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Women's coif

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1590-1610 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen, silk thread, silver-gilt thread; embroidered

  • 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 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.

Physical description

A coif of linen embroidered with black silk thread in back stitch and running stitch, and silver-gilt thread couched in knots. The pattern consists of repeated sprigs of holly leaves and berries. The coif has cheek pieces, but no widow's peak. The front edges are worked in black silk thread in knotted buttonhole stitch, interlaced with silver-gilt thread. The top edge is embroidered in black silk and buttonhole stitch. The top seam and crown gathers have been unpicked at a later date. The coif is unlined. The sides of the coif are virtually straight except for the cheek pieces, when seamed together the forehead line would be without a central peak. Patterned with eleven horizontal rows of tiny holly sprigs with minute insects in the interspaces.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1590-1610 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Linen, silk thread, silver-gilt thread; embroidered


Width: 44.2 cm approx., Length: 22.0 cm approx., Width: 17.5 in maximum, Length: 8.5 in

Descriptive line

Women's embroidered coif, Great Britain, 1590-1610; linen embroidered with blackwork and silver thread, holly sprigs

Subjects depicted



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


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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