Mid 15th Century “Henin”, woven from flat reed

Examples Of Mid 15th Century Style Hats From Period Art.

WEYDEN, Rogier van der
Portrait of a Woman
c. 1464
Oil on oak panel, 36,5 x 27 cm
National Gallery, London

Fulk of Anjou Marries Queen Melissane(detail)
French c. 1460
Guillaume de Tyr. Historie de la Conquete de Jeusalem.
MS. Fr. 2629, fol. 167, Bibloteque Nationale, Paris Medieval Women’s Calendar 6/1999

English woman,
drawing of brass rubbing of Anne Players,
1479 (Payne, 254)

Hugo van der Goes
The Portinari Triptych
Oil on wood
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The Henin The most popular hat in the mid to late 15th century is called in the SCA a henin, this is a 19th century term, the term used in the period was most likely atours, this word in modern French means finery.

The henin style of hathad a cone shape that could be truncated or come almost to a point, but never perfectly pointed. It was worn at the front edge of the hair line with the back of the hat coming to a bit over the ears. The hat could be anywhere from a short 6 inches tall just covering the back of the head with a flat top, to the full very long, approximately 30 inches, steeple style. Often sheer white silk veils were draped over the henin. The length of the veils varied from shoulder to floor length. Sometimes the veil was worn under the hat and then out through the opening at the end, not like a poof of fabric. The opening seems to be wide enough for the veil to lay along the back edge of the circular opening and drape down from there. Other times the veils were draped in layers over the hat in stunning fashion, as in the butterfly henin. To achieve this style two wires are attached like antennae to the front of the hat. The wires suspend the veil in a high floating position.
The truncated versions commonly had a line of decoration along the bottom edge, probably couched embroidery or beadwork embroidery. There is one instance of a decorated steeple style henin; it was Maria Portinari’s hat in the painting “The Portinari Triptych” by Hugo van der Goes c. 1476-79. This hat was decorated in pearls with T’s and M’s; her and her husband’s initials. Other times beautiful jeweled pendants were pinned to the hat. This addition of jewels can typically be seen on the lappet style henin and the truncated style as well. Another variation for the henin was the addition of a lappet of black fabric, possibly velvet, at the front of the hat. This extra fabric could be short, to the bottom of the ears, or long enough to cover the shoulders. This addition could mark the transition to the “Anne of Brittany hood”, the popular headdress of the next fashion in the late 15th century and early 16th century.

The Little Black Loop; How To Get The Hat To Stay On Your Head.

Looking at many images of these tall hats worn in the period you see a strange little black loop on the forehead. There are also depictions of women wearing bands with the forehead loops without wearing a hat. The theory is this loop kept the hat from sliding back on the head by providing a counter balance point. The loop also may have been attached to the hat itself rather than to a separate band. The trick to the loop and band is that the wire is not just placed along the bottom edge of the band the wire is placed at the top edge of the band with a longer loop than you see inside the band for extra stability. When the wire is directly sewn to the bottom edge of the band the loop simply flips up when pressure is applied to it. A suggested type of wire to use is small gauge piano wire, not coat hanger wire. Coat hanger wire is much too hard and it is painful to wear, the piano wire is more flexible and very comfortable. For extra stability the very tall steeple henin’s may have also been pinned in the back to the lady’s hair worn in a high bun under the hat.

Henin Construction Theories

There are no extant hats from this era that I am aware of, therefore the construction of this type of hat is unknown. There are two popular theories on construction of these hats. The first is that that they were made from stiffened fabric or wool felt with hoops of wrapped wire for support. The second popular theory is that these hats were woven from reeds similar to baskets. To support this woven theory there are several depictions of men’s hats from this time period that are woven from some sort of straw or reed. The lower class men and women from this time also were also depicted wearing straw hats while working in the fields. The woven basket method works very well with ¼ inch wide flat reed. It is much easier to get an even cone shape weaving the hat from the point to the head opening. It is challenging to free form weave the hat to be the desired length with the correct size opening for the head at the same time. To simplify this problem, the hat could be woven over a form of some kind, a rolled up piece of poster board would be a practical solution. In the book the history of costume by Payne she mentions that sugar came in cones similar in shape to the henin, the molds used for sugar could have also been used as forms to weave this style of hat. This method of weaving that hat over a solid form would make the woven construction of the hat very simple and fast. The Italian hat the Balzo a contemporary of the Henin seemed to be woven from willow.


Boucher, Francois, 20,000 Years of Fashion
Herald, Jacqueline. Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500. London: Bell and Hyman, 1981.
Evans, Joan; Medieval French Dress
Davenport, Milla; The Book of Costume
Huston, Mary; Costume in Medieval France 14th and 15th Centuries
Medieval Women’s Calendars (1992 - 2002)
Payne, Blanche; History of Costume; Second Edition
Scott, Margaret; A Visual History of Costume; The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
Thames and Hudson; The Age of Van Eyck; The Mediterranean World and Netherlandish Painting 1430 -1530

Examples of hats woven with 1/4 inch flat reed.
Country Seat (basketry supplies)
Yahoo Group for SCA Basket weaving

This I start with a ring of reed the size I want the hat opening at the top to be, to make the ring I close a piece of reed wrapped closed with thread.Then I attach an odd number of bents to the ring with thread to hold them in place.Use strong thread, like craft or button threadThe thread tends to break a lot.It is important to always have an odd number of bents so that at the beginning of a row the over under pattern will work out.

Weave a couple of rows of reed, and when it holds itself together I take the thread and the ring out. At this time will also adjust how many bents I have It is good to have a bent about every inch, remember to add bents in pairs to keep the number odd.

As I keep weaving to make the hat grown in size I push back an inch of reed at a time then I even out the extra reed by smothing out the reed and gently squeezing the hat in my hands. Once the diameter starts to grown more you’ll need to push back more and more reed every row. 

Keep going until the hat is the size you want. When the reeds get loose as the diameter increases add new bents two at a time on opposite sides. If you are wearing a band and loop under the hat remember to make the hat big enough to fit over the band. You can also attach a loop right to the hat by weaving the wire up into the inside of the hat in the reed.

When I have the hat the size opening I need to fit on my head I add a row of 3/4 reed for stability at the lower edge.  I finish off the ends of the hat by cutting the extra reed off the main bents leaving about 2 inches.  I turn these ends back over the 3/4 inch reed and weave them inside the hat.

The finished truncated henin. At this point I will cover the hat in fabric. I will use a layer of wool draped on the bias as a padding layer then I will add a decorative layer over that.

Steeple Henin