Yet another post only a stitching/historical clothing geek would love.
What were they? Why do I care?
Forehead cloths were triangular kerchief type items, often matched with a coif (a close-fitting cloth hat) produced during the 1500s and 1600s. Some still exist today in set with their coif, some are separate – possibly parts of sets, now orphaned over time. They appear to have been quite popular based on survivals, and surprisingly for a popular item – how they were worn is not an entirely settled issue.
Blackwork forehead cloth in collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art
British, last quarter of 16th century – roughly 14.5 x 16.5” (36.8 x 41.9cm)
Some suggest forehead cloths were worn underneath the coif, tied or pinned firmly behind the head under the wearer’s bunned-up hair. In this configuration, the cloth would keep the hair contained, and provide a firm foundation on which to pin the coif itself. Having worn coifs and hoods of the time, this is very logical to me, and makes perfect sense.
Others suggest that the cloth may have been worn over the coif; or even instead of it, for sleeping or indoors-at-home informality. I do note that in coif-cloth sets where metallic or linen lace trims the coif, the accompanying forehead cloth is rarely adorned to match. This makes sense if the cloth was worn under the coif, but would be odd if it was worn covering the coif’s fancy trim. Were they ever worn alone? No one knows…
What we do know about forehead cloths is that they come in as many stitching styles as do coifs – blackwork, other monochrome, polychrome, counted, freehand stitched, fancy with metallic threads and sequin embellishments or plainer; standard Elizabethan/Stuart era scrolling flowers and vines (with or without insects and birds); all-over repeat or geometric patterns – you name it. Some. like the one below, even look like they are remnants of larger embroidered items, cut down and re-used.
Stippled blackwork forehead cloth from the Victoria and Albert Museum
About the only thing I haven’t seen yet is one that is mostly plain ground, stitched just along hypotenuse edge rather than being entirely covered with pattering. Some cloths (like the first two above) have small tie strings, some are just triangles, with no tabs, ribbons, or strings (although those may have become disassociated over the decades).
Now, why am I so interested? I rarely get to SCA events these days, and don’t have an outfit (or a finished coif) to match a forehead cloth.
I want to make one for mundane day-to-day, modern wear.
I like wearing a bandanna or kerchief to keep my hair out of my eyes, especially during “down times” on weekends, or when we visit windy Cape Cod. It strikes me that a purpose-built forehead cloth would serve well, and be a bit more distinctive than a plain old paisley bandanna. Being small, it would not be onerous to stitch, and would be a fun thing to adorn with one of the larger all-over or infinity repeats that I’ve charted over the years.
I’m laying out the size of the piece now, basting my dimensions onto ground cloth. More news on this as the project develops.