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Coif with forehead cloth

Linen embroidered woman's cap, English, about 1600

Linen embroidered woman's cap, English, about 1600

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It was customary for married women in the 17th century to cover their head. Coifs, a form of cap, such as this example, were worn informally at home. The accompanying forehead cloth is a rare survivor. These were often added when women were ill. Made from linen, the finest coifs were embroidered in black or multi-coloured threads. Flowers and coiling tendrils was a particularly popular design for coifs and co-ordinating jackets.

Here the flowers include roses, honeysuckles and pansies: the latter associated with thoughts. There are also strawberries and borage, which were often shown as a pair as it was common knowledge that they grew better together. This coif is decorated further with small metal discs, known as spangles, which would have twinkled whenever they caught the light. The way the coif is made up is unusual.

The coif and forehead cloth were purchased by Sir William Burrell from Frank Partidge and Sons in 1936. At the time the coif was mistakenly constructed upside down with the forehead cloth sewn on the outside. Today it is known that the coif was originally made up differently, and it was reconstructed into a more authentic shape in 2013.

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