A Variety of Linen Coifs [1556 Kentwell]

Just reminding that for costume making I will be following the tudor costume page and advice from previous participants and ‘kentwell elves’ on materials suitability and for the difficult bits [ie kirtle bodice ] I am currently a hoping-to-be re-enactor but with no experience and we are really keen as a family to join the tudors. Other people I know have found the mediaeval tailors assistant to be really helpful for shifts, or the tudor tailor.

This means that the steps detailed here are not originating from my brain, but the tudor costume makers and others, though some of the mistakes and how to avoid unfortunately did :blush: .

edited to act – i found coifs really stressful! with multiple fails at bag size or shape, and I also made 2 from a design on the Kentwellies site entitled simple coif – which i didn’t find that simple but did adjust to work. this can also be found on the clothing the rose site

NB Anyone thinking of making clothes for re-enactment, please check with your group the ‘rules’ on materials, colours and look. different tudor years have different styles – tho less so for poor, especially poor kids. following these notes does not guarentee acceptance of clothing by Kentwell or any other group, but may help a total novice such as myself. I had never made any clothes before these – a hint of my novicitude.

I wrote this initially in Sept 2011, but have added in the things that had I had known I would have done differently – mostly in italics :) . however, the clothing was passed for Kentwell 1556 . :)

Materials and Measuring

I am using a 100% irish linen in white rather than unbleached. This is what i could find that was 100% linen in the affordable range. Apparently unbleached goes whiter and whiter with use. These are going to be therefore much used shifts :) it has been hot washed 2ce and dried, so shouldn’t be more shrinkage [I hope!] It is not at all bluey in real life, even if it does looks so on photos. Hot washing does shrink the weave and tightens it. Ivory white for lower classes or natural is probably better than whitey white.

having been to a reenactment recently, I picked up some linen thread, a white 2 ply and an unbleached 3ply. I am using the 2 ply for hemming and the 3ply for whipstitching.

Biggin style coif for BB

This was a very straightforward coif to make. i measured from forehead hairline to nape and from these point to earlobes. I made 2 pattern pieces, a kind of sawn off ovoid for the middle piece to run from front to back, and a near quarter circle for the side pieces. if i had made it so, I could have made double thickness and reversible. But i didn’t! instead I had 2 of them. this was very easy to make.

pattern for biggin

biggin for dd2

I made thin ties from polycotton bias binding

i made an identical design coif for DH also. remember linen frays, so needs a proper hem all the way round so no edges.

Bag style coif for SB and I

This was the one that initially caused me much grief! I measured our heads from earlobe to earlobe, and also from forehead to nape and also a general ‘around’ . I used a mixing bowl initially to get the shape for the bag, but this was TOO SMALL since we all have a fair bit of hair :) so add a couple of inches! Also the side bits then stuck out – ironing made them go back in! this first one I made, though it didn’t work for my daughter, did work well for a friend’s daughter with a smaller head and less hair – so a happy ending after all.

I used a pattern from a friend but didn’t remember to cut it over a fold, so instead I had 4 pieces rather than two to sew together. I sewed the pieces together in the middle that is at the front [and shouldn't have been there if cut on a fold] and then sewed all along the outside edges in backstitch and then sewed inside out.

first coif attempt for SB

I pinned at the back to get an esimate of where the seam would be to fit well on my daughter, and then sewed the back seam and made sure that it still fitted


I then used my biggest mixing bowl and cut out a circle of linen and pinned knife pleats all the way around. I used backtitch to sew this into what will be the middle of the 2 sides of the headband part, since this will make it reversible.



I then used ladder stitch to fold in the hem and sew over the outside of the headband onto it, so that stitching should be relatively invisible.

Argh! the bag is too small, so the line isn’t quite right – i need a curvier ‘inner curve’ and a narrower back band.
ok, it goes on, but too small

So I do the whole process again, this time remembering to cut the headband on the fold so there are 2 parts to it :) not 4

second try!


SInce it does look better, I do a similar coif for myself, fiddling a bit with the shape of the headband and with an even larger bag for my larger hair. It is possibly too large now, but I have had enough with coifs :)

coif for me [coif 3]

the simple coif pattern

later I am persuaded to try again with coifs, and I have a go with the simple coif pattern available on the Clothing the Rose website. It is on the whole simple, but it doesn’t really tell you how long to make the back bit, i made it longer than I thought, but still it was short enough that I decided to pleat it onto a band rather than have it halfway coif and halfway headrail as intended. I also sewed on large bias binding rather than linen tapes with this one. Not quite so good, so when I made a second one – initially for e, but instead a gift to my kentwell daughter, I did use wider linen tape and it worked better. I think the original design [that I did for SB] is planned to sit back an inch or 2 from forehead with a headclout/fillet in front, better for the more wealthy.

first I attempted to cut out a pattern – there is an all in one of forehead plus back part, and a forehead bit only. Note that I should have done mine longer! the forehead part was about 2 inches in depth, and for the bag part i would use your measurement of hairline to nape if you haven’t much hair to hide on top, or add another couple of inches [which I did for the second]

Dd second coif

I sewed the 2 pieces together at front and side and then turned inside out so we had the good sides visible. I took a strip of linen the length of ear to ear and 2 inches width and then folded edges to the middle and then in half – all along the length so that edges would be well hidden, and just like collars and cuffs on the shifts, pleated the bag portion in [pinning first to make it sit well] and attaching the band at either side to the forehead part.




finally i sewed over the forehead part to sew closed, and added the long polycotton bias binding tapes I had made. These are really long and of the length to go back to nape over forehead and tie at the back.

This nearly worked! so I had another go. this time, since i don’t want so much forehead fillet to show, and lso so could potentially use without, I made the forehead part more shaped, the back bag part longer [as detailed above] and I also made it bulge outwards before coming in at the top. I did pretty much all the sewing of this at Kentwell in role, so no pics except for the final try on by my Kentwell daughter. This worked :)


the easy coif on my kentwell daughter

Forehead Clouts/fillets

these are very straightforward, a rectangle of linen which should have the length of posterior ear, across forehead to posterior ear by 2 inches when finished, so it initially needs double the width and seam allowance so that you can fold it in half along length axis and then fold in the seam allowance so that it is all nice and neat. then some linen or polycotton tapes to either end so you can tie at the nape. You then pin your coif to this.

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