In 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.
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.
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.
|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|
Strap-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.
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