Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe
About the class
This is intended to be an informal workshop/demo on hairstyling techniques and accessories in 12th century Western Europe. There's actually quite a bit in the handouts that is intended to be goodies to take home. I'll be demoing both three-strand and “two-strand” or ribbon bound braids, hopefully on volunteers, otherwise on my faithful wigstand. We'll have a show-and tell and you can look at my various accessories and false hair pieces, though only the simplest is included in the handouts.


There are a total of six handouts for this class, including this one. Some are multipage. The list of handouts is as follows: 1. Intro, further reading and sources (this page) 2. hairdressing types overview (frequency of elements, etc) 2p 3. Accessories overview (veils, ribbons, weights, pins, circlets) 1p 4. Braiding Techniques instruction sheets (1p) 3-strand braids, 2-strand + ribbons “woven” braids 5. Basic Veil Draping (2p) 6. False hair use (2p)


This class is taught by Branwyn M. Townsend, known in the SCA as Lady Marguerie de Jauncourt. I've been in the SCA for eight years. I have been studying and re-creating historic clothing for twice that long. My area of special interest in the SCA time frame is 12th Century clothing, and its evolution from earlier forms, as you may have guessed. I have been tracking the elusive bliaut (French court gown) for over seven years, along with its accompanying hairstyles.

Bibliography/Further reading Web Sites
Doyle, Sarah Clothing of Norman Women in the Late 11th and Early 12th Centuries (Norman English women) Folsom, Branwyn The Bliaut Files (instructor's website, detailed information on court and women's dress) Payne, Grace The Beautiful Bliaut (construction of separate-skirt type women's court dress in detail) Virtue, Cynthia The Medieval Clothing Articles

Boucher, Francois 20,000 Years of Fashion - the history of costume and personal adornment Harry N. Abrams, no date Bradfield, Nancy Historical Costumes of England 1066-1968 Costume and Fashion Press, 1997 Davis, R.H.C. The Normans and their Myth Thames and Hudson, 1976 Dodwell, C.R. The Pictorial Arts of the West 800-1200 Yale University Press, 1993 Egan, Geoff and Pritchard, Frances Medieval Finds from Excavations in London:3 Dress Accessories 1150-1450 HMSO,1991 Kohler, Carl A History of Costume Dover, 1963 Piponnier, Francoise and Mane, Perrine Dress In The Middle Ages Yale University Press, 1997 Stoddard, Whitney S. Sculptors of the West Portraits of Chartres Cathedral: Their Origins in Romanesque and Their Role in Chartrain Sculpture: Including the West portals Norton, 1987 Tate, Georges The Crusaders: Warriors of God Harry N. Abrams, 1996
Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Hairdressing types overview
In preparing the handouts for this workshop, I charted the frequency of various elements in 12 th century hairdressing (for all classes), as depicted in artworks. To keep the sample from being too far skewed towards religious iconography, all “enthroned virgins” were deliberately left out and only saints' effigies that looked to have particular care put into making them appear as human as possible were considered (St. Foy falls into that category because of the degree of realism in her clothing). The results were somewhat startling.

Overall Frequency of 12th century hairdressing elements in a sample of 90 artworks
Veil Circular Wrapped Long Veil Knotted Veil Hair Ornaments Circlet Ties Ribbons Weights Braid Cases Hair Hidden Center part Loose Waist Length Hip Length Knee Length Braids 3-strand 2-strand Straight Braids Wavy Braids Wrapped braids Crown Mantle

Number of occurences of each element

45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Row 2

elements (some artworks exhibited several elements)
Main Points:
• • •
Court hairstyles seem to fall into a few types: Braids/veil/crown; braids/crown; braids/circlet; veil/crown; on young women, braids; and for very young girls, loose hair/circlet. Ordinary women don't seem to have left their hair uncovered. All depictions of ordinary women show them veiled, hair hidden, except perhaps for a bit at the front, indicating that it's parted centrally. Lovely tresses on view seem to have been the exclusive province of the nobility. Braid cases: Inconclusive. No clear visual evidence for braid casings beyond 2 examples: a late German illumination that depicts what looks as though the girl's hair is stuffed through 2 tubes of bamboo; and an early mss. Illumination which could possibly also show a clumsily drawn ribbon-bound braid. There were also two which were too ambiguous to say for certain that they were not simply wrapped braids. Textual sources could just as easily mean braids weighted to be straight as scabbards, for which there is visual evidence. No Toques. At all. Crowns, yes, Circlets, yes. Fillets, yes. No toques until the 13th century. Most of the “toques” in earlier costume history books were misunderstood crowns. Equally notable is the low number of possible circular veils in the sample. I only found 3. This is both good and bad news, as circular veils are very pretty, but are difficult to keep in place.

• •

Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Six Main Categories of Court Hairstyles:
Braids/veil/crown braids/crown veil/crown


loose hair/circlet


Four Types of Braids:
Straight ribbon bound Straight 3-strand Wavy 3-strand Wavy ribbon bound

Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Hair Accessories Overview
“You see women burdened rather than adorned with ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones, and all the raiment of a court.” “For head-dress they have a kerchief of fine linen which they drape about their neck and shoulders, allowing one corner to fall over the left arm. This is the wimple, ordinarily fastened to their brows by a chaplet, a fillet or a circle of wrought gold." - Bernard of Clairveaux, letters

Categories of accessories:
• • • • •
Veils, usually oblong and draped artistically. Sometimes (rarely) circular. Crowns, circlets, or fillets. Braid pendant weights and ties with weighted tassels. Ribbons Pins – used to secure veils

Head of Old Testament Head of Old Head of Salome from queen from LeMans. Testament queen from “Herod and Salome” She wears a crown Chartres. She wears a capital. She wears a over a wrapped veil fillet or circlet over simple fillet or circlet that has been ribbon-bound braids atop loose, combed elaborately and without weights. hair, indicating that fashionably draped. she is a young girl.

Drawing of braid Three different pendant weight, pendant weights, approximately life from three different size. Most seem to jamb statues. They have some sort of are tied on at differing granular decoration. distances from the end of the braid. Example of beaded or knotted tassels used to tie braids.

Head of “Queen of Sheba” (Louvre). She wears a circular veil, crown, and hair ribbons.

Head of Old Testament queen from Chartres. She wears a crown atop weighted braids.

Silk-covered wire circlet with knot (unidentified Spanish decoration in mss illo) contrasting silkcovered wires. After a Weights in carvings later example. showing granulation effect (Chartres). Bead -weighted tassels on the hair ties of the donor lady from Chartres.

Thread-wrapped wire circlet with spiraled decoration. Head of Old Testament queen from Chartres. She wears a crown atop her mantle, which she has pulled up to veil her hair. Head of donor(?) from Chartres. She wears a crown or fillet (angle is odd for a crown) atop braids weighted with beaded tassels.

Beadweighted tassels were also used - these can be seen in manuscript illustrations as little tassels at the ends of braids.

Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Braiding Techniques
“Two strand” braiding or ribbon binding is covered here in some verbal detail – it is assumed that you know how to do a basic three strand braid for the purpose of the short note on braiding in a tie cord, weighted or not.

Setting a tiecord in a 3-strand braid:

Section the hair into thirds first. If your hair is the same length or longer than your tie cord, braid at least on third of the length up before setting the cord in. Set the center of your tie cord behind the braid. Pull each side of the tie cord along with the respective section of hair as you continue to braid (see drawing for clarification). Keep the tie cord strands with their sections of hair until you have finished braiding, then use the loose ends of the cord to tie off the braid securely by wrapping the cords around the braid several times and tying half knots. For more help, look up “hair wraps” on Google for finishing techniques.

Ribbon – bound or 2-strand braids:

This works best if only one ribbon is used for both braids. It should pass behind the head just below the curve of the cranium (if you set it too high, it will slip and loosen). Smooth ribbons will slip – I like wool or non-shiny silk tapes. The dark stripe that crosses both strands (and any other stripe that does so) is called an “over” The short stripes that cross only one strand indicate that the ribbon is being woven between the strands. These are called “weaves” I find that the most secure weaving pattern for me is : over; weave; over; weave; weave; over; weave; over; weave; weave; over; etc. Another weaving pattern used in artwork is: Over; weave; over; weave; over; weave; over; weave; etc. when you reach the end of your braid, sew the ribbon in place over the end of the hair. You may include a weight inside the ribbon or sewn on outside when you have had some practice (the first few times it will likely slip).

• • •

• • • • • •

Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Basic Veil Draping
A guide to the wrapped, draped veil style seen on some jamb statues and similar to the one decried by Bernard of Clairvaux. We will go over this in class, but it may be helpful to have a step-by-step guide for practicing at home.

Watch Points:
• • • • •
This style requires a narrow oblong (rectangular) veil of fine, soft cloth. These were very likely decorated at least at the ends and some women may have worn striped and spotted ones. If your veil is too short, this basic draped style won't work. It should be about 5 feet long and no wider than 22 inches. Likewise, if your veil is too long, it will be too bulky in this style, unless it is made of very fine, soft, drapy cloth. 8 feet is too long for a veil made of cotton voile, for example (too much body). This style can be used to cover use of extensions, as it both hides and reveals the hair. To secure this style, you must either have a secure fillet or circlet or bear a heavy crown upon your head. This style seems to have only been worn by women who had to wear crowns.

Step one:
Drape one end attractively to the left of your face. This will take practice, and is easier to do for someone other than oneself. You may want to secure the arrange ends with a metal clip while you drape the veil. Bring the rest of the veil around in front of your braids. Adjust it into a smooth cowl-like loop a few inches (2-4) below the point of your chin (higher if you are cold or you prefer to cover up).

Step two:
As you arrange the loop around your face, bring it a little over the draped end piece to help hold it in place. Bring the other end around to the other side of your face and arrange prettily. Pin if necessary.

Step Three:
Top with securely fitting or heavy circlet, fillet or crown. If you will be wearing this with a lightweight fillet or circlet, you should probably use veil bands. They will prevent slippage. See Cynthia Virtue's website at for good, clear directions on using them.

Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Faking it: False hair use

False hair was apparently quite popular in the 12th Century. Plenty of people got razzed about it in satirical songs and poems, in any case. Horsehair was used fairly often! We do not know exactly how false hair was used, only that it was done. This is my method for creating a convincing hair piece for emulating the desired look, using modern materials and tools. This is a multipurpose item, which will bear the weight of the hair (so your own hair does not have to), secure your veil, and also hold your own hair out of the way (if it needs it). This project presupposes that you have acquired 2-3 packets of loose false hair in a good match to your color and texture (I like the “yaky” silky straight as it's light for the amount of body I get).

To make a Combination Hair Piece and Veil Band:
Step one:
Measure the circumference of your head where you will be wearing it (see the three different styles, left), and add 3 inches for overlap. “Two bands” assumes that you will be wearing two bands, as in Cynthia Virtue's tutorial. “Single band A” assumes that you will probably be wearing it without the chin band. “Single band B” assumes that you probably have short hair or bangs you want to keep back under your veil, and should be lined with velveteen to make it sit securely. Its finished width will be about 1.5 – 2 inches, so the band needs to be (head+3”)x 5”. Turn and press ½ inch on each long edge to the inside, then fold the strip in half along its length and press until creased to mark the center. Fold the band up and pin it in place as if you were wearing it, with the crease upwards. The overlap and pin should be at the back of your head. Finally, measure the width of your forehead where the band crosses it. Mark with pencil or tailor's chalk.

Step two:

Divide your false hair in half as evenly as you can manage, and spread it out flat to fill most of the space (NOT all – you want to have the overlap mostly clear) around your forehead marks. Try to make the crease be roughly in the middle of the length of hair. For the first 2 views the hair should be roughly perpendicular to the band, but for view B, it should be at a gentle angle (so the hair is pointing toward the floor when worn). Machine two rows of close stitches on each section of hair. Make sure you sew past the hair on both passes. Now for the tricky part. VERY gently, pull at both of the ends of each section of hair to “taper” it and make it appear more natural (blunt-cut ends aren't period). Take your time. Go slowly, and when you are fairly happy with it, then you can go on. Sometimes it helps to drape the hairpiece over a piece of furniture, or even tack it to the wall. And discourage cat help on this project.

Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

Serpentine braids or Straight as a Scabbard: Women's Court Hairdressing in12th Century Europe

Step three:

Very gently and carefully, fold over each section of hair and sew down with 2 more rows of close machine stitching. This is pretty straightforward for view a and the two band style, but for view B, that gentle angle will make this harder. Fold over the hair in sections of a half inch or so at a time. Bobby pins can help secure the folded over hair before you sew it down. Check the hair is secure – if it moves to easily when you pull on it, add another row or two of stitches.

Step four:
Fold the band closed and sew shut (by hand will be neatest). For security, line it with a strip of cotton velveteen or velour. The nap will help keep it from slipping on your hair.


Pin it in place, just as if it was a plain veil band. You will have fabulous knee or hip length hair (depending on how much you tapered it). Braid the hair with ribbons or with your own hair (this works even when your own hair is only shoulder length), or both. After styling, pin any style of veil on top and you are done. Illustration to the left is the author wearing her first veil band/hair piece combination. The real hair? Shoulder length. The circular veil is pinned to the band (band was black to hide better under a sheer veil).

Resources: “Yaky” type long loose hair for doing extensions can usually be bought inexpensively (expect about 5 dollars a packet) in ethnic hair salons and beauty supply shops. If they do not stock your color, they may be willing to order it for you if will buy enough. If you do not have an ethnic salon or public-access beauty supply shop near you, try the internet. I have had good luck ordering from His and Her Hair, in Los Angeles. If you aren't sure of a color, however, do yourself a favor and just buy one packet and check – you can always give it away, but hair products cannot legally be returned. I don't work for them, but I've been pretty happy with their service.

Copyright ©2004-2010 Branwen Maura Townsend. Please email for permission to reproduce.

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