Various Elizabethan Nightcaps. I was looking for something
to make, to experiment with a stitch I had not used before: speckling.
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).
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
Cleveland Museum of Art
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.
Stitches and Materials Used:
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.
spangles mostly appear to be sewn on with 3 stitches. This can be seen in a close up
of the unfinished nightcap in figure 4, here in Figure 6.
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 and flora. I used the strawberry and pomegranite.
There were spangles in both Figures 4 and 5.
The nightcap structual 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
I used mainly stem, split and speckling 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).
There appears to be some debate on whether coifs and nightcaps were actually
lined. I decided not to line this nightcap.
I used linen fabric which was actually specified in two of
the examples and appears to be almost exclusively used as the material
for these items of personal wear. I used linen fabric left over
from a camicia project.
My research suggests that silk was used for embroidering nightcaps.
This is also supported in the quote from Enforcing Statutes of Apparel,
that "none shall
wera any silk in ... Nightcap... " I used silk Mediera thread for the embroidery.
|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. (as in the coif in Figure 10, right, from Blackwork). Figure 10 shows the embroidery frame, below.
Below, left (fig 11), shows the pattern
with spangles attatched. These were added by sewing them on with 3
stitches, as in Figure
The nightcap was then cut out. To reduce fraying, I blanket stitched around the edges. (below Figure 12).
|Figure 1 and 7, seem to show that the edge of the crown was stitched over, after the seam was folded over. (also seen Right).
In this example, it appears to be chain stitch. Therefore, I used
chain stitch around the edges of the crown seams, after folding.
(Figure 13 far right).
The edges were then whipstitched together with plain thread.
The Finished Nightcap:
What I have learnt/ would do
With this project, I learnt a new embroidery stitch - specklin stitch. Next
time, I will adjust the angling of the crown sections, as they are too
square for my tastes. Many of the extant items appear to be taller and
more 'slimline' looking. However, the unfinished nightcap, in figure 1,
does have a more squat and square profile.
- Gostelow, Mary. Blackwork. Dover Publications. New York. 1976.
- Cleveland Museum of Art
- Enforcing Statutes of apparel
- V&A Museum http://images.vam.ac.uk
- Archeological Sewing by Heather Rose Jones (2001)