Wednesday, September 25, 2013

kid's garb blitz: Elizabethan Coif

We're switching back to my daughter's Elizabethan outfit today.

I had figured that a new headdress was in order way back in the planning stages for this outfit, but it wasn't until I used an old pink linen cap for her kirtle photo shoot that I realized how badly she needed a better hat. Since the whole outfit is Elizabethan, it made sense to make a coif suitable for the mid-to-late 15th century.

Coifs of this period seem to come in a wide variety. While there is plenty of evidence in the art of the time that coifs were plain (white or cream colored linen being the likely material), there is also a very large number of extant coifs that display varied types of embroidery styles. The colors used on the embroidery also create a layer of variability, as some used just black threads, while others, closer to the 17th century, used colored silks.

I love doing embroidery, and I certainly wouldn't balk at the opportunity to create an embroidered 16th century coif, but I just can't justify spending that time and energy for a coif for a 3-year old, who's head is still growing. I do, however, love how these embroidered caps look, and for the end result of the outfit I have in mind, the more decorated look would be the nicer touch.

So I decided to do a "faux-work" coif using a patterned material. It took a bit of searching at the fabric store, but eventually I found a pretty cream-colored cotton with a small-scale floral pattern in dark brown. I also picked up a cream-colored linen from the remnant bin. It's not perfect, but it's fine for a little girl, and the feeling of the embroidered coifs is definitely evoked.

Before I did anything with the fabric, though, I needed to sort of exactly how to create the coif. Luckily, many intrepid costumers have gone before me, and it was fairly easy to figure out the logistics of turning the flat piece into a 3D hat. What I didn't know, though was how to get the correct sizing.

Eventually, I decided to take some measurements and see how they applied to the piece, knowing how the whole thing would eventually sit on the head. It took some trial and error, but eventually, I came up with this measuring method:

Keep in mind that you're working with half the pattern here, so if you measure around your head for D and C, make sure to divide that in half. The C measurement should fall roughly at the nape of your neck and just at the front line of your ears. The D line should go out to about the outside of your cheekbone.

The trick was to keep the measurements loose to account for gathers and bulkiness of the hair. I also created a toile from the pattern these measurements created, and made some minor stylistic adjustments (most notably removing the severe peak at the top front). I also used a scrap piece of fabric for a forehead cloth stand-in during this stage. After seeing a fitting photo series on Morgan Donner's Sewing Party blog, I decided that the easiest way for the coif to stay in place on my daughter's head was to utilize the friction of the forehead cloth.


With the pattern figured out, I moved on to the real deal. With a piece each of the linen and the cotton, I put them right sides together, and folded them in half so that the cotton was wrong sides together on the inside.

Then I grabbed my final pattern and lined it up against the fold.

Since I was working with the inside of the lining, I used a quilting pencil to trace the outline of the pattern. Very carefully, I flipped the whole thing over and traced the pattern on the other side too. That was just to give myself a guideline all the way around, but it wasn't really necessary. Once the pattern was traced, I used a seam gauge to periodically mark a 3/8" seam allowance.

I just connected the lines by hand to get my cutting line.

Cutting through all the layers along that guide gave me the widened urn shape.

I began the construction of the coif by sewing a running stitch along the line I'd traced from my pattern (which was the reason for making sure to draw the line on the back side as well). I left a gap in the bottom to be able to turn the two layers right-sides-out.

Before doing that, however, I needed to do some clipping to make sure everything smoothed out once reversed. I clipped the valley curves and notched the mountain curves as need all the way around, as well as clipped off the corners.

Then I turned it right side out, making sure to get all the curves and corners pushed out. I tucked in the allowance at the gap and used whip stitch to secure it closed. Then I ironed the whole thing to get it nice and flat.

At some point during all this, I cut a triangle of the linen out to be the new forehead cloth. I stitched that together with a mitered corner, just trying to make it look as cleanly finished as possible.

Back to the coif, the next step was to convert the flat piece into the hat. To begin, I folded it in half with the lining out. I used overcast stitches along the front portion of the top seam, to just past the halfway point.

At the end, I switched to going through one side only, working a running stitch all the way around the loop.

Once back to the closing top seam, I pulled it tight, gathering the pleats into a roughly circular shape, and stitched through it in a few places to secure it closed. This technique can be seen very clearly in this extant coif from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. After turning it right-side-out, the gap widened a bit, but not terribly noticeably, so I left it.

Along the bottom, I also gathered the coif to create a pocket. I decided against installing a drawstring here so that it was fixed and easier to get on my daughter's head (since she hardly ever holds still).

And that's it! After tying the forehead cloth tightly into place, the coif goes on from the back, and with a little bit of tucking, everything is in place.

It stays in place very nicely, and she really likes wearing it. I hope that means she'll keep it on all day at an event. But kids will be kids. We've got another week and a half before she'll have the chance to wear it at an event, so stay tuned for better photos!

And just for good measure, to see if the measuring method I used would scale up to an adult sized head, I made a toile for myself. It fit, though it could have used maybe an inch more in the A and B measurements.

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