Wednesday, June 3, 2015

HSM #5--A 15th Century Cap

Right side veiw
Left side view
On Sunday, the very last day of May, I finally finished my 15th century linen cap for the May Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge.  The theme:  practicality. Tonight, I had my husband take photographs of the finished product, and they appear in  this post.

The cap was simple enough to make.  I followed Catrijn vanden Westhende's directions, including the size of the rectangle (though I cut a bit extra on the edges to allow for hemming). I used the photograph accompanying the directions to estimate the length of the tie string . So far as I could tell from the photograph, the tie string was about four times the height of the finished cap, which would be approximately 11 inches.  Four times 11 inches is 44 inches, which is close to four feet; thus, I made my string about 48 inches long, figuring that I could cut off some of the length and re-sew the end if necessary.  However, I did not use a "fine" linen as she suggests, since what I had on hand was the mid-weight linen that sells.  Instead, I made the tie string out of the linen--using the same folding and whipstitching technique I use to make Viking apron dress loops.  I don't know what Catrijn used for hers; her photograph is too small to tell.

The failure to use a crisper, stiffer linen may have been a mistake on my part.  As the photographs show (thanks again to my patient husband for taking them), my cap is rather limp.  But otherwise, the cap gives a pretty good period appearance, provided I am careful, when I fold back the cap, to make sure to fold back the top edge at least 2 inches (about 5 cm) and make sure that the back edge is fairly even and not pulled up too far in the middle by the tie string.  Even so, my flaps remain floppy, and don't form the kind of pretty pointed turnbacks that Catrijn's cap has.

It occurred to me that starching the cap might help with this issue  A quick search turned up this site, which claims that the use of laundry starch goes back to the 15th century, but it was a luxury item then, and probably not used by peasant women (except, perhaps, by laundresses advertising their skills). On the other hand, the cap stays on well and covers the head tidily, so it meets the "practicality" requirement of the challenge.  Possibly more experience on my part in fastening the cap onto my head will result in a prettier appearance.  My efforts tonight make the cap look much better than when I first tried it on Sunday night. 

HSM Challenge #5--Practicality

Fabric A scrap of  white linen roughly 11 inches by 22 inches (30.5 x 55.5 cm) for the body of the cap, and a second scrap, roughly 1 1/2 inches by 48 inches (3.8 x 122 cm) for the tie string, both torn from a length of linen that was left over from a previous shift project.

Front view
Back view
PatternCatrijn vanden Westhende's directions, referenced above, though it appears that no two costumers who have made such a cap have made it in the same way. 

YearCatrijn believes such caps are roughly late 15th century-early 16th century CE.  The images I've found on the Internet (mostly via the Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture website at support this belief.

Notions:   White linen 80/3 thread, Londonderry brand, that was left over from other costuming projects.

How historically accurate is it?   It's entirely handsewn and gives a good period appearance, and the economy of the construction method argues that the design of the cap might have arisen in period.  On the other hand, the linen is probably too limp and slubby for the period, and I have no idea if there is any actual evidence for the use of this type of construction in period.  So let's just say 50%, maybe.
Hours to complete: A bit under 3 hours, all told.

First wornRight after I finished it, and then for the photographs accompanying this post.

Total costZero.  All of the materials were leftovers from other projects--making the cap even more practical!

The Pinterest board I made to compare similar caps in medieval art also includes some caps by modern costumers/reenactors.  As I said above, it appears that no two costumers have made this sort of cap in the same way, but in my opinion Catrijn's patternless method is the simplest. 


  1. It looks great! Very practical too. You know, I've been thinking about the stiffness of the linen and it occurs to me that, while period linen may indeed have been a tighter weave, it also would have been a different texture to modern linen. Remember that in their book on the linothorax Aldrete et al said linen which had been processed and woven by hand was stiffer than modern linen because it retained some of the connective tissue from the flax stems? Today's industrial processing methods remove that connective tissue much more effectively and result in a softer fabric. I wonder if processing methods might have meant the caps were stiffer in period even if they weren't starched. They do look quite "crisp" in the pictures.

    1. You make an interesting point about the effect of hand processing on stiffness. Though I don't know how linen processing in 15th century England (or wherever the English got their linen--Ireland perhaps?) compares to linen processing in ancient Greece.