Pattern Your Own Simple Coif / Unpadded Arming Cap

Period Coifs / Caps
Left: 12th Century
Middle: 13th Century
Right: 14th Century

The plain coif/cap is probably the most versatile piece of garb in the Middle Ages. It was worn for centuries and  changed very little.  It was worn by both sexes. It’s comfortable, practical and easy to make.

Called many different thing, from coif, cap, or hood.  In other languages: koaff, bundhaube, kveiv, kveif, haube, coiffe, huva or kapper. It is essentially a close fitting hat, fastened under the chin using straps.

For events like Gulf Wars, Pennsic or Estrella, having several caps is a must. Keeps the sun off your head during the day and your head warm at night.

If you have kids wear medieval clothing, nothing looks cuter than a child running around wearing a plain linen or cotton coif! And since their hair is often thin or sparse, it keeps their head from burning.

Fabric:

  • Linen: if used under a helm, linen is a must. It wicks the sweat away from the head and gives a cooling effect.
  • Wool: if used to keep your head warm, a lightweight wool is nice. If it’s too itchy, line it with linen.
  • Cotton: a non-period less-costly alternative. Light muslin makes a nice summer coif to keep the head cooler.

 Colors

  • White-ish

 2 Piece Style:

  • Good from early period all the way through the 14th and possibly the 15th century.
  • Even women wore this style in the later centuries.
    • They used the simple coif under their veils, filets, wimples or gorgets to give something solid that those pieces could be pinned to.
  • This style was used as a padded arming cap as well.

Simple Caps / Coifs in Period

8th Century

12th Century
Fecamp Psalter

12th Century
Hunterian Psalter

13th Century

Padded Arming Cap / Coif
13th Century
Morgan / Crusader / Maciejowski Bible

14th Century
Manesse Codex

14th Century
Roman de la Rose

15th Century

15th Century
Jean Froissart Chronicles

Even women wore simple coifs
13th Century Germany
Shrine of St. Elizabeth

Measuring

I have a hypothesis: all garb patterns can be reduced to mathematical equations. Perhaps it’s true of all clothing in general, but I’m only working on garb.

click to enlarge

A = length around your crown

B = Measure around the larger part of the back of your head from the front of one ear to the front of the other ear

C = Measure from the desired length of your cap on one side, around the top of your head to the desired length on the other side.

D = Measure around the base of your head from jawbone to jawbone

A  = __________

B = __________

C = __________

D = __________

The Math

  1. Width of the pattern: Divide A by 3 {A/3} than add
    1. 2” for an average head
    2. 3” for a larger head
    3. 1” for a child’s head
    4. _________________
  1. Length of the pattern: Divide C by 2 {C/2}

_________________

  1. Draw a rectangle with the above dimensions
  2. Write “Top” and “Front” in the appropriate parts of your pattern
  3. Mark or fold the pattern in half in both directions, just for reference
  4. On the bottom edge:
    1. From the back, mark 1 ½ “ (1” for a child’s head)
    2. Divide D by 2 {D/2}
    3. _______________
    4. From the 1 ½” mark, go towards the front D/2.
    5. This is the bottom edge of your coif.
  5. On the center-line(halfway between top and bottom):
    1. Divide B by 2 {B/2}
    2. Add 1/2”
    3. ______________
    4. From the back side, on this centerline going towards the front, mark the above measurement
  6. On the front top edge
    1. Mark 1 ½” down from the top (1” for children)
    2. We’ll use this mark later

Click to enlarge

Connecting the Dots

  1. Let’s start at the bottom back.
    1. From your 1 ½” mark in (or 1” for a child’s cap)
    2. Curve a line up towards the back center-back
    3. Have the line meet the back edge about an 1 to 1 ½” below the center line
    4. Run the line along the back-edge through the center-back line and above it another 1 to 1 ½”
  2. Curve the line up towards the center top line
    1. Similar to the center-back, have the line meet the edge about ½ to 1” before the centerline and run along it for ½” to 1” after before curving down.
    2. Curve the line towards the 1 ½” mark (1” mark for children) on the front edge
  3. Front edge
    1. Two choices
      1. For a straight front: draw a straight line connecting the mark on the front top  edge to the D/2 mark on the bottom edge
      2. For a curved front: curve the line down towards the D/2 mark, intersecting with the B/2+1/2” mark on the centerline.

ADD YOUR SEAM ALLOWANCE when cutting  – ¼” to ¾” depending on your sewing style

Unless, you are making a 13th century styled cap with separate “hem tape.”

 Styles

Tight Fitting Cap

The above pattern will produce a fairly snug cap for you

Looser fitting Cap

To get a cap that is a bit looser, add an extra ¼” to 1” when adding the seam allowance.

Padded Arming Cap

This pattern can be used to make a padded cap as seen in the Crusader Bible.

  1. Add an extra ¾” to 1” to the pattern.
  2. Cut 4, rather than 2, pieces
  3. Sew the center and front together, but leave the bottom back open
  4. Make the quilting lines (the dashed lines you see in the picture)
  5. Stuff the hat with fluffed out cotton balls or scraps of linen. Use a wooden dowel or rod to pack the material into the grooves.
  6. Squish it around with your fingers so that the padding is mostly even.
  7. Hem up bottom back.

Making the straps

We’re making simple straps. You can customize them, but we’ll do simple first.

  1. Cut out two long rectangles of fabric
    1. About 1” to 1 ½” wide
    2. 12” to 18” long
  2. Fold them in half length-ways and iron.
  3. Fold each side in half length-ways and iron again.
  4. On one end of each strap, fold the rough end into the lengthwise fold to hem that side.
  5. Sew the edges

Sewing

  1. Cut 2 of your coif pattern
  2. Sew up the center seam.
  3. Tuck under and iron the seam flat with each side folded over to its own side. Sew along edges to tack the seam down
  4. Hem the front and bottom by folding under the edges, ironing them flat and sewing them.
  5. Attach the straps to the front bottom corner

You are unless you want to add decorative elements if you like. Or leave it plain.

Enjoy your cap!!

On Yer Heade Part I

Period Head Coverings OR, alternately, What Hat Goes with My Outfit?

Part I: Early Period to 12th Century

I’m not a “Cover your head!” Nazi, but I do think that it adds to the Medieval-esque feel of an event when more people wear the correct hat.

For most of the SCA period, head coverings (head-ware) was not considered optional by either sex. It’s called interchangeably head-ware, headgear, head covering or hats.  Unlike today where we wear hats for special occasions or to keep the sun off of our head, head coverings were a part of everyday life, especially for women.  You would not step out of your front door without wearing proper headgear.

There was a small time (mid-12th century) when it was acceptable for women not to cover their heads, but for the most part through the ages all older or married women covered their heads.

What was the purpose?

Modesty: There are even a few cultures today which require their people to cover their heads outside of their home.

Lack of hygiene: Their hair was as hard to tame as ours can be. Imagine trying to fix your hair if it is really long and hasn’t been washed for weeks or months. Sticking it all in a hat seems sensible.

Identification: Headwear gave clues to class and occupation. Different classes of people wore different kinds of head coverings. In later period, sumptuary laws were made forbidding lower classes to wear the same head covering that the aristocracy wore.

When in doubt

  • For male, wear a coif. If early period, women can too.
  • For female, wear a veil

Early Period

For both Sexes:

  • Coif
    •  
    • A rectangle of cloth, folded in half. Point in back can be curved or left pointy.
    • Ties partly up front sided.
    • Not terribly sure, but it is guessed that the color was white or unbleached linen.

For Women

  • Headrail
    • A headrail is pretty much a long rectangle of cloth wrapped around your head.
    • From looking at period sources, it can be a variety of colors ranging from bleached linen to red to blue.
    • It’s very similar to the modern hijab. In fact, the best directions I could find on wearing one is for a hijab: http://thehijabshop.com/information/how_to_wear.php
    • The Encomium Emmae Reginae, 1041-2.
    • Cotton Claudius B IV, folio 10, from the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch in the British Library, 11th century.

For Men

  • Birka Cap
    • Based on a woolen cap found at the Birka site

12th Century

 For Women

There was a short time period where women had the option of not wearing a head covering.  Starting around 1125, some women began to appear in public with their head uncovered. Their hair, however was not loose, but parted down middle and plaited (braided) in various ways. By the late 12th century, women were back to covering their heads.

For Men

  • Coifs
    • The coif is still around, but it is now more form fitting. It’s also higher in the back than it is at the ear area. Straps can still be thin or wider.
    • Unknown Miniaturist, French around 1180. Fécamp
      Harvesting and_Pressing of the Grapes

  • Closed Hoods
    • Simple hoods began showing up at this time. Closed fron at the chest (no buttons), so it needed to be loose enough to slip over the head. The hood, at this time, covered the shoulders and had no tail.
    • The colors could be about anything, although red was common. You also see decorations the hoods – this one has a contrasting front and bottom edge.
    • Unknown Miniaturist, French (active c. 1180 at Fécamp)
      Feeeding the Pigs with Acorns

  • Combination of hood and coif
    • The coif and the hood could be worn together. It’s not definite if a coif was always worn under the hood, but combining them is not uncommon.
    • Phrygian Cap
        Yes, the Smurf hat is still around

Tomb plaque of Geoffrey Plantagenet (1113-51) from the Cathedral of St. Julien, Le Mans, c.1151-55.

  • Basic Birka-like Cap
    • The basic cap is also still here. It’s a bit shorter and has a more defined band around the edge.
    • Hunterian Psalter
      England: c. 1170

To Be Continued

The pencil drawings were found at: http://sites.tufts.edu/putajewelonit/2011/09/21/glossary-of-english-hairstyles-headdress/

I apologize for using pictures without giving credit. These come from a class handout that I taught on period hear-ware, and I did not document my pictures at the time. If you recognize any, please let me know and I’ll give credit to the artist.

Other sources: