A white silk ribbon hair net

17.06.2024 by Rotschopf in Reconstructions, Textile work

A new project is done!

The original:

The original piece is kept in the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, Germany, they offer decent photos, but unfortunately not a very detailed description. A couple of scarce facts are also given in the exhibition catalogue of the  LWL Exhibition “Aufruhr 1225!”  as well as the paper on which this catalogue is based “Zwei gotische Frauenhaarnetze” by Elfriede Heinemeyer. Both don’t talk about the net a lot, they did not even bother to describe it in detail. White silk ribbon is mentionned and originally blue parchment circles or polygons (probably just sloppily cut circles) on the crossings of the ribbons. Making and width of the ribbons are not given. And who takes measurements of extant originals anways? A diameter of 26 cm is given, taking the hemisphere character of the form into account, that would mean about 52 cm of circumference, which would fit quite a small head.

The piece is dated to the second half of the 14th century, unfortunately no information is given how this dating has been reached, the style of the net would very much fit early 16th century examples as well. But be it as it may, I have to believe the professionals here.

Additionally, it never hurts to view examples from Illuminations and other extant originals before starting a reconstruction.


The reconstruction/interpretation: 

I came upon some very nice white  silk ribbon in the right weave in a 3 mm width.

I saw this interpretation by Knots in a Net a while ago already, which also takes some freedoms in the making (no shade, I am a huge fan of Ilta and her work!). What made me muse here, are the holes becoming smaller towards the crown while in the original, the holes are all the same size. After several attempts of wrapping the ribbons onto different shapes, I came to the conclusion that rather than on a hemisphere, the net was either wrapped on a flat surface with a seam connecting the two opposite sides, or on a cylinder form. Then the top ends would be bound into the crown.  I couldn’t find any signs of seams, so I constructed a roll from blankets in the circumference of my head and wrapped the net until I was content. My version has a lot more crossings than the original, because my head+ hair is a lot bigger and I would of course want to wear the net.

I fixed the crossings with pins and sewed the loops together on the top with white silk thread.

Afterwards, I painted the parchment with egg tempera and cut it into little polygons/circles. I pinched holes in them and sewed them onto the crossings. It was over 300 of them in total, which took a long time to do.


It looked okay, but really lacked a little…oomph. Which is where some free interpretation from my side comes in. :-D

So I decided to do some decorative flowers for some of the crossings. Decorations like this can be foundd in the rhombus patterns of hairnet illuminations. I cut the flowers from the same parchment in a quatrefoil shape, which was a popular form at the time. Then I gilded them (with fake leave gold, which also doesn’t shine as nicely as the real thing).

I was very happy with that addition! The golden flowers were nice and shiny and the holes near the crown really are the right size!

(In these photos I had the net still closed with a loose ribbon which I later sewed on so I could wear the net securely)

And this is what the net looks like on me with a fitting hairdo.

Conclusion: It worked, looks cuter than expected, it is pretty fragile if you dont want to damage the paint or gold. And it’s a shitload of work, I won’t do that again (anybody needs white silk ribbon I have left? :-D )



Further reading

“Zwei gotische Frauenhaarnetze”, Heinemeyer, Elfriede. (1966) – In: Waffen- und Kostümkunde vol. 8 (1966) p. 13-22

Ritter, Burgen und Intrigen – Aufruhr 1225! : das Mittelalter an Rhein und Ruhr ; Ausstellung im LWL-Museum für Archäologie, Westfälisches Landesmuseum Herne, 27. Februar bis 28. November 2010


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