side view of ruffback view of ruff


How to Starch a Ruff, part I

part II--part III--part IV

The ruff in these photos is starched to hold its shape, unlike my earlier ruff (seen here), which was cartridge-pleated and stiffened with horsehair braid. Starching, being the method that was in fact used during the sixteenth century (at least until the cartwheel ruff came in), gives a much more accurate effect. It also sits properly with a standing collar, while a cartridge-pleated ruff takes up the vertical space on the neck that the collar should be occupying. This is because the starched ruff is constructed of a long strip edged with lace gathered tightly into the the top seam of a flat neckband. The gathers are then spread and starched into the traditional figure-eight shape. Experts in the sixteenth century would have used a heated metal tool called a goffering iron to set the shape. A cartoon depicting this process can be found in Janet Arnold's Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, figure 332.

To accomplish this with modern tools, I used a two-liter bottle (with label removed) filled with water (any liquid will do), powdered laundry starch, a round-ended curling iron, and a hair dryer. I first boiled up a strong batch of the starch on the stove as per the instructions on the box. Then I thoroughly soaked the ruff in it, making sure that all parts were saturated and then pressing out the excess so that it no longer dripped too much. You might wish to wear rubber gloves for the squeezing out of the excess starch, as it's really HOT, but please take them off before you do anything with the curling iron so they don't get melted to your fingers!

**Update** Since I wrote this, I have tried laundry starch from a bottle, and I quite like it! I used it full-strength, and though I had to squeeze out and even wipe off the excess (with a towel) as I went along, it was an altogether more comfortable process, since the starch was room-temperature instead of boiling hot. I found that it works best if you press out/wipe off enough of the starch so that the fabric is no longer shiny with it. If there's still a shine of starch, you'll get bits flaking off when you apply the heat.

ruff soaking in starch removing some starch from ruff

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