The Simple Wrap Around Wimple
The Hood-type Wimple
The 'Circle-with-Hole' Wimple
The Fillet
Literary Evidence


Back to top
   Contrary to popular belief, your wimpel need not be uncomfortable. Because of the lack of textile evidence, we have to use other sources, such as related finds, manuscript pictures and literary evidence to give us a picture of what people wore. This makes it so much easier to decide on something that is comfortable and yet looks right.
   Unfortunately, once married, all good Christian women (and most were Christian by this time) had to cover their heads. There are three possible reasons for this:
  • Practical - covering the hair would keep it out of the smoke that inevitably filled the houses, and kept it cleaner.
  • Safety - confining long hair (which all women had) in a wimple would reduce the risk of it catching alight while working over the fire.
  • Religious - the common belief was that the Holy Spirit of God entered the Virgin Mary through her ear and so it was important to keep the ears covered to guard against unwanted pregnancy!
Etheldreda, from London, BL MS Additional 49598, fol . 90v.
   The wimples shown in the art of the time are all voluminous looking things, covering the forehead, neck and coming down over the shoulders. They all have many folds in them where they pass over the head, which some interpreters have suggested, may be produced by the hair bundled on top of the head, to which the wimple could be pinned. As they are all fairly loose looking things (though in all cases except the vices no hair is visible), some form of fixing would be necessary, and this is indicated by a few literary references to 'haer-naedls' and 'feax-preons'. Literary references are also made to caps, 'cæppe' and 'hæt', the cap which could be worn under the wimple and have the wimple pinned to it. None of these names give us any clue to the shape of the garment in question, so we can use our own discretion, providing the result covers fore-head, ears, neck and part of the shoulder.
   From the manuscript evidence the wimple would appear to be made of the same fabric as the under-dress (as they are similarly coloured), which is linen. However, this needn't be the natural colour of the linen, but could be any colour available to that person's class.
Fig 1.  Etheldreda, from London, BL MS Additional 49598, fol . 90v.
 Most wimples are plain, although one illustration of a group of nuns from Barking shows the wimples with embroidered decoration over the forehead of lines, dots and circles. The nuns of Barking were reprimanded for the frivolity of their clothes, as those that had given their lives to God were supposed to shun luxury and live simple lives.
Heads of figures from London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 200, fol. 68v.
Fig 2.  Heads of figures from London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 200, fol. 68v.

   The head-band or 'fillet' was also worn by married women, either under the wimple, so the wimple could be pinned to it, or over the wimple (Fig 3), holding it in place.
   So far, there are three types of wimple worn by re-enactors:

  • the simple wrap around
  • the hood-type
  • the circle with hole
Woman with fillet, from London, BL MS Cotton Claudius B iv, fol. 76.
Fig 3.  Woman with fillet, from London, BL MS Cotton Claudius B iv, fol. 76.
   I have tried wearing all of these styles of wimple and they all work to a greater or lesser degree and they all look something like the manuscript pictures.
* Remember that the more fabric in your headgear and the deeper the colour, the richer you are. *

The Simple Wrap Around Wimple
Back to top

This could be any shape including rectangular, oval, trapezoid, parallelogram, semi-circular and triangular. It should be wide enough to cover from your forehead to the nape of your neck, at least, and there are varying lengths depending on the way it is worn. All of these styles could be worn with an under cap and a fillet (either under or over the wimple).

  • Long enough to go from left shoulder, over the head to the right shoulder, under the chin, back over the left shoulder and around the back of the neck to hang down in front of the right shoulder (Fig 4).
       Wearing this type of wimple requires at least two pins (Fig 5). The first one to hold the edge of the fabric that starts on the left shoulder to the part that goes under the chin and around to the back; the other to hold the edge of the wimple that drapes down over the right shoulder into the body.
Picture of me wearing a simple wrap-around wimpel taken in 1996.  © Rosie Monument 2001
Fig 4.  Picture of me wearing a simple wrap-around wimple taken in 1996.  © Rosie Monument 2001
Fig 5. Bone pin
  • Long enough to go from the top of one ear, under the chin, over the head, back under the chin to the top of the other ear.
       This type of wimple needs a fillet to tuck the corners of the wimple into at the tops of the ears. I have found this style works best with a triangular wimple, as there is less fabric to go under the chin. The point of the triangle needs to be long enough so that it covers from your forehead, down your back a-way.
  • Long enough to be laid over the head and have each end passed under the chin to the back and hang down far enough to be tucked in the belt at the back, or to be crossed over at the back and come back round to the front.
       This type of wimple needs to be very long in order to hang down the back, and so would be a reasonably rich garment.   
   All of these wimples can be made of either linen or wool (wool is obviously warmer, but a bit scratchy next to your face!) and they should all have hand sewn hems.
The Hood-type Wimple
Back to top
Queen Emma from London, BL MS Stowe 944, fol. 6.
   Based on the hood pattern in the Basic Guide (see 'The Vikings' website), without the pointy end. I have found this to be the most comfortable wimple to wear, as it does not involve any additional pinning or a cap or fillet. However, I like to wear a cap and fillet under mine as it looks more like the manuscript pictures that way and the cap keeps all my hair in.
   I favour making mine of linen and then if it is really cold I can put my proper woolen hood on over the top and it does not look too silly. The internal seams can be machine sewn, but the hems should be hand-stitched.
Picture of me wearing a hood-type wimpel, taken at a West Flegg Primary School's 'Meet the Anglo-Saxons' day.  © Rosie Monument 2001
Fig 6.  Queen Emma from The Encomium of Queen Emma - 11th century (London, BL MS Stowe 944, fol. 6.) Fig 7.  Picture of me wearing a hood-type wimple, taken at a West Flegg Primary School's 'Meet the Anglo-Saxons' day.  © Rosie Monument 2001
The 'Circle-with-Hole' Wimple
Back to top

   This is by far the most difficult wimple to wear, but also one of the most similar to the manuscript pictures. It is a circle of fabric with a hole cut non-centrally for the head. The hole needs to be just big enough to take the face and the back measurement should be from where the cloth sits against your forehead to the nape of your neck plus some. The hems should be hand stitched and it could be any colour within the character's range. This wimple works best in linen with either an undercap or fillet to which to pin it, but as it is a high class garment it could possibly be made of silk.
   How to put it on:

  1. put your face in the hole so that the greatest amount of fabric lies over your head and there is fabric covering your forehead
  2. tie a piece of string around your head to keep the wimple in place. (This will be removed later.)
  3. flatten the fabric at your forehead so that it lies neatly on your forehead and arrange into folds.
  4. take hold of the bottom edge of the wimple where it hangs down either side of your chin and pull these corners back and underneath the rest of the fabric, to the back of your neck and pin them. You could also pull the fabric from the back to the front and let it hang decoratively.
Philosophia, from Cambridge, Trinity College MS 0.3.7, fol. I.
Fig 8.  Philosophia, from Cambridge, Trinity College MS 0.3.7, fol. I.
   This is a difficult wimple to work in as the fabric tends to blow around annoyingly. This seems to suggest that it was worn by the upper-classes, supported by the fact that manuscripts generally depict this class of society and this is the wimple most of them wear.

The Fillet
Back to top
   The fillet or headband seems to have been a characteristic of married, non religious women at this time and some were sufficiently valuable to be bequeathed in wills (see Literary Evidence). They began as simple, long lengths that tied round the head and developed into stiffer continuous bands .
   They were commonly a strip of fabric, which could be embroidered, the richest ones being embroidered in silk and gold threads. Tablet-weave bands could be used, but remember that the Vikings favoured tablet-weave and our Society prefers you not to use it if you are a Saxon. For the very poor or slaves a simple leather thong or piece of cord would suffice.
   The easiest way to make a fabric headband is to take a strip long enough to go round your head with enough spare to tie at the back and twice the width you want it. Fold it in half, and iron the edges under, then simply running stitch along the edges. I have found the most comfortable width to be about 1 inch. If you make it too narrow it will dig into your head and leave you with a strange mark and a headache.
Fig 9. Various fillets. Left to right: tablet-woven, fabric and leather thong.

Literary Evidence
Back to top

   There are many words describing head-dress and related items, wimpel 'a head-dress', being the most common. Other words are heafod-gewæde 'a head-dress, probably a veil worn by women' and scyfel 'a woman's hat or hood, probably with a projection which shaded the face'.
    In the will of a woman named Wynflæd, several items of head-dress are referred to; cuffian and bindan 'head-dress and head-band' and to another woman, named Coelthryth, who was attached to a convent hyre betseth haliryft and hyre betstan bindan 'her best holy veil and her best fillet'.
   There is a document called the Indicia Monasterialia, which is a record of signs used for communicating in a monastery where the inhabitants had taken vows of silence, and this tells us that married non-religious women wore a fillet.

'For any unconsecrated woman the signis that thou [indicate] with your foreward fingers
thine foreward head from the one ear to the other in a bands sign'

   There are words relating to other items which could be used about the head also. Hær-nædl, feax-preon and thrawing spinel meaning 'hair-pin', and cæppe or cappa meaning 'a cap'


© Rosie Monument 2001
Return to 'C & T Guides' Menu
Back to top