the "public celebration" (see also Fig 4, left). This style is sometimes referred to as a 'falling' ruff, because it falls on the shoulders. As you can see, on these images there is no evidence of the ruff being attached to a neck-band. It is attached directly to the partlet. Since partlets without attached ruffs continue to be seen in Venetian art until the end of the sixteenth century (Fig 6, below), I hypothesise that ruffs could be either made separately and attached to the partlet when required, or could be a permanent part of the partlet. The pleats in this style of ruff do not appear to have been starched into regular pleats. Instead the pleats fall irregularly around the neck, sometimes loosely as in the above images, sometimes quite tightly (see Fig A, Below).

Fig A: Detail from Portrait of a noblewoman by Francesco Montemezzano, circa 1580s, Brunswick, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum. Despite the formality of the portrait, and the matching lacy, box-pleated shoulder-ruffs, this ruff is informally (irregularly) but closely pleated.

Fabrics And Embellishment

The fabric used for ruffs, at least as far as English documents show, appears to have been various qualities, weights, and weaves of linen. Philip Stubbes, in his Anatomie of Abuses, 1583, gives us a no doubt one-eyed view of the sartorial excesses of his day, but does provide us with information on all manner of clothing detail, such as ruffs. "They have great and monsterous ruffes, made either of Camerick [also called Cambrick by the same author elsewhere], Holland, Lawne, or els of some other the finest cloth that can be got for money..." (Leed, Stubbes, p4). These fabrics were all made from flax linen in period, and even today, "handkerchief lawn" and "handkerchief linen" are interchangeable. ("C", "L", "H" - Resil Textile Dictionary)

As far as Venetian ruffs go, I have found that Florio's Worlde of Wordes, an Italian/English dictionary written in the last years of the 1590s and published in 1598, lists "Ghimphe", "Lattuche", and "Ninfa", as words for ruff-bands. Ninfa is given as the word for the most up-to-date (1598) style: "Ninfa - ...also such ruff-bands as are worn nowadays".

Fig 5: Detail from Paolo Veronese's Apotheosis of Venice, c1580, Venice, Palazzo Ducale. This demonstrates the difference in opacity between partlet and ruff.

It would appear that, at least in some cases, the partlet itself may have sometimes been made from a finer fabric than the ruff attached to it. In a detail from Paolo Veronese's "Apotheosis of Venice", circa 1580 (See Fig 5, left), the woman on the left wears a very fine, transparent partlet, to which a thicker, more opaque ruff is attached. The woman on the right wears a semi-opaque partlet and ruff. It is possible that it is a fine linen ruff attached to a sheer silk partlet, but I guess it is also possible that the sheer partlet is actually very fine sheer linen, and the ruff only looks more opaque because of the many folds. Unless and until I find a period Italian text explaining how the ruffs were made we can't be certain of anything. However, considering the washing, starching and ironing that the ruff may have been exposed to, it is likely that, as in England, it was made of linen of some kind.

There is also a slight possibility, given the several references to fustian, a mix of cotton and linen (History of Linen) in Florio's Worlde of Wordes, an Italian/English dictionary of 1598, and several other sources, that a partlet and ruff may have been made from fustian. I have been told that there is argument for the existence and use of a pure cotton fabric in Italy in the late sixteenth century in Maureen Mazzaoui's The Italian Cotton Industry in the Later Middle Ages 1100-1600: "The versatility of cotton cloth recommended it to wealthy customers for certain articles of clothing, accessories and home furnishings, although it never totally displaced the much coveted fine linens of the North in the wardrobes of the rich." However, since I have not yet thoroughly read through the book (I was unable to obtain a copy), and am relying on someone else's notes, I am more inclined to believe that the nobility would have chosen to have their ruffs made from imported and costly fine linen fabrics.

The ruff I made is made from pure cotton dress fabric, which approximates the look of the fine linens available in period. I do own some "hanky weight" linen, but find that the modern heaviness and coarseness of it does not lend itself well to use on fine, delicate items such as ruff and partlets.

Stubbes is also very forthcoming as to the embellishment that English ruffs received. "They are either clogged with golde, silver, or silk lace of stately price, wrought all over with needle woork, speckled and sparkled heer and there.... some with purled lace so cloyed, and other gewgaws so pestered....."(Leed, Stubbes, p4). On looking for documentation of the embellishment used on English ruffs, I found black work, spangles, needle lace and pearls used to great effect. I was especially keen to find documentation for the use of pearls on ruffs (See 1b, 2b, 3b, Below), since it appears to me that the ruff worn in the Vecellio woodcut is trimmed with them. Of course, it is possible that the round-ish objects are something else altogether.

Fig 1b: Detail from portrait of Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex by an artist of the Anglo-Netherlandish School, c.1570-75. <<http://www.tudor-portraits.com/FrancisSidney.jpg>> . This ruff is embellished with a black-worked or black lace edging and pearls.

Fig 2b: Detail from portrait of an unknown lady, circa 1595, Tate Gallery, by Marcus Gheeraerts II. It is made completely from lace and trimmed with pearls.<<http://www.tate.org.uk/magazine/issue4/pearlyqueen_image1.htm>>

Fig 3b: "Queen Elizabeth 1" Engraving by Remigius Hogenberg. c.1570, Private Collection.Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, plate 11, pg. 15. The ruff is trimmed with pearls.

Fig 6: Portrait of a young woman by Gortzius Geldorp, c1599, Private Collection. The partlet appears to be made from lacis, and is adorned with needle lace along the edges. The exclusively Venetian shoulder ruffs may be attached to the partlet, but despite this there is no neck ruff present, which supports the theory of separate ruffs.

The most common type of embellishment seen on Venetian ruffs is lace (see Figs 2 and 3 above, and 6, left). By the late sixteenth century both bobbin and needle lace were well known and used in Venice. Venetian needle lace in particular, was much sought after. Needle lace is used to adorn the neckline of the partlet and ruff, and there is evidence from Italy for the partlet, if not the ruff itself, being made from lacis (embroidered net lace, see Fig A, above), known there as lavori di maglia (Parasole p42-46) . I have not seen definitive evidence for the use of bobbin lace, or merletti a piombini, (Parasole p33-41) on partlets and ruffs in Venice, but taking into account the relative ease, and thus economy, with which it was made, I would guess that it is not out of the realm of possibility for bobbin lace to have been used in such a fashion. I am not a lace maker (yet!) so I have chosen to use a modern machine-made cotton lace, whose twisted threads are close in design to simple bobbin-laces. (See Fig B Below, Roseveth p1)

Fig B: Image from Nuw Modelbuch showing a bobbin lace similar to the cotton machine-made lace I have used for my ruff and partlet. <http://www.havenonline.com/bobbinlace/page1.htm>

As for pearls on Venetian ruffs, I have no definitive evidence that they were used in such a way*, since the woodcut I used for inspiration was not clear enough to determine whether the 'blobs' on the ruff's edge were pearls or not. However, pearls were very much in evidence on Venetian clothing, and, according to one eye-witness account, pearls were used on ruffs in other parts of Italy during the same period: "In the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna hangs a small portrait of a woman dressed in black velvet late 1500s, [ascertained to be 1580s], the entire dress and the ruff is covered in pearls." (E-mail from Massaria de Cortona)

*Since writing this I have since found this portrait of a woman by Giovanni Battista Moroni, circa 1570s(?), who was probably painting a citizen of the Venetian mainland province of Bergamo. She appears to have pearls attached to her ruff.


How I Made It


1.The partlet pattern was made using a slightly altered version of the "historical" cut on The Renaissance Tailor web site (see Fig C, below), omitting the collar. Since it utilises rectangular construction methods, with very little wastage of fabric, I find this a plausible cut for a late sixteenth century Venetian partlet* .I chose to use lace ties at the sides. All cut edges were very narrowly hemmed by machine.

*Since writing this I have changed my opinion on the cut/style of the late sixteenth century Venetian partlet, although the Florentine partlet seems to be very similar to this style. More about this will be forthcoming.

Fig C: Detail from image used on The Renaissance Tailor: Partlets. <<http://vertetsable.com/demos_partlets.htm>>


2. The ruff was created using the gather/pleat method seen on Drea Leed's "Constructing Elizabethan Ruffs" as a guide. Three strips of full-width cotton fabric (selvedge to selvedge) were french seamed together to make one long strip of fabric. I did not use mathematical equations to work out how long this should be, because I don't believe that it was done in period. Instead, I believe fabric was cut to best advantage. This warp-wise method of cutting is plausible, as it uses a limited amount of fabric. It is also plausible that, in period, two, three or more ruffs were cut from one long length of fabric along the weft.

3. The sides and one long edge of the ruff strip were likewise hemmed, and then cotton lace was sewn over the hemmed edges.

4. The un-hemmed edge of the ruff strip was gathered by means on two rows of machine-stitching along the very edge. This stitching was pulled up by hand to form lots of tiny, close-set gathers/pleats, and the ends of the threads were knotted together to temporarily hold the pleats in place.

5. The ruff was then pinned in place along the neckline of the partlet, and machine-sewn down over the hemmed edge of the partlet. This seam was then enclosed by overcasting with close machine zig-zag stitches.

6. Starting at one end of the partlet neckline opening, lace was machine-stitched in place over the hemmed edges.

7. The lace on both partlet and ruff was then hand beaded using faux seed pearls.


Note: Machine-sewing for hemming and application of lace was utilised for two reasons. 1 Entering the A&S comp was, once again, a last-minute decision, so it was a time-saving measure. and 2. The partlet and ruff strip had already been machine hemmed when I decided to take the ruff apart and re-work it to my liking. In period it would have all been sewn by hand.

The end result was a ruff and partlet that, whilst it cannot claim to be completely period authentic, is very close in look and feel to the Venetian open, falling, informal style of ruff which inspired it. A ruff fit for any "Venetian Celebration".


Works Cited


Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, Quite Specific Media Group, 2001.

Baiona, Galiana de (Amanda Bowen). "Notes from The Italian Cotton Industry in the Later Middle Ages 1100-1600, Maureen Fennell Mazzoui, Cambridge University Press, 1981"

Dupuis, Tammie L. The Renaissance Tailor, "Partlets"
< http://www.vertetsable.com/demos_partlets.htm > Accessed December 29, 2003

Evolution of Lace < http://www.2020site.org/lace/evolution.html > Accessed December 29, 2003

Florio, John; A Worlde of Wordes [1598].( Anglista & Americana), Georg Olms Verlag, New York, 1972 (Facsimile)

Leed, Drea. Constructing Elizabethan Ruffs [Article] 2000. Dayton, OH: Author
< http://costume.dm.net/ruffmake.html >

Leed, Drea. Stubbes On Fashion: Excerpts from Philip Stubbes' Anatomie of Abuses, 1583 [Article].2000. Dayton, OH: Author
< http://costume.dm.net/stubbes.html > Accessed December 29, 2003.

Parasole, Elisabeta Catanea; Musterbuch furStickereien und Spitzen 1616, Verlag Von Ernst Wasmuth, 1891 (Facsimile of reprint of her lace and embroidery manual Teatro delle nobili et virtuose donne ,1595)

Resil Textile Dictionary < http://www.resil.com/dictionary/dictionary.htm > Accessed December 29, 2003.

Roseveth, THL Gweniver Kenwyn of. (Jennifer McNitt) Introduction to Bobbin Lace. < http://www.havenonline.com/bobbinlace/ > Accessed December 29, 2003

Upperlands Linen Village; History of Linen, Northern Ireland < http://www.upperlands.com/body_history.htm > Accessed December 29, 2003

Vecellio, Cesare; Vecellio's Renaissance Costume Book, New York, Dover Publications, 1977

Verona, Bella Lucia da. (Anabella Wake) Images from Art Galleries 3, 4 and 5. Venus' Wardrobe, The Realm of Venus - Ladies' Clothing and Accessories in Sixteenth Century Venice < http://realmofvenus.realmofvenus.renaissanceitaly.net/wardrobe.htm > Accessed December 29, 2003


Other Works Consulted

Anderson, Margo. Elizabethan Costume - History and Technique: Accessories: Hats, Shoes, Belts, and More 
< http://www.directcon.net/wander/accessor.htm >

Dupuis, Tammie L. The Renaissance Tailor, "Ruffs"
< http://www.vertetsable.com/demos_ruffs.htm >

Keridwen the Mouse. Needle-made Lace Before 1600
< http://www.sca.org.au/broiderers/newsletters/needlelace.html >

Pollen, Mrs John Hungerford. Seven Centuries of Lace. William Heinemann, 1908 (Facsimile)

Ricci. Elisa. Old Italian Lace, William Heinemann, 1913 (Facsimile)

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