The Fretwork Veil


In the spring of 2005, I attended my first event in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA), an Ithra session of classes. I was nervous, excited, and absolutely convinced that I could not set foot at an event without a hat on my head.  And so I made a hat, which I loved. It was the first garment I constructed on my own. Later that spring, I came to an important realization while attending my second event, Glymm Mere’s Mayfair, a revelation that would influence my entire SCA experience.  What a fourteenth century English woman really needs is a veil…

…and the rest is history.

“Images of frilled veils are extensive and span from the middle of the thirteenth century until well into the fifteenth century (Newton & Giza, 1983). These veils start out with soft edges and with each passing decade become increasingly more elaborate in presentation and more numerous in layers.


Known by many names, (frilled, ruffled, crimped, goffered, kruseler, fluted, wrinkled, fretworked) veils are depicted in artwork, the stained glass windows of churches, stone statuary, and even woven tapestries. However, it is the burial tomb effigies and brass etchings, in their abundance, that offer the best look at the unique women’s head coverings of the late fourteenth century.


Catherine de Beauchamp’s Fretwork Veil
© Moriarty

I have long been drawn to the exquisite burial tomb of Catherine de Beauchamp. She wears a detailed and complex fretwork veil that is a thing of beauty. Born in 1314, Catherine Mortimer was buried as a Countess along-side her husband Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick after their deaths in 1369. Her effigy wears a spectacular headdress which consists of two veils. A simple (likely woven) frilled veil sits over the top of an elaborate 12-layer fretwork veil (Sturtewagen, 2006/2007). The fretwork extends to the back of the veil, as well.

Avena Foljambe
© Margaret Scott


While researching my previous veil projects, I developed a fascination with the idea of creating a fretwork veil. Catherine de Beauchamp’s veil became my inspiration. Avena Foljambe’s effigy headdress, described by Margaret Scott (1986) as a thick combination of fluted veils stylized into a fretwork, is another beautiful example of this medieval English style.

The veil, itself, is a rectangle long enough to be doubled. This allows sufficient length to fold it in half, sewing a seam in the center on the underside of the veil. My previous frilled veils were both semi-oval in shape, which was likely less common than a rectangular veil in the fourteenth century. For this reason, I was excited to try this new shape.

My early experiments indicated that it would be beneficial to slightly pleat the fretwork strips in order to increase the fullness of the fabric and allow the frets to open more easily when starched.

My initial plan was to fold the fretwork strips in half, with the crisp fold facing towards the front to provide a very neat appearance. However, upon examination of the pleating in the extant ruffs featured in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of fashion 4 (2008), it was clear that the linen had been hemmed on the front (outer) edge. Some of these ruffles were folded at the neckline, creating a multi-layer effect. As such, I decided to hem the outer edge of the fretwork veil strips, as well.

Pins for marking stitch placement.


Fretwork attached to veil.



A small portion of the starching sticks in place.


I conducted experiments in starching with both wheat and rice using the original sample fretwork piece that I had constructed. They provided some interesting results.

Due to the yellow/gold discoloration caused by utilizing wheat starch, I opted to starch the fretwork with a rice starch solution.

During my initial experiments in starching a fret strip, I tried pinning the frets open to dry after submerging them into the liquid starch. This process was difficult, did not result in crisp points on the frets, and basically starched small holes into the linen. For my next attempt at starching I made the decision to try using starching sticks. The idea was to fill the fret holes with something that would mold them into the proper shape while drying. Janet Arnold (2008) mentions the use of starching sticks and even displays two of them (reproductions) in Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women.


Completed Fretwork Veil
Photo by Gryphon Black

The completed fretwork veil at Kingdom Arts & Sciences.
Photo by Elisabeth Besancon

In the end, I was quite pleased with the results. 🙂

~ Cristiana

Arnold, J. (2008). Patterns of fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women. London: Pan Macmillan Ltd.

Newton, S. & Giza, M. (1983). Frilled edges. Textile History, 14 (2), 141-152.

Scott, M. (1986). A visual history of costume: The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. London, UK: B. T. Batsford Ltd.

Sturtewagen, I. (Winter 2006/2007). En kruset hoveddug: Catherine de Beauchamps hovedtØj.

Heraldic Sideless Surcoat (part 2)

After whip stitching the first two charges onto the dress, I decided to use a running stitch to attach the third (and final) charge. This meant that one of the patonce crosses was attached with a whip stitch and the other was attached using a running stitch. I wanted to see which would work better covered by the couching cord and which stitch worked better for sewing curves and points. While the running stitch was somewhat quicker, I found that I preferred to sew the whip stitch. To me, it felt like I had better control over the outcome with the whip stitch.

To finish all of the seams, I simply opened them up and sewed each edge flat out in opposite directions. This helped to remove some of the bulk that can form at the seams when two layers of coat-weight wool are sewn together.


The final step in preparing the surcoat to be worn, was to attach the brass plaques. After looking for these for several years, I was finally able to locate them. Because they were square, it was necessary to make certain they were precise and straight. At first I marked the center line on the fabric, but it was still too difficult to make certain the plaques were level to the ground. So instead, I marked the center line with tape and then placed tape at the outer edges of where the plaques should sit in parallel lines to the center line. This allowed me to mark spacing on the top and bottom. It worked well!

Now all that is left is to couch braided cord on the edges of the charges.

I had submitted my Arms for registration before beginning this project, I am pleased to report that they have now officially passed. That’s a relief!  🙂 

~ Cristiana

Bone & Pewter Paternoster

Bone and Pewter Paternoster

From my earliest days in the SCA, I have always loved Paternosters. There is just something beautiful and soothing about the beads; patterns and symmetry… I am always surprised by how under-represented these special items are in the society.

I acquired the bone beads to construct this Paternoster some time ago. This summer, I found the perfect pewter cross while at Pennsic – from none other than Billy & Charlie’s.

This is my new favorite thing.
~ Cristiana

Heraldic Sideless Surcoat (part 1)

For some time now I have wanted to construct a heraldic sideless surcoat made from wool.  Having recently finalized the design and submitted my arms for approval, this seemed like a great time to get started on this project.

I set out to draft a design that would represent my arms, but also work well as an item of clothing. After determining design, I was able to calculate the amount of red and blue wool that I would need for the project. What I didn’t realize at the time, was how difficult it would be to locate the correct colors in the same weight of wool. After purchasing 4 yards of a wool that ultimately would not work for this project, I finally found exactly what I needed at

The next big decision related to construction. I generally finish hems, cuffs, and necklines by hand, but sew long seams on a machine. My previous exceptions to this guideline have been for ruffled veils, which I have sewn entirely by hand. As I began to work with this wool, cutting out pieces, I recognized that I would enjoy working with this fabric and that it would make a great project to sew entirely by hand.

The next dilemma to be solved involved adding the charges of my heraldic design. I needed to find a source for both white and golden-yellow wool. After significant hunting, it was apparent that finding either of these colors would be extremely difficult. At that point I decided to look for 100% wool felt. I was able to find a really nice dealer on who sold generously sized wool felt squares in a wide range of beautiful colors.

Once I received the wool felt squares, I taped them to a wall and projected my two heraldic charges onto the fabric. This allowed me to adjust the size of the charges on my document camera and then easily trace the projected shapes onto the wool.

With the garment and charges cut out, I laid them out to begin the pinning process. After measuring and measuring to make certain that everything was straight, I whip-stitched the charges to the garment.

More to come…
~ Cristiana

Gerald is a Grey Goose

This last weekend brought a lovely cool winter day for Glymm Mere’s Yule Feast. Gerald and I were excited to enjoy a beautiful day with so many of our friends. Although when we left Huntington House that morning, we could not have imagined what a special day lay before us.

Gerald was called into Royal Court to receive his medallions for the top Thrown Weapons scores in An Tir for 2011. He had not expected to receive these and found himself caught off-guard, which was the perfect time to surprise him. Needless to say, he was astonished when The Crown asked him to kneel as the Royal Herald called the members of the Order of the Grey Goose Shaft.

This order has traditionally invited new members for their excellence in archery, but Gerald’s skills are found in the area of Thrown Weapons. That they have chosen to include him in their numbers, is a great honor.

Listening to our dearest friends speak on his behalf brought tears to Gerald’s eyes. (I had the perfect view of this.) The stunning 14th century style scroll that was presented to him, featuring images of our family, brought tears to mine.

What a wonderful honor for Gerald and an amazing surprise pulled off by some really phenomenal people. We are humbled by it all.

~ Cristiana

…Special Note – this brilliant scroll was designed and made by someone we don’t even know, Rowan Beckett Grigsby. What a gift!

Unveiling the Possibilities (Part 2)

After marking all 1200cm of veil tape, the pleats were made by placing a running stitch at each marker. Once the pleats were drawn up, the veil tape was attached to the veil with a simple whip stitch. Two stiches were used to attach each pleat.

I was extremely pleased that after all of the measuring and pleating, there was only about 5cm left of unused ruffle. The calculations turned out to be quite accurate. This veil drapes and moves differently than the first frilled veil that I made.

It has been an experience to learn to pin and display it in ways that I had not previously tried. I feel a special bond with this project, as it was my first well-researched creation.

And now for the next frilled veil… 😉

~ Cristiana



A Little ‘Red’ Wool Dress

I decided to acid dye the dress, as this could be done on the stove while I was preparing some food that would travel with us to the war.  This made for an interesting afternoon; stir the sauce, cover the sauce, stir the wool, repeat…  🙂

I am happy with the new red dress that Molly now has, and thankfully, she is happy with it, as well.  Hopefully, it won’t show quite as much dirt as its pink predecessor.  Huge thanks to Elisabeth de Besancon, who re-hemmed it (a bit shorter to avoid future issues) while I ironed (and ironed) our clothes for An Tir/West War.  I couldn’t ask for a better laurel.  Seriously, I couldn’t.  🙂

~ Cristiana