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Coif and forehead cloth

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1600-1650 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen, silk thread, silver-gilt thread and spangles; hand-sewn and hand-embroidered

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Miss Catherine M Slee

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This coif and forehead cloth are examples of blackwork embroidery in the early 17th-century style. It was worked with a single colour of silk, usually black, as seen here, but also blue, red or green on linen. After 1600, speckling stitch, comprised of tiny running stitches arranged to give a shaded effect, is used. Blackwork in speckling stitch imitates the graphic method used in woodblock prints to create three-dimensional shapes.

Surviving coifs and foreheads in matching patterns and inventories that list them together, suggest that these items of headwear were worn at the same time. However, it is still unclear just how the forehead cloth was worn, as there are very few portraits illustrating both.

Physical description

A coif and forehead cloth of linen embroidered with black silk thread in stem, speckling and chain stitches, silver-gilt thread in double-plait stitch and powdered with silver-gilt spangles. The pattern consists of silver-gilt scrolling stems bearing holly leaves, pansies, oak leaves, thistles, pea pods, strawberries, birds, caterpillars and flying insects in black silk. The front of the coif and edges of the forehead cloth are edged with buttonhole stitch in silvergilt thread. The bottom edge of the coif has a casing with original linen tape. Both are unlined. The seam at the top of the coif has been unpicked and later re-sewn. The forehead cloth has its original linen tapes, about 7.5 cm long each, at either side.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1600-1650 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Linen, silk thread, silver-gilt thread and spangles; hand-sewn and hand-embroidered

Object history note

Bequeathed to the V&A by Caroline Maria Slee, who died in 1947 at the age of 97. Thy are part of a larger collection of 17th and 18th century accessories and baby linen. According to famiily tradition, the coif and forehead cloth were worn on her great-great-great grandmother's wedding night.

Descriptive line

A woman's coif and forehead cloth of linen, 1600-1650, English; Blackwork, silver-gilt thread, buttonhole stitch edge

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Lucas, Armelle, 'Embroidered Coif and Forehead Cloth', in North, Susan and Jenny Tiramani, eds, Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns, vol.1, London: V&A Publishing, 2011, pp.124-127

Labels and date

Woman's coif and forehead cloth. English; first quarter 17th century. Linen embroidered with silver-gilt thread and silk in plaited braid, chain, stem and speckling stitches, with spangles.
Bequeathed by Miss C.M. Slee. []

Subjects depicted

Oak leaf; Caterpillar; Thistle; Peapod; Pansy; Strawberry; Holly; Bird; Insect


Clothing; Hats & headwear; Embroidery; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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