The Northern Coif


This charming little headcovering is a northern version of the
Simple Caul, seen in a number of flemish paintings.
Like the Biggins and the Simple Caul, the Northen Coif is comprised of a Band and a Gathered Crown. The following instructions assume that you have already made yourBasic Brim Patterns. If you have not, you’ll want to follow the link and do so.

This hat is appropriate for ladies with any class, but seems
to have been far more common in northern areas of Europe. For the upper classes, the coif can be made of very fine cloth.

Note: These directions do not teach a modern Milliery approach
to hat-making. I’ve completely eliminated the use of standard hat sizes and
head-size ovals, because I’m assuming that most of the people reading this are
*not* trying to set up a hat-making shop. The method I’ve worked out below works, but doesn not produce standardized patterns sizes unless you are one of the lucky few who actually possesses a standard size head.

Making Up the Band


To make the Band, you will need your target head, fabric,
a ruler, and a pen, as well as a sewing machine, thread, and scissors.
In spite of this picture, we’ll be using muslin for this caul. Trust me


The bag of the coif sits back farther on the head than
the Biggins.


Start working the pattern with a strip of felt approximately
6″ wide, at least 24″ long.


Set this strip around the head, pulling snugly (but not
tightly), so that the corners of the strip sit along the jawline. If your
strip is too long, trim it to the desired lenghth. (Unless you have an
extremely large head or you are working on a child, the strip will end
up between 23 and 24″ long.)


Ultimately, you want the innermost corners of the band
to overlap by 1/2″.


Place your flexible rule back around the head, and mark
where the ruler sits on the felt band. (I mark to the front of the ruler.)


Remove the strip from the head. You should have markings
like this.


Optional: If you have a dressmaker’s curve, use it to
connect the markings with a smooth curve.


Cut away the portion of the band that falls past the markings.
This is your base pattern, without seam allowances.


Place the felt pattern piece onto a double sheet of muslin.
Mark 1/2″ away from the pattern on all sides. Cut on this line. These
are the pieces of the band.

Place the two pieces right side to right side, and sew
the three straight edges with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Turn this piece
right side out. Pressing is optional, but technically a nice touch. (Sorry
– I don’t seem to have a picture of that process. The awful thing is, I know some nice person sent me one, and I can’t find that file either!)

Making Up the Bag


The outside edge of your master brim pattern is the right
size for making a small caul, and requires no extra work. I like that.


It’s not very exciting, but there you go….


Run a line of long gathering stitches about 1/4″
away from the edge of the bag.


Pull the gathering threads to gather the Bag down. You’ll
probably need it a little more gathered than this.

Attaching the Bag to the Band


Distribute the gathers as evenly as possible, then mark
the quarter points of the Bag. (Note: I am told that clever people mark
the quarter points of the bag *before* they start to gather it. I never
remember. It will work out basically ok no matter how you do it.)


Pin the curved edge of the band to the raw edge of the
bag, overlapping the two ends slightly at the center back.

The Narrow French Seam


We will be joining the parts with a narrow french seam.
Start by sewing the parts together, following the line of the gathering


We will be joining the parts with a narrow french seam.
Start by sewing the parts together, following the line of the gathering


If your stitching isn’t straight and your gathering stitches
will show, you can remove the gathering stitches by pulling gently on
the threads


Carefully trim the seam allowance to 1/8″. Be very
careful and very neat here.


Fold the band over the raw seam allowance, so that the
raw edge is encased and the seam line is visible at the edge of the fold.
You’ll be able to feel the bulk of the seam allowance inside the fold.
Remember how you trimmed the seam allowances to 1/8″? You’re now
going to sew just a thread past 1/8″ from the seam line, so that
the edges are totally sealed. This is the narrow french seam.


This is the hand position you’ll use to guide the fabric, seen from the seamstress’ view.


The finished seam.


Now, here’s the reason for using such a fussy little seam
— it’s totally finished inside. It’s also a more sturdy seam, since it’s
sewn twice.


Yay! How adorable is that? If you do other eras or re-enactment, you’ll recognize this coif. It stuck around for a while.


A similar coif, seen in northern paintings, is acheived
by applying a little creative coif-a-gami and two pins.


Alternately, the band can be folded back, which I think
looks rather smart for a maid servant.

12 thoughts on “The Northern Coif

  1. Jamie in So Cal says:

    I finally made one of these, and it’s totally radical, um I mean ’tis exceeding fair! I’m wanting to make a Flemish outfit just to match it :-) I’m in love with my coif…Thanks so much for sharing this!

    7 years ago | Reply

  2. missa says:

    Tee hee! Thanks, Jamie!

    7 years ago | Reply

    • missa says:

      Jeanne – you can find it at your average hardware store, prolly in the electrical section. It’s supposed to be used for pulling wire through conduit and walls and stuff. But truly, it’s drawstring magic! :)

      7 years ago | Reply

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    5 years ago | Reply

  4. Northern Cap | Practical Headcoverings says:

    […] can buy a pattern for the covering at Candle on the Hill or read another how-to at Sempstress.You’ll notice there’s a difference in the brim – the vintage Amish one at Candle on the Hill […]

    2 years ago | Reply

  5. Sue Whelan says:

    I’m making this up for my daughter, a HS teacher who is teaching “A Handmaid’s Tale” to her Grade 12s. She’s very dramatic. Ofred’s costume will be worn for Halloween. One of her colleagues will be dressed as King Lear. Your instructions are wonderful and it’s going together beautifully. Thank you so much for keeping you blog available.

    9 months ago | Reply

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