Understanding the Herringbone Stitch on the St. Birgitta’s Coif

I’ve made a lot of basic St. Birgitta style caps without the embroidered band on the center seam of the cap, but finally decided to sit down and figure out the embroidered band recently. I have not been able to find a good image of the embroidery on the original cap and I’ve seen a few different interpretations so I selected one to try. The original linen cap is two halves joined with an interlaced double herringbone stitch similar to a modern faggoted seam, from the front edge to about 2 inches above the bottom edge.

A couple of few weeks ago I taught a class on how to do the stitch at a local event and I would add that if you want to do a trial run of the stitch on a short piece of fabric using multiple colored threads definitely helps the stitches to be more visible.

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Recreating Veils and Hairstyles of the Middle Ages: 14th Century Italian Hair Styles

When looking at images of 14th Century Italian hairstyles a couple of styles are definitely more prevalent, hair that is braided or wrapped with ribbons or cloth and then wrapped around the head. While the hair wrapped with ribbons or cloth can be held in place by wrapping the long ends of the ribbon around the head and tying them at the base of the neck, the braids would most likely be held in place by either hair pins or sewing.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Allegory of Good Government - Good Goverment - Detail 1338-40 Fresco Palazzo Publico, Siena, Italy web

This image from Siena, Italy circa 1338-40 shows both braided and wrapped styles.

BLR - 6 E IX - Regia Carmina - f 13r

ca 1335-1340 Tuscany, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to make a St. Birgitta Coif/Cap

The St. Birgitta’s coif/cap (also, Bridget, Birgitte, Brigid), currently owned by the conservation department of Sweden’s Riksantikbarieambete (National Heritage Board) is attributed to the fourteenth-century century Swedish saint of that name. The original linen cap was at some point, most likely in the sixteenth-century, covered with silk taffeta which has since been removed by the conservation department. According to the article in Clothing and Textiles the linen has not been carbon dated, so while it most likely dates to the 14th century, the exact age is unknown.

St Birgitta Cap 2

St. Birgitta’s Cap, Source unknown

The original linen cap is two halves joined with a complex herringbone stitch similar to a modern faggoted seam, from the front edge to about 2 inches above the bottom edge. The bottom edge is then gathered into the binding strip that runs across the front edge and then continues on as the ties that help to secure the cap on your head.

Images of similar looking caps can be found in many 13th and 14th century manuscripts. While most images of women wearing only a cap during the day appear to be servants, it is not inconceivable for many of the upper class women to be wearing one under their wimple and veil as there are also images of women sleeping in what appears to be a similarly shaped cap.

Through experimentation I, and many women that I have talked to, have discovered that fastening the wimple and veil to the St. Birgitta’s cap does help everything to stay in place far more easily and comfortably, for hours at a time.

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