Sunday, October 6, 2013

Project Complete: Frilled Hood-Style Veil

A linen headdress with hood-style shaping and frilled edges, inspired by styles used between circa 1380 and 1420 primarily in England.

Medieval women certainly had a penchant for frilled or decorated edges on their veils. Subtle frills are depicted on women's headdress as early as the 12th century, if not earlier. As weaving techniques advanced, so too did the ability to create elaborate, multi-layered frilled edges on linen pieces. I'm not a weaver, so the technique and logistics of the process are not too clear to me, but essentially an alteration to the tension and thread count on the selvage edges allows the weaver to create frills as part and parcel of the whole woven cloth. For an interesting article explaining this technique in relation to the famous frilled veil seen in the "Arnolfini Portrait" by Jan van Eyck, check out Carla Tilghman's article, "Giovanna Cenami's Veil: A Neglected Detail", in Volume 1 of Medieval Clothing and Textiles.

In the late medieval period, layered edges became the medium for a variety of veil types that expanded and evolved from simple frills to goffering, honeycombing, many more. Some of the depicted styles were soft and natural, while others were rigid and geometric, and still others were wondrously complex to the extent that their reality seems doubtful. For a glimpse into the variety-filled world of frilled headdress, I highly recommend perusing Isis Sturtewagen's extensive research paper on the subject (not yet offered in English).

This particular veil is patterned after a type of frilled headdress that appears in late 14th and very early 15th century artwork, with a frilled edge not only framing the face, but wrapping around the shoulders as well. In order to achieve such a shape, the frilled item is shaped remarkably like an open hood (which was becoming popular among lower ranking women at a round the same time). The resulting item can, therefore, be more accurately labeled a "frilled hood", though calling a veil in general is still appropriate.

In addition to the progress posts I shared here that detail my working method, I also developed a starching method to create the final, stiffened and shapely frills.
While the frills on the hood are technically box pleat frills, their front edges are loose, creating a much more free-form quality to the frilled edge than many of the other types of frills I've seen from some of my favorite bloggers. When the frills are stitched through their depth, they create specific shapes, either diamonds, circles or even tear-drops, which can be stuffed with "setting sticks" after they have been soaked in liquid starch. The open frills of my hood, however, are not able to hold any such sticks, so the stiffening process has to be slightly different. Also, in my first attempt to wear the the hood, I'd relied on a modern starch recipe that used cornstarch, which is not a medieval material. So, since I had to do it over again anyway, I decided that I wanted to give barley starch another go.

To create a stiff starch, I used 1 box (11oz.) of Quaker Quick Barley with 6 cups of water (2 more than called for on the box). I boiled the barley according to the directions, but where the box said to let sit off the heat for 5 minutes, I drained the liquid into another pot, so that I could retain as much starchy liquid as possible.

After letting the starch cool down just to the temperature I could touch it without getting scalded, I gave it a good stir, then dipped the two frilled edges in (not the whole thing), then set it on a head form.

Since all the shaping had to be done by hand, I needed to let the starch dry on the frills long enough that they were no longer drenched, but were still flexible. Then I started shaping the frills basically by poking my finger into one of the pleats, then punching it in from either side to round it. I did that on both layers of the top frill, then walked away. I'm not sure if I could have done the shaping/drying phase without a head form.

Once the frills were completely shaped and dried, they were very stiff. I ended up missing the event I planned to wear them to, so they actually sat around for a week. While they didn't collapse during that time, I did notice that they lost some of their stiffness. They became a bit softer to the touch. Unfortunately, the starch yellowed the veil in areas where the starch saturated the linen a bit more.

The veil is very fun to wear! I wore it with my sideless surcote for a 1380-ish look. I got a few compliments (and had my picture snapped a few times), so in terms of the look, I think the veil is a great success.
The amazing thing, however, was the performance of the starch. It was very humid in the morning, but the top frills didn't seem to register the moisture. Then, a storm rolled in right when I needed to walk across the event, first to the bathroom, then to teach a class. I was outside, getting rained on, for a total of about 5 minutes. The top frills do not collapse!

Where the veil got the wettest at the shoulders and back, they really didn't stand a chance, and mostly flattened. But those frills were also already fighting gravity anyway. The front frills, however, stayed open all the way through court at the end of the day.

I'm very pleased with the frilled hood. I think it's a very good addition to my headdress wardrobe, and worth the effort to make it. It does, however, need a bit of help still in the center seam shaping. That's not quite right, and puckers more than I really care for. I'm not going to try to fix it, though, since I'm already thinking about making a new one with a different type of frill.

I'm also incredibly thrilled with the barley starch. My only complaint with that is the staining. I'm wondering if I poured the starch water through a cheese cloth while it was still hot, would it retain the starch, but lose whatever component is causing the discoloration? Something to try out. I could also combine the starch liquid with lemon juice and let it dry in the sun to see if the bleaching action of the lemon juice would counter the staining action of the starch. The solution is in there somewhere.

This project was a great learning experience for me on several levels. As my first frilled hood, I think there are good things about it as well as areas for improvement the next time around. Perfectly fits my new motto- "Constantly trying. Consistently improving."

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