Last year I got interested in a the regional costumes of Noord Holland, affectionately known as the “Cheese Girls”. I recreated that outfit and wrote about it here. Because I was under some time constraints, I cobbled that outfit together from pieces I’d made over the years. Now I’ve finally had a chance to revisit the look and make the outfit some dedicated accessories.

Margaret back to back with this Hendrick Avercamp sketch.

A Smocked Partlet

Smocking, or embroidery done over pleated fabric, has become quite popular amongst my re-enactment community. It seems like everyone wants a pleated apron or a smocked shirt, and I was given the opportunity to make a piece for a friend’s Laureling outfit. Unfortunately, this style tends to be more German than Dutch, and the few examples from the Low Countries are all from the early part of the 1500s. Since I rarely do anything earlier than 1560, I didn’t think I would have an opportunity to get in on this trend. Then it occurred to me that the black geometric embroidery seen on some of the Cheese Girl paintings might be smocking, so I had an excuse to make some for myself.

Pleatwork smocking seen in a 1520s Lucas von Leyden portrait, and a “Cheese Girl” from the Kaasmuseum in Alkaar, currently available online in this Flickr set.

Genoveva, from The German Renaissance of Genoveva, has written a good smocking tutorial, so I will just tell you about the mistakes I made so you don’t have make them yourself. First, definitely use a grid to mark out the draw threads for the pleats. A piece of needlepoint canvas is cheap and works well.

Needlework canvas used to create a guide for pleatwork.

Once the area to be pleated is marked, sew through each line of marks a little bit at a time. This turns out to be especially important if you are pleating a long distance. If you sew the first line from one side to other, and then the second, it’s just inevitable that the third line will somehow not match up to the other two. Which was pretty frustrating. The only way to keep it identical was to sew the first line for a few inches, and then the second, and so on, so that all four of my threads advanced together across the fabric.

Sewing the draw threads for pleatwork.

Next, pull the fabric into (hopefully) even folds.

Draw threads used to create even pleats. (Photo of an earlier project, as I forgot to take one this time.)

Then do some sort of embroidery over the pleats to hold them together. Add some hooks at the neck and call it a partlet.

Embroidered collar and completed pleatwork partlet.

Over Partlet

Once that was completed, I turned my attention to the over partlet. The black partlet is one of the most distinctive parts of the “Cheese Girl” look with very consistent elements. It is square in the front, and often closes with some sort of metal clasps. It has a collar. In the back it has a long point which extends to at least the waist line and sometimes slightly beyond it. It usually has some sort of round metallic decorative object at the end. Presumably that secures the point of the partlet to the wearer’s back. Most often, they appear to be lined with fur.

Black partlets seen in Avercamp paintings: left, middle, and right.

My version is made from a black wool remnant and lined with faux fur. I used faux because I have never worked with real fur and I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Also, even more crucially, the faux fur was already in my house. I sewed the seams of the fur lining by hand, and then turned up a fold all the way around the partlet and tack it down. The fold formed the visible “fur” piping. Then I laid the wool shell on top of it, folded all the edges under, and sewed it down so that the raw edges of the fur were covered. I also sewed down the back and the neck seams to keep the fur and the wool connected. The clasp and the button on the back are not the best, but they were what was available at my local fabric shop. The button is purely decorative. On the interior I sewed a large hook which attaches to a thread loop on the jacket. Naturally I forgot to take any construction pictures, but this is what I ended up with.

Wool and faux fur over-partlet.

The two partlets are the only things I’ve added to this outfit, but it’s made a big difference in the way it looks. That is particularly true of the black partlet. The white partlet, which I spent the majority of the time on, is not that visible under the black one. I also regret that I made as big of a ruffle at the top as I did. Half an inch did not seem like much when I was making it, but certainly feels like a lot while I’m wearing it.

Margaret wondering if they are taking the picture yet…

It’s a silly outfit, but one that’s a great deal of fun to wear. And while I love hats, well over half of the women I’ve seen dressed in this style just have their hair dressed in braids. Most likely that indicates a virginal status which I, a mother of three, cannot really claim, but I made a conscious decision to not worry about that. Going around an event bare headed is quite a novelty. I was pretty tickled with the whole thing and felt cute, as I imagine you can see in this selfie.

Noord Holland Selfie.