13th century hairnet from Marburg

I’m going to concentrate on the embroidery side of things this time. The basic form of the hairnet is from the Museum of London hairnets which I’ve written about before. You can do a bit of counting if you like, but as you’ll see, the maker of the extant net didn’t bother.

This 13th century hairnet from Marburg an der Lahn was dug up from a Hessian landgraves tomb, acquired in 1869 and ended up on display in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg. There it was photographed by a dear friend of mine, Mistress Petronilla, in 2012 and loaded onto Flickr. If you’re into hairnets, tablet weaving and or embroidery, chances are that you’ve seen these images before.

The net itself has been cut from its original shape into a fan. You actually see versions of this manoeuvre in many museums, possibly because they were put on display long before they ended up in the hands of modern museum folk. 

I’m pretty sure that we’re not seeing a whole hairnet here. There are stumpy loops at the top that probably represent a quarter of the intact hairnet. I quickly counted that there are circa 60 loops left at the top. The top has the same construction as the MoL nets: long loops in the centre, 14 rows, increase between the previous row, 50 rows. I would assume the gathering is made in the same way too, but instead of a fingerloop braid you have a gorgeous tablet woven brocade band.

There are others who have pondered on this hairnet, Perline wrote a intriguing article of her speculations. The pattern for the band is slightly different, but very pretty.

I’m missing some key measurements that I might find out some day from the museum or if someone is willing to visit the hairnet with a ruler. But for now I made a version with my favourite silk yarn (Maharaja) and worked the embroidery with looser but still plyed silk yarns (Jaipur Fino) in colours I found appealing. But please, again, feel free to use extant or your own colours.


The zigzag ribbons are embroidered with Punto d’Assisi or long arm cross-stitch. I followed this tutorial to figure out the stitch. This part of the embroidery is easy and there’s no need for an embroidery frame. Attach the right end of your row to a netting cushion or other stable point, hold on to the left side and start stitching. When you need to change direction, also change the direction of your net. My netting was so stiff that it worked like starched linen, so there was actually no need for stretching.

In the extant net the top 14 rows have a zigzag ribbon that is 7-9 squares wide and the lower points come down to row 12. As my net wasn’t designed from the get go to be embroidered with this patter, I have to just follow a zigzag that does fit the first rows. My zigzag is 7 squares wide. And unlike the zigzags at the bottom part, this was started right at the back. It won’t follow the rhythm of the lower part anyway. The ends meet with a bit of fiddling in a lovely letter W, a nod to my SCA persona’s name.

The bottom has zigzags in the same colour and technique, but these also form diamonds. Really, really, really uneven diamonds in three or three and a half rows. The diamonds are 10-11 squares by 10-13 squares in size and there seems to be no rhythm to the changes. This time I skipped the period asymmetry and worked a nice, repeating pattern of 12 by 12 square diamonds that fit the original darned embroidery. I followed up along the line starting from the centre front and embroidered a letter V. After this placement of the first line, I counted 12 squares to the right and 12 squares to the left, working my way towards the back, just to get a symmetrical look. In the end my squares lined almost perfectly, one line of squares is 12X11. The extant nets are wonderfully wonky at the back of the head, too.

First and third row of diamonds are filled with an embroidered pattern in off white or yellow that resembles a flower. This darning embroidery is quite simple, but I do urge you to practice first. Maybe make this pin cushion?

Darned embroidery is a lot easier with an embroidery frame or something to stretch the net over. It depends on how soft and big your netting is, I’ve used a netting frame before. But as you don’t need to work underneath the netting at all, this time it was quicker to use a darning plate. Whatever you use, try to keep your squares as straight as possible.

Here is the rhythm I used while making the embroidery. I tried to do my best to figure out how these flowers were done and came up with a version that goes around the whole thing. In versions I painted myself into a corner. The trick to darned embroidery is to always go under and over. Whatever you meet along the way, go under and over. And remember, the netting isn’t a part of the pattern in medieval darned embroidery, as it is in the modern.

Start from the square, follow the arrows and end at the circle. Repeat on all four sides. The ends of the yarns are finished under the stitches. The swirly bit is the tricky one, as you want as much yarn as possible to show on the right side. This means that modern instructions on how to make it are almost useless. Here it’s best just to try it out and for goodness sake, start the embroideries at the back so you have the rhythm figured out before you do the most visible bits.

Tablet woven brocade band

The band has been researched by Nancy Spies in her book Ecclesiastical Pomp & Aristocratic Circumstance. There’s no mention of the width, nor the length remaining. It looks quite narrow in the pictures, under 1 cm wide. The band is done with very fine green silk and the pattern woven with silver guilt yarn. This is easily the most expensive part of this hairnet, which explains why most of it is missing.

Brocade is not very difficult, but what it is, is slow. If in a hurry or unavailable to make this band, I would just make a monochrome fingerloop braid and use that. But if like me you’re intrigued, take a look at this very detailed tutorial from Weavezine by Michael Cook.

The warp is 15 tablets wide, all holes threaded so you end up with 60 warp ends. The tablets are threaded alternating S and Z. I used the finest dyed silk yarn in my collection, unfortunately I don’t recall the make nor weight. The yarn is close to sewing thread and I’ve used it before with twill patterned tablet weaving with 62 tablets, but that is a different story altogether.

The metallic yarn is antique Japanese wrapped yarn bought from Etsy. It has a yellow rayon core wrapped with bright gold coloured aluminium stirps. In essence it workes exactly like medieval silver or gold gilt yarns, but is a whole lot cheaper. Many brocade weavers use this same type of yarn to great success. I have to say that it was surprisingly nice to work with. The ends are finished underneath the band. And, finally I get to try out flattening the gilt yarn on top of the warp, as almost all extant pieces have been treated. It makes a big difference, including the fact that the band becomes softer underneath too.

My finished band is 6 mm wide, so maybe a bit narrower than the extant one. The pattern is 15 rows tall and the extant one had 5 turns between repeats. Mine has 15 turns just to save time. There are 14 pattern repeats along 32 cm, with 8 cm plain band on both ends. You can’t really see the pattern when the band goes behind the ear, so save some time here too. 

In the end I decided not to sew the band onto the hairnet. Medieval tastes were different and more was more, but in this case it was too much for me. But don’t worry, I’ll knot up a lovely simple blue hairnet for this band to go with. 


The whole hairnet, including the band, took me some 35 hours to make. A week! The band, which frankly was a bit of extra work, took me 8 hours. Embroidery was surprisingly fast, the zigzags were done after four hours, the whole work taking only 13 hours all together.

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