Studying Hairnets

Lately I’ve been researching hairnets. I own two crocheted snoods, but there is no evidence of crocheted snoods in period, and little in the way of solid evidence of crochet at all (most would say there is none before 1800, but a few think “nun’s work” means crochet).

silk hairnet, worked in alternating stripes of large white loops and small green loops, with small shield decorations placed all over
early 14th century silk hairnet in Heidelberg

I have, thus far, located photos of several extant 14th century hairnets. These are clearly netted in the round, as perfect circles. The center of the netting would therefore land where it does on modern crocheted snoods: between the crown and the nape of the neck.

photo of a white hairnet/cap with a gathering thread at the bottom, netted in a pattern of large and small diamonds.
16th century hairnet at Lienz
photo of a brown hairnet, longer in the back than on top
16th century hairnet at the Belgium Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage

I’ve also found photos of two extant 16th century hairnets which both have one flat edge, bearing resemblance to the hairnets found on 1490s-1500s portraits, where the bottom edge is straight across (in one example, with a gathering ribbon still in place), so that a braid may emerge from under the back. One of these has the familiar “starburst” shape that accompanies netting in the round, but it is placed at the crown of the head. It seems they must have switched from round to working flat around a semicircle to create the long part that hangs down the back. The white one one in the black and white photo may be done the same way, or, given the appearance of the horizontal stripes, may be seamed as I describe below.

photo of a carved relief showing Cosimo I de Medici facing right with two children at his side and Eleonora di Toledo facing left with two children at her said. She is wearing a beaded hairnet.
de Rossi’s relief of Cosimo, Eleonora, and their children

Several examples of recreations have been done by sewing or gluing ribbons together, on a grid. At first I wondered if this could be correct, given the flat appearance of the material shown on  Giovanni Antonio de Rossi’s relief of “Cosimo I, Eleonora di Toledo, and their children” and the square (not vertically-stretched diamond) shape of the work on Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis’s “Portrait of a Lady.” The relief, at least, does seem to show something as flat as ribbon. And sewing beads over the join would be easy enough to do, but is it correct? I can’t rule it out, though I think it sounds more time-consuming to secure a thread, sew several stitches to hold the ribbons together, and then secure the other end, than to tie a single knot per join.

There is no way to see the back of Eleonora’s head to see if the starburst exists there, and while “Moda a Firenze” has a section devoted to her hairnets and how she styled her hair under them, there is no information about their construction. Sheila Barker’s research into the 1545 Bronzino painting of Eleonora and her son shows that the partlet she wears (which appears to match her headwear) was indeed netted.

Portrait of a Lady, 1490
Portrait of a Lady, 1490

Reading more about netting, I learned that a square mesh is easy enough to do—work a diamond mesh from only 2 foundational loops, increasing at each row-end, then decrease at row-end, and finally tie off. That makes a diamond full of diamond mesh. Rotate 45°, and you have a square mesh! I was uncertain about this at first because I thought there might be sagging problems, but people who have actually tried netting* say it works and is how tennis nets are made. As well, in “Portrait of a Lady” there are very clear netting knots (sheet bend, which makes an X-shape) at every intersection. I suspect that the way to get the bead in place when using netting is to pinch the loop before netting into it, push it through the bead, and then work below the bead, before sliding the bead into place over the knot. Once stretched out, the bead would not have the choice of moving off of the knot.

image of the back of several women kneeling in prayer
fresco at Monte Oliveto

The fresco at Monte Oliveta by Il Sodoma shows two women from behind both wearing snoods! One shows a square mesh, the other diamond. The one with the square mesh appears (and it may be artistic license) to have all of her squares lining up with her part. Perhaps this was a square of netting, folded in half and sewn on the short edges, to create a shape like that of a hood. For shaping purposes, I think a few decreases at the center in the rows prior to the seam would make sense. The woman next to her appears to have all of her diamonds pointing to the crown of her head, as in the extant snoods which begin in the round and end flat.

As I come across more sources, I am storing them on my Zotero account. You are welcome to look.

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2 Responses to Studying Hairnets

  1. Beatrix says:

    That 16th century hairnet is not at Linz. I´ve actually seen it. It is in the Tyrolean State Museum in Innsbruck (not on display). It was found in the tomb of the Freiherr (Baron) Michael of Wolkenstein-Rodenegg (died 1523) and his wife Barbara of Thun (died 1509). The tomb is in the parish church in Lienz, East Tyrol.
    I guess “Linz” ist just a typo. It´s LIENZ (with an “e”).
    Oh – and it´s not white. Not anymore, if it ever was. Now it is brown.

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