Elizabethan Blackwork Forehead Cloth

Blackwork Embroidered Forehead Cloth - Mannequin, by Sidney Eileen, Black flat silk on white linen, Elizabethan English style blackwork

Blackwork Embroidered Forehead Cloth – Mannequin

8 March, 2015

This is a forehead cloth of linen, embroidered with flat silk, in the style of English floral freehand blackwork from the late 16th century and early 17th century. I have used period materials and techniques wherever possible, including plain weave linen, flat silk embroidery floss, and a medieval reproduction thimble. I do not yet own a period needle appropriate to this type of embroidery, and I own a modern scrolling frame, though I did lash it into place on all sides to keep the fabric completely taught while working.

English women wore forehead cloths in conjunction with coifs as a hair covering from the late 16th century through the mid 17th century, as illustrated by portraits and extant pieces. After a woman put her hair up, the forehead cloth would be tied such that it covered the brow and front of the hair, while the coif covered the rest of the head.

Very often coifs and forehead cloths would be embroidered in matching designs or patterns. They were blackwork, blackwork with metal thread (gold or silver) and spangles, or polychrome embroidered. The Illustration for Elizabethan English Blackwork Forehead Cloth Documentation.  Strawberry embroidery is by Sidney Eileen. Historic piece is from The Metropolitan Museum of Art http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/228946embroidery floss was silk, and the ground plain white linen in all of the extant museum pieces I viewed from the decades to either side of 1600 c.e. Designs were varied, but most often were floral in a loose spiral pattern, interspersed floral designs, or bands of geometric counted work.

I chose to design my own motif for blackwork embroidery, which I worked with flat silk. I was advised towards flat silk by other embroiderers interested in blackwork of this period, and closely examined photos of extant pieces in relation to my own work to confirm that my flat silk presented the same appearance as the extant pieces. In the extant pieces there is sometimes what appears to be a very slight twist in the silk, especially in places that are stem stitched.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP3 - detail2 - Close up to show the detail of how flat silk twists more or less with different stitches as I work - by Sidney Eileen

Flat silk embroidery on linen fabric, detail area is about 1″x.5″. This photo show very close-up detail of the stitching.

As I embroidered my piece, I found that the flat silk had a tendency to twist slightly as I worked, especially where I was using a stem stitch, requiring me to untwist it periodically and creating a slightly twisted appearance in the finished stitches.

I wanted to create an embroidery design of my own, reminiscent of actual Renaissance Elizabethan blackwork. I was inspired by several paintings to use strawberries for my subject, which I found particularly enticing because they naturally flower and fruit at the same time. I did not intend to use metal floss or spangles, so I wanted to stick to a relatively delicate flow defined predominantly by lines of stem stitch in loose roundels, which I laid out such that the embroidery could be worked in a band, or in a continual field with extra spirals joining the sections. By creating the design in that way I can not only use it for this forehead cloth, but also a fully embroidered coif, and a matching partlet or shirt with the embroidery laid out in bands around the collar, neck opening, sleeve cuffs, and down the sleeves. Since none of the examples of strawberries that I found fit that aesthetic, I went to photos of strawberries for inspiration on the shapes of the flowers and leaves.

Detail from Portrait of Eizabeth I; Artist unknown; Jesus College, Oxford, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elizabeth_I_Jesus_College_Oxford_1590.jpg

Portrait of an Unknown Lady, (once called 'Catherine Parr', and then 'Catherine Vaux, Lady Throckmorton'); by British (English) School; National Trust, Coughton Court, http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/portrait-of-an-unknown-lady-130331

Blackwork at Fashion Museum, Bath; Blogger Chikanstitch, http://chikanstitch.blogspot.com/2012/07/blackwork-at-fashion-museum-bath.html

Extant freehand embroidered blackwork museum pieces I examined were worked with a variety of stitches. The ones with delicate designs of a similar aesthetic to my design predominantly used stem stitch for the outlines and lines, and back stitch or double-running stitch for the filling patterns. Following those examples, I used stem stitch for all the outlines and lines of my design. The individual elements of my design were too small for intricate filling stitches, so I decided to use stab stitches to illustrate the seeds on the strawberries and shading on the flowers, and double-running stitch for the veins of the leaves.

Since only one side was going to be visible on the finished item when it was worn, I was not concerned about keeping the backside clean like I might for an embroidery like counted blackwork on the collar of a shirt. This left me free to focus the way I worked the pattern for speed of embroidery, and efficiency of floss use. The back of my piece reflects this. Efficient use of thread was the primary motivation for choosing double-running stitch over backstitch for the veins of the leaves, and was also the primary reason in most places there is far less floss on the underside than the visible side. This made it inconvenient to tuck the tail ends of the floss under the stitches, so I left them dangling. I also ran the thread from place to place as I finished each branch of the motif and needed to move on to the next. These things were also done on every freehand embroidered extant piece where I was able to find photos of the underside.

Blackwork at Fashion Museum, Bath; Blogger Chikanstitch, http://chikanstitch.blogspot.com/2012/07/blackwork-at-fashion-museum-bath.html Smock; V&A Collections, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78732/smock-unknown/

Manchester Galleries: Blackwork Coif and Underside of Matching Forehead Cloth:      Medium: silk on linen

Manchester Galleries:
Blackwork Coif and Underside of Matching Forehead Cloth:
Medium: silk on linen
Visible on the back are messy stitches, knots, and tails dangling. They are left uncovered.
The detail of the underside also shows that the edging is rolled and stitched down. I could not find a photo that showed detail of the edging from the outside, so I am not entirely certain, but I believe it is secured with a tiny hem whip stitch.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP4 - detail1 - Close up to show the detail of the difference between the two flat silks I used - by Sidney Eileen

Flat silk embroidery on linen fabric, detail area is about 1.25″x.5″. This detail shot shows the difference between the two flat silk embroidery threads I have used on this piece.

I started the piece using Soi Ovale flat silk. When I had finished that skein I switched to flat silk from the Japanese Embroidery Center. I was interested in trying both brands and comparing the difference. I found that the Soi Ovale was slightly more robust, and the Japanese Embroidery Center silk was a bit more delicate. As a result, the JEC silk is about 2/3 the apparent thickness of the Soi Ovale. This can be seen on the front row of embroidery, half of which is a bit thicker than the other half. On hindsight I should have started the embroidery at the back corner, so the transition area would have been hidden under the coif when worn.

To finish the forehead cloth I removed it from the frame. Using linen thread I hand stitched a small rolled hem around the outside of the triangle, and attached hand-stitched tubes of linen to the corners of the long side, which are used to tie the forehead cloth in place when it is worn. I was only able to find one photo of the underside of a forehead cloth. It was unlined, so I left mine unlined as well.

References:

Coif; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Collections Online, http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/228945

Blackwork at Fashion Museum, Bath; Blogger Chikanstitch, http://chikanstitch.blogspot.com/2012/07/blackwork-at-fashion-museum-bath.html

Blackwork Coif and Forehead Cloth; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Collections Online, http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/228946

Geddes, Elisabeth, and Moyra McNeill. Blackwork Embroidery. New York: Dover Publications, 1976. Print.

Hogg, Becky, and England London. Blackwork. Tunbridge Wells: Search, 2010. Print.

Forehead Cloth; Manchester Galleries (currently offline due to site redesign)

Portrait of an Unknown Lady, (once called ‘Catherine Parr’, and then ‘Catherine Vaux, Lady Throckmorton’); by British (English) School; National Trust, Coughton Court, http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/portrait-of-an-unknown-lady-130331

Portrait of Eizabeth I; Artist unknown; Jesus College, Oxford, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elizabeth_I_Jesus_College_Oxford_1590.jpg

Smock; V&A Collections, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78732/smock-unknown/

 

For Work In Progress images and musings, visit

Project: Blackwork Forehead Cloth

 

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – WIP8

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP9, by Sidney Eileen, flat silk on linen, linen thread, hand sewn with whip stitch.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth

The forehead cloth is almost done.  Using linen thread I hand stitched a narrow whip stitch hem around all the edges of the cloth, and then am sewing the straps using a whip stitch over the folded edge.  Once they are both done I will sew them to the forehead cloth and it will be done. Chances are very good that I will be done tonight.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP9 - Detail, by Sidney Eileen, flat silk on linen, linen thread, hand sewn with whip stitch.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – Detail

I used a basic whip stitched hem around the outside of the forehead cloth.  It’s about 1/4″ deep along the front, and 3/8″ deep on the sides.  I placed my stitched a little less than 1/8″ apart.

Hem Stitch Illustration, by Sidney Eileen, shows how to hand sew a whip stitched hem.

Hem Stitch Illustration – Fold over the edge of the fabric toward the inside of the garment so that the raw edge is hidden. Depending upon the fabric and desired final appearance, this roll can be as little as 1/4” wide or and inch or more.
Catch a couple threads of the outer material and then a few threads of the folded over hem.
I recommend close stitches, six to ten per inch, on narrow, delicate hems, like around a neckline or the end of a sleeve. Fewer stitches are needed on wider hems, where I usually place them about 1/4” apart.

Fore the ties I folded over the strip of fabric onto itself so the raw edges would be encased inside, and then whip stitched over the folds.  Each stitch is less than 1/8″ apart, which is probably more than is technically needed, but will probably extend the life of the ties.

Whip Stitch Illustration, by SIdney Eileen, how to make a basic whip stitch at an edge.  Can be done around one or more layers of material.

Whip Stitch Illustration – Stitch at an angle, creating a zig-zag pattern.
The closer you make your stitches, the stronger and more stable your seam will be.

Project: Blackwork Forehead Cloth

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – WIP7

Blackwork Forhead Cloth - WIP8 - Front, by Sidney Eileen, flat silk on linen, hand embroidered

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – front view of the finished embroidery.

I have finished the embroidery on my blackwork forehead cloth.  In the next week I will be turning it into an actual garment piece.  It is flat silk on linen, and the design is my own creation.  It is Elizabethan English style freehand blackwork embroidery.  Overall I’m very happy with how my blackwork strawberries came out, but I will also be happy to put this down for a while and work on other things.  It may be some time before I make the matching coif.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - Embroidery Detail, by Sidney Eileen, flat silk on linen, Renaissance English style blackwork embroidery

Embroidery Detail – blackwork strawberries

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP8 - Back View, by Sidney Eileen, flat silk on linen, English Renaissance style blackwork embroidery, back or underside of the embroidery.

Back or underside of the embroidery.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - Embroidery Detail - Underside, by Sidney Eileen, flat silk on linen, underside or back of the work.

Detail of the underside or back of the embroidery

Project: Blackwork Forehead Cloth

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – WIP6

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP7, by Sidney Eileen, flat silk on linen

Blackwork Forehead Cloth WIP

The end is finally in sight!

This is another entry in the continuing saga of my Elizabethan English style blackwork forhead cloth, embroidered in flat silk on linen.  The design is my own creation.  I should have the embroidery done any day now, and then I just need to sew the forehead cloth into an actual object.

Project: Blackwork Forehead Cloth

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – WIP5

Further progress on my late 1500’s English style, freehand embroidered, blackwork forehead cloth. It is flat silk on linen, and I am just starting the third row of the design. The design is my own, inspired by multiple period examples. The plan is to have this done in the next three weeks, in time for the Pentathlon competition, Kingdom of Caid, SCA.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth WIP, Flat silk on linen, by Sidney Eileen, Late 1500's English style blackwork embroidery

Blackwork Forehead Cloth WIP, Flat silk on linen

Project: Blackwork Forehead Cloth

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – WIP4

Flat silk on linen.

This is how the blackwork forehead cloth looked on Yule. I think I am about halfway done. I am planning to have it finished before March 10, 2015, so that it can be entered in Pentathlon, an SCA Arts & Sciences competition.

Blackwork Embroidered Forehead Cloth - WIP5, by Sidney Eileen

WIP, flat silk on linen

Project: Blackwork Forehead Cloth

Blackwork Forehead Cloth – WIP3

Further progress on the blackwork embroidered forehead cloth.  I have now done approximately one-and-one-half repetitions of the pattern, out of roughly eight total.  I started the embroidery using Soie Ovale, which I had on hand, but knew I had nowhere near enough to finish the piece.  Instead of ordering more of the same, I decided to order the flat silk from the Japanese Embroidery Center.  The first difference I noticed is that the Japanese silk does not retain a curled shape when unwound from the spool.  It is a much finer quality, with fewer, or possibly just much thinner and more delicate strands.  The total thickness is about 2/3 that of the Soie Ovale, which I actually like better on this design because it means the stitches do not become overcrowded from plumpness when shading the strawberries.  From a distance the difference in the two it is not immediately noticeable, but I do regret that the transition happened at the center front of the forehead cloth, which is the most visible portion when worn.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP4 - Flat silk embroidery on linen fabric, 16.5"x8.25" - by Sidney Eileen

Flat silk on linen, 16.5″x8.25″. The forehead cloth is outlined with a running stitch in all-purpose black thread, is stretched onto an embroidery frame, the pattern has been drawn in pencil, and I am stitching it with flat silk embroidery floss. The design is created mostly using stem stitch and running stitch.

Blackwork Forehead Cloth - WIP4 - detail1 - Close up to show the detail of the difference between the two flat silks I used - by Sidney Eileen

Flat silk embroidery on linen fabric, detail area is about 1.25″x.5″. This photo show very close-up detail of the stitching. This detail shot shows the difference between the two flat silk embroidery threads I have used on this piece.

 

Project: Blackwork Forehead Cloth