In our collection here at Agecroft Hall, we have three coifs. A coif is a woman’s headpiece that was worn with semi-formal dress, when elaborate hair dressing or a wig was not required, such as at a reception in the home, or for receiving guests while confined to bed. Read more about our three unique coifs below.
This lady’s coif (photo above) is an example of the fine domestic embroidery so highly treasured during the Tudor and Stuart periods. Caps and coifs were worn prior to this time period but were not so elaborately decorated until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although this piece appears to be an example of English black-work, this coif was once brightly colored—the natural dyes of the silk threads have since faded to murky blacks and browns. The meandering vine design of stylized flowers, including carnations and pomegranates, is highlighted with gold metallic thread. The original ties that would have held the coif onto the wearer’s head are missing, although it is obvious where the ties would have originally come through on the bottom of the piece.
Our second coif (photo above) was completed by the Gentle Pursuits of Richmond chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America in 2014. Generously donated to us, this piece took years to complete. Following a reproduction pattern based on a 17th century coif and inspired by the 17th century coif in our collection, the members of the guild took turns working on the various flowers on the piece. To work on this piece, the embroiderers had to learn historical stitches that are seldom used in modern embroidery.
Our third coif (photo above) was just recently donated to us, again from the Gentle Pursuits of Richmond chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America. This piece is a fine example of black-work embroidery—pieces that were completed with black thread on a white linen background. This piece also followed a reproduction pattern based on a 17th century coif found in the collection of the Victoria and Albert museum. This pattern features small animals and floral designs. While working on this intricate piece, it took the embroiderers upwards of two hours to complete one square inch!
The three coifs are currently on display together for easy comparisons. Please come visit us and check them out! Many, many thanks to the Gentle Pursuits of Richmond chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America for their dedication and hard work in creating these two beautiful pieces that help us further explain and illustrate the Tudor and Stuart periods in England!
Hughes, Therle, English Domestic Needlework, (London: Abbey Fine Arts).
Synge, Lanto, Antique Needlework, (London: Blandford Press, 1989).