Bigouden headdresses – confection


In Brittany, an embroiderer uses the ancient techniques to make the superb traditional white and light headdresses. In a first article, she told us about her journey. Here, she describes the steps to embroider and make a headdress. Welcome to Bigouden country!

Text and photos (© protected) by Nadine Chaminand

The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire

Pattern research
I started by copying the headdresses of my grandmothers. Then, always looking for new models, I collected photocopies of headdresses around me. I also spent a lot of time at the Bigouden Museum.

Laces on tulle 3 cm wide which accompany a small headdress on tulle – 1900 period

In the past, embroiderers would spot the most beautiful headdresses (by standing behind them at mass, for example), memorize the patterns they liked and copy them when they got home, while changing a little something or adding other patterns. Today, I am doing the same thing, but with the modern means at my disposal. And then, by dint of doing it, I ended up getting imbibed by the patterns that correspond to each era. I sometimes mix different patterns that I like. I also try to bring my personal touch to it while respecting tradition (floral motifs arranged according to certain rules).

Copy of a 1930s headdress, embroidered on Swiss organdy

How I embroider and make the headdresses
I always embroider on cotton, because the headdresses need to be washed and/or boiled. Depending on the period of the headdress, I work on batiste (from 1890 to 1920), on linen (1920s), on tulle (periods from around 1890 to 1930), or on Swiss organdy (so-called latest fashion headdresses: the highest ).
I also use cotton of course: DMC embroidery cotton n ° 12, 16, 20, 25, 30 and 35, and special cord n ° 100, 50 and 30. The higher the cap, the heavier the threads, so that the starch can cling to the material.

The headdress embroidery technique, at least for those of the latest fashion, is quite close to that of Richelieu embroidery. Here is how I do it.

Work in progress on cotton batiste / We can clearly see here the anchor stitches to hold the 3 layers, and the work of the needle which slides on the paper to embroider the fabric.

1 – After having marked the vertical middle of my tracing sheet, I draw a half cap, as well as the central patterns. I carry over the side that I drew in mirror to the other side. It is important that the patterns are perfectly symmetrical, otherwise the headdress – when finished – could look askew on the head.

2 – I make a photocopy of my tracing paper and I put it on an oilcloth or vinyl-type wallpaper support (in the past, embroiderers often used pieces of used oilskins from fishermen, or several layers of paper). I put the tulle or organdy on the paper. The three layers are built together with sewing thread, with a multitude of running stitches, so that the fabric does not slip. The support must be strong while allowing the work to be rolled in the hand.

3 – I start the embroidery (taking only the fabric) and I follow my patterns through transparency. I pass a tracing thread (cotton à broder) in running stitch on all the contours of the patterns, but taking very little fabric. Indeed, leaving as much as possible this tracing thread on the surface allows to give relief to the satin stitch when finishing. After tracing, I use a special cord to make all the spiders, barrettes, bigoudens eyelets, etc … which hang in the tracing thread. Then comes the satin stitch (or scallop on the edge of the base of the headdress) for all finishes.

4 – When the embroidery is finished, I detach the fabric from its support, and on the reverse side, I cut out all the surfaces that must be perforated. The transparency of the fabric allows (in the best of times…) not to cut a spider’s leg.

5 – The headdress will then be mounted on a small strip of cotton of about 40 cm by 2 or 3 cm, pleated very tightly, so as to bring it down to 6 cm by 2 or 3 cm. This is what will give the headdress its rounded shape.

6 – Finally, the cap is bleached and starched, thanks to a mixture of raw starch and cooked starch (wheat starch, rice starch, paraffin, beeswax, water and linen blue).

Thank you Nadine for this wonderful testimony!

Detail of a large 30 cm headdress embroidered on Swiss organdy