16th c Apron with Whitework Embroidery

It all started with me stumbling over an picture a friend posted on Facebook, she was hem stitching a veil, using Drawn Thread Work, and that made me suddenly realize this was the technique used on the collar of a 16th century shirt I was studying in a book. Four months later, after pinteresting and youtubing and asking friends, I decided to test it out on a bigger project.

The technique of removing a thread and stitch it into a pattern was used during the 16th century in a large area of Europe, though my research is focused on Italy, England, Sweden and Germany for various reasons.

The term whitework embroidery is a term used by L. Arthur to describe different techniques where you use white thread on white or natural coloured fabric, and since I haven’t yet figure out how to correctly translate the Swedish terminology of the different kind of techniques I’ve used, I decided to simply simplify it by using either Whitework Embroidery (vitbroderi) or Drawn Thread Work (utdragsöm). For those who may speak Swedish or want to google images and YouTube clip in a foreign language, you can also search for hopdragsöm, tränsad hålsöm, stolphålssöm, spindlar, snodd stolphålssöm and genombrutet broderi

The apron was chosen as simple enough start for me, and the repetitive pattern would give me hours of practicing to improve my sewing skills in the whitework embroidery genre …even though I handsew all my clothing, it’s still a different technique to do whitework embroidery that I needed to work on. And belive me, I’ve learned a lot on this project, some things I’ve managed to change to the better, some parts had to be left as they was due to my lack of skills …don’t get me wrong, I’m very very proud of what I managed to make, but I’m also very aware of the little mistakes that are in the final result, hopefully someone else will learn something from it, this is still the best I could have made with just, four months of experience;

The inspiration comes from a
German sampler (1618)


A Swedish shirt (1567) with a simple Drawn Thread Work decoration


…and then combine it by using the techniques on an apron, including the design, inspired from Italian surviving examples of aprons (late 16th c-early 17th c)

…also found at the Metropolitan Museum

A small detail to add is that narrow white apron with decoration can also be found in Germany during the 16th c, which makes me wonder if they might have used drawn thread work for aprons as the Italian did. Does anyone have any idea maybe?

Pictures found here and here.

I used a medium weight linen, and calculated the pattern by counting threads and then pull them carefully out of the fabric, saving all the threads so I would use them later when sewing (…my mother told me that this was how she was tought to do a traditional Drawn Thread Work when she was a kid, and I figure the same concept might been used during the 16th c. No need to waste good thread right?)


…though using thread pulled out of the fabric was horrible 🙂 …one of three threads broke when waxing it, and wax was so well needed since the thread started to fuzz as soon as it was pulled out. I tried to use my normal linen thread at one part, even though it was delightful to work with, the colour was a horrible match; the thred was optic white and the fabric off white, which made the white thread shine brightly in the sun, so I hade to remove it and remake it with the fabric thread.

The technique of Drawn Thread Work is fairly simple; pull out the thread, stitch the sides. The pattern is depending on how many threads pulled out (I used 5 +20 pulled threads), then you start to stitch one row at the time;

(There is a ton of good tutorials of how to get started on YouTube)

Where the rows met, I strengthen the threads by carefully wrapping the fabric threads.



I switch between sewing free hand, and using a frame; I padded the frame with a cloth to ensure that my fabric wouldn’t slack, and when working on the edges of the apron I simply used a thread to straighten the sides.

(A bigger frame would probably made it easier, but I managed to use what I had at home 🙂

The squares where the rows met was filled in with a little web, that shaped the squares to a star

The challenge with this procedure was to first get a long enough waxed thread without breaking it before you even started, and second to not brake it during the forming of the web; there isn’t much room to attach a new thread without bulbs…

The rows between the stars was needle weaved by again using a separate long double thread


The long rows was of course a bit tricky to do, if I missed a spot, I had to undo evrything up to that point …and that happened a couple of times…


The top part of the apron was attached by simply double fold a piece of fabric and whip stitched it to the apron; I pulled out a thread to make sure I stayed aligned when gathering the top part. The end of the ties got a small decorative tassel


One of the features with the apron is that the hem stitch makes the apron reversible;


The finished apron took around 3-4 weeks to complete.


…the one thing I didn’t anticipate was that the wax on the thread would stay after washing it, so ironical the stars are now darker then the rest. Hopefully will it change after being washed a couple of more times


Book sources;
Arnold, J, Patterns of Fashion 4
Arthur, L Bonniers Stora Bok om Broderi
Nylén, A-M Livrustkammaren, vol. 8-9; Stureskjortorna


I had a great deal of help from my mother who’s own interest in handcrafting provides me with tips and tricks of how to continue on my own path; Her knowledge and skill have been invaluable, without her, I wouldn’t have been able to get this far …thank you so much, Lotta! ❤


5 comments on “16th c Apron with Whitework Embroidery

  1. itwasjudith says:

    the result is gorgeous!
    the shirt seen in the end outfit picture is also very nice, lovely sleeves

  2. Aina says:

    This is utterly beautiful, well done you !! Very helpful to follow the process image by image, detailed and inspiring as well.

    Friendly, Aina

  3. Maria says:

    This is just great. I really like the amount of work you put into this.

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