Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Women's caps

Prefix: A short version of this post is also available in Dutch. An extensive article on medieval women's caps and the cap of St. Birgitta (a Swedisch saint of the 14th century) is to be found in: Dahl, C.L. & I. Sturtewagen, 2008, The Cap of St. Birgitta, Medieval Clothing and Textiles vol. IV, pp. 99-129.

1. Maciejowski Bible

White fabric caps can relatively often bee seen on women in medieval art from the 13th to 15th centuries. Examples are known from Italy, France, The Low Countries, Scandinavia, ... These images can teach us much about how the caps were constructed and how they were worn. Fig. 3 in particluar is very interesting because we can see the ties are not two seperate ribbons, but form a loop. On fig. 4 a seam on the back of the cap is clearly visible.

2. Tacuinum Sanitatis, c.1390, Paris, BNF, MS. Lat. Acq. 1673, fol. 11r.
3. Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, Frankrijk, c.1475-1500, Glasgow University,
MS Hunter 252, fol. 186r.
4. Liturgische kalender uit Kamerijk, 1275-1300, Den Haag, KB, 76 J 18, fol. 211v.

Also written sources give information about women's caps. The word that is regularly used in Dutch witten sources is 'huve' or 'huvete'. The word 'huve' is not exclusively used for female headgear, but also for men's. For a more detailed discussion about the terminology of women's caps see Dahl, C.L. & I. Sturtewagen, 2008, The Cap of St. Birgitta, Medieval Clothing and Textiles vol. IV, pp. 99-129.

Item off twe vrouwespersonen sick onder een ander dat huvete afftogen kijflicken, dat is vijff marck, Westerw. Landr. 53, 3 (Source: Middelnederlandsch Woordenboek).
TRANSLATION: About two women who quarreled and ripped each others 'huvete' [= cap] away, that makes five 'marck' [=monetary unit].
Van huven, die sy voir mire vrouwen gecoft hadde, Oorl. v. Albr. 308 (Source: Middelnederlandsch Woordenboek).
TRANSLATION: Of 'huven' [=caps], that she had bought for my lady.
Other written sources (eg. the ca. 1370 Bruges Livre des Métiers) tell us that huves could be made in silk or in linen and that they were often worn underneath a veil, which makes total sense. This may be the cause of the fact that women's caps are much more rare in iconographic sources than the well known male coifs. However this does not necessarily mean that they were worn less regularly. Also the caps for a good base for pinning upper veils to, and they are a less labour intensive alternative to knotted silk hairnets.

5. The cap of Saint Birgitte in the Birgittine Convent in Uden, photo's by Isis Sturtewagen.
An original medieval cap (dating between the 13th and 16th centuries) is in the posession of the Birgittine Convent in Uden, The Netherlands. This cap is believed to have been Saint Birgitta's of Sweden and is kept as a relic. On this original the ties were broken, so it is not completely clear wether it were two seperate ties of one loop similar to the cap in fig. 4 however it is very probable they formed a loop. This is also how the cap was restored during the conservation in the ealry 1970's.

6. Arrangement of the cap, Medieval clothings and textiles vol. 4. Fig 6.11 p. 122

The women's caps could have been worn in different ways, depending on how long the loop was en how many times it could be wrapped around the head. The method above is the same as we can see in the Maciejowski Bible and Tacuinum Sanitatis.

7. Reconstruction of the cap of Saint Birgitta by Isis Sturtewagen (nevermind the modern clothing)
Above is my own attempt on making a women's cap. It is made out of linen and lacks the emroidery that was found on the cap of Saint Birgitte. I plan on making a silk 'huve' somewhere in the future which will have all the embroidery applied to it.
I showed you a couple of reconstructions of the cap in a previous post on this blog. Catharina Oksen (from the Middelaldercentret in Denmark) has also made a lovely reconstruction (text in Danish).


Anonymous said...


I have recently started a blog devoted to things medieval and, on occasion, I will be posing questions to others interested in the middle ages, the answers to be posted on my blog. I would be very interested in your answer to the following question:

What period or person from the middle ages most interests you and why?

Your answer can be as long or short as you wish and will be published in full on my blog. If you would like to participate, you may leave your response in the comments portion of my blog or email your response to kaya.alder at Please be sure to let me know how you wish your name to be shown in the post and any email address or website that you would like to have linked.

Thank you in advance,
My Medieval:

Anonymous said...

I have often looked at the illuminations of these caps and despaired of figuring them out. Brava to you!

I'm wondering...the problem I often have with headresses and caps of this type is that they eventually slip off the back of my head, being as I have very slippery hair. How do you keep yours secured?

Isis said...

Hi Anne!
I don't really know a way to prevent slipping. For me putting some extra pins in usually works. I found that this cap stays in place reasonably well, as long as you make the ribbon tight enough. It is also very easy to put on, you don't need a mirror to put it on well. That makes that you can easily redo it during the day.

Good luck!

Sigrid Briansdotter said...

I'm making a display regarding my versions of the Brigitta Coif (I did one in January before the MCT4 came out) and would love to have permission to use your Photos of it in the convent and your wearing diagrams. The display would only be up for a day at an artisan's gathering. Please feel free to contact me at sigridkitty at hotmail dot com.

Unknown said...

Those are beautiful! I just showed the caps to my housemate as we both have 14th century personas, and now we have to make them.

Anonymous said...

In Turkey, where we wear silk headscarves to this day, we wear little caps under our scarves to pin them to. Otherwise they slide off. They are just like the one in the photo. Some of us tie them at the back under out hair line. Some of us wrap the ties around our 'ponytail. or 'bun' or however we have our hair tied under the 'bone' (bonnet). Then the headcovering/scarf goes over the top and is pinned to it (but some women only use one pin to secure the scarf under their chin and friction keeps the scarf in place). Of course, in modern clothing ours are usually made with a mix of cotton and lycra these days! But I bet linen was used in the past because of its softness and flexibility.

King Tut said...

Very beautiful selected subject and pictures. I read about medieval clothes and fashion in:
and ancient Egyptian clothes at :

Unknown said...

Hello! I have a question about this style of hat. My outfit for faires is a skirt, shirt and bodice and I'm wondering if this hat would be at all historically accurate with those pieces. I have short hair so I need to cover my head and this hat seems perfect!
Any tips or suggestions would help! Thank you!

Isis said...

Hi Nichole, It sounds like your outfit post 1500 (split bodice and skirt). I would not recommend you to make this cap, because it's a style that is usually dated to the mid 13th to late 15th century. However, similar styles of caps were still worn during the 16th century as well. I do not have experience with making the later models myself, but you can find more information (and patterns) on them in the book The Tudor Tailor. ( The book The Queen's Servants has more simple styles of hearwear ( Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Isis, hello. I stumbled across this post, and I love the cap you made(St. Birgitta) I wear coverings, do you have a pattern for this? I would love to make this style, it is simple and beautiful.

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