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Tudor-Shirts-art - 9/11/09


"Tudor Shirts - How to accurately cut & reconstruct 16th century shirts" by Master Giles de Laval.


NOTE: See also the files: shirts-msg, fasteners-msg, ruffs-msg, cotton-art, silk-msg, velvet-msg, underwear-msg, shoes-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set

of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be

reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first

or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


                              Thank you,

                                   Mark S. Harris

                                   AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                        stefan at florilegium.org



Tudor Shirts

- How to accurately cut & reconstruct 16th century shirts

by Master Giles de Laval



Extant examples

The garments cited in this article all date from the 16th century, and are typical of shirts of that century. They include a young man's shirt dating to 1535; a chemise thought to be of Italian provenance dating to the late 16th or early 17th centuries (both in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London); and two menÕs shirts dating to c1580 (in the Museum of Costume, Bath). Due to careful conservation and restoration, it is easy to see how these shirts were constructed.



All of the shirts are quite long, over 1 metre in length. They are all made of fine linen, like most shirts of the era, and all are decorated with monochrome or polychrome embroidery. The three menÕs shirts appear to use a single panel for each of front, back and sleeves, while the chemise has extra panels added to the body for added width. All shirts use an underarm gusset, rather than the more common SCA method of trimming off the corners of the body and sleeve pieces to create a raglan sleeve (a diagonal sleeve seam). The raglan sleeve did not come into common use until the 1850Õs; there is no evidence of this seam treatment for shirts in the Renaissance period. All four garments have ties to close the collar and cuffs  



All four garments are elaborately decorated with embroidery and in two cases lace. The young man's shirt is the simplest, with blackwork embroidery in silk thread at the collar and cuffs, as well as the side and shoulder seams. The chemise is embroidered all over with a design of flowers in polychrome silk and metal thread, and trimmed at the cuffs with lace. The first of the Bath shirts is embroidered again with black silk, in geometric patterns that run around the collar and cuffs, down either side of the neck opening, and in diagonal bands all down the sleeves and from the shoulders to the breastbone. This shirt is also discreetly trimmed at the cuffs and collar with lace. The second Bath shirt is embroidered in black silk with bands of twisting vines and flowers very typical of Elizabethan blackwork: these bands run vertically down the sleeves and body, with "floating" designs of flowers and insects between the bands.  


Re-construction Materials

4m of white fabric, 90cm-112cm wide. Handkerchief weight linen is obviously the best and most authentic choice, but is usually very expensive; silk has the same problem. Lightweight linen/cotton blends or pure cotton are usually more practical options, although a pure linen or silk shirt can be nice for special occasions. Although there was a short-lived fad for coloured chemises in Italy, 16th century shirts are almost always white.



Cut 2 body panels 1 meter long and using the entire width of the fabric. For the sleeves, measure from your shoulder point, around your bent elbow to the wrist, and add ~10cm for ease of movement. Cut 2 sleeve panels. Cut 2 gussets 12-cm square. You should get the cuffs and collar out of the left over fabric.



1. In one of the body panels, cut a vertical slit around 10-15cm long. This will be your front neck opening. (In the three menÕs shirts the slit appears to reach to the bottom of the breastbone- show off that manly chest!). Rather than sewing a facing, these edges of this slit were turned under twice and stitched down. This is best done by hand, as it will be almost invisible.

2. Measure from the base of the neck to the shoulder point (add seam allowance). These shirts had short shoulder seams; from contemporary pictorial evidence the shoulder seams sit on or just short of the shoulder point (that bony bit at the edge of your shoulder). Put the front and back panels together and sew the shoulder seams from the edges in- the rest will be gathered into the collar.

3. Make the collar from a folded strip of fabric, sewn and turned at both ends. Gather the neck into the collar and sew down collar lining.

4. Sew the gussets to the sleeves, and gather the sleeves (if desired; the three menÕs shirts seem to have minimal or no gathering at the shoulder, meaning they are cut narrower than the full width of the material). Attach sleeves to the body.

5. Fold the short pieces in half, and sew up the side seams, gussets and down the arm. End the seam around 5-6 cm short of the cuff, roll and hem.

6. Gather sleeve into cuff and attach. Add ties or buttons.

7. Hem the bottom of the shirt, and wear proudly.


Low-collared shirts similar to the Italian chemise mentioned above were common men's wear throughout Europe, including England, during the early years of the 16th century. If making this style, omit step 1 above, and simply make a longer, narrower collar band that will pull over you head easily. Gather shirt into collar and attach as normal. Do not be tempted to use a drawstring at the neck. Shirts of this period always gathered on to a collar band of some kind.



Embroidery was the most common form of embellishment for shirts: all the extant examples noted here are lavishly trimmed with monochrome or polychrome embroidery, with monochrome (also called "blackwork") predominating throughout the century. Most portraits of the period have at least the collar decorated with blackwork, or some other form of embroidery, with often the cuffs, front opening and sometimes shoulder seams also being embroidered in this manner. All-over polychrome patterns seem to have been used on womenÕs garments rather than men's. If you are going to embroidery or otherwise decorate the shirt, it's best to do that first, before putting the pieces together.


In some low-collared styles of the early 16th century the gathering itself became a kind of decorative feature called shirring, with between two and five rows of parallel gathering stitches below the band being pulled up and left in place.



F Boucher, _A History of Costume in the West_, Thames & Hudson 1987

D K Burnham, _Cut My Cote_. The Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario, Canada 1973

K Evans, ÒCostume in BathÓ, _Craft Arts_ March/April 1975

C Lloyd & S Thurley, _Henry VIII: Images of a Tudor King_, Phaidon 1990

D Starkey ed, _Henry VIII: A European Court in England_, Collins & Brown 1991



Copyright 2001 by Mark Calderwood. <giles at sca.org.au>. While permission for republication is usually granted, permission to republish this article, in part or in full, requires the explicit permission of the author.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org