The Invention of Drawstrings and Pleated Sleeves

The Invention of Drawstrings and Pleated Sleeves

In all the evidence presented in the articles on léinte, not one illustration depicts gathers, pleats, or drawstrings running along the top of the arm like those â??léinesâ?? popular at SCA events and Ren Faires.  There is a very good reason for this.  In the late 1970s people at the Renaissance Pleasure Faires in California invented the drawstring léine.  This construction was an attempt to accommodate the tremendous amount of fabric reportedly used in the construction of a léine.  The original version used a strip of trim or braid to hold the pleats in place so they would not have to be sewn individually. Later the drawstring construction created an even easier version.  Sharon Devlin Folsom, founder of the Irish traditional music group, Sheila na Gig, researched and made all the costumes for her group in addition to playing harp, drum and singing.  They performed at Renaissance Pleasure Faire North from 1976 to until the 1980s.  She was there when the drawstring or gathered léine first appeared at the Faire.  She writes:

Because of the strong theatrical/geographical influence, costuming at the faire was more along the lines of hollywood medievalish than authentic to begin with.

In recent correspondence, Sharon told me:

I believe that the drawstring approach to léinte making developed out of the popularity of drawstring clothes in everyday life during the 60’s and 70’s, combined with the original, primarily theatrical focus of Faire costumes. The theatrical approach is primarily concerned with giving an impression of the period in question to assist the audience in the suspension of disbelief. The drawstring down the arm seems to have developed from a line of trim or stitching shown in carvings of pleated shirts.

Her daughter, Branwyn M. Folsom, who has performed at Renaissance Pleasure Faire North since childhood, added her theories:

I would say that it has stuck around so long because of the dearth of available references to the contrary, and the variable, but often hot, climate in which most Ren Faires are held. The drawstring, is admittedly, a practical adaptation to a performing climate in which actors can be subjected to temperatures from 50 to 110 degrees F. The sleeves can be let down when the weather is inclement, and pulled up when it is hot. It’s more comfortable to the modern person, but still not accurate.

Maggie Pierce Secara, who in the SCA is Mistress Máirghréad-Rós Fitzgaret of Desmond (O.L.), was also there to witness the “birth” of the drawstring léine. She has portrayed the Countess of Southampton at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire South for twelve years. She recalls a washerwoman character at the California Faire who put drawstrings in her chemise sleeves in order to keep them out of the well water. The washerwoman was also a member of the Irish/Scots camp and a Scottish country dancer which may have lead to the confusion about the Gaelic origins of her sleeve construction.

Maggie-Rós claims to have contributed to the proliferation of the drawstring léine by writing an article for Tournaments Illuminated (vol 81, page 12) about this construction when she was editor of that journal. Entitled simply “The Leine”, she says it has come back to haunt her many times:

Once or twice a year now I have to both apologize and try to talk people out of using that article as primary documentation.

Maggie-Rós has more than made amends. Her “Compendium of Common Knowledge 1558-1603” is a virtual treasure-trove and a must-read for any Elizabethan re-enactor. You can access it at

When I asked her her opinion on the construction of the léine, she said:

Thereâ??s no evidence for pleating on top of the arm. The drawstring trick was a specific invention of Clan MacColinâ??s washer woman â??working the wellâ?? at Southern Faire back in the late 70s-early 80s. And they told two friends. And they told two friends…

© 2000, 2003 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.

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