Elizabethan Interiors: the Walls, Part 2

Last week, I gave you a brief overview of the types of decorations Elizabethan did to their walls, but no images.  So this week I’ll start showing you some fabulous examples.

Amanda Poirier-Kratz has put together a fabulous Pintrest board already: Tudor and Elizabethan Painted Interiors.  Her board includes images of sixteenth-century painted plaster walls, painted oak paneling and painted ceilings.  Most of the images are English, but there are a few Continental examples as well.  I highly encourage you to check it out!

Here are a few of my favorites from her collection:

wallgeometric These painted geometric patterns set into “panels” are still bright, even in this worn and faded state.  Imagine how bright they were freshly painted!  From Canons Abbey in Northamptonshire.

wallproverb This wall is decorated with knots, scrollwork, flowers and proverbs.  This one reads, “Better is a dinner with greene hearbes where love is, then a fat oxe and hatred therewith.”  From a house in Ledbury, Herefordshire.

wallwood The paint on this wood paneling highlights the motifs well.  From a house in Exeter.

More images soon!

Elizabethan Interiors: the Walls, Part 1

Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan Period is fabulous starting point for the Elizabethan experience. In it, she outlines your experience were you to journey back to Elizabethan London, starting with the place and its contents, and then examining the people and their life experiences.

Her fourth chapter focuses on the interiors of London’s Buildings: how they were decorated and what they contained. Looking at the section on interior wall coverings provides a great example of the hierarchical manner in which she lays out her book and the fantastic detail and range she covers (p. 51-57). The options of decorating your walls included:

  • Plaster – It could be left “uncolored, [it] was a light creamy beige” or it could be colored with different colors of earth or vegetable dyes to give pinks, oranges, greens and blues (p. 52).
  • Wall paintings – Possible images included from geometric shapes, faux paneling, biblical stories, costumes of the world, and mythological scenes.
  • Wallpaper – Wood-blocked sheets were popular, and among the few extant pieces are heraldic images, floral themes, and strapwork outlines. They were often designed to be pasted on side-by-side to create a repeated or larger design. Printed in only one or two colors, they tend to look busy to the modern eye. For a cheaper alternative, tavern keepers could use unwanted broadsheets and ballads.
  • Painted cloths – These weren’t always the cheaper alternative to tapestries that we would expect from a modern perspective, though cheaper versions were available. Biblical scenes, with the characters usually in contemporary Elizabethan clothing, were most popular, but faux wood paneling or small repeated stencils were a popular less-expensive alternative. Painted cloths were usually brightly colored and weren’t always produced on a white or undyed cloth.
  • Gilt leather – Sets of leather panels with designs in paint and gilding – or more often with a varnish that closely resembled gilding – began in Spain and traveled through the Low Countries to England. This type of decoration reached its height in the seventeenth century, but the technique continued to be popular into the nineteenth century.
  • Embroidered hangings – From bed hangings to panels for room, the wealthy Elizabethan loved to be surrounded with embroidery. For a quicker or cheaper alternative, smaller motifs were often made and appliquéd to hangings. Bess of Hardwick even cut up old church vestments to reuse the embroideries for wall hangings for Hardwick Hall.
  • Tapestries – The hallmark wall decoration of the wealthy, the tapestry trade was booming in sixteenth-century London. Bright, colorful tapestries were all the range, though the extant pieces today have faded to muddy muted colors. Like wall paintings and painted cloths, the popular images included biblical and mythological scenes, florals, and heraldic motifs. Tapestries were so sought after that a second-hand market even thrived.
  • Wood paneling – The law dictated that anything affixed to the wall was permanent and therefore part of the landlord’s property, so it would seem that wood paneling would be installed more often by homeowners than renters. Yet given the number of court cases arguing over the ownership of “wainscoting,” even some renters preferred the look enough to decorate their homes with it. Designs could include the linen-fold patterns popular in the late Middle Ages, but now it was more popular to have panels in square, rectangle or oval frames, all around your family heraldry, heraldic motifs, portrait busts, or biblical or mythological scenes. Alternately, you could purchase ready-made pilasters and attach them to flat panels to imitate more intricate carvings.

Next week, I’ll provide you with some examples!

Medieval Mittens

As we move toward winter, we must all consider ways to keep warm.  Gloves are both a practical accessory to add to you kit and provide an excellent opportunity to make a statement about your persona.  Finding the pair that makes just the right statement can be a challenge, but making your own gloves is not as difficult as it may seem.  However if you remain intimidated, mittens are a perfectly appropriate alternative for all classes throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Extant mittens, made from both fabric and Nålebinding, have been found dating back well into the Viking Age, and mittens made from a range of materials still exist from the sixteenth century.  Check out our Pintrest Page to see some more examples.


Today I’m going to focus on my experience from replicating mittens of the early Middle Ages.  The Baltic Knowledge Pages has an article detailing five mittens (one pair of a child’s mittens and three individual mittens for adults) from the early Middle Ages, including drawings of several mittens and a conjectured pattern for the child’s pair.  The pattern there works fairly well, but I made modifications to better fit my hands.  First, because the pattern is squared around the hand, the final mitten was very loose around my fingers and yet difficult to pull over a sleeve cuff.  Since I will be wearing these mittens over several layers of gowns, I need the mittens’ cuffs to be roomy.  Tapering the pattern easily accommodated both of these problems.  Second, because the seam for the thumb is straight on both the thumb piece and the hand, it pulled the mitten uncomfortably across the width of my hand (this problem is more likely to occur if you have a meaty thumb).  Rounding the bottom edge of the thumb piece gave it the necessary give to accommodate my thumbs.   Additionally, I tapered the thumb pieces to more closely fit my thumbs and on the final mittens I angled the thumb slit because I found the placement a bit uncomfortable.  Finally, I moved the folded edge to the side with the thumb slit so I didn’t have to deal with the seam so close to the thumb.

After making all of these adjustments, my own pattern looked like this:
mittens pattern
Your hand may not be the same size or shape as mine, so you will need to adjust the pattern.  I have included my own measurements on this pattern as a guide.

All of the mittens from this period were whip-stitched together, some with obvious, contrast threads and others with thread less likely to be seen.  None still have a lining, but one mitten seems to have had a woolen pile lining. Like many of my clients, I often find modern wool uncomfortable and itchy, so I added a linen lining to my mittens.  The seams were then whip-stitched with fine black thread, resulting in seams invisible to the naked eye.  I wanted to add a personal touch, but nothing too bold, so the hem of the mittens is embroidered with heavy black thread in a stepped blanket stitch.  I also added ties of the same thread braided into a cord, which I can use to tie the mittens tight around my wrists or pin to my sleeves so I don’t misplace my mittens.

mittensmittens detail

Happy sewing!

Tales of Robyn Hoode

The origins of Robin Hood have long been debated, as they will continue to be, but like today, his reputation was of such note by the sixteenth century that he was a permanent fixture in plays, poems and ballads throughout England.  It was during this time that much of Robin’s tale began to acquire the details we associate with him today, such as his association with Richard the Lionhart and the Black Prince, or his skill with the sword.  Yet while his tale and traits changed, he always remained the well-beloved outlaw.

The oldest known tales written down date to somewhere between about 1450 and 1500, though references to his tale exist from as early as the 1370s.  The fifteenth and sixteenth century works widely vary in their tales about Robin, and provide a great study of the use of stock characters of this period.  If you would like to learn more about the early tales, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw by R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor is an well-recommended starting place.

One tale, called “Robin Hood and the Potter,” was probably written in the early sixteenth century.  Unlike earlier tales, it is less suspenseful and more comedic, and no one dies in the tale.  Eighty-three stanzas in length, it was probably written to be read aloud to an audience.  Below is a synopsis of the tale.

Robin Hood and the Potter

A potter, who has often passed through the woods Robin Hood inhabits, is demanded by Robin to pay for passage.  Upon his refusal, they fight and the potter wins.  After the battle, Robin agrees to change clothes with the potter and take his wares into Nottingham to sell.  Robin sells the pots cheaply and quickly, and attracts the attention of the sheriff and his wife, while still in disguise.  The sheriff and his wife show Robin good hospitality and Robin demonstrates that he can shoot the bow.  He then claims to know Robin Hood, and so leads the sheriff into the forest to find Robin Hood.  Once in the forest, Robin and his men surround the sheriff, but because he showed Robin such great hospitality, Robin and his men let the sheriff and potter go free.

A Very Versatile Gown

Recently, I delivered a coordinating set of clothing to two dear friends who are currently serving as the Baron and Baroness of Dun Carraig.  The pictures of his clothing did not turn out well, so I will focus today on her clothing and make another post later about his.

The gown is a Doublet gown with shoulder rolls.  Perhaps the most versatile style gown of the period, it can be worn for a variety of time periods and locations in the mid- to late-sixteenth century with only minor adjustments to the garments themselves.  With this gown, she can achieve:

  • Tuscan gown , c. 1560s-1580s: Doublet collar and embroidered collar both worn open, optional hanging half-round sleeves
  • Spanish gown, c. 1560s-1590s: Doublet collar and embroidered collar both worn closed, with hanging half-round sleeves
  • French gown, c. 1560s-1570s: Doublet collar and embroidered collar both worn closed, without hanging half-round sleeves
  • English gown, late 1560s-early 1570s: Doublet collar and embroidered collar both worn closed, optional hanging half-round sleeves

Lynette provided the black cotton velvet for these outfits, and I and found a red cotton-silk blend and silver trimmings to fit their request for black, red and silver.  Lynette’s gown is trimmed in a fun silver trim over black taffeta.  The trim caused the taffeta to pucker, so rather than fight it I incorporated it into the design.  Her forepart, sleeves and caul are trimmed in the same trim as the Ragnarr’s outfit.  The caul is the same design as on his outfit, while the forepart is his design doubled over.

court The Baron and Baroness together during Court

ThrowingDaggers The Baroness throwing daggers and showing off the hanging or Spanish half-round sleeves

LynetteHem The trim on the hem of her gown

LynetteCaul The caul, trimmed to match the Baron’s outfit


A History of Handkerchiefs: an Update

Last week, I had a request for an update on the article about the history of handkerchiefs, specifically seeking handkerchiefs with tassels.  The original article stated:

A custom began in England, which John Stow wrote about in his Annals, where girls gave small handkerchiefs with tassels as a token of their love. These handkerchiefs were often only three or four inches in diameter, and decorated with tassels at the corners, in the French fashion. Salesmen hawked these handkerchiefs in the streets of London (Braun-Ronsdorf). These handkerchiefs cost anywhere from six to sixteen pence, and the girls who bought them would often embroider them with love knots and names (Lester). Men who were given these tokens would wear them on their person, often tucked into their hatband (Braun-Ronsdorf).

The article included a portrait by Lucas Cranach the Younger of an unknown German man holding a small handkerchief with tassels, as well as a black and white photograph of an extant handkerchief with tassels currently held in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

At the time of the original article, there were few other examples available to view, but with the recent growth of museum collection images available online, the examples are significantly improved.  Larger and more detailed images of both original examples are now available (you can also download the image from the Victoria and Albert Museum for an even larger image).  In addition, numerous portraits can now be viewed online, of which I have found 6 showing handkerchiefs with tassels, but no further extant handkerchiefs with tassels.

Of these new examples, here are a few of my favorites:

Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå Gallerix.ru a better detail of the German image (image does not show on Pintrest)

Mary Mary, Queen of Scots

Tuscan an unknown Tuscan woman (larger view available on Met site)

You can check out the Pintrest page for further images and don’t forget to let us know about other aspects of Renaissance life of which you would like to learn.

Sweet sgabelli!

As an enthusiast for all things Italian, I am mesmerized by the sgabello. The sgabello is a stool with a back. The sgabello was most commonly made of heavily carved walnut, with two legs, an octagonal seat with a depression for a pillow, and a trapezoidal back, wider at the top than at the bottom. Yet while this is the most common design, many have three or four legs, a square seat, or a variety of shapes for the back. The back and legs could be left with the bare wood showing, or they could be painted or gilt to emphasize the carving.

This pair of sgabelli in the Met Museum show the most common design features:

While this one from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam shows a simplistic, yet elegant version:
And this one, also in the Met Museum, shows a charming early version:

However, do beware when researching sgabelli as many were heavily rebuilt or restored by the Victorias, like this example in the Victoria and Albert museum:

These lovely stools are very light in weight, making them easily portable. Sadly, few furniture makers today include them as a stock furniture item, so you will need to custom order yours.

For additional examples, check out this board on Margaret Roe Designs’ Pintrest Page. And don’t forget to let us know in the comments what Design & Decorative Arts items you’d like to see featured next!

Royal Touches

One of my favorite pieces of MRD custom work was the Queen’s gown, made for Pat Stanley in 2011. The fabrics, braid and beads came from her stash or were remnants from other gowns she has made, except the braid used to make the rose bush on her Kirtle Forepanel.

Queen's Gown full gown

rose bush forepanel rose bush on forepanel

beaded roses 2 detail of rose bush

back beading on back of gown

sleeves unfinished sleeves (unfinsihsed)

unfinshed hem detail of hem (unfinished)

Loose surcoat: purple and gold brocade, trimmed in purple silk, gold braid and beaded accents across the upper back

Loose kirtle: gold silk dupioni on a gold cotton kirtle, decorated with a rose bush in gold trim and beads

Sleeves: narrow sleeves in purple silk, trimmed in chevrons and beading of roses and crosses

Fun with Prunts

Glass is one of the greatest luxuries in late Medieval and Renaissance homes, but if you’re going to invest in this wonder-material for drinking vessels, serving ware or containers, why settle for the plain, clear variety? The best glassware comes enameled, colored, gilt and sculpted. Today, let’s take a look at one fun method of sculpting glass: prunts!


Prunts are “small blob[s] of glass fused to another pieces of glass” for decoration and sometimes to provide the user a more firm grip on the vessel (Wikipedia). To produce prunts, a separate piece of molten glass is applied to the vessel after it has been blown and shaped. The prunt is then shaped or molded into the desired decoration. Prunts can range from semi-irregular spiked globs to perfect, small dots that form raspberry clusters or have even molded into shapes such as masks. Watch an artisan produce a beaker with the spiked prunts.

Without a doubt, prunts can be used to produce an endless array of decorations, from the common beakers with spiked prunts,
to a bowl with masks (on the sides) and raspberry cluster (center front) prunts,
to a bit of whimsy in a cup in the shape of a boot.

Want a piece of your own? Try one of these shops (no affiliation):

For additional examples of extant prunted glass, check out this board on Margaret Roe Designs’ Pintrest Page.  And don’t forget to let us know in the comments what other Design & Decorative Arts items you’d like to see featured.

Welcome to Margaret Roe Designs

Welcome to the new website!


I am currently only accepting custom work orders, but you can check out my past work, including the ready-made clothing line, in the Galleries.  Additionally, I have developed a new blog, A Renaissance Life.  Check back weekly as I talk about some of my favorite aspects of a Renaissance lifestyle, including Performing Arts, Design and Decorative Arts, Travel, Renaissance Cuisine, and of course, Fashion.