14th-15th Century

What’s with the ruffle?

Have you ever noticed that when you start gathering together images as “proof” of whatever historical things you’re planning to sew that suddenly you start seeing things in the images you’ve never seen before? Yeah, it’s like that.

Here we go, I’m working on a 15th century kirtle (or cotehardie, whatever you want to call it) and I’m tickled at the idea that for only the second time during my time in the SCA I’m actually working on a garment which is temporaly correct for my “persona”**

Anyway, I made a pinboard of images that show the kind of dress I’m trying to create and suddenly I’m noticing the weirdest thing.

Here are some example images:

1470 Dancing Peasants

Illustration of mining by Robinet Testard, late 15th century

Maître François in his illuminations of La Cité de dieu by Augustine around 1475-1480
L'Annonce aux bergers. Danse champêtre.Heures de Charles d'Angoulême, Folio 20V. French, late 15th century.
Hans Memling, 1480, Bathsheba in the bath

Master of the Dresden Prayer Book Flemish, Bruges, about 1475 - 1480 Tempera colors and ink on parchment 6 7/8 x 7 5/8 in. MS. 43, RECTO

Notice.. there, on the under dress.. the ruffle at the bottom of the dress. I have -never- noticed that before.. and frankly I can’t think of a logical reason that’s there (well unless this is what they are replacing the bottom edge of the dress with when it gets worn.. or if it’s some weird reinforcement thing). I don’t see any examples where it’s in a different color from the dress fabric.. so that actually leads me to think that the ruffle is original to the dress, not added on later.

Just weird.

[Edited to add: I stumbed across this article on Facebook which is detailing a dress from a later time period, 1616, but has a similar “ruffle” which is described as a tuck in the dress material used to allow for growth spurts (in younger girls) and pregnancy(in older women).]

** As is tradition in the West, Sylvie la chardonnière is relatively persona-less. She is French.. and her surname, “chardonnière” implies that she is a “thistle seller”. She used to be firmly temporaly located in the 14th century. Lately she flouncing about a lot closer to 1535 and looking decidedly Landknecht-y.

10 thoughts on “What’s with the ruffle?

  1. I don’t think it’s a ruffle, because the art is pretty realistic, and a
    ruffle would have lines extending all the way down to the hem, as well as
    a curvier hem. (If that makes sense.) But that still leaves the question
    of what it actually *is.*

    The pattern of lines like that usually indicates fur, but the colors are
    weird for that. From what i know of 15th c kirtles, I would guess that
    it’s some type of guard at the bottom of the skirt. Either a lining
    turned up and over the bottom edge, or a guard cut on the straight. In
    either case, the top of the guard would need to be eased around a gored

  2. I’ve wondered about that too, especially when I see that kirtle pattern
    with the ruffle on the bottom (I forget what period it is from and the
    company that does it), it just seems weird, but Etaine’s thoughts make
    sense. But why turned to the outside and not the inside…maybe after it
    gets too worn, they turn it under where it won’t show but you got twice
    the usage?

  3. I don’t think it’s a ruffle, either. First, because there is no evidence
    of anything like a ruffle before or after this period. You do see
    evidence in the 14th and 15th centuries of flashy fabrics applied to the
    visible part of a kirtle hem, but since the fabric of the “ruffle” is the
    same as the rest of the kirtle, this is unlikely. Note, too, that the
    illustrations show people in working or ordinary clothes, so display is
    less of a factor.

    What I think is going on here is that a portion of the bottom of the
    skirt is being folded up and tacked in place, to keep it off the ground,
    which would facilitate walking/working. Such a fold in an A-shaped skirt
    would cause unevenness at the point that it is tacked, because the folded
    edge is greater in circumference from the part of the skirt it’s being
    tacked to.

  4. I've wondered if this might just be the long hem of the dress, turned up to the outside and basted in place to keep it out of the way without cutting it off. On a flared skirt, there is more material at the hem than about 6" up where it's being attached, so there would be a bit of gathering to stitch it in place. I've seen earlier (mid-14th C) images of ladies dancing or working, where the under-skirt hem appears to be pinned up- more obviously because it's only pinned in 10 or so points with bigger droops between- and this could be a similar solution to avoiding stepping on one's hem. Turning it to the inside would make it really likely to put a toe in and rip the basting out (ask me how I know). Or who knows- maybe it is a ruffle, like on later petticoats, to kick the hem of the overgown out a bit.

  5. Hi. I've noticed it too. For color difference search for these 2:
    Jean Fouquet, French, Tours, 1455 Tempera colors and gold paint on parchment, 4 1/2 x 3 1/4 in. MS. 7, FOL. 1
    Ghent maiden

    And i DO think it is a ruffle, to look the underdress nicer if you take up the over dress. Painters in different countries don't paint it for fun.

    Greetz from Holland,


    1. I agree it is a ruffle. Ruffles are very practical on working class clothing, as they can rather easily be detatched, turned, and resewn on for longer life, and they give fullness to the overskirt , and they just look pretty. And prettiness is hard to come by for a peasant who can’t afford much.

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