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Women's coif

Unknown1590/1610

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

This coif is a fine example of blackwork, a style of needlework popular in England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It was worked with a single colour of silk, usually black, but also blue, green or red, on linen. The pattern consists of repeating sprigs of holly leaves, with berries worked in silver-gilt thread. The inside of the leaves is embroidered with running stitch. This may be a transition from the repeating geometrical stitches of the 16th century to the subtle speckling stitch of the 17th century, imitating the shading of woodblock prints.

Until the end of the 17th century the coif was informal headwear for women. Plain linen versions were worn by the working-class. Middle-class and aristocratic women wore elaborately decorated coifs. It would have been worn by itself indoors, or with a hat on top in public. In Western Europe it was customary for both men and women to cover their heads in public up until the 1960s. A hat was an essential part of respectable dress and, from a health perspective, head coverings were considered necessary to protect against chills and disease.

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  • Title: Women's coif
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1590/1610
  • Location: Great Britain
  • Physical Dimensions: Width: 44.2 cm approx., Length: 22.0 cm approx., Width: 17.5 in maximum, Length: 8.5 in
  • Provenance: Given by Miss Agnus A. Hepburn and Mrs Margaret Owen
  • Medium: Linen, silk thread, silver-gilt thread; embroidered

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