Pleatwork Apron

What is it?

This is a linen apron with honeycomb pleatwork (smocking), meant to be worn around the waist and reach approximately ankle length.

It was known as a halbrock, or half-skirt apron (O’Neill). 

As shown in the images, the garment seems to be a rectangle of linen, pleated to a band. At the top, honeycomb shaped pleats serve as a decorative element and contain the bulk of the fabric. At the bottom, a line across the hem seems to indicate some decorative stitching may be included (Posavad). 

  • Left: Detail from Geschichte der Cloelia, by Melchior Feselen, 1529
  • Right: G. 615 RO. 255 Seamstress C.1535 (reprinted in McNealy)

Written sources of the time seem to indicate smocking and embroidery were used in aprons, often to excess:

“that no rich pleating should be on an honor-worthy apron – that also there should be less pleating and small smocking so the apron would not be so gathered.”

(Zander- Seidel in Posavad)

This type of honeycomb pleating was also found in shirts – for instance, a shirt found at the cloister in Alpersbach (Stadler). 

What was it used for and who used it? 

Aprons were used both for practical reasons – to protect clothing from food and other stains – and as a point of conspicuous consumption, showing fine fabric and needlework in a socially acceptable way.  These would have been worn, in varying levels of textile quality and decorations, by women throughout all social classes in 15th century Germany (O’Neill). I modeled this apron after something that might be worn by a more wealthy member of the Trossfrau, the landsknecht’s camp followers, for instance a tailor’s wife or a Landsknecht officer’s wife.

What time/location? 

This particular apron was modeled after ones worn in Germany in the mid 16th century, although similar aprons are found throughout Europe as early as the 14th century and through the late 16th century (von Lübeck ‘Fitzarbeit Buchlein” 25)

What materials and process were used in period?

These aprons were generally made out of white linen although aprons of other colors, or aprons of wool also appear to be an option (von Lübeck ‘Fitzarbeit Buchlein” 34). Pleating and embroidery would be completed in linen or silk thread. 

How did I make it? 

  • The apron is a rectangle of fine linen, sewn with a heavy silk thread meant for embroidery. Both thread and fabric were purchased long ago enough that I do not have details on their exact weights – this was a stash project.
  • After measuring the length and width of the apron I wanted, I cut the fabric. 
  • I hemmed it on three sides, using a running stitch on the folded edges of the long sides and a decorative cutwork stitch on the bottom. 
  • I marked the top edge at intervals to guide my gathering stitches. 
  • I used a modern polyester sewing thread to run gathering stitches through the pleats (since no trace of this thread would remain in the final garment). 
  • I used alternating rows of satin stitches in silk thread to form honeycomb pleats, and removed the gathering stitches after the pleating was done. 
  • I whipstitched a narrow, twice folded band of linen to the top edge to serve as a waistband and ties. 
  • I pressed the apron and starched the pleats, using my fingers to re-crease them for a crisper appearance.  

For more details on these steps, see Genoveva von Lübeck’s Pleatwork Book.  

What is different from the period version in materials or process?

This is not handwoven linen, though it’s a reasonable weight compared to the images I consulted and extant shirt fragments (Stadler and Nutz). Silk thread may not have been available at the socioeconomic level this apron was intended for, but I found it easier to work with than linen. I also used modern starch to make the pleats crisper, rather than period starch recipes. 

What would I do differently in a future version?

I’d like to try one of these with a fancier embroidery pattern, rather than just straight honeycomb, possibly with deeper pleating and/or more cutwork. I’d also like to experiment with period starch recipes for final finishing.


Abbott, Reginald. “What Becomes a Legend Most?: Fur in the Medieval Romance.” Dress, vol. 21, no. 1, Jan. 1994, pp. 5–16,
Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in Medieval Times. Greenwood Press, 2004.
Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Medieval dietetics : food and drink in regimen sanitatis literature from 800 to 1400. P. Lang, 1995.
Ahlin-Cordero, Malin. “The Trossfrau Sock II « Whilja’ s Corner.” Whilja’s Corner, 22 June 2016,
Albala, Ken. Eating Right in the Renaissance. University of California Press, 2002,
Allard, Jeanne. “Nola, Rupture Ou Continuité?’.” Du Manuscrit à La Table, 1992, pp. 149–161.
Allen, B. “How Green Were Their Ravioli?” PETITS PROPOS CULINAIRES, vol. 75, 2004, pp. 27–35.
Anna. “Renikas Anachronistic Adventures: Socks for the Ladies.” Renikas Anachronistic Adventures, 15 Jan. 2017,
Apicius. Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Translated by Joseph Vehling, Courier Corporation, 2012.
Atzbach, Rainer. “Medieval and Post-Medieval Turnshoes from Kempten (Allgäu), Germany.” Muzeum Jihovychodni Moravy. Acta Musealia, vol. 2001, 2001, pp. 184–94,
Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian Ms. 279 (Ab. 1430) & Harl. Ms. 4016 (Ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole Ms. 1439, Laud Ms. 553 & Douce Ms. 55. Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1964.
Bach, Volker. Old Recipes from the Bavarian Inntal. Accessed 10 Mar. 2020.
Bach, Volker. The Kitchen, Food, and Cooking in Reformation Germany. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
Bach, Volker, and Jennifer Soucy. Correspondence with Volker Bach.
Baker, Jenny. “Shoes Part 2 - Extant Shoes & Boots - Summary of Finds from 11th Century to 16th Century.” Looking for the Evidence, 21 Mar. 2013,
Bayard, Tania. A Medieval Home Companion: Housekeeping in the Fourteenth Century. HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.
Bellows, Henry Adams. The Poetic Edda: Hymiskvitha. Accessed 20 Mar. 2020.
Brears, Peter. Cooking and Dining in Medieval England. Prospect Books, 2012.
Buettner, Brigitte. “Past Presents: New Year’s Gifts at the Valois Courts, ca. 1400.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 83, no. 4, Dec. 2001, pp. 598–625,
Buren, Anne van, et al. Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands, 1325-1515. The Morgan Library & Museum ; in association with D Giles Ltd., 2011.
Burkholder, Kristin M. “Attempree Diete Was al Hir Phisik": The Medieval Application of Medical Theory to Feasting.” Essays in Medieval Studies: Proceedings of the Illinois Medieval Association, vol. 13, 1997, pp. 15–29,
Buylaert, Frederik, et al. “Sumptuary Legislation, Material Culture and the Semiotics of ‘ Vivre Noblement ’ in the County of Flanders (14th–16th Centuries).” Social History, vol. 36, no. 4, 2011, pp. 393–417,
Cabrera, Maryanne. “Cinnamon Sugar Twist Doughnuts.” The Little Epicurean, 6 Mar. 2018,
Carlin, Martha. “Fast Food and Urban Living Standards in Medieval England.” Food and Eating in Medieval Europe, 1998, pp. 27–51.
Carlson, Marc. “Some Clothing of the Middle Ages - Kyrtles/Cotes/Tunics/Gowns.” Some Clothing of the Middle Ages, Accessed 2 Mar. 2014.
Carlson, Marc. “Footwear of the Middle Ages - Lasts, History and Use in Medieval Shoes.” Footwear of the Middle Ages, Accessed 10 Mar. 2020.
Classe, Francis. “Sewing the Treadsole of a Welted Shoe.” Chopine, Zoccolo, and Other Raised Heel and High Heel Construction, 10 Jan. 2015,
Classe, Francis. “Lesson 10: Early 16th C. Cow Mouth Shoes, or Kuhlmaulschuh (Leather) - Chopine, Zoccolo, and Other Raised Heel and High Heel Construction.” Chopine, Zoccolo, and Other Raised and High Heel Construction, 21 July 2012,
Clayton, Bernard, and Donnie Cameron. Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads. Simon and Schuster, 2006.
Clement, Richard W. “Medieval and Renaissance Book Production: Manuscript Books.” Medieval and Renaissance Book Production: Manuscript Books, 12 Sept. 2003,
Clifton, E., and Adrien Grimaux. A New Dictionary of the French and English Languages ... Garnier Bros., 1881.
Cloake, Felicity. “How to Make the Perfect Rye Bread.” The Guardian, 28 Jan. 2016,
Cogliati Arano, Luisa, and Ibn Butlan. The Medieval Health Handbook : Tacuinum Sanitatis. Braziller, 1976.
Cook, Elizabeth. “Du Fait de Cuisine.” Du Fait de Cuisine  by Maistre Chiquart, Accessed 16 Feb. 2013.
Courcy, Tomas de. “Medieval Bacon.” A Baker’s Peel Vert, 29 Feb. 2016,
Crossley-Holland, Nicole. Living and Dining in Medieval Paris : The Household of a Fourteenth-Century Knight. University of Wales Press, 1996.
Dalby, Andrew. Dangerous Tastes. British Museum Press, 2000.
Dale, M. K., and V. B. Redstone. “The Household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene (1412-1413)’.” Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, 1931.
Devitt, Cliodna. “‘To Cap It All’: The Waterford Cap of Maintenance.” Costume, vol. 41, no. 1, 2007, pp. 11–25,
Didot, Elzevir. “Le Duché d’Auvergne.” L’Auvergne de Bernard Plantevelue à Catherine de Médicis, Accessed 17 Mar. 2020.
Drogin, Marc. Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique. Dover, 1980.
Dubois, Marguerite Marie. Larousse modern French-English, [English-French] dictionary. McGraw-Hill, 1960.
Dubois, Marguerite Marie. Modern French-English [English-French] Dictionary. Librairie Larousse, 1979.
Dufresne, Laura Rinaldi. “A Woman of Excellent Character: A Case Study of Dress, Reputation and the Changing Costume of Christine de Pizan in the Fifteenth Century.” Dress, vol. 17, no. 1, Jan. 1990, pp. 105–17,
Dufresne, Laura Rinaldi. “Christine de Pizan’s ‘Treasure of the City of Ladies’: A Study of Dress and Social Hierarchy.” Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, 1995, p. 29,
Feselen, Melchior. detail from Geschichte Der Cloelia, by Melchior Feselen, 1529. 2014,
Flandrin, Jean-Louis. Arranging the Meal: A History of Table Service in France. University of California Press, 2007.
Flandrin, Jean-Louis, et al. Food: A Culinary History. Columbia University Press, 2013,
Fletcher, Jeremy. “Bakers’ Marks: The Series.” The Bread Always Rises in the West, 2003,

Leave a Reply