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May 08

The Making of a Scottish Kertch

Eventually, I’ll write a post about this whole project, but for now, I figured I’d at least post a bit about the head covering I’m wearing to my next event.

Before I’d even thought about what I’d be doing with my hair, a friend mentioned that many married Scottish women continued to wear a kind of kerchief as a head covering well into the 18th century.  That sent me off onto a bit of research which lead me to an essay by Mara Riley entitled “Before the Clearances: 17th and 18th Century Scottish Costume.”  About three quarters of the way down the page she includes detail images from a painting by David Allen entitled “A Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl.”  The fourth image down ended up being my favorite image of those I came across, so I decided to attempt to reproduce that look, even though it’s a good 40 years later than the event I’m planning for.

The first thing I noticed was that this particular version of the kertch definitely seems to consist of two parts–roughly a folded square over some sort of under cap.  Since it was much clearer what was on top, I decided to play around with that first, especially since I already have a large square scarf in my wardrobe.

Problem 1: My current scarf, at 39″ square, was too large.  If tied under my chin, the sides were too long to look like my inspiration image.  In my research, I discovered suggestions that the kertch should be exactly one yard square.  My issue with a blanket statement like that is that everyone is a different size, even our heads!  In the modern day head covering community, many of us lament that we have too large a head for scarves to wrap and tuck nicely as they do for other women.  I could really use an extra three or four inches on all my scarves.  Yet, wearing my scarf with a long tail hanging down looks a little odd and overwhelming on my 5’3″ frame.  I’d imagine that these same differences of size and proportion would have plagued our ancestors as well and that a woman would have tailored her kertch to her size, proportion, and sense of style.

Problem 2: What on earth did this woman do with the tails?!  Typically, this type of scarf leaves rather long tails from the diagonal part that is draped over the head.  If tied at the nape of the neck, tails left down can still be seen; alternately, they can be tucked into an under cap or wrapped back over the head to create a sort of band.  This last seems to be the preferred style for reenactors.  When tied below the chin, the tails should quite visibly hang down in front, which you don’t see in this image.

It’s possible that the kertch was tied and then the tails somehow tucked up behind.  I’m not entirely sure how they would be secured (they probably aren’t long enough to tie again behind the neck without being uncomfortably tight or bulky) or if that just wouldn’t be an issue–who cares if they come untucked.

Problem 3: The knot.  What knot?  There is almost no bulk at her neck.  It could be artistic license (was a great big bulky knot at the neck ever considered flattering?) or it could be a very fine fabric or it could possibly be pinned.

Problem 4: The part that I loved the most was also going to prove challenging, that adorable little fold that gracefully angles from the back of the head to under the chin…while the front edge of the kertch is caught underneath at a completely different angle.  This suggests that the front edge (with the tails) is secured somewhere other than under the chin!

My Solutions

Problem 1: Through trial and error, I eventually discovered the size square that gave me the proper look of the inspiration image by sort of working my way down from the 39″ one I currently own.  I suppose I could have used math, but that is most certainly not my forte; one I realized that I was NOT looking for the measurement of the diagonal of the square, but some other odd angle further back, I was completely out of my depth and resorted to cutting down a large square until it worked.

Problem 2: Part of this particular problem for me was that I didn’t quite have the right fabric in my stash.  I have a cotton voile that is probably the right weight, but doesn’t have the correct drape or hand to it.  I don’t have any fine wool, and my finest linen is just a tad too heavy.  I ended settling for the linen with the internal bargain that when I eventually invest in some nicer linen, I will remake my kertch.

Since I was using a heavier fabric than I think my inspiration image was, I decided that the tails would have to go.  I did not come to this conclusion lightly.  I sat in front of that mirror for a good half hour trying to figure out where those silly tails might have gone.  Everything I tried with my fabric either left me feeling like I had a boa constrictor around my neck or did not give me the proper drape and angles.  There was nothing for it but to get everything else looking the way I wanted it to, and then to chop off the tails.

Surprisingly, this didn’t give me as odd a shape as I thought it might.

Problem 3: Easy. With this fabric, it’s going to have to just be pinned, and even then, it isn’t going to look as dainty as it does in my inspiration image.

Problem 4: This is where it got really tricky.  At first, I thought the tails might actually be tied at the nape of the neck, which would also have been a neat little solution to the tail issue, and that the fabric then draping down was brought around and pinned in front.  This solution ended up being very tight around the neck; there just wasn’t enough fabric draping across the back to then be pulled around to the front and still drape nicely over the shoulders.

Next, I tried pinning the front in place and then pulling a section further back to the front to pin.  However, once I got the pins low enough to be covered by the fold, I was back to the same problem as tying behind–pinning that low trapped too much of the fabric down so that I no longer got the nice flair over the shoulders.

What seemed to work best, given my fabric, was to carefully tuck the front edge under as I brought the folded fabric around to the front.  I still feel like the drape is a bit off and not quite the right shape from the front, but it is definitely close and might be even better in a finer linen.

I purposely left the under layer for last, partly because I thought I knew for sure that it was simply a coif, that it would be easy enough to find a pattern for one, and yet would still take a bit more time and be a bit more fiddly.

Once I really started to look at coif patterns, though, I realized that very few of them come so far down on the forehead as in the inspiration image.  In fact, I couldn’t find any that came down beyond the hairline, which meant that what I originally thought would just be a little bit of tweaking was going to take a bit more effort.  However, in my search for coif patterns, I stumbled upon a page about coifs on The Marquess of Winchester’s Regiment in which the author describes the use of something called a “cross cloth.”

So, okay, the webpage is focused on head coverings from a hundred years earlier, but considering that the Scottish head coverings of the 18th century are already far out of fashion elsewhere, it might stand to reason that the cross cloth style of garment might have carried forward as well.

The beauty of the cross cloth is that it is an incredibly simple yet essential element of head covering, similar to what head covering women still use today.  No matter how simple or elaborate the wrap, there is always a firmly attached, grippy cloth headband that keeps everything in place.  Today, we use stretch velvet that fastens with velcro, but linen also has a bit of tooth to it that, as I discovered, can also serve to keep a larger, heavier head covering in place.

So, the cross cloth is a simple triangle of fabric with ties to fit the head.  I made mine as a square that was hemmed into a triangle because I didn’t want a stitching line right across my forehead.  Then I just sewed cotton twill tape to the corners for the ties.  Even with upper part of the kertch sitting so far back on my head, it felt very secure.

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