Thursday, April 3, 2014

Elizabethan Black Work Coif...Why?

(Progress as of last night...)

Today is one of those days where my hands are not behaving and embroidery progress hasn't been made.  So, as suggested, I thought I would give a little insight into this project...

Years ago, I wound up needing to research Tudor clothing for a theater project.  At the time, I wasn't as well versed in historical sewing, and I had not embroidered anything since the French know flower I embroidered on a pot holder, in the sixth grade.  I did not think I could embroider, and the thought of trying it just had not occurred to me.

I started researching Tudor headwear and under garments, because they seemed the easiest areas to start with.  Contrary to the current project, I actually prefer middle and lower class clothing.  So, I researched plain Tudor and Elizabethan coifs, the culmination of which you can find here (I actually came up with my own patterns for them, during my research.  Oddly enough, they are the most popular pages in this blog, lol!)  I was so excited about this, that the subject became the first class that I ever taught in the SCA (and, I may add, it was attended only by Laurels!  Mind you, there were only two students, but they were both Laurels!  What a first teaching experience; they gave me all sorts of feedback, advice and encouragement.  It was actually a great first teaching experience!)  Anyhoo...whilst doing my research, I fell in love with Tudor and Elizabethan embroidery.  The styles, motifs, colors, they all appealed to my aesthetic.  

A little about me...I am a redhead, and my personality is such that I jump in with both feet when I see a challenge.  While many people learn the basics of embroidery first, I jumped right in to raised Elizabethan embroidery.  I am not ashamed to show my early works; I think it helps newer embroiderers to not be so overwhelmed by your work, if they see that you started off imperfect, as well.  This is the first thing I ever embroidered (aside from that pot holder, mentioned above, which I actually found I had posted here.)  Yep, my first piece of embroidery, loosely based on the partlet sleeves in the portrait of Helena Snakenborg.  Some of my early impressions of the detached buttonhole stitch-it is somewhat like the mechanics of crocheting.  

Eventually, my efforts with Elizabethan raised embroidery became decent.  However, I stuck with polychrome styles; blackwork appeared too precise for me.  At least from what the other embroiderers were doing...  Now, in all my research,  two styles of blackwork seemed to emerge: the Holbein stitch style, and a freeform style.  Everyone else seemed focused on Holbein blackwork, and at the time, I was too young in my embroidery to want to rock the boat.  My passion in embroidery stoked, I began looking at other styles and cultures, eventually encompassing everything from Viking age, to or nue and Opus Anglicanum.  However, Elizabethan has always remained my favorite.

Last year, we found out that my guy was going to have to undergo open heart surgery.  When he went in for the surgery, I knew I would need something to take my mind off of everything.  I began planning out this coif.  I knew that the speckling and goldwork would need an attention to detail, and every little bit of my mind that could be put into my embroidery, was less worry happening.  It was time for his surgery, and it was time for me to finally do one of my dream projects...

So, that's the long and short of it.  This, and a polychrome Elizabethan waist coat, are my two dream projects.  The progress that I have made on this coif just absolutely excites me!  I really do love embroidering, which is funny when you think about how I almost never even tried it!  I am really glad that I did, though, especially when I look at a project like this.  It just gives me a sense of self-worth :)


  1. It certainly gives you plenty to think about, doesn't it! A good distraction from other anxieties...
    Are you working the infamous plaited braid stitch,or something else?

  2. Agreed! Embroidery is very meditative for me, and helps me center, as well as taking my mind off of stressors. I especially like projects like this, where the stitches change up regular, so I *have* to pay attention!

    This is plaited braid! It is a version that I learned from Mary Corbet, on Needle n'Thread. For years, I struggled with this stitch, as many of us do, but I finally found a couple of variations that work well for me and make sense.

    For anyone interested, Mary Corbet has an easy to follow video online, at: