Thursday, May 30, 2013

New picture - Lady in a pink dress by Bugiardini

I've posted before about the excitement I feel when I find a new Renaissance portrait that I haven't seen before. Well, here's a gem! It is Portrait of a Young Woman by Bugiardini (Gulbenkian Museum.) I love the embroidery on her head wrap and the interesting bodice detail. I wonder if that is an intaglio ring? The line of fur(?) around the bottom of her head wrap is very interesting also.


Rijksmuseum making artworks available for public download

Wonderful news for history buffs, art fans and re-enactors!

The Rijksmuseum - from

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

New World Elizabethan Coif

I hope I haven't posted this one before; this is an Elizabethan coif that I made a few years ago for a competition. The theme was 'the New World'.

Here is the doco for the coif:
After cutting my waist-length hair short in November 2008, I realised that I needed to reassess my hair coverings for SCA events. I normally wear sixteenth century Italian and Elizabethan style clothing and I found that I didn’t have enough hair for my normal cauls to fit securely. After receiving a copy of Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 (POF4) I attempted a red monochrome coif in mid 2009. I found it attractive and comfortable to wear, so decided to make a warmer, black monochrome coif which would suit more of my garb.

Pattern, Materials and Techniques
Making the first coif pattern for the garment was a case of trial and error. I played around with paper patterns in the approximate shape of the unjoined extant coifs reproduced below. There is some variety in the shape of extant coifs, probably due to personal preference on the part of the wearer. I don’t like having headwear obscure my peripheral vision, so the ear ‘flaps’ on my coif are quite small.

  This coif from c.1600 in the V&A Museum (p. 44, Geddes et al.) indicate the general coif pattern. I made my ear pieces slightly less prominent. 

  This coif from c. 1610 in the Burrell Collection (Plate 54, POF4), inspired the enclosed scrolling stems on my coif.

After adjusting the original coif pattern slightly, choosing an embroidery design was the next challenge. I have wanted a coif with plant and animal designs for some time, so when the ‘New World’ theme was announced, I thought it was a great challenge. I noticed that there is great variety in the animals stitched in period, so tried to make all my animals look different from each other. I depicted the following new world animals: toucan, beaver, chameleon, jay, turkey, snake and alligator. I have never tried to completely reproduce an extant piece of embroidery, preferring instead to change small details to make a piece completely ‘my own’ and allow my own creativity to shine through. I was particularly inspired by the tent stitched slips of new world animals shown together on a panel at Traquair House c. 1600 (Synge, 2001, p. 73), shown below. (Note the turkey and chameleon. The matching panel shows jay, toucan, alligator and beaver).

Many of the flower motifs I have used have been adapted from patterns in Shorleyker ‘A Scholehouse for the Needle’ (1597), a page of which is reproduced below.  

There are many extant coifs from the mid-late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries in museums and private collections, and POF4 has a great range of examples to look at for inspiration.
After the discovery and colonisation of the ‘New World’ and in particular the acquisition of ‘Virginia’, Elizabethan curiosity about the place and its people and natural wonders was rife. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England, book production and quality improved greatly. Embroidery motifs were copied from embroidery pattern books as well as herbals, bestiaries, emblem books, and tales from Greek and Latin writers (Geddes et al, 1976, p. 29).

Modelbuchs of the time and Herbals such as ‘The New Herball’ of William Turner (1568), the ‘New Herball’ of Henry Lyte (1578), ‘Animalium Quadrepedum’ by Nicholas de Bruyn (1594) , and Topsell’s ‘History of Four footed Beasts’ (1606), all show new world influences in depictions of the natural world.  Vecellio’s Costume book (1590) and Christopher Weiditz’s ‘Trachtenbuch’ give the curious public pictoral indications of the dress of some of the inhabitants of the New World. Thomas Johnson’s ‘A Booke of Beasts, Birds, Flowers and Fruit’ of 1630 has some great representations of creatures from the Americas. The tent stitch slips mentioned above indicate that some people were inspired to record new world influences in their embroidery.

This plate from Thomas Johnson’s A Booke of Beasts, Birds, Flowers and Fruit (1630) shows a turkey and a monkey.

Although most of the examples I have shown here date from around 1600, coifs were in use at least a decade earlier than that. The picture by William Peake the Elder, 1590 (below) shows Lady Catherine Constable wearing a linen coif and forehead cloth (POF4, Plate 51A), and a variety of plates in ‘the Tudor Tailor’ show similar garments. Plate 6, A portrait of an Unknown Woman 1568 (p. 10) shows a lady wearing a distinctly coif like garment. Coifs could be worn under another item of headwear (as below), or used to cover the hair on informal occasions, such as when inside the house.

I chose a black monochrome colour scheme because it will match other embroidered items in my wardrobe. In the sixteenth century, black monochrome work was extremely common and popular (giving rise to the name ‘blackwork’ for monochrome embroidery), but red monochrome embroidery was popular in both Italy and England in the sixteenth century, with many extant examples still in existence. Examples of blue, green, gold, and purple-worked smocks, shirts, chemises and coifs from England and Italy are all shown in POF4 and can be found in most museums that have clothing collections. A variety of embroidery styles is shown on these garments, but geometric and freestyle monochrome and polychrome styles are both found.

I used black cotton floss rather than silk purely due to financial restrictions, and I used a linen-cotton blend shirt fabric for the coif itself. (Extant coifs are worked on linen but I usually can’t afford linen.) Most extant coifs are unlined, but I chose to line my coif with cotton flannelette for extra warmth.
I used stem stitch and double running stitch for the majority of the embroidery. These stitch types are very common in freehand monochrome embroidery and can be seen on most extant examples. 
This linen panel, known as ‘the Shepheard Buss’, dates to around 1600. Worked in black silks, it appears to include double running, stem, blanket and seeding stitches (V&A Museum, Geddes et al, p. 42.)
I used gilt spangles of 4.0mm diameter from the Thread Studio, which appear to be slightly smaller than those used on the extant garment. Although pressed metal spangles or ‘ooes’ were used in period, I am not sure what these modern alternatives are made of. I suspect that they are a metal alloy blend as they are light, don’t seem to tarnish, don’t snap and don’t melt under the iron.  I have seen examples of spangles being sewn on with four stitches, but the majority of garments seem to have spangles stitched with three so I used three. The extant garment appears to have spangles sewn on with one thread, but I used a doubled cotton thread because it is likely that my coif will be machine washed, and durability is very important to me.

I knotted off the thread after each spangle was secured, but did not cut the thread so the back of the work would be tidier. I originally planned to use heavier metal spangles with a more yellow look to them, but found that the central holes had been roughly punched out, leaving sharp edges that might rub through the linen. I was very disappointed not to have enough time to flatten these spangles out and use them because I think they would have looked more dramatic on the coif.

 This extant coif (POF, Plate 50) in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow that dates from around 1610 shows running stitch, stem stitch and panels of moderate spangling.

Both heavily and lightly spangled extant coifs and other garments still exist. The Carew Pole nightcap (which is worked with green silk feather motifs) and the coif below are examples of fairly heavily spangled garments, which inspired me to spangle my coif quite liberally.

A spangled sixteenth century polychrome coif (Synge, unknown page) unusually showing spangles sewn with four stitches instead of three!

Although ink was often used in period to mark out embroidery designs, I am not confident enough about my draftsmanship to risk using ink, so I traced the design in modern water soluble ink. I taped my sketched design to a window and used the pane as a natural light box. The salamander design below, dating from around 1600, demonstrates how ink was used to mark out designs for the embroiderer to follow (V&A Collection, T.88-1925, Arnold {QEWU} p. 272) (and also that animal designs were used on linen garments.)

In period, many embroiderers seemed to avoid knots and work their thread ends back into the embroidery. I have knotted my threads and then worked the thread ends back into the work, again for durability and security when the garment is machine washed.

 This red and gold worked coif from about 1610 shares similar attributes to mine; a flowing foliate design, no edging lace is used, small spangles are heavily used, and the embroiderer seems to have anchored their stitches in places with knots. (POF4, plates 53-A.)

I lined the coif with the flannelette before sewing the garment up. With my previous coif, I planned to line it after it was finished, but I found it very difficult to get the lining to match the outer piece. This time, I joined the lining and outer pieces together first and whip stitched the edges with natural cotton thread (linen was probably used in period, but is very expensive now) and a casing was made along the lower edge for the lucet cord. The hand made cord was provided by my friend Heather Carter and was made on a wooden lucet. The lucet cord is long enough to allow the coif to be tied over my head as in the example below. The side edges were ornamented with diagonal stitches in black cotton. Originally I did larger stitches along the sides, but pulled them out and put smaller ones in because I thought the smaller stitches looked nicer. Of the coifs I have looked at, some were decorated on the edges, and some were not. Because I didn’t want to use lace on this coif, I chose to decorate the edges.

 This extant piece shows the cord tied over the hair (Plate 51, POF4; Linen coif embroidered in silk from around 1600 from the Museum of Costume and Textiles, Nottingham.)

I joined the top seam with a small diagonal stitch in white cotton, and then tried to replicate the cartridge pleats seen on the coif in Plate 52B of POF4. My pleat stitches must have been larger than those on the original because my coif has fewer pleats.

I secured the pleats with small stitches in white cotton. I then did a three armed gathering cross like the one just visible in pale green thread on Plate 52B (POF4). I used a triple securing stitch in embroidery floss, which I then buttonholed over for strength. I did the same on the smaller side arms. The extant piece seems to have a five armed knot, but the function is the same.

   Plate 52B, POF4 shows a detailed picture of the top seam of a polychrome coif from around 1610, held in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Even though my pleats are larger, when I put it on, the pleats on the back of my coif do sit like this (POF4, Plate 52), detail previous page.

Reflective Notes
The coif fits, and I am quite happy with the finished product, although there are several things I would do differently if I could do it again. I would leave more time for the spangling, and use the heavier, more gold spangles. I am glad I didn’t do any seeding on the coif- I like the clean lines. I may make a matching forehead cloth for the coif as I have some left over linen blend fabric.


Arnold, J. 1988, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, W S Maney and Son Ltd, London.
Arnold, J; Tiramani, J; and Levey, S. 2008, Patterns of Fashion 4, Pan Macmillan Ltd, London.
Geddes, E and McNeill, M. 1976, Blackwork Embroidery, Dover Publications, New York.
Mikhaila, N and Malcom-Davies, J. 2006, The Tudor Tailor, B T Batsford Ltd, London.
Orsi Landini, R and  Niccoli, B. 2005,  La Moda a Firenze 1540-1580, Pagliai Polistampa, Florence.
Synge, L. 1982, Antique Needlework, Blandford Press, New York.
Synge, L. 2001, The Art of Embroidery, Antique Collectors Club, UK.
Vecellio, C. 1977, Vecellio’s Renaissance Costume Book, Dover Publications, New York.
Weiditz, C. 1994, Authentic Everyday Dress of the Renaissance, Dover Publications, New York.


Like many needlework enthusiasts, I have a collection of books that I like to look through to get general inspiration for a project. Here are a few that I looked through before starting this one:
  • Compleat Anachronist 115: Wrought with flowers of Black Silk, Prudence Catesby
  • Compleat Anachronist 31: An introduction to Blackwork, Shoshonnah Jehanne ferch Emrys
  • The Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques, Pauline Brown (1994, Simon and Schuster, Australia).
  • Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII, Maria Hayward (2007, Maney Publishing, UK).


  • Thankyou to Heather Carter for the lucet cord.
  • I also utilised the resources at the addresses below for information on stitches used in period,  and these were suggested by THL Katerina da Brescia in her article “WIP – Tuscan Camicia of the 16th Century” as published in the WCoB Newsletter, Twelfth Night 2008:
-Archive of Stitches from Extant Textiles -
-Sewing Stitches Used in Medieval Clothing-

Friday, May 3, 2013

German beaded brustfleck

Here is a project that I finished last week. It was a long one; I started it in November last year. It was my first try at a German beaded brustfleck. I know someone who has just started doing German garb, and who really likes squirrels. Sometimes, especially in the SCA, you meet people who really inspire you with their grace, beauty, diplomacy and tact, and this lady does. Plus, she is a whiz at all things arty and crafty, as well as being a lot of fun. So I really wanted to make her a gift.

The inspiration for this piece came from this portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The lady's brustfleck (breastband) has dolphins with floral designs coming out from them.

Portrait of a Young Woman - Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1530

The portrait seems to show white beadwork over a black base design, Perhaps embroidery, or appliqued shapes. Geometric designs were popular too.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Woman, c1525

'Judith' by Lucas Cranach the Elder 

Portrait of a Woman, Lucas Cranach

Although I wear sixteenth century Italian and English styles, this Renaissance German surface decoration really sucks me in! Beads, embroidery and sparklies everywhere!

I got the measurements and some guidance for the piece from the very talented German costumer Lady Ursula Von Memmingen.

I used a piece of black velveteen supported with felt as the base fabric. I drew a design on tracing paper and tacked it onto the velvet. I ripped the paper away to reveal the stitching guidelines. Then I worked chain stitch over the guidelines, pulling the tacking out from the back. The squirrel shapes were cut from felt and stab stitched down.

When I added the large seed beads, I strung five or so onto a thread, anchored it twice and then moved on to the next block of five. When a whole row was done, I went between each bead and anchored them individually. I was very thorough about this, because it is easy to knock or bang your chest area when talking, dancing etc, and I didn't want to risk any of the design coming off with wear and tear. For the same reason, I knotted off the stitches on the back very often. It made for a messy back of the piece!

I was happy with this construction technique, except for the straight lines around the design which I did right at the end of the project. The extra anchoring stitches seemed to distort the design, and I lost my lovely straight lines. I think that the irregular nature of the beads contributed to this as well.

Before settling on flowers made of white and gold seed beads and leaves made of glass, I tried out a few alternative ideas using commercially available beads.

Rose glass flower beads and green glass leaf beads

Mother of pearl leaf beads

Metal leaf beads

Split stitching the squirrel body over the felt shape.

The finished item prior to making up

A completed split stitch squirrel with grey seed bead eye

The finished piece. It is designed to be pinned into place.

Trying to sew with a cold/flu is a bad idea

What a waste of time! I have a very heavy cold/flu at the moment, and today I tried to do some catch-up work on the UnFinished Object pile. Great plan, points for motivation, but the execution just didn't work out. Firstly, I tried some unpicking and ended up repeatedly putting the unpicker through the fabric. Next, I tried to sew a lining for a pillbox style Italian hat that I never wear because it is unlined. After two tries, it was a disaster, so I glued felt inside like a bit cheater. Well, that was a disaster too, so I ripped it all out and gave up on the crafting. Some days you just don't know when you're beat!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Third Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge

I have joined the Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge 3. In the past, I have taken part in two of the 'mini-challenges', but I have never taken part in one of the major challenges before. Signing up for the competition seems absolutely crazy to me; I dislike machine sewing, and I have health problems that severely restrict normal everyday activities. However, I love pretty garb, and I like a challenge! I am hoping that being part of the challenge will focus my concentration on a particular garment for long enough to get it finished.

In the first week of the challenge, I was away so was unable to do more than cut out a partlet. I have been hand sewing hems and adding lace to the partlet, but it is not yet finished. I have also been pottering with patterns. To be honest, finishing other projects, like the blue dress and gifts for friends, has been more of a priority than the competition. But I now feel like I can give it more attention. This week I made a pearl and gold girdle, as part of the 'accessories' component of the competition. I am pleased with it, and it goes well with the blue drill gown.

Although this shot was taken with the blue dress hanging rather than being worn, I think the new girdle goes really well with it.

See the Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge 3 here