Linenfold Panel

This popular panel decoration, usually found carved into oak, is thought to be of Flemish origin. The design, which symbolises ornately arranged linen, spread with local variations throughout France and Germany until it reached England towards the end of the Tudor Gothic period, around 1580. Examples can also be found on American Colonial furnishing from the seventeenth century onwards. The design is nearly always used as a panel decoration with the fold lines falling vertically.

It is believed that the design developed from the way the timber was prepared into boards. Oak in those days was sometimes ‘riven”, which means that the timber was planked by driving a wedge into the endgrain to force it apart. The method was much quicker than sawing and also meant that the timber tended to be stronger as the boards separated along their natural weak spots. The only problem, however, as you will realise if you have ever separated timber in this way, is that you are left with a ridged and uneven surface, and it is this surface which is thought to have been adapted into what we know as the linenfold decoration.

1 Photocopy or redraw Fig 1. to scale and make a template. Then mark the linenfold design on to your prepared timber which should be around 20mm (3/4in) thick. Although oak is the natural choice, ash, chestnut or elm are suitable options.

Proceed to remove wood from the top and bottom areas of the design to a depth of approximately 6mm (1/4in). The reduced sections form the background, representing the surface that the linen is draped across. A router can be used to facilitate this removal.

Use chisel No, 5 to create a V-shaped groove down the vertical lines on either side of the panel, Cut to the outside of the line in each case and then remove the waste wood with chisel No, 4 to around hall the original thickness as shown on the left-hand side of the photograph. Now use chisel No, 4 to create a concave sweep forming a vertical line halfway across the section. Carve to the outside of this line, working down to the same level as the background and forming a ridge line. This creates an edge of 6mm (1/4in) thickness which can be fitted into the rebate of a surrounding framework. The result can be seen on the right-hand side of the photograph.

Set in vertical cuts with chisel Nos. 4 and 1 to define the four loops which form the first fold on either side. Remove the waste wood by slicing towards your cut line, setting the profile in deeper as you proceed as shown left. Try to create a gentle wave-like appearance which will require deeper cuts in in the centre of each of the loops.

Round over the outside edge of the first fold on each side as shown night. Chisel No. 4 will help to create the desired impression that the linen is a continuous length as it flows up into the second fold. Remember that the top and bottom of the panel must correspond.

Now set in the profile of the second fold on either side removing the waste wood as be with chisel Nos. 1 and 4. Then round over outside edge of the fold with chisel No. 4 following the line established by the first fold.

Next create a ridge along the centre line of the panel by forming a long trough with chisel Nos. 3 and 4 as illustrated on the right of the photograph. Carve the surface of each fold down into the channels just created, again using chisel Nos. 4 and 1. Finally, undercut the peripheral edge of each fold to enhance the design. Remember that the aim is to create the illusion of thin material. The carving can now be sanded using sanding blocks as described in the Making Your Own Tools section.


Design Variations

After gaining an understanding of the principles of the linenfold decoration, why not try your hand at the other designs shown below?

These feature more elaborate patterns of folds. The double linenfold is particularly challenging as it displays two separate pieces of linen, one draped over the other.

The effect of folded material can also be incorporated into other designs. Religious carvings often depict folded parchment scriptures while heraldic carvings display ornately furled flags. Ideas can be found in books or paintings which can be used as the basis for your own designs. To make your carvings more interesting, you could decorate the folds with, for example, a band of patinated holes along the top and bottom, or following the line of each fold to provide an edge detail.