close up of purple cauls

Quick'n'Easy Cauls for 1300s-1400s Headresses:  Early Misconceptions and Later Imitations 

by Cynthia Virtue aka Cynthia du Pré Argent

We have an interesting issue, here.  

When I started work on updating this article (four years after the first version) I wanted to put in more original medieval images.  It's important that 1: I have a good idea of what I'm talking about and 2: that readers can see it, so that they may judge for themselves if I've done an OK job of interpretation.

However, it seems that "earmuff" type cauls for the period 1333-1350 ....  are a Myth or possibly, Misunderstanding.  I asked the Historic Costume List for help in finding these, and looked through a bunch of my art books.  We haven't found any medieval pictures that show them.  There are images of the total-hairnet sort, which might look a bit like cauls from the front.  Otherwise, historically, you can have buns on the sides (and possibly at the back) with netting over everything, and some sort of circlet or ribbon, or braided buns over the ears with no netting, but with veiling.  There seems to be no case for independent, stand-on-their-own engineered cauls (unlike 100 years later.)

Sorry the page is so wide, but I think the comparison warrants it.

Medieval examples

Medieval examples



A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away
all-over net
all-over hair net and circlet
Princess Isabella from Braveheart
cauls, wimple, veil, circletHere is Cynthia in these cauls, wimple, veil, and circlet.
Cauls from Star Wars Ep. 2
note the shape under the roll
1430 and 1440

I believe these are a self-contained structure that you can take on and off, not nets over hair.
Need good date for this!
Jean of Bourbon, died 1390, but I think it may be later than that date.
 another method of construction  This one is a single piece construction, but gives a similar look.  Details of construction for this one are on another page.
Pamela in hat and cauls
Pamelina poses for us in these cauls, and a stuffed-roll hat with turned dags.
I don't think there's any doubt that the costume designer was thinking about the medieval cauls, eh?

More about Herbert Norris's book

Norris's Medieval Costume and Fashion, reprinted in 1999 by Dover, was originally published in 1927 as Costume & Fashion, Volume II: Senlac to Bosworth 1066-1485.  Due to the printing technology of the time, redrawings were often the best way to present pictures, but this sort of interpretation of the old works tends to introduce errors.  Norris's sources for the cauls are listed as:

Queen, from the time of Edward II (figure 300, p. 215): The figures of "weepers" on the tomb of John of Eltham represented kings and queens, relatives of the deceased.  It is not certain which is Margaret of France, second queen of Edward I, but all the queens are robed in costumes such as this lady and her niece, Isabella of France, Queen of Edward II, would wear.  Figure 300 is a drawing constructed from some of these "weepers." [...] The headdress is that described under figure 263, surmounted by the royal diadem." (263 is a lady with braided buns at the temples, with a wimple, veil, and circlet.)

Until I can find pictures of these weepers, my conclusion, based upon being able to find no reliable medieval images of just the earmuff cauls, or cauls with wimple and veil, is that Norris is mistaken, or, possibly, that we costumers have mistaken Norris.  He actually doesn't say that the cauls were only over the ears, but his pictures look like it.  He does mention the whole-head caul.

My conclusion: earmuff cauls are a modern invention.  What they really had was netting over buns at the temples and possibly the back of the head, and this when draped with veils and wimple, looks like earmuff cauls.

That said, maybe you want to make some anyway.  Most of this article was written several years before the above search for proof.  Carry on!

Let's put our cards on the table: this is *not* the authentic way to make these things, even if they were a documentable style -- but this version *does* give a very good appearance at a few feet away. This is not to say that everyone agrees how they (the medieval folks) did make them; could have been something like this; could have been entirely of wire (I doubt it, myself; see me if you're curious why not) could have been trained gold-colored snakes. 

You can read my info on the Arnolfini hat to find out more, or read how to make a reticulated headdress, which is a related style.  The cylinder caul/crespinette must certainly be related, and it, at least, can be documented, although apparently somewhat different proportions.

So, with that dispensed with, let's get to work.  This is a good project for one evening while watching TV.  All of this is hand sewing, but it's easy.

You'll need:

This is how you do it:

Cut rough teardrops out of your underlying fabric, a bit larger than the forms.  Pin these to the forms, stretching the fabric to make it as smooth as possible.  I usually end up with two small pleats near the point of the cap; bias stretch makes the rest of it quite smooth over the forms.
Baste the fabric to the forms just inside the wire edge on the forms (this will mean about 1/4 inch from the edge.)
Trim the fabric so it is right at the outer edge of the forms.

Now, apply the gold netting.  If it is ribbon-style, apply the first strip along the center of the form, and tack it down by sewing.  Lay the next strip so that it appears to be a continuation of the structure of the first one.  Baste that down.  Use this process until the whole cap is covered.  Tack the edges of the netting down about 1/4 inch from the edge of the cap, so the ends don't frizz up when you trim them to the edge of the cap, just like you did with the under-fabric.

Now take the ribbon, and fold it over the edge of the form, so that it covers the raw edges of the net and the under fabric, as well as bending around the perimeter and going inside the form a bit.  You may want to pin it down, or not.  Sew this down neatly.

Lastly, use the remaing ribbon to make a span of ribbon between the two points of the juliet cap.  This will make it easy to keep on your head, but they will look like earmuffs, and your friends will tease you.  However, if they didn't do this, their cauls will be forever moving around, and you can laugh at them later.  Be sure the band is long enough -- on a largeish head there will be about 3" between the points.  Sew this down.  I am experimenting with a thin tie from the bottom of the caul that goes under the chin to stabilize them when worn under wimples.

You can add pearls, beads, and other trim as you like.   Wear it under a stuffed roll (also very easy) or other similar headgear.

Purple cauls, finished Two finished cauls.  Green glass beads, freshwater pearls, gold net, purple and gold ribbon covering purple bias binding at the edges.

This view also demonstrates how these cauls can double as your Halloween "Xena" costume.  They also work for The Fly's eyes.
close up of purple cauls Closeup of caul (click for large picture.)
How not to do it How Not to Do It: I started this pair sometime in the late 80s.  They're two strainers, and the gold is heavy couching thread, which is woven into the mesh, basketweave-like.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  The strainers weren't a bad idea, (they were the sort that came easily off the handle) but if I ever re-do them, they'll be completely covered by fabric *first* and then have netting applied.

All material © 1999 & 2003 Cynthia Virtue, except of course the movie photos
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