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icon freeIn making 16th century clothing reproductions, we all have our limitations and compromises of budget and modern materials. Strap-work, a common design element in the 16th & 17th centuries, is an interesting and rich-looking textural technique that can enhance your garment without the need to spend a lot of money.

Alyxx Ianetta takes us through some inspirational portraits and then shows us how to reproduce the look authentically, guiding you past the pitfalls with the minimum of tantrums!



Strap-work was a common design element in the 16th & 17th centuries, popular in architecture, furniture and sometimes clothing. In architecture, this element creates the recognizable “Tudor” style, and interior design strap-work continues to be popular today.


According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Strap-work is a decorative motif, in flat relief, consisting variously of interlaced scrollwork, braiding, shield forms, or cross-hatching, often pierced with circular or oval holes. At times strap-work is bordered with a raised fillet (band). The whole design is usually formed of connected units, all on the same plane, as though made by an elaborately cut and pierced strap that has been applied to a flat surface. Strap-work is usually done in wood, metal or plaster, although stone has been used occasionally, as in the Salzhaus at Frankfurt am Main (late 16thcentury).



Strap-work developed from the flat scrolls common in Islāmic metalwork. It was used extensively in the 16th and early 17th centuries and was a characteristic form of Mannerist decoration. In Flanders, the Netherlands, and Germany, strap-work was most fully developed. In fact, in the architectural ornamentation and furniture of the Low Countries, it was often the only type of ornament used. Strap-work was introduced into England in the late 16th century by Flemish and German woodworkers, and it was made popular in 18th century French decoration by Jean Berain, court designer to Louis XIV.




Mantelpiece frieze

Flemish harpsichord

Strap-work on a Tudor style house 1

Mantelpiece frieze decorated with strap-work 2

Flemish harpsichord with designs based on the Claviorganum by Lodewyk Theewes of 1579 3

Examples of Strapwork

I have found a few examples of extant and painted strap-work in 16th century clothing. It is fairly rare, but in the selection below I have examples of several different pattern variations.

Man amoung the Roses, Nicholas Hillard

Nicholas Hilliard, Elizabeth I, c1595-1600

Nicholas Hilliard, Elizabeth I, c1595-1600

Basket-weave pattern doublet & sleeves paired with paned slops

Miniature “Young Man Among Roses” By Nicholas Hilliard, c1585-90,

Open Basket-weave bodice

Miniature of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1595-1600

45º Open Basket-weave as trim panels on gown, stomacher and forepart, and the sleeves are on the straight grain

Miniature of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1595-1600

Nicholas Hilliard, James I

Jacopo da Ponte, Adoration of the Kings detail

Robert Dudley

Parallel straps on the straight grain divided by smaller parallels on a 45º angle

Miniature of James I, VI by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1605

Parallel straps in chevron strips

Doublet from The Adoration of the Kings by Jacopo Bassano, c1550

Parallel straps in a complicated arrangement of angled and straight grain, edges bound so fabric can show through

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester by Steven van der Muelen, 1565, Wallace Collection -

Detail of portrait of Mary Stuart and James 1583

Arch Duke Rudolf

Detail of Arch Duke Rudolf's paned slops

Parallel straps on the straight grain, divided by on straps on a 45º angle

Detail from a double portrait of Mary Stuart, Queen Maria I. of Scotland, and her son James, the later King James I. of England, 1583

Arch Duke Rudolf

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor as a young Archduke, 1567 by Alonso Sanchez Coello.

Tighter Open Basket-weave on slop panes. Only slivers of ground visible through straps


Strap-work or Slashing?

Without access to better images or original artwork, it can be difficult to determine if some portraits are depicting strap-work or slashed fabric, as in these pictures here. I would judge this as slashed but higher resolution may reveal a finished edge on each strap, or that the “cuts” go all the way to the edge and under the next fabric strip.


Nicholas Hilliard, Unknown Young man, 1585

"The Ermine Portrait" of Elizabeth I of England. Attributed to William Segar. A portrait, supposedly of Christopher Marlowe, 1585
Unknown Young Man, by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1585 "The Ermine Portrait" of Elizabeth I of England. Attributed to William Segar. A portrait, supposedly of Christopher Marlowe, 1585


Detail of Lord Fitzwillams doublet, Weiss GalleryStrap-work is all made of the interweaving of straps of fabric. These can be parallel straps that mimic slashes, or woven straps like a basket-weave. Other patterns you might see are usually variations of the basket-weave motif, but may hide the end of each strap under the next strap to leave more open ground fabric visible.

The only “exotic” weave I’ve seen in clothing is of Lord Fitzwilliam which is almost a plaited pattern – it makes me weak in the knees! But it does show that Parallel straps and Basket-weave are not the only options available to us.




Extant Strapwork Doublet from Darmsdat

There is an extant strapwork doublet that is detailed in a German thesis entitled The Hüpsch Costume Collection in the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Johannes Pietsch, 2008 (click on the image of the front page to download). The pattern diagram starts on p. 116 and pictures of the doublet, with a stitching diagram showing how the strapwork was applied are on p. 313 and p. 336.


Now hit "Next" (below left) to find out how to create your own strapwork designs.

Have You Attempted Fabric Glue?
I was wondering if Pelon and then ironing the fabric strips down to the Pelon and then adding the piece onto the backing would help? And have you used fabric Glue to hold the dratted ribbons while you serge would help?

I think I will have to play with this now and see if my suggestions will work, drat it all! LOL

Truly interesting! I would like to try this tecnique one day!

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