I wanted to start off my 1480s Florence costume with a Reta – a netted headdress. I figured I’d start off with a (hopefully wearable) mock-up with whatever I had in my ‘stash’, and if it worked out I could try something with more intentional materials.
There were a number of inspiration images to get me started, but the one I was most interested in was the The Birth of Mary portrait (detail)
This one is a much smaller version by the looks of things from the other portraits I’ve found online – going from the top of the head to the middle of the back of the head – but not covering up the low ponytail. For my ‘intentional’ version I think that black velvet ribbon and gold cord would work well – but I’m actually considering going with a silver colourway rather than gold for my own personal preference. (Though I haven’t seen any portraits that show silver…) This main inspiration image appears to be three black strips outlined in gold, connected with gold netting.
Additional inspiration images
There are also a lot of portraits showing a longer, looser Reta.
For example Portrait of a Woman by Ambrogio de Predis – probably c.1490 (from Milan) shows a knotted cord – it looks like soutache cord – with a square (rather than diamond) grid, held on with a golden ribbon tied at the side with a bow. The ribbon has pearls/beads on the end of the ribbon, and has (5?) decorations in two designs with dangling pearls. The Reta is edged with beads all around. Looking at how the colour of the beads changes when they are shown over her skin versus over her dark hair – I think the beads are actually clear, and not pearls.
Another portrait of a lady by Ambrogio de Predis has a longer Reta – though this seems to be an embelished fabric rather than a real Reta with knotted cord. This one is trimmed at the front with a dark ribbon edged in something golden, and perhaps very small beads (alternately some kind of whipped edge..) on the hem. I’m noting the headpiece here because although it’s the longer, looser style, it doesn’t have the ribbon headband- instead there’s a black chin strap. Vittore Carpaccio’s Meeting of the Betrothed Couple also shows a (perhaps fabric) headpiece without a headband – though the image isn’t close/clear enough to see if there’s a chin strap. (c. 1450-1525, Albanian painter in the Venetian school).
Largely I looked at Jen Thompson‘s Diary of a 1480s Florentine Gown, where she suggests that loose hair was worn by “unmarried maidens” however the small fitted cap is seen on the Birth of Mary portrait (on 14-year-old Lodovica Tornabuoni) but also on older women as well – suggesting that loose hair was not JUST for the unmarried. She made hers using three parts, with gold tatting thread over gold tulle, trimmed in gold gimp.
Additional references in a different style
Although I opted to make the smaller, fitted style (I’m still calling it a Reta though – perhaps it actually has a different name? I did see Wikipedia called it a “cap” in one portrait, but lots of things were called caps.) I thought I’d still make note of some other head dresses I found from other costumers.
- Lynn McMasters’ Reta – this hs a netted headdress in gold braid with pearl trim on all edges. It also has a headband to hold it in place.
- Premysl Polasek made a similar headdress in gold braid net with pearl edging. It is held on with a red/orange ribbon headband.
- Kristyna Lagova made a gold net headdress which appears to be edged with gold beads. It’s held on with a red ribbon headband.
- Another Festive Attyre (Jen Thompson again) has knotted gold cord, edged all the way around with large pearls, and a black (velvet?) headband with gold and pearl ornaments to hold it in place.
- Fyne Hats has a long Reta of knotted brown braid edged with gold-toned lace and glass pearls all the way around. The headband is ivory grosgrain ribbon with brass ornaments.
- Melody made one for her Milanese 1490 outfit of knotted gold cord edged in pearls, and held on with a golden ribbon with ouches.
Making of my Reta
I wanted my Reta to be very close-fitting, rather than the larger, looser variety. With this in mind I opted to get a shape of my own head, design a pattern based on the shape, and cut the pattern out from there.
1. Copying my head shape
This is a kind of goofy step – but basically I just wrapped my head with a thin plastic bag, and then wrapped it with wide masking tape. I didn’t want to build up too much bulk, so in most places just used one layer of tape. If my head form was the same shape as my head I could skip this, but it definitely isn’t – the foam head is way smaller than mine!
2. Drawing the design onto the tape
I roughly cut out the taped form, and then used a Sharpie to draw the design from my inspiration image (the The Birth of Mary portrait)
3. Cutting out the shape
I marked the pattern where I would be cutting it in order to match up pattern pieces, and then cut out the taped shape, then divided the pattern. The inspiration image suggested a two-part pattern, which I copied on my tape draft – and then cut them out.
4. Cutting pattern pieces out of water-soluble stabilizer
Using the tape pattern as my master pattern – I cut both pieces out of water-soluble stabilizer. I used Sew-Stable RinsAway Tearaway Embroidery Stabilizer. I transfered the match-up marks onto the stabilizer, and drew an even 1″ diagonal grid onto the stabilizer with pencil.
5. Couched cord onto the stabilizer
Using a zig-zag stitch, I couched gold cord along the diagonal lines on the stabilizer. I didn’t have enough of one kind of gold cord for the whole thing unfortunately, so I used two different materials. It’s actually pretty subtle in the finished version, but that puts it squarely into the ‘mock up category’ for me. Yes – this net should be knotted and not couched – but keeping the spacing even with knotting seems incredibly difficult and time-consuming… and this just seems a lot easier! I think from a reasonable distance the end result looks acceptable – and it allows for me to use the cord for such small, awkward shapes more effectively.
6. Trim the outer edges
I did a zig-zag stitch along the outer edges of each of the pattern pieces, and trimmed the stabilizer and any rough edges of cord on the outermost edges. In retrospect I should have done the same to all edges. After that I trimmed the edges which would be the outer edges of the Reta with a trim which is a black satin ribbon within a black braid with gold corded edges. I sewed the ribbon/trim with a narrow zig-zag on both edges.
7. Sewing the pieces together
Next I trimmed one of the remaining sides close to the zig-zag stitching. As I mentioned before, I should have trimmed up both sides. Oh well! I layered the trimmed side over the other, matching up the “notches” (which were just drawn on with pencil) and then hand-basted the two pieces together. This had to be done by hand because the stabilizer is pretty … well.. stable! (Plus it’s two convex curves – not super-easy to sew!)
8. Adding the central trim
This trim covers the center seam, and adds the third “rung” in the Reta attaching the two halves of golden net. This was sewn the same way as the other ribbon – with zig-zags on either side of the ribbon. This goes through the ribbon and the golden trim as well when it goes over. The stiff stabilizer makes the Reta stand out on either side for the time being in this photo – but that will be rectified soon!
9. Dissolving the stabilizer!
This is kind of the fun part… swirling the material around in water so the stabilizer dissolves. It can also be torn away from the stitching – but I’ve found that can kind of warp the stitches, so this works better. A bit of the stabilizer does remain – but only on the inside of the cap where it won’t be seen anyways.
10. Trimming the strays, and letting it dry
Because I didn’t trim the edges before attaching the central ribbon – once the stabilizer dissolved the strays were more obvious. I trimmed them off, and then put the Reta on my foam head form to dry. It fits the curve of the head very well, and I tried it on myself once it was dry, and it was a perfect fit! (I did put a tiny safety pin in the centre front to remind me which side was which though!)
Although I’ll likely use small pins to attach the Reta, I opted to use some black millinery wire along the front edge – attaching it the same way I’ve attached millinery wire for previous millinery projects. (See How to wire buckram for millinery.) I put the wire on the outside of the Reta though rather than the inside, as I’d be adding beads to the outside which would obscure it, and I didn’t want wire catching on my hair. (no photo available for this step)
I noticed that although my inspiration image didn’t have a beaded/pearled edge, that many others did. I couched a string of artificial pearls along the front edge of the Reta, just in front of the wire. I’m not completely thrilled with the results – but I think it’s good enough for the time being – particularly for my first go.
I love your work! Thank you so much for posting this. I had really wanted to make a reta but was at a loss, this was wonderful inspiration. I have finally finished making mine and wanted to say thank you! https://sites.google.com/site/elenasthreads/sewing-garb/1480s-ensemble—reta
That’s awesome! I love that you did the knotting – I like your technique! I picked up some thin gold-tone cord subsequently, and tried knotting…. with hilarious results (and not at all successful!) I might try your method if I get the chance 🙂
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