Henin in the style of the Woodville portrait

For Caterina’s elevation, I’m helping a friend of hers to make a new outfit. This is based off the dress of Elizabeth Woodville, and the outfit includes a hat (which coordinates with the collar and cuffs from the dress, but is not the same fabric according to the portrait…)

Direct link from Art.uk

From the portrait, the hat appears to be a henin with a butterfly veil. I don’t know if the recipient would do the veil, so I’m focusing just on the henin. It seems to have a very shaped band at the face, and only a VERY slight taper to the crown, so that’s what I’m going to try to make.

Using the portrait as reference to develop the henin pattern

Using the portrait as reference to develop the henin pattern

I used the portrait when drafting the pattern for the henin. The hat sits further back on the head, so I measured her head at the hairline rather than the crown, made a band to that measurement, and then at centre-front added the front dip. I’ll be wiring this, and hopefully can slightly curve it to her head, which should help keep the hat on. I made it fairly narrow, but perhaps slightly thicker than the portrait (?) so that I can fit a tiny comb or loops for bobby pins in there to help keep it on her head.

Next I sketched in the curve upwards, and then slashed ever 2″ over the centre front and towards the back, and overlapped the pieces by 1/8 of an inch for a VERY small taper.

A tiny taper to the top of the henin

A tiny taper to the top of the henin

The curve upwards in the band didn’t need much smoothing since the taper didn’t really affect the curve at all, so that stayed as I had originally sketched it.

I measured the tip circumference, and used geometry (hey! it has a use after high school!) to figure out the radius of the circle, which I used a protractor to draw.

Both of these pieces I cut out of non-water-shapeable buckram, cutting the tip out of two layers for extra strength, and the centre front dip out of a double-layer too. This should help support the wire if I decide to make this a butterfly henin after all.

buckram base with extra support at centre-front

buckram base with extra support at centre-front

The foam headform actually has a very similar head size to the woman who will be getting this -hurrah! Showing the buckram band on the form, shows that the front tip will definitely need to be wired to get the right shape (which I was planning to do) so next… wiring!


I used the same technique I’ve used before to wire the buckram.

I used buttonhole twist thread, and millinery wire which is a covered wire (the thread covering seems to ‘grip’ the stitching better than just using ordinary smooth wire). I wired the top and bottom of the band, marking the centre front and back, and then moved onto the tip….


I did the tip in two layers of buckram, sewn together with a zig-zag stitch on my machine. I snipped the ‘curve’ of the circle, and marked the centre front and back here as well. I then reduced the seam allowance down to one layer of buckram, folded over the ‘tabs’ on the tip, and hand-sewed the tip to the band, over the band’s wire.


Normally I would pad the outside of the hat with cotton batting or flannel to soften the edges and hide the wire, but the brocade fabric that Caterina donated to the cause has a significant texture, and is fairly stiff – plus the portrait suggest quite a structured (not soft) hat, so I opted not to pad the hat.

I sewed up the hat (band and tip) in the red brocade (which will also make up the collar and cuffs on the completed costume) on my machine, and then lining from black dupioni silk. The outer fabric was pulled over the buckram, and stitched down along the edge with long basting stitches. I inserted the lining and basted it too.

From there I cut, sewed, and pressed red brocade into bias strips, and sewed the strip onto the edge of the wired band by hand.

Sewing the bias strip to the hat band at the wired edge by hand

Sewing the bias strip to the hat band at the wired edge by hand

Then I turned and sewed down the bias strip inside of the hat, and hand-stitched it down in place to the lining. (I really could have used a curved needle for this one!)

Stitching the bias down inside of the hat

Stitching the bias down inside of the hat

Shaping the wire

The wire at the tip of the hat is fairly easy to smoothly shape with a little gentle pressure. I used the foam hat form to give it shape, and hope that the wearer will find it fits – or be able to gently shape it to her own forehead curve when she gets it.

Rotating the hat forward and backward - it doesn't fall off the head form!

Rotating the hat forward and backward – it doesn’t fall off the head form!

The dip in the front has a very useful trait once well-shaped to the forehead too…. it seems to balance out the henin very nicely so it doesn’t tip forward or back, despite being otherwise worn quite far back on the head. I’ll still recommend the wearer stitch in loops for clips or combs – especially if she’ll be running around a lot while wearing the hat – but I’m hoping that the way the hat fits the foam head is a good representative of how it will fit her too!

7 comments on “Henin in the style of the Woodville portrait

  1. Josephine Washington says:

    Thanks, great description. In those days what do you think the diaphonous veil was made of? What are you going to use? Thanks for sharing.

  2. […] I made the truncated hennin for Kadie in 2016, I really liked the way it fit (on my foam head.. not my head -her head is smaller than […]

  3. Nicoline Wysynski says:

    what was the Henin made from in 1437?

    • Dawn says:

      I don’t know. To the best of my knowledge, no extant hennins have been found to allow for examination. However, even other fabric hat (vs leather, or knitted, or felted, etc) descriptions on museum sites – rarely include what the support is. For instance they’ll say “velvet hat with silk lining and stiffened brim” but they fail to indicate HOW the brim was stiffened – is there an interior structure? (likely) Is it stifferend with sizing on the velvet? (super unlikely). I’ve tried a few different alternatives, all which I think are plausible (stiff fabric, sized canvas, etc) I’ve also seen people use basket weaving to create the underlying structure, and others rely entirely on wrapping braided hair with fabric. These seem less practical to me, but those creators have their reasoning as well which are worth considering.

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