The Building of an Elizabethan Wired Ruff

Elizabethan garment with Wire Ruff

Garment with wire ruff

The wired ruff is not built in accordance with any body measurement; rather it is built according to the neckline shape of the bodice. This means the Elizabethan wired ruff is not interchangeable with other dresses than that for which it was made. Unless of course the other dresses were made from the same pattern and in the same size. Johanna Billings of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival Theatre built our Elizabethan wired ruff to fit the Simplicity Elizabethan Dress we made a few years ago. I have written the instructions based on her work.

A wire and paper mock-up or prototype should always be built first in order to experiment with shape, size and angles. Once the Elizabethan wire ruff is built it can be bent to adjust the shape marginally but it is best to build the shape in. Consideration must be given to the height of the sleeve puffs and to the hairstyle as both of these can effect the way the collar rests. You should count on at least 24 hours to complete this project; this time includes both the mock-up and the finished ruff, but not decorating. If you are not familiar working with wire then add a few more hours. This project takes time and patience, as you are creating the pattern as you go.

closeup of Elizabethan garment with Wire Ruff

Note: We have used white rayon wrapped millinery wire and black organza to build our ruff. We did this to more clearly illustrate the details. White wire and white fabric would be the traditional choice and the ruff would be trimmed with lace. We opted not to trim or decorate the ruff in hope more attention would be paid to the structural details.

construction of an Elizabethan Wired Ruff construction of an Elizabethan Wired Ruff

Begin by measuring the length of the neckline where the ruff will rest – note where ours begins. Add about 6" (15.5 cm) to this measurement to get the length of your first piece of wire. Using the gauge wire #19 cut a piece to the right length and mark the center point of the wire with a marker, this will be the center back. Begin to shape the wire along the neckline allowing 3" (7.75 cm) to extend below the neckline at each front point as seen in the photo above left. These extensions will aid in attaching the ruff to the garment. Once the wire is shaped you should be able to lift it off without it losing its shape. See photo above right.

construction of an Elizabethan Wired Ruff

Consider how high you want your ruff to be, ours is 10" (26 cm) at the deepest point which is center back. Cut 5-7 pieces of wire that are this length plus 2" (5.5cm) long. In our case 5 pieces that are 12” (31cm) long. They can always be cut down later. Bend one end of each wire 2" (5.5 cm) from the end to form a 90 degree angle. See photo on left. Starting at the center back, tape the bent wires to the main frame using masking tape as indicated by the photo at left. This allows the short wires to flip up and down as if hinged. Keep these wires evenly spaced apart.


Cut another piece of wire at least 50" (128 cm) long, this will be the first support wire. Take one end in each hand and working with the curve of the wire place it underneath the short hinged wires. By working with the curve of the wire I mean to utilize the curve that exists from the wire being coiled, this curve can fall naturally around the back of the wire ruff. Keeping a cut end in each hand slowly raise and tilt the wire, lifting the hinged wires into place where you want them. Experiment with this. Keep in mind that this wire should be closer to the neckline than to the outer edge, a second wire will go near the outer edge.

construction of an Elizabethan Wired Ruff

If the support wire is too long cut it, but be sure it does extend down as long as the original wire at the two front ends. These will eventually get taped together.

construction of an Elizabethan Wired Ruff construction of an Elizabethan Wired Ruff

Tape all the wire intersections in place using masking tape. Check that all wires are still evenly spaced and the support wire is still holding the wires where you wanted them. See the photo above left. The second support wire will need to be longer than the first, it is best to measure the approximate length; it can be cut shorter if needed. Experiment with this wire as you did with the previous one. Tape it into place being sure the spacing of the hinged wires are even, you can measure for this as well as standing back and visually checking for symmetry. Tape the three wires on each front together to create the two front extensions. See above photo on the right. This collar should remain stable when lifted off and should not lose its shape.



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