Purple Files: Kat's Hat Box - Men's Nightcap
by La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia
This project was spur of the moment, and meant to be a simple one. I was looking for a new embroidery project as a prize for an Innilgard Rapier auction tourney (First Mate's Tourney) in October, 2005. Preferably I wanted to do something for a male. I also wanted something to practice putting spangles on. I found a few blackworked nightcaps in Embroidery and had my project.

My research is based on four pictures of nightcaps. These were found in Mary Gostelow's Blackwork . All three are elizabethan, 16thC. The Cleveland Museum of Art also has a late 16thC nightcap. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a few examples of polychrome nightcaps but these are early 17thC. So I have concentrated on the earlier ones in Blackwork which are 16thC.

Figure 1 is a nightcap found in the Landsdowne House collection, from Blackwork. It is embroidered in stem stitch and plaited stitch. The crown has come undone and we can see the folded over trim, on the bottom of the cap. It is from the late 16thC.
It is 19.7 cm x 53.2 cm in size (when opened).

Figure 2 is also from Blackwork. It is from the Burrell Collection . It is embroidered with black silk and gold metalwork. From the 16thC.

Figure 3 is from the Cleveland Museum., showing the front and back. Its embroidery; is of flat strips of silver foil wound on a silk core. It is 16.9cm x 18.cm x 18.cm when opened.

  • Cleveland Museum of Art http://www.clevelandart.org/Explore/work.asp?searchText=1950.352&recNo=0&view=more

Figure 4: This is from the Carew Pole Collection and is published in Blackwork. It has green silk design of curling feathers. The far right part of the cap shows spangles sewn on it. This nightcap is unfinished, showing how the pattern is oncstructed. The 'cuff' at the bottom shows that the pattern is embroidered on the 'back side' of the material. The material is identified as linen.


Figure 5 is a nightcap from the V&A Museum from the 16thC. It has silver and gilt threads in herringbone stitches and speckling. It is identified as being on linen fabric. It is also published in Blackwork.

  • V&A Museum http://images.vam.ac.uk 

Figure 6 (left): Close up of spangles from Fig 4

Figure 7 (right): Close up of crown from Fig 1.

Common stitches for nightcaps found in these examples are stem stitch, plaited stitch, chain stitch, herringbone and speckling. The spangles were sewn on with 3 stitches. This can be seen in a close up of the unfinished nightcap in figure 4, here in Figure 6.
Men's nightcaps were not actually for night wear but were fashionable to be worn at home during the day. Less formal and popular with men of all ages. They could be very elaborately embroidered.
Nightcaps were also mentioned in the Sumptuary laws made by Queen Mary (Henry VIII's daughter) where it is stated that "none shall wera any silk in ... Nightcap... ; except the son and heir or daughter of a knight, or the wife of the said son, a man that may dispend £20 by year, or is worth £200 in goods" (Enforcing Statutes of Apparel).

As seen with coifs, floral and spiral designs appear to be popular. I decided to try to make a simple pattern, based on the spiral patterns seen in three of the extant nightcaps (figs 1, 3, 5). There were spangles in both Figures 4 and 5. As one of the reasons for making this nightcap was to learn to put on spangles, I added them to the design, sewing them on with 3 stitches, as in Figure 6.
The pattern was based on Figure 5, with a one-piece pattern, with 'peaks' at the crown. This one-piece, meant that the lower cuff was to be embroidered on the reverse of the fabric. This is shown in extant examples.
I used mainly chain stitch for the pattern. I also chain-stitched along the edges of the crown pieces. This appears to be what is happening in figure 1, seen here more closely in Figure 7.(right). Chain stitch (plaited) will cover the edges.
There is some debate on whether coifs and nightcaps were actually lined. I decided to line this nightcap, as it was for a prize. As someone else was to receive it, that may not know much on the subject, I lined it with linen to give a more finished look, at least to mundane eyes.

I used linen fabric which was actually specified in two of the examples. This was left over from linen bought to make a chemise and partlet. I have found a local source for silk Madeira embroidery thread. This was used for the embroidery. I used linen thread to stitch the crown together and to hem stitch the lining (archeological sewing).

I made a pattern based on Figure 5, an extant unfinished nightcap. (see Figure 8). This was then cut from linen. I drew the pattern directly on the material. This can be seen in many examples of Elizabthan embroidery. There are examples to be found in Blackwork and in Patterns of Fashion. Figure 9 shows the embroidery frame.

Figure 8. Pattern for nightcap and the spangles used.

Figure9: Embroidery on frame. & Figure 10: Finished embroidery with lower 'cuff' turned up.

I then lined the nightcap, chainstitched over the crown edges with silver-coloured silk embroidery thread. I then sewed the crown pieces together and hemmed the lining at the bottom.



Figures 11 and 12 show the nightcap so far.


Fig 13: Next, I had to learn braid stitch so I could oversew the seams. This is the finished nightcap.

What I have learnt/ would do differently:
With this project, I learnt how a nightcap pattern is laid out, a new embroidery stitch - braid stitch and how to put on spangles. I got some more practice with silk embroidery thread (2nd project with it).
What I need to go further with this, would be more info on actual stitching used to sew up the crown. If I were to make another, I would make a pattern with more detailed embroidery, using more than one stitch for the pattern. I would most likely pick a pattern with 'speckling' as I have not done this form of embroidery at this stage.


All intellectual content, photos and layout are copyright to La Signora Onorata Katerina da Brescia (K Carlisle), except those original renaissance artworks and extant articles whose copyright remains with the current owner.
If you would like to use something from this site, please contact me, and cite this website reference.