16th c. Embroidered Blackwork Coif
Updated: Nov 18, 2018
The Pattern: Embroidered coifs were popular in England in the 16th and early 17th centuries – and it was common for women to purchase patterns or have a pattern traced out for them, so they could do their own embroidery. Keeping with this tradition, I purchased the ‘Frances’ coif pattern from Reconstructing History. These patterns were meticulously researched and drafted by Laura Mellin of Extreme Costuming.
The Materials: The body of the coif is fine 3.5 oz linen from Fabrics-Store.com. The lining of the coif is also white linen from Fabrics-Store.com – but a slightly heavier weight. The embroidery is done in Rainbow Gallery’s ‘Splendor’ silk embroidery thread, purchased from Reconstructing History. The coif is hemmed with Gutterman silk sewing thread, and the lining is slip-stitched to the coif with Gutterman silk. In these photos, I just have a piece of cotton twill tape as the drawstring at the base of the neck – this will be replaced with lucet cord or fingerloop braid at some point.
The Techniques: This was my first major embroidery project, so there was a LOT to learn!
I traced the pattern out onto the linen using a light table and a fine-point sharpie:
The outlining is done in stem stitch, which was a common stitch for Elizabethan embroidery. The majority of the fillwork is basic speckle stitch. After I finished about half of the fill stitches, I purchased a copy of the Royal School of Needlework’s Blackwork guide, which has some great information about fill stitches in general, and a lot of detail on speckle stitch. Since this was my first major embroidery project, I’m pleased with how it came out – but I hope that the next project will be even nicer, with that book to guide me! I did attempt some non-speckle fill stitches, but they came out so messy looking that I pretty much gave up. I’ll have to practice on some samplers before I incorporate any complicated fillwork into a major project.
Once the embroidery was complete, I cut the coif out with a scant 1/4″ seam allowance. I turned a very narrow hem, using a slip stitch. Although extant coifs are not lined, I chose to line my coif to protect the interior from dirt and body oils. The lining is slip-stitched to the coif, and then the edges are bound with a blanket stitch. I whip-stitched the center seam together, and gathered the remainder.
Reflections: Overall, I am very pleased with this project. I loved having something small and portable that I could bring with me to events. It’s nice to have something that I could put down for months – literally – and pick up right where I left off without having to think about it. Although I’m glad that it’s finished (so I can wear it!), I think there will be more embroidery projects in my future.