How to make French Hoods

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French hoods, the bejewelled headpieces of the Tudor era, seem to be one of the most mysterious and difficult to recreate items – a real challenge for any Tudor re-enactor wanting to portray an upper class persona. Throughout the last few decades a number of patterns and a number of ideas has been employed to recreate the look – some more successful than the others, some less. The main problems lies in the lack of evidence other than pictorial one – to my knowledge, not one of the headdresses we now call French hoods has survived to our times. There are surviving examples of the wire base used for the gable hoods, but not a single one that would cast some illuminating light on the construction of the French ones.  The only way then, it seems, is to rely on the portraits and accounts of the era, which, though immensely helpful, seem to be insufficient to resolve the burning issue once and for all – how  were the things made and how they stayed on the heads!

In the present article I will briefly discuss the origins or the history of the hoods and then proceed to show how Prior Attire hoods are made.   I do not pretend to come up with the pattern I have been using, and a full credit is given to the ones who did, nor will I claim that the method we employ is the best ever – I am confident it is only one of many, and it just happens that it has worked best for me and my customers. The purpose of the article is to show, step by step, how to achieve the creation – and for that you may want to buy the commercial pattern, as it will help you a great deal, but it is by no means necessary.

In my career I have come across several different solutions to the problem, and indeed a few of them seem to be working just fine. The two most popular for the last two years have been the following:

  1. All elements ( coif, paste, veil, crescent) are separate and are pinned together on the wearer’s head –  and the method has been discussed in great detail in an excellent article by another costumier, Sarah Lorraine (http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/articles/historicalperiods/medievalrenaissance/280-reconstructing-the-french-hood-by-sarah-lorraine) )
  2. The Tudor Tailor’s way – the elements are stitched together in a sturdy headdress – with a few items being removable as needs be (coif, bongrace, separate billiment). The idea is not new, as I managed to dig out the references to it in an earlier publication by Denise Dreher, but is now enjoying a well deserved revival.

I believe that in the 16th century there wasn’t just one pattern for the hood – ladies were making do with different arrangements, striving to achieve the fashionable look by a variety of means and no doubt women across the world are doing the same nowadays. For me the latter way really worked as a way of making a headdress that is historically correct, easy to wear, looks good and most importantly, stays on my head.

 

 The genesis of the French hood.

It is becoming more and more evident how the English, or gable hood evolved on the UK, transforming from the open hoods into bonnets with paste and frontlets, and then in the most iconic form known from the portraits of  Jane Seymour or  the More family.

Similarly, it is possible to trace the evolution of the French hood – though it must be noted that its origins seem to be developed on the continent rather than in England.   Although they derive from the same ancestor, an open hood worn in the last decades of the 15th century, the evolution took the headdress two separate ways. In England, the front of the hood became stiffened, and started to fold in the middle over the forehead, creating a point (style also worn with some hennins). With further stiffening and additional decoration of the brim, the gable shape started to emerge – first with the long frontlet, laying on a stiffened and decorated paste, then with the paste shortened, frontlets folded back and pinned to the crown and divided veils.

Charles d'Angoulême et Louise de Savoie jouant aux échecs

Charles d’Angoulême et Louise de Savoie jouant aux échecs

On the continent, the hood was also changing at the time, but the emphasis was on the roundness – the stiffened and decorated part of the hood followed the shape of the head, eliminating any possibility of the rectangular shape of the English bonnet.  The beginnings can be seen in the portraits of Anne of Brittany or even Katherine of Aragon, who, contrary to common misconception, did wear the early version of the French hood as well.

aragon4

Katherine of Aragon, Michael Sittow,

1508 anne

  Anne of Brittany, Jean Perreal

daughter of emp maximilianI

daughter of emp maximilianI

Margaret aged ten by Jean Hey,

 With time, various elements were added and new styles were developed – ornaments and basic shapes of the crescent changed, the veil changed through the decades and the hairstyles changed as well – but the most recognizable style of the French hood seems to have persevered through many decades, starting as a simple hood and transforming into one of the most complex headdresses.

Materials:

Buckram (linen or hessian) 0.5m

Wire – 2m

White linen – 1m

Veil – black velvet or satin, 0.5m

Silk for the paste and the crescent, can be the same colour, can be different. Silk taffetas, satins and velvets work best. The most common colours were white, black, tawny-gold, though reds and colours coordinated with the gown were also in evidence. You will need very little; 0.5m for both in the same colour is ample.

Silk organza – a thin strip (fine linen also works)

Linen and silk threads

Ornaments – freshwater pearls,  lass beads, metal beads, gems –   depends on style.

Thimble, pliers, wire cutters, different size needles, including a curved one

A scrap of silk velvet or wool for cushioning the inside of the paste.

A bit of cardboard for mock up

Pattern:

I used an adapted pattern from the Tudor tailor book. The pattern is available in hard copy http://www.tudortailor.com/patternshop.shtml

 Method

It is a good idea to make a mock up of the pattern in cardboard or stiff paper – just to see how it lies on your head. The paste part is the most important as it provides the base for the whole construction. It should sit on your head snugly, with the front parts resting just below your cheekbones, and the back ‘wings’ cradling your head. Remember to make sure your hair is coiled in a bun or a plaited into one at the top back of your head- it provides additional support for the hood. If your hair is short, it is worthwhile to get a basic plait extension – coiled and pinned, it will do the job just as well. Depending on the shape of your head that should be sufficient to keep the hood on very securely. For very heavy hoods with lots of bling on them, I find I need to pin them just over the ears as well.

Experiment with the mock up till you find the best fit and adapt your pattern accordingly.

  1. Cut out the pattern shapes for the paste and the crescent in buckram. No seam allowances are necessary.

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The paste cut out.

 

  1. Cut out the pieces : in linen – 2 of each, with an inch seam allowance all around; in silk, 1 of each, with the same seam allowance
  2. Put the fabric pieces aside for the time being- the buckram pieces need to be wired first.
  3. Cut a length of wire – should be enough to go all around the paste, with a little overlap. Sew on the wire to the edge of the buckram – you can do it by hand, with a strong linen thread, or on a machine. If using the machine, set it to a wide zig-zag stitch and sew, slowly and carefully, making sure the needle goes down on both sides of the wire, and not into it. Do not hasten the process– it will most likely result in broken needles…

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  1. As you near any corner, use the pliers to bend the wire around it.

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Paste with the wire sewn on by a machine

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And the crescent with the wire

  1. Pin the back ends of the paste together and try it on. You will most likely notice that the buckram squashes your ears or at least feels unpleasant – take note of the areas and mark them on the buckram – they are the places that will need some cushioning to make the hood comfortable to wear.
  2. Cur small rectangles of wool or velvet – any thick and smooth fabric will work well. Fold it and stitch it to the inside of the buckram where your ears will be.

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The ‘ear protectors’ stitched in to the inside of the paste

  1. You are now ready to cover the outside of the paste with linen. Pin the linen layer to the paste, folding the seam allowances over onto the inside. Stitch around, keeping the fabric taut and secure – remember that it will not be seen as the silk layer will go over it, but if your silk is thin, try to keep your stitches small so that they do not show through it.

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The paste covered with linen

  1. Once the linen base is in place, you can cover the outside with your fashion fabric – it can be silk taffeta, velvet or satin. Again, fold the seam allowances under and stitch carefully, ensuring the fabric lies smooth on the curved surfaces and that the corners are well defined.

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Paste covered with black velvet

 

  1. Next step – pleated frill. You can skip it if you plan to wear a coif with a frill. If your coif has plain edges, you can add the pleated strip to the hood.
  2. Cut a length or organza (utilising the selvage, if you can – if not, you will need to hem it) and pleat it in even knife or small box pleats, securing each pleat with a pin.

 Bedford Borough-20120222-02380 Bedford Borough-20120222-02382

Once you have enough to fill in the front of the hood, secure the pleats with a simple stitch, pin the trip onto the ironing board and set it with steam. Do test the fabric first to see if you can iron it – if yes, go ahead, if no, just steam.

  1. Pin the strip to the inside of the paste, so that only about half an inch extends beyond the paste. Sew it onto to paste, at the back, and carefully, at the front, making sure you catch the fabric folded under but not going all the way through all the layers.

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Frill pinned and stitched on

  1. Leave the paste aside for the time being – it is easier to line it later on, once the crescent is attached.

Time to work on the crescent.

  1. Cover the outside of the wired crescent first with linen, and then with your fashion fabric, just like you did with the paste.

 Bedford Borough-20120222-02373

Crescent covered – outside view

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And inside

If you plan to decorate the crescent by sewing the ornamentation directly, do it now.

Decoration options: you can stitch each individual bead and pearl directly – useful particularly if you are planning a more elaborate decoration option. Alternatively, if your embellishment is just a single row, you can string all of the beads etc on one thread, and then simply stitch between them, securing the string onto the crescent.

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Once the decoration is attached, line the crescent with the other piece of linen. Pin the piece around and stitch carefully so that it doesn’t peek from the underside

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Stitching the lining to the crescent

 You are now ready to tackle the most difficult task of all: attaching the crescent onto the paste,

If you have vice, it may come useful, but a spare pair of hands or long pins could do the job just as well.

Mark the centre points on both paste and crescent. Pin them together, and continue pinning at the sides so that the crescent is in position.

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Crescent pinned

Sew with needle (curved ones are best for the purpose) threaded with strong thread, catching both items. It helps if you first place a few strong stitches at both sides of the crescent – hidden by the decoration, they will not be seam, but they will go through all the layers of the crescent and the paste. They are the main anchor. Continue along the edge of the crescent, catching the crescent’s fabrics and going through the paste, the stitches will show a bit – but you can cover them later with more decoration.

Using normal needle – and a curved one, below

 Bedford Borough-20120222-02389  Bedford Borough-20120222-02388

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  1. The two pieces are now in place – so the worst part is done! You can now decorate the paste with your choice of embellishment –braid, pearls etc.

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Pearls sewn onto the paste, covering the stitches.

  1. Line the paste with the last bit of linen.  The stitching will have to be careful and require some dexterity since the shape of the hood is now slowly emerging and you have to deal with concave and convex surfaces – again, a vice or a third hand can be useful. Pin the lining in first:

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Then sew with small stitches

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Lined hood

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  1. Time to connect the back ends of the hood; pin them first, so that they overlap a bit, and try the hood on. Again, remember to arrange your hair as described previously.   Make any necessary arrangements until the hood feels secure.  Once satisfied, take it off and sew with strong thread, connecting the two parts. Since you will be going through all the layers doubled, you will need a thicker and stronger needle, and possibly pliers too, to help you draw the needle through.

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Trying the hood on

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Last bit – the veil.

Cut the veil in silk satin, silk velvet or taffeta. Sew the back seam and hem the edges.

Pin the veil to the hood – mark the centre top first and pin that first, then pin the sides onto the crescent. Where the crescent merges with the paste, pin the veil onto the past, so that it goes smoothly in one circle.

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Pinning the bottom centres together

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Hood pinned

 Sew with small stitches – again, a bit of manual acrobatics will be necessary, but it can be done – with experience you will work out which way of holding the hood works for you. Again, a curved needle is a blessing!

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Sewing the veil on…

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And the hood is ready!

Optional: if you plan to sew the crescent billiment onto a separate base, you can do it as the last step.

Cut a narrow strip of buckram, mirroring the shape of the upper edge of the crescent. Wire it, cover with lining and fashion fabric just like the other items before. Attach any decoration and pin the billiment onto the hood – it can sit on the top of the veil too. Attach the billiment.

Hood in silk velvet with a separate billiment:

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Other examples of hoods:

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Silk taffeta base and crescent, silk satin veil, freshwater pearls and metal beads decoration on the upper billiment, gold metal braid on the lower

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 Silk satin base and crescent, freshwater pearl and garnet beads decoration, silk satin veil

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Silk velvet base and taffeta crescent, satin veil, freshwater pearls and gold braid decoration

your turn now! :-0

And if you need a gown to go with these –  How to make a Tudor Gown, and Katherine of Aragon gown…

Bibliography

Boucher, François. A History of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson; Enlarged edition (23 Sep 1996)

Mikhaila, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth–century dress. London: Batsford, 2006.

Caroline Johnson,  The Queen’s servants, Fat Goose Press, 2011

Hayward, Maria. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds: Maney, 2007.


 

 References:

 

Boucher François,  A history of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson; Enlarged edition edition (23 Sep 1996)

Denise Dreher, Fromm the Neck up; An illustrated guide to hat making, Madhatter Press

Mikhaila, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth–century dress. London: Batsford, 2006.

Caroline Johnson,  The Queen’s servants, Fat Goose Press, 2011

Hayward, Maria. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds: Maney, 2007.

Medieval & Renaissance

1-Sarah Lorraine, “A Lady’s French Hood”, Mode Historique, 2002.

12 thoughts on “How to make French Hoods

  1. Pingback: Sewing Fast and Slow | A Damsel in This Dress

  2. Pingback: The Making of a French Hood | Angela Clayton's Costumery & Creations

  3. Pingback: French Hood: Quick & Easy & Almost No-Sew | costumecrazed

    • Most of mine ( silk nap, cotton backing) which is the closest to all silk stuff, i get from Quartermasterie -a company that specialises in historical textiles. no website, they just come to a few markets. you can sometimes find it on ebay, but always ask for the fibre composition first. rayon/silk are quite easy to get, the silk/cotton ones not so much, but not impossible. prices vary, usually from £45 per metre or so

  4. Finally! A tutorial on the construction of a French Hood that makes sense an is easy to follow. I really think I can make this work. I costume dolls so always work in miniature which adds another dimension. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.

  5. Pingback: Young Girl’s Loose Gown, Breakdown | Niveraswings Costumes

  6. Pingback: 1450s Borgia Headwear | Fashion through History

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