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Women's coif

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1600-1610 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen embroidered with silver-gilt thread and sewn with silk thread and linen thread

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Miss Agnus A. Hepburn and Mrs Margaret Owen

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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 motifs in the shape of leaves, flowers and insects are filled with speckling stitch – tiny running stitches arranged to suggest the three-dimensional shading of a woodblock print. This style of blackwork is characteristic of the 17th century. The coif is lavishly embellished with silver-gilt thread, which fills the scrolling stems in the design and highlights the leaves, flowers and fruits.

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.

Physical description

A coif of linen embroidered with black silk thread in stem and speckling stitch with silver-gilt thread in plaited braid-stitch. The pattern consists of scrolling stems outlined in black and filled with silver-gilt, bearing leaves, foxglove, peapods, roses and rosehips, carnation, strawberries, cornflower, honeysuckle columbine, borage, grapes and other flowers, outlined in black and embellished with silver-gilt. The outline of the coif has been worked in black silk thread in stem stitch. The front and top edges are embroidered in herringbone buttonhole stitch in black silk. The coif has cheek-pieces and a widow's peak. Along the bottom edge, instead of a turned casing there are a series of loops braided in linen bread and stitched to the coif. The top seam and crown gathers have been unpicked at a later date.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1600-1610 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Linen embroidered with silver-gilt thread and sewn with silk thread and linen thread


Width: 43.5 cm approx., Length: 22.3 cm approx., Length: 17 in maximum, Width: 8.25 in maximum

Descriptive line

Woman's coif, Great Britatin, 1600-1610; linen embroidered in blackwork and silver-gilt thread, flowers and fruits

Subjects depicted

Foxglove; Honeysuckle; Carnation; Strawberry; Borage; Roses; Cornflower; Columbine


Fashion; Hats & headwear; Embroidery; Women's clothes; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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