A 17th century Drawnwork Jacket with Silver Spangles

My Next Insanity A Drawn-work Linen Jacket with Silver Spangles

Okay...   Now I've really gone off the deep end.   You may have read my page on needlelace.   All my friends embroider, but I'm really bad at it.   But in needlelace, I've finally found something that appeals to my meticulous nature without actually being embroidery (which for some reason, I have a mental block against — one friend calls me "embroidery impaired").   I just never thought it would go this far. Meet the Culprit! Again I claim my friend, the Book Pusher, to be responsible for this.   I first saw this noticed this jacket when drooling over my now well-worn copy of Avril Hart and Susan North's Fashion in Detail.   Upon further investigation, I discovered that the same jacket was mentioned in Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes.   Unfortunately neither Waugh nor Hart and North show a full picture of this jacket.   But the closeup of the drawnwork and silver spangles was just breathtaking!

There were a number of assumptions I had to make to create a replica of this jacket.   The biggest obstacle was that although I had pictures of the jacket that a friend took while at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, there was no size reference in the pictures, so I have no idea how big the needlelace squares are on the original.   However, I decided to allow the size of available silver spangles determine the size of my needlelace squares.   I bought a slough of silver spangles from Hedgehog Handworks and used the size of four spangles as the size of each square.   Since I bought 8mm spangles, I decided to make my squares about ¾" square.   this meant there were approximately 30 threads of linen in each square.   This is how I measured when I drew the threads. The next step was to determin the needlelace stitch used on the original.   I compare the picture above to my needlelace books until I thought I had a winner — Chessboard Stitch!

The example above left (from Moyra McNeill's Pulled Thread Embroidery) is done with satin stitches over four threads leaving three threads horizontally and two vertically.   On the drawnwork jacket (closeup, above right), the pattern looks more like satin stitches over only one or two threads and pulled much more tightly, but I'm certain it's a similar technique.   There also appeares to be a twist involved, but I will experiment with this technique to scale and see what results I obtain. I pulled a thread on either side of two threads and did the basic satin stitch shown in the example above.   But I wasn't quite achieving the look I wanted (below left).   So I tried doing the same stitch around four center threads and pulling tighter (below right).

Next I tried the same stitch over four threads and skipping four threads.   This created an interesting macramé-like pattern (below), but wasn't the stitch I sought.

There seemed to be more space in the extant example.   So next I pulled three threads on either side of the two center threads (below left).   Yet still there wasn't enough empty space.   Then I tried backstitching over the threads instead (below right).   This gave the extra tautness that created the spaces I needed.   This even controlled the threads when I was backstitching over ten of them at a time!

So I figured if I could get that much space around two threads, I'd get more around four, right?   Wrong.   See below.   A little sloppy...

So I went back to pulling three threads on either side of two threads and backstitching over four threads at a time.   Looks good (below left).   I finally decided that backstitching over eight would achieve the look I wanted (below right).

I know this isn't identical to the original.   But I believe it is the same stitch.   The difference is that the original only has about 12 threads in a square.   I'm dividing my fabric up into ¾" squares to match the size of my spangles.   With the linen I'm using, that means each square contains 30 threads warp and weft.   If I made the squares 12 threads by 12 threads, my squares would be much smaller.   I don't know the scale of the squares on the original jacket.   The original might have used a looser weave of linen.   Basing the size of the squares on the size of my silver spangles seems like a reasonable compromise to me. Today, I'm drawing out the threads in 1 ½ yards of 60" wide linen... It's four days later, and I'm still only a little over 1/6 of the way done.   Who new 1 1/2 yards had so many threads! FLASH!   My friend Christina, who always sends me lovely pictures of extant garments from her library, emailed me this week and said, "I don't think you've got that stitch quite right yet."   Turns out she made a drawnwork caul using the same technique and, having seen the jacket in person at the V&A in London, she knew something I didn't.   She graciously took pictures and explained the stitch to me step by step.

By Jove!   I think she's got it!

The pattern of the original garment is a checkerboard created by removing twelve threads and leaving the next twelve intact. First, you draw out twelve threads.   Then you insert the needle between the sixth and seventh thread and bring it up between the third and fourth thread as shown at left.   Don't pull anything tight yet!
Next, insert the needle in the space before the first thread of the group and begin to lift the needle.   See how the threads are twisting around it?
Flip the needle so that it is now pointing upwards, as shown at left.   You should be see the threads twisting around the needle quite clearly now.Pull the needle all the way through and hold that thread vertical with your left thumb (see below).
You could continue with the single thread as Christina did with her caul, but here's where the double needle technique comes in that give the spaces between the blocks in the jacket that ropey effect   Take your second needle and insert it behind the work, coming up in the same space where the first needle emerged a moment ago.
Still holding the first thread taut with your left thumb, wrap the second thread around it twice.   Now pull the first thread off to the side out of your way and do the next six with the second needle.   When that bunch is finished, switch back to the first needle and continue in this way, stitching and twisting and switching needles, until you've made it to the other side of your fabric.   For me that's 60".   Wish me luck!
At right you can see the single row of this technique.  If you can imagine the same technique going vertically as well, you can see that Christina does indeed have the right stitch.
Below you can see my sampler (left) and a sample of the original (right).   I do not know the scale of the picture from the original, but my sampler is slightly more than 1¼" square.
Special thanks to Christina Biles for helping me with the stitch.

Preliminary Pictures of the Finished Product (thanks to Dan from Montclare) Close-ups Coming Soon!

More Pictures of the In-Progress Jacket (these thanks to Charlotte Zificsak)

Close Up Front Spangles

Rear View

Goofy Reenactors


  1. Avril Hart and Susan North. Fashion in Detail. 1998: Rizzoli, New York.
  2. Norah Waugh. The Cut of Women's Clothes, 1600-1900. 1964: Routledge, New York.

For a pattern to make a jacket and petticote like this one, click here.

© 2004 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.