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Coifs

Quote of the Day:

"Human beings are born with one intrinsic flaw: They bend at the knees."

Sir Samuel Vimes
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett.


Today, I got an answer to a question I had regarding 16th and 17th Century coifs. The question was whether or not coifs were lined, and I addressed it to one of the textile curators at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

For some reason, I had the impression that they were lined. However, while reviewing the close-up pictures we took of one of them at the V&A, the coif appeared to be unlined.

Susan's reply was that the coifs they have in their collection are all unlined, and that there are no marks on them to suggest that they were lined at any point in time. She added that the ones that that have a lining had it added in the 20th Century for conservation purposes.

I love talking to curators!

Now I know how I am going to finish my own coif.

Squeee!!!!!

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Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
stanci
Aug. 21st, 2007 07:27 pm (UTC)
Ooh, thanks! I know that that wasn't posted expressly for me, but it is still awesome information.
Have you seen any actual extant (er, I guess that's redundant) colored-fabric coifs in all your travels and museum-lookings?
(Deleted comment)
stanci
Aug. 21st, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC)
But, but, but.... there's an orange silk coif here (er, let me know if that link doesn't work....) Of course, at the moment that's a copy of a translation, so....
belfebe
Aug. 22nd, 2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
Bummer! The link doesn't work :-(

If you have found evidence of a colored silk coif, I can't wait to see it :-)
belfebe
Aug. 21st, 2007 07:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I just decided to post it here and share the information with everyone. I know I am not the only one working on coifs :-)

Have you seen any actual extant (er, I guess that's redundant) colored-fabric coifs in all your travels and museum-lookings?

Alas, none whatsoever. Ground fabric in coifs remains stubbornly white (or yellowish with age). :-(
janinas_nest
Aug. 21st, 2007 07:33 pm (UTC)
So, I guess that means I can't hide any little goofs on the back of my embroidery. Well, there goes that plan [g]. My endings/beginnings have always been suspect.
belfebe
Aug. 21st, 2007 07:36 pm (UTC)
That's okay. Unless you are doing a reversible design, the back doesn't matter. At least not in 16th Century embroidery. A lot of the backs of those beautiful period pieces look really messy.

I definitely need to upload that picture to my website. :-)
greta_k
Aug. 21st, 2007 08:00 pm (UTC)
And you probably made the curator's day with your question. As with librarians, they LOVE to geek with interested parties.
belfebe
Aug. 21st, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC)
Ohhh, I can geek for hours and hours . . .
(Deleted comment)
belfebe
Aug. 21st, 2007 08:21 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! I have just forwarded the note to your private email :-D
gianetta
Aug. 21st, 2007 09:15 pm (UTC)
coif

Very cool info. I haven't made a coif yet (other than a plain one), but I suspect that when I do, I'll wimp out and put in a lining to protect it. Someone has to make the laurels cry. :)~
belfebe
Aug. 21st, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)
Re: coif
Someone has to make the laurels cry. :)~

And that is a noble purpose, if I've ever seen one :-D
weebaby
Aug. 22nd, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
Hmmmmm

Asking someone who really knows. That's a concept I just can't grasp....
attack_laurel
Aug. 22nd, 2007 10:14 am (UTC)
I disagree, and while I have great respect for Susan North (and have talked to her about coifs), I see absolutely no logical reason why the coifs I looked at in the V&A, the Met, the Manchester Galleries, and at Williamsburg were not lined. Hair is greasy, dirty, and transfers oils to the linen, and the silk used in the embroidery would deteriorate very fast.

I'm sorry, I think you're completely wrong about this.
belfebe
Aug. 22nd, 2007 01:17 pm (UTC)
No prob. I've also got great respect for you. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one :-)
ladyhelwynn
Aug. 22nd, 2007 12:39 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm...Guess I should have posted on my LJ that I emailed Susan a couple weeks ago and asked her the same thing. She's probably wondering what the heck is going on over here to have two people asking her the exact same question about coifs within a month of each other. :)

I asked her what her opinion was since it did not appear that the coifs were lined how they protected the embroidery from the oils on the scalp. She said her and another curator spoke about it and the suggestion they came up with was that a smaller coif or cap was worn underneath the embroidered one to help protect the embroidery and that the plain one would be easily washable.

I guess it's one of those things that is hard to say. There aren't any existing samples (at least at the V&A) that are lined. I agree with attack_laurel that it makes sense to me that they are lined. But, it could be that something else was worn under them as well. I guess we just need to bring out the "creative" part of the sCa to figure it out. :)
attack_laurel
Aug. 22nd, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
the pieces at the V&A have been mounted flat and set up so that the embroidery can be viewed - they need to have the lining removed for that. The linen that most of them are made of is so fine that without something underneath to support them, they collapse (the same goes for the nightcaps in the collection). The lining, probably stained and dirty, would have been removed long ago, when only the embroidery was valued, not the construction of the garment. There is no sign of dirt or staining on the coifs (aside from the universal staining of age).

They lined pretty much everything else, including embroidered jackets - it makes no logical sense that something which would be inconstant contact with hair that would transfer dirt to the item would be unlined.

Like I said, I have great respect for Susan North, but she admitted to me that curators have a different viewpoint on the items from reconstructors. I made a detailed study of the coifs on display when I was working on my study (with magnifying glasses) and at least one had signs of extra stitching that could only be explained by a lining that is no longer on the object. Another one had shreds of some kind of lining (not a conservation lining - it was severely deteriorated).

Working from the evidence from one museum is not sufficient. I'd have to include coifs from a number of other museums before I'd even consider such an illogical position. It took me almost ten years to prove my tying theory to my satisfaction, which included pictoral and extant evidence from multiple museums and artworks.

I'm sorry, but this one doesn't stand up for me based on the evidence I've seen with my own eyes on the same coifs.
belfebe
Aug. 22nd, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC)
Actually, not all of them are mounted flat. There is one that is completely assembled, not lined flat, and mounted on a wire head. It is unlined and I have a picture of it that shows the unlined inside of the finished coif. That's why I asked Susan if it had ever been lined before, and if there was any evidence that the lining was removed.

Her response was that that one -- as well as the rest -- were unlined, and that there were no marks or stitching that suggested that they had ever been lined.

I agree that it would have made sense to line them. I am open to the idea that at least some of them were, and that perhaps for some weird reason the lining was removed in each and every one of them. If I had been a stitcher in the 16th Century, I would have probably liked to do precisely that. However, the fact remains that those pesky embroiderers failed to leave us any lined extant coifs. Hence, I feel very comfortable to leave mine unlined.

That reminds me that I need to update my webpage, and add that picture to the gallery of extant pieces :-)

This is, indeed, a very interesting discussion.
belfebe
Aug. 22nd, 2007 03:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, silly me, I meant that if I had been a 16th Century stitcher, I would have liked to line my coif, not to remove the lining.

Can't write today. Blergh.
attack_laurel
Aug. 22nd, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
Like I said, my own examination seems to say differently. And that the linings, if soiled, would have been removed. I find it very hard to believe that coifs would have been left unlined, considering the Elizabethans even lined their skirts.

It's up to you. I would do more research before making a definitive statement that goes against current theory, though. One person's opinion, no matter how much experience they have (and I include myself in this assessment) is not enough when claiming something that is different from the accepted view.
attack_laurel
Aug. 22nd, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
...linings were removed for long-term storage, I mean. Since the silk cannot be washed (and deteriorates just fine without any extra help), it's a mistake to leave a dirty lining in an heirloom, especially if (as the evidence seems to suggest from the wardrobe rolls of Elizabeth I) things were re-lined when the lining got badly soiled. It wouldn't have been a big deal to remove the lining.

I'll have to dig up my notes on the coifs; I took them up to Plimoth and tucked them away somewhere safe.
belfebe
Aug. 22nd, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, absolutely! And I would never make an absolute statement regarding this. Like you've said, one needs to look at a lot of sources, and to be honest, it would be hard to make a statement one way or the other.

My personal theory is that it is entirely possible that those were unlined. It is also possible that they were lined and the linings removed. At this point, it is all theories, and what we have left in regards to extant pieces is only the tip of the iceberg.

I wonder what people are going to say about the way we dress five hundred years from now. Although with so many man-made, non bio-degradable materials, hopefully they will have much more to go than what we have regarding Renaissance clothing :-)
attack_laurel
Aug. 22nd, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC)
This is a bit long...
I did some random quick research for you from my own books -

In The Embroiderer's Story by Thomasina Beck, there's a portrait on page 36 of an unknown woman wearing an embroidered coif (with the tie clearly visible *glow*) that appaers to have a lining - the embroidery is not visible from underneath.

In English Domestic Needlework, by Therle Hughes (this one is out of print, but good if you can find it), plate 41 shows a V&A coif that looks like the lining was cut away - the picture is black and white, but there are weird folds and wrinkles on the inside of the coif that don't correspond to the shape of the outer coif. Basically, it looks like remnants were remaining, and these may have been removed later when the coif was properly mounted (this was probably in the 1930s). But just a guess.

The book on the Williamsburg collection (British Embroidery: Curious Works from the 17th Century) has a coif and forehead cloth set that clearly isn't lined - but the embroidery is very carefully done like a shift, so that the inside is the same quality as the outside. This is the same trick that's used for the drawnwork coifs, which of course, cannot be lined (just like the drawnwork jackets of the wearly 1600s). Some of the coifs from the V&A are done this way, but some are not.

To be honest, it's really up to you - I think the default is lined, because the default for most things of that era seems to be lined. It's hard to work from surviving pieces because a large amount of alteration and "improvement" went on with a lot of the pieces from that era (and subsequent eras), and a dirty lining would be the first thing to go.

What I know is that the jackets of the same era were usually lined in silk, as were the purses - both items that go through much the same amount of wear as a coif. However, shifts were usually not lined, so take that as you will.

I'm sure you will continue your research, to everyone's benefit. And keep updating your website. :)
attack_laurel
Aug. 22nd, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
Re: This is a bit long...
...and I found at least two nightcaps with linings, but nightcaps aren't what we're working on here. Though they are related, so take that into consideration in your research.
belfebe
Aug. 22nd, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC)
Re: This is a bit long...
Thanks a million. This is definitely very useful. A very productive discussion indeed. :-)

I have always said that the type of research we do is a lot like detective work. Look for facts, look for clues, and work out the best possible theory. Quite often, we only have little bits and pieces of stuff and information that tease us on what the garment or accessory would have looked like.

I have often thought of all of the many things that have not made it through the centuries, and that we will never be able to see. The tip of the iceberg.

Linings do make a lot of sense. Like I said before, I am more than open to believe that people would have used it because not using it would definitely ruin the embroidery. It is just that seeing the unlined ones made me want to contact the actual curator and ask what was the story with theirs. Her response was that there was no lining or any evidence that there ever was.

My take at this point? That probably some were lined and some were not. The Mystery of the Missing Lining.

(Maybe we need to find the Missing Link of Coifs. I know it's out there. Somewhere.)

Having said that, I may yet line my own, if nothing else because I don't want the embroidery ruined.

I'm sure you will continue your research, to everyone's benefit. And keep updating your website. :)

Thanks a bunch. The site is due for some updates, including updating my information on dolls :-)
ladyhelwynn
Aug. 22nd, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
It does make sense to me that they would be lined. I certainly don't want to work that hard on a piece of embroidery and then stick it unprotected to my head. :)
(Deleted comment)
belfebe
Aug. 26th, 2007 12:16 am (UTC)
I'ts been fun, hasn't it? :-D
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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