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Embroidered Linen Forehead Cloth,  English, ca.1610

English, ca. 1610

Triangular in shape and lavishly embellished, a forehead cloth—also called a cross-cloth or crosset—was a feminine accessory sometimes worn with a coif, an informal type of cap. Rare after the mid-seventeenth century, forehead cloths first appeared in conjunction with the coif around 1580; embroidered with patterns to match, they were worn around the forehead and draped over the coif with the point facing backwards. Though the occasions on which a lady might wear a forehead cloth are not fully known, it seems that they were used for bedside receptions and in times of sickness. In his 1617 travels through Ireland, English author Fynes Moryson observed that, "Many weare such crosse-clothes or forehead clothes as our women use when they are sicke."

The remarkable embroidery seen here shows the practiced hand of a professional. Much fine needlework was accomplished domestically in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, but there were also workshops and skilled individuals that catered to the luxury trade. The Broderers’ Company, an organization for professional needleworkers, was founded under Royal Charter in 1561; specialists were also retained for wealthy private households, and journeymen embroiderers were hired as necessity demanded. Distinctly Jacobean, this pattern was possibly inspired by one or more plates in Thomas Trevelyon’s Miscellany, a compilation of embroidery designs published in 1608.

In comparison with other known examples, this forehead cloth is noteworthy for its symmetrical disposition of interlaced scrolls, expertly worked with metallic silver-wrapped threads in an unusual variation of compound loop stitching. The graceful curling stems terminate in vividly shaded pansies, marigolds and strawberries; two confronted birds, eager to taste the ripe fruits, perch on the substantial metallic framework. Silver sequins, each anchored with a tiny pink knot, are strewn across the linen surface, imparting brilliance to the sophisticated design. Not wanting to waste any materials by cutting through existing embroidery, this artisan completed the needlework only to the edges of the required design—especially evident in the working of the incomplete birds, at top and bottom corners.

Though there are documented examples where both components are still in an attached state, forehead cloths are most often found disassociated from their coifs. This unique forehead cloth is undoubtedly the mate to a coif worked with the identical pattern in the Museum of London collection (MOL A6046).

8" H x 17" W

Embroidered Linen Forehead Cloth,  English, ca.1610
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