Monday, August 02, 2010

Frankenblogging Part 7: Medieval veils and other headwear

Author's note: The Frankenblogging feature is a republication of older content from my former personal webpage, with some annotations. It occurs every Monday morning. This one is late! My apologies.

Today's installment is made of a couple of pages from the old site. The first section is the short opinion/advice piece that grew into a larger research project, on 12th Century French women's court headwear, and the second is a set of pieces I wrote about buckram and other materials in making historic hats, closing with a tiny little thing I said once about straw hats.

A short observation on early veils

The early veil (think Norman Conquest - there are two ladies on the Bayeux tapestry wearing something that looks like this) seems to have been a smaller version of the roman matron's veil.

It's a large rectangle, worn by laying the centre of the long side over the head, crossing the ends over the front of the throat, and tossing them over the shoulders. No bands seem to have been worn with this style of veil, but keeping it in place would have definitely been helped by pinning it to braids wrapped around the head. It's very warm, as well, so if you live in a hot place, make it of thin cotton or linen, with a slightly open weave, to let air pass through. For winter, make it of wool or heavy soft silk.

A good place to get inexpensive, high-quality, premade veils (my early veil is exactly this item) is at Dharma Trading Co. They carry them in silk and cotton (though they call them sarongs).

Buckram and Elizabethan Hats
This is OLD, I wasn't as much of an expert as I thought I was, and this wasn't EVER my main focus of research. I can MAKE hats, and I was trained in modern millinery techniques (i.e. 1800s and more recent). Please have a look at the websites of those who do specialize in this period, like Sarah Goodman and Drea Leed.

I trained with a professional milliner (who is now retired) making reproduction hats, using traditional techniques and materials. I've done theatrical costume and I've also been researching and making documented period costume for over 10 years. Much of what is given below is based on my experience with the various materials.  

That last sentence is pretty accurate. It's practical advice on using modern materials, NOT AT ALL a piece on making authentic reproductions. Keep that in mind!

Period Usage of Buckram  No, not really about buckram at all. I didn't find any. See my cautionary note, above, PLEASE! This is another case of "Ive got a BOOK! Look! Expert! ME!" syndrome. 


I have checked my copy of _Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd_ (Arnold), and it seems that buckram was used in giving body and shape to clothes (as Pellon interfacings are used now), but not to hats, during Elizabeth's time. Stiff felt was used for shaping hats, which would then be covered with the fashion fabrics. I suggest Arnold's _Patterns of Fashion_ for more information (with photos of construction details on an existing example) on at least one hat (my copy is now gone and I have been unable to replace
it). Also, try the Elizabethan Costuming Page, as it focuses more on this period than I do, and may
have more information on where to look. The main downside to felt is that millenery felts are fairly expensive.

Modern Buckram

Modern buckram is made in a similar way to period buckram. 10-years-ago me seems to know SO MUCH about things I haven't really researched personally. Please ask someone who really knows what they are talking about! "Buckram" basically is now defined as a coarse-woven cloth stiffened with starch, and the meaning of the word has not changed very much over the intervening time, save that in the 16th c it also referred to the unstiffened cloth. If you want to use it for hats, you should look for and purchase millinery buckram as it is superior for hatmaking. It should, in any case, be reinforced with a millenery wire frame securely whipped down onto the buckram, in order to produce a reasonably sturdy hat. Buckram's main advantage is that hats made with a wire-and-buckram base are less expensive to make, and are lighter, cooler and tend to breathe better than felt hats.

Other materials (In hatmaking)

This is actually pretty good advice for people wanting to learn how to build hats on the cheap. I've used posterboard, plastic jugs, coathangers, cardboard pizza boxes (unused), cereal boxes, etc. Alternative materials are a great way to learn.

Now, if you are wanting to *practice* making hats (or if cost is an issue), lightweight posterboard is a reasonably cheap and practical alternative for working out shapes and fit before working with an unfamilar (or expensive) material or technique. Also, medium- or heavy-weight posterboard is quite sturdy for costume hats, and is often used for making headwear and props for theatrical productions on a smaller budget. A posterboard base can be covered with fabric and finished just as a buckram-and-wire base can, and I have a few 'practice' or 'stage' hats in my costume closet that are indistinguishable from the 'real' hats to the uninformed. I have found that using an equivalent weight of posterboard for a base structure is almost equally durable as an inexpensive sized felt.

All three materials (sized felt, buckram, and posterboard) are sensitive to moisture and will lose shape if they get wet, are crushed or damaged in any way. I suggest that you start out with posterboard to begin with, and, once you are familiar with the shapes, fitting, etc, you can then move on to a felt base hat. The successful 'practice' hats, if nicely finished, will do nearly as well as felt-based ones would for camping events, loaners, dress-up hats for demos, or other situations where one's best costume isn't really recommended anyway.

On Straw Hats
Wow, actual good advice without too much Authoritative Tone. Straw hats are nice, anyway. 

The basic woven grass/straw 'farmer hat' has been around for at least 2000 years. They are shown in many medieval illuminations of field workers. I have also seen Roman artwork depicting travellers and laborers wearing woven grass or straw hats of a very familiar shape.

I suggest, if you are unsure of whether they were used in your period, that you check contemporary artwork for images of travellers, laborers and other persons who might need protection from the sun.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I'm glad I found your blog. It's always fun to find other people who also do SCA and post about their old houses.


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