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Create the Mood

Tudor Gable Headdress
for the 1530's

This site is for you if you wish to make an Ann Boleyn or Jane Seymour style gable headdress as might have been worn at Court in the 1530's.  However with only slight modifications to the design these steps can be used to produce styles worn at other times. 

This method produces a very sturdy headdress that travels well, lasts for years and can be re-shaped if it becomes bent.  This method is not for complete beginners: you need to know where to find a variety of odd materials and have sewn difficult fabrics before.

The headdress can be taken apart for maintenance and alternative veils can be used.  The  construction takes time, at least one week, more if  intricate decoration is added to either the front or veil.  Some parts can be made in a different order than I have described.

(This project has not been finished, as you can see.  This is because the event for which I was making the 1530's outfit did not materialise.  Nevertheless I decided to show the methodology in the hope it would be of use to you. 
I have no doubt I will finish the outfit and use it in an exhibition, for the fabrics of the dress and sleeves is sumptuous.  Good luck with your construction work.)


1. Look at lots of pictures in books and websites on Henry VIII to research what they wore at the exact date you have chosen.   

A website with some images.

Books on how to make theatrical costumes are useful guides to shapes and sizes; however the results will not usually look as authentic as the methods described here will achieve. 

from painting of family of
Sir Thomas More
attributed to Holbein

Enlarge one or two  pictures onto paper and keep referring to them as you work to keep the details correct - it is easy to go off into flights of fancy.

Jane Seymour 1536-37
Henry VIII's third wife
painted by Holbein

Notice differences such as between younger and older women, the headdress size, the jewel designs on the front, how the black hood is folded and that the earlier the headdress the more acute (steeper) the angle is at the top of the head, and so on.

This is another style of gable headdress, or possibly the same style - it is difficult to se when everything is black.

Equipment guide

sewing kit
tape measure to check your head measurements
scissors to cut fabric
pack of sturdy needles
very strong thread; it can be helpful to use a
     beeswax block and pull the thread through this
small piece of leather or leather glove to grip
    the needle as it is pulled through the pelmet buckram
pale gold thread similar to the colour of your background fabric
black and white thread
gold thread for sewing jewels, pearls and decorative border

wire cutters
small pair pliers to bend the wire
pencil and straight edge to make and transfer the design
scissors to cut cardboard and pelmet buckram
PVA glue
child's paintbrush and old pin/hat pin to transfer the glue
jam jar or tile to put glue on to

for decoration
fancy flat-back gold buttons that look like goldsmiths work -13
flat-back cabochon jewels in two colours - 13
2 sizes of pearl buttons or beads, 14 larger, 60 smaller;
     avoid those that are bright white as they look artificial
     and modern.  A  mixture of shades looks more natural
nail varnish in off-white, pearl and pale gold

0.5m pelmet buckram for basic frame
0.5m gold or silver fabric to cover pelmet buckram
0.5m coarse net to look like gold wire
0.25m sturdy linen or calico to act as a hinge to join pieces together
0.25 gold, silver or black soft leather to cover back
1.5m fine white linen to fold over framework
1m fabric or braids to decorate white linen cover
1.5m light-weight black fabric; many books
      recommend using velvet but this is too heavy
1m polyester quilting wadding
0.25m striped silk fabric for front band

millinery wire (white) or thin wire coat-hangers or similar to wire the base
cardboard to make the patterns to fit you - cereal boxes are the right size and shape
white paint spray - car spray will do
3 large chrome press-studs
0.5m elastic or 2 tape ties


2. Make patterns for the framework

There are two parts: the front section which is covered in pearls and jewels and the top frame which gives the typical gable shape. 

a) front section design
The front section sticks up above the top frame to stop layers of fabric falling over the face. 

For the 1530's gable front I used 110o at the top and 70o for the side angles as suggested here.

Museum of London wire

my front section shape in millinary wire
b) top frame design
The top frame, mostly hidden by fabric in use, takes the weight of the layers of fabric.
top frame measurements
Measure your head and adjust these guide sizes to suit you
a) front to back of your head, pattern height (guide:14.5cm)
b) pattern length, the longest measurement, goes from one side of your head to the otherover gable shape
c) the sides of the top frame come down only as far as your side hair-line
d) the side pieces of the top frame are about 3 cm longer than the side pieces of the front section for the little upward curl of the lappets around the chin or mouth.

top frame pattern guide -
Draw your pattern out on paper.  Put your hair up out of the way and check and recheck against your head.

c) transfer patterns onto cardboard.
Design the two pieces on paper to start with. Cut out and try on and revise and redraw until your templates look like the pictures and also feel right for your head.  then cut out in cardboard and try on again.

top frame shape cut out  in cardboard
draft front section before curves were added to the sides
3. Make framework from buckram and wire

d) transfer to pelmet buckram
Use the two cardboard shapes as templates and cut out exactly the same shapes in sturdy pelmet buckram.

Try on these shapes to check they still fit your head comfortably.  Check that the top and front still match.

Want to know more about wiring a headdress?
book written in 1928 on how to wire a hat:


e) transfer to millinary or other wire
Straighten one very long piece of wire first with your fingers.  Using your pelmet buckram as the basis place the wire at about 3mm from the edges and use pliers to make the sharp bends. 

Make the wire shapes as accurately as possible so they do not pull on the pelmet buckram when sewn on.  At any joins and at the beginning and end overlap wire by at least  6cm.

top frame wire almost completed

All sides have wire running along them so that even if you sit on the headdress the framework can be bent back into shape.

Bend the wire into 'hair pins' as you go round where the front section and top frame will be fixed together;  I used 3.5cm on the front section.  Add longer 'hair pins' at the back to clip to your hair; I used 9cm but  it depends upon the shape of your own head.   

f) Wire the pelmet buckram
The stitch used to sew the wire on to the buckram has the thread going through one hole twice.  Use a piece of leather or an old leather glove to help pull the needle through the pelmet buckram.  Waxing the thread will help it pull through more easily.

sewing, front

sewing, back
front section wired

These 6 short wire 'hairpins' will be sewn to the top frame holding the two pieces of the framework together

front section in the process of being wired

underside wired
top frame wired
Draw pencil lines on the underside where the bends are to be. 
Wire the top frame making necessary modifications as you go;  I added a third back 'hair pin'.  Keep checking that front section and top frame exactly match up.

underside of top frame
with fold lines marked and top ridge bent a little


Make a final check that the front section and top frame still exactly match up. 

Each section is decorated separately and then the two are put together. 
4. Cover the front section with fabric and decorate
Put a layer of PVA glue onto the outside of the wired pelmet buckram.  It is easier to control glue if you decant a small amount into a small jar or onto a ceramic tile.  Paint the glue on evenly using a paintbrush.

Then place your front section down onto a piece of  fabric; I used gold lurex.   Press lightly into place with your fingers.  Wash any glue off your hands whilst doing this so no glue gets onto the front of the fabric. 

Leave to dry over-night. 

Trim the fabric, leaving a wide border.

My thin gold lurex frays so easily  in both warp and weft.

You can turn and glue the outer edge of the fabric to the back or leave this until later; the more glue the harder it will be to sew through all the layers.  Do not turn under the inner/head edge.
front, one edge turned under and glued

the back, one edge glued
Decorate the front section
I used a coarse net in a lighter gold colour so that the decoration looks more delicate, more like goldsmiths work.  I left a border of about 2.5cm (1") on each side.  I sewed this net on with tiny stitches that cannot be seen on the front.  The net was used as a guide to positioning of the decoration.
Follow the design in your chosen  portrait.  I used gold buttons and pearl beads in two sizes.  
A leather glove helped grip the needle to pull the waxed thread through all the layers.  As I sewed on the buttons and pearls I tucked the net on the outside edge under so my stitches caught the net back. 
The back will be covered up with leather once all the sewing has been completed.  So it does not matter how much of a mess it looks.

I glued flat-backed cabochon jewels over the sewing in the centre of the gold buttons and left them overnight to dry. 
I used the end of an old hat pin to aim the glue correctly.  Add slightly more glue than is needed; when the jewel is pushed down into place the glue goes up the sides a little.  When it dries this will seal the jewel in so it will be less likely to fall off.

 My design called for pairs of smaller pearls inbetween the larger pearls and the jewels.

The pearls colour now looked too brash so I 'distressed' them with nail varnish.  The first layer was off-white, then gold, then a few layers of pearl.  Dab the colour on in blotches to look more natural and leave to dry between layers.

6. shape and paint top frame 

Bend the top frame to the correct shape using pliers.   First 'show' the material where to bend by running a blunt metal edge along a straight edge along the pencil lines you drew on the underside of the pelmet buckram.  This makes the bend much sharper.  Make a few small careful bends in the wire rather than trying to do one big bend.

Curve the sides gently with your fingers.  Keep checking the top frame against the front section to ensure that angles and curves match.

top frame bent along pencil lines
into gable shape
(from the front)

top frame bent to gable shape 
(from the back)

I spay painted the top frame white to represent white linen. 

This should be done outdoors due to the toxic fumes; spread lots of newspapers underneath to protect surfaces, and leave to dry overnight.

In Tudor times the maids would disassemble the headdress for laundering and then re-make it. Pins or thorns held all the parts together. 

top frame
sprayed white
One large chrome press-stud was added at the top to affix the white linen layer to enable it to be removed for laundering and storage. 

Put a small blob of glue on the painted pelmet buckram and sew on the press-stud whilst the glue is wet.  This gives a really firm fixture.

view from the back
showing 'hair pins' position
7. Make the striped band

This covers up the hairline, though some portraits do show the hairline a little at the temples.  It also provides a good base to hold the headdress in place in comfort as you carry out your daily tasks.

Previously ladies may have plaited their long hair, bound it with a cord and wrapped the plaits around their head.

Lady Willoughby de Eresby, 1533
(another pic to be added)

Measure your head. 
Wrap the tape measure around your head and overlap at the front, going under the bump at the back of the head where it meets your neck.  Right or left can be on top.

Cut out a slightly curved piece of calico to this measurement  When it fits comfortably cut out in 2 layers of striped silk and one of wadding.
Sew on the inside, leaving a gap in one seam, and turn the right side out. 
Sew the overlap so it looks like the portraits.
At the centre back cut open the band and add two ties or elastic (depending upon the level of authenticity you require) so that you can put it on and adjust the fit over your pinned-up hair.

Underneath the silk band is a white linen cap that does not show. This is there to absorb sweat, dandruff etc and is easy to launder regularly.  
8. make fabric layers on top of the gable
white linen layer
Cut the white linen on the fold and add a strip of wadding to the folded edge.  This will give the slightly thickened look seen in the portraits.

Add decorative border and any decoration.

Fold the edge over to form a cuff and sew one press stud on the underside to match that on the top frame.

white linen pattern
(to be added)
decorative border
(to be added)
Add another two 'male' press studs to the top frame, using the 'glue then sew' method, and sew matching 'female' studs to the white linen. 
1. Check placing of the linen layer on the top frame and mark the fold position up the side for a press stud. 
2. Check the position of the fold against your own facial features (nose or lips) and sew press stud just above this fold position.
to be continued
black hood
Cut one circle in black fabric and a semi-circle in the wadding.  This wadding lining will give the stiffness that makes the folded-up black fabric at the back stand of the head out, rather than droop downwards. 
Machine sew on the inside, leaving a gap.  Snip the seam allowance along the curve.  Then turn through and sew up the gap by hand.

black hood pattern

folded hood at back of head
(Jane Seymour)
fix linen layer to black hood
to be continued
9. Put top frame and front section together

Make fabric hinges on top frame

Glue two pieces of calico or linen over the excess lurex fabric to form fabric hinges. 

When dry trim shorter.

 'hinge' on front section
glued onto excess lurex fabric
before trimming

Sew the fabric hinges and the 'hair-pins' in the appropriate place on the gable frame
to be continued
10. Fix striped band to the gable frame

Alternative methods are to either use press  studs or to sew the two together.
(add pics)
11. Assemble all the parts and admire your handiwork
(add pics of finished hood, on and off head)
12. Mystery bit
There is a white band that goes over the shoulder of all the ladies in the Sir Thomas More painting.  Noone seems to have worked out what this can be:
Maybe you have a good idea.  Please let me know.


Create the Mood 's costume craft workshops and practical demonstrations with have-a-go for adults and older children can be organised in the UK. You provide the people and the topic and Create the Mood organises everything else. Contact us to discuss your ideas.


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last updated 26 April, 2011