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Unfinished Coif - Tudor Blackwork Embroidered Coif

Toni Buckby, an artist and PhD researcher is exploring the concept of remaking museum artefacts that are too fragile to be handled regularly so that they can be more accessible to people. I am taking part in this research as one of the core embroiderers.

The research is based upon an unfinished coif found in the archives of the V&A museum - the coif had begun to be embroidered, then the stitches were removed and it was never completed. Nobody knows why this is. You can see the original coif here. A coif is a type of headwear worn by women primarily in the Tudor era. It is a close fitting cap, usually made of pale coloured fabric and worn to give respectability to women. The higher class the woman was the more embroidery the coif would have had.

The coif is being embroidered on fabric matching as closely as possible to those that would have been used at the time. The core embroiderers have each been given a piece of very fine fabric with a copy of the unfinished coif printed on to it.

Others are able to join in with the research and embroider a coif, though they have to supply their own materials and transfer the design to the fabric themselves. All embroiderers are free to use whatever style of embroidery they would like to, along with free reign over which threads and colours to use.

This unfinished coif design comes from the late Tudor era and I have decided to embroider my coif using traditional Tudor Blackwork as this was immensely popular and fashionable at this point. Blackwork is created using one colour of thread, usually black although blue and reds were sometimes used. Occasionally, depending on the status and class of the wearer, gold threads and spangles (similar to sequins) were also used. Blackwork was used to adorn all sorts of textiles including clothing and items for the home such as pillows and cushions. For me this seemed the right thing to do and it also builds upon previous work created during a residency at a Tudor museum some time ago.

In this image you can see how fine the fabric is, which means lots of concentration when embroidering to ensure that the stitches are in the right place and of the right length. It's definitely something to work on in daylight!

In order to keep with the traditional Tudor design I will be using those embroidery stitches that were fashionable in the late Tudor period - primarily backstitch and stem stitch to outline the areas of the design. I will then fill in certain elements with a technique known as stippling, which is similar to seed stitch. As yet, I am undecided whether to add gold or spangles to this.

It's very interesting to see how everybody else involved in the research are creating the coifs - some have chosen to recreate earlier blackwork styles and using beautiful and intricate filling patterns and others have decided to use more modern embroidery styles and theirs is full of colour.

All of the coifs will be exhibited as part of the research, with those worked by the core embroiderers added to the V&A archives along with the research document. It will be so interesting to see them displayed together with the vast array of styles all in one place.

I'm sharing the progress of the coif embroidery through my Instagram and Facebook pages which you can find here and here More information about the research project can be found here.

It's a fascinating project and when there are more details regarding the exhibition I'll share them with you.

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