Knitted Tudor Caps

In a recent post on the Tudor and Stuart Fashion exhibition at the Queens Gallery I mentioned the Museum of London’s amazing collection of sixteenth-century caps.

There’s little or no archaeological context for most of these hats; they’ve probably survived the past 400+ years thanks to being thrown into the city cesspits by fashion-conscious Tudor workers and businessmen, as they adopt the latest style. In the 20th century they were uncovered by workman building the city business district as we know it today, and then gradually found their ways into the collection.

Portrait of Sir William Hewett (d. 1564), wearing a split-brim knitted and fulled cap.

In the anaerobic conditions of layers of city waste their wool and even dye have survived remarkably well. The construction details can still be seen and recreated: knitted on the round, the hat then went through the ‘toughening-up’ process of fulling (washed, beaten and felted) and knapping (raising and trimming the pile, for a velvety finish). Then the cap might be dyed a bright red or blue, colours that have long-since faded. Presumably, the finished product shrunk thanks to the felting process, so would have initially been knitted on a much larger scale. The resulting hats were extremely tough and waterproof, so could have fashionable slashes cut into them without fear of unraveling.

So here are a few examples, skimmed from the museum’s excellent online collection. Click on the images to access detailed individual records on the MoL site. All images © Museum of London