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Women's coif

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1590-1610 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen, linen thread, silk thread, silver-gilt thread; sewn and 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 a pattern of repeating holly sprigs. The motifs are outlined with back stitch and speckled inside with running stitch. Silver-gilt thread in spider knots form the holly berries, and interspaces the motifs with interlaced stitches. The edges are turned and hemmed in linen thread and decorated wit black silk and silver-gilt thread in superimposed knotted buttonhole stitch. The top edge is embroidered with black silk in buttonhole stitch. The shape of the coif is outlined in black and the centre is filled with eight horizontal rows of holly springs with interlaced 'spots' between the springs. There are slightly curved cheek pieces and no widow's peak. The coif has been unpicked at a later date. There are needle-holes along the lower part of the coif, just above the black outline.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1590-1610 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Linen, linen thread, silk thread, silver-gilt thread; sewn and embroidered


Width: 42.2 cm approx., Length: 23.5 cm approx., Width: 16.75 in maximum, Length: 9 in

Descriptive line

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

Subjects depicted



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


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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