16th Century German Beaded Breastband

Catalina da Gata

History & Inspiration

I decided to make this beaded panel whilst working on a recreation Hungarian dress, a style that is nearly exact to German styles of the first part of the 16th century.

I found other dresses of the wearer of this dress that are also German in inspiration so I looked to a German portrait painter of the time, Lucas Cranach. The dresses he painted resembled the dress I was recreating from the sleeves with the bell cuffs, the deep necklines and the very full skirt.

It was there I found the inspiration for the beaded breast bands. The beaded breast bands seemed to come in just about every variation from plain, embroidered and beaded.

Of the beaded styles there were many different designs from those following the design of the fabric, some floral designs and most frequently seen a diamond design in pearls with another design element within the diamonds. The interior designs seen were letters, small flowers of different types, and some symmetrical abstract designs.

Pearls in period would be an extravagance, something as simple as a pearl hairnet would be a prize dowry for a young woman. The noble and upper class in these portraits showed such extravagance with elaborate designs done with pearls and sometimes precious metals.

In Period pearls were laid down with one thread, whilst another thread was used to couch it down. Freshwater seed pearls were used in this type of embroidery with silk thread on fine fabrics, such as silks, damasks and tapestries.


After looking over the various paintings I decided on a diamond pattern and designed a three petalled flower internal pattern. I stitched the design on silk fabric with silk thread with pearl beads (plastic pearls for the sake of my pocketbook). I backed the silk with canvas fabric to support the beads. From the sturdy look of the breast bands I believe a similar method would have been used in period. I used a combination of the period laid pearls and couching method with a suggested backstitch to secure the design.


1. Used a wash away fabric to write the design on, as I didn't want to draw on the silk. Washed away well, but though both fabrics had been pre-washed it seemed that there was some shrinkage causing some areas in the design to buckle. Will probably just pre-wash then pencil directly onto the fabric next time.

2. May try real pearls next time, budget willing, though I am happy with the overall authenticity if the design and materials.


Jen Funk Segrest (Lady ElsPerth Grizel of Dunfort) The Medieval Beadwork Page

Articles Used from the above:
Text from Shire Album # 57 "Beadwork" - Pamela Claburn
"Grizel's Machine Washable Beadwork-A quick how to" -Lady ElsPerth Grizel of Dunfort
"What to do with that box of Beads?"-Lady ElsPerth Grizel of Dunfort

The Frazzled Frau

Dubin, Lois Sherr, The History of Beads (from 30,000BC to Present)

Friedlander, Max & Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach

Schade, Werner. Cranach: A family of Master Painters

Thompson, Angela. Embroidery with Beads