Spangles seem to have been a popular addition to the dress of upper class women (and some men) during the late 15th and early 16th century. While the spangles could be sewn directly on to items, it made a lot of sense to incorporate them into some sort of cord, and then stitch, weave or plait these onto other objects. One example of these spangled cords being stitched to the spine of feathers can be seen here:
Lucas Cranach the elder, c.1530, Portrait of Judith with the head of holofernes (full painting and detail). There are also other portraits where it looks as if the spangles have been sewn directly to the feather.
Other uses included weaving or plaiting them into women’s hair (quite popular in Swabia in the 1470s-90s), seen in the picture below:
Detail from: Master of the housebook, c1480, a pair of lovers. Note the spangled cords wrapped around her plaits.
The great thing about this little project is that it’s super quick and easy to do, and very effective when used – who wouldn’t want more bling and sparkle to an upper class Swabian or Saxon outfit? There’s nothing quite like candlelight glinting off spangles woven through your hair or little flecks on the feathers catching the light.
My set were made in a rush so I was looking for a quick and easy way to make them. You can see a pic of me wearing them below with a gefrens (neck fringe) and haarband (hairband):
And here’s a couple of pics of them laid out flat:
As you can see, there’s not a lot to them! Mine were made of gold-wrapped thread, of a similar style to the stuff which was available in period (where a thread core was wrapped with a long flattened piece of metal), plaited with spangles pushed up and secured at regular intervals.
- Spangles, preferably oval, teardrop or slightly elongated (mine resembled little leaves and were pre-bought, but you can make your own),
- thicker thread (metallic thread of silk thread are really lovely for this project).
- threadholders or little bobbins (like lace making bobbins) are useful, but not really crucial, you can always just wrap the thread around little pieces of cardboard or something like that. The weight helps o keep the tension on the threads, and wrapping the thread around them keeps it from tangling.
- Something to secure the plait to while working is useful (I used my lace making pillow), but you can just as easily use a chair cushion or the like. It just makes it easier to control the tension of the plait and push the spangles up into the right spot.
- sewing thread, extra thread if you are doing the version with the feathers, to match the colour of the feathers (or the cord).
Spangle strands for hair
In order to figure out how long I needed to make my spangle cords for my hair, I plaited my hair and measured the length of the plait, then added an extra little bit to take into account how I intended to wear them (for example, wrapped around versus plaited). The finished measurement of my set ended up just over 46cm long.
I loaded up three lacemaking bobbins with a strand each, and threaded an equal number of spangles onto each. I tied them together at the top of the threads, and pinned this to the lacemaking pillow for stability. From here, I started to plait, counting the number of times I put the bobbins/strands over one another. When I reached a certain number of times (which is dictated by how far apart I wanted my spangles to be), I pushed a spangle up on the left side, did another six, then pushed a spangle up on the right side. I alternated these so they’d look even once I was done.
Once I reached the required length, I pushed a spangle up to the centre, and tied the plait, cutting the excess off. I then gently brushed the spangles into a downward position. It was rather cute really, they sort of resembled little gold vines!
To wear them, I pushed a bobby pin thorough the top, plaited my hair, pinned them at the top of the plait and then wrapped the spangles done the plait, securing them with bobby pins as I went, then secured the plaits at the top of my head. I wrapped them around the next plait in the opposite direction.
An alternative is to use two spangle strands per plait and criss-cross them over the plait, or use three strands and plait the strands in as you plait your hair, or weave them through the plaits once the hair is already plaited. The best thing is to just have a play and see what style you like the most.
I’ve included below several pictures, some of women wearing spangles in their plaits, others, of women with cord (sans-spangles) wrapped around in different configurations, to give you an idea of the possibilities (not to mention the other headwear that couple be paired with these).
Left: Master of the MASTER OF THE STALBURG PORTRAITS, detail from Portraits of Claus Stalburg and Margarethe vom Rhein 1504. Hers could be a netted haub, or it could be strands criss-crossed over one another.
Right: details from Hans Part, Babenberg Family Tree, 1489-93. Can’t quite tell how the spangles are woven in here, but the steuchlein she is wearing with it is gorgeous!
Left: Martin Schongauer MS.4thCleverVirgin(BMcatG48) – Not spangled, but note the way the cord is wrapped around her plaits.
Right: Hans Part, Babenberg Family Tree (detail), 1489-93. Note the way the cord is wrapped through her (possibly) false hair, and the addition of a spangled feather!
Two similar ways of wearing cords around plaits, only with different headwear. Its possible that these were wrapped around plaits in order to secure them at the top of the head.
Left: detail from pair of lovers, Master BXG, Germany.
Right: detail, c. 1500 Master of the Rottal Epitaph Old Gallery of the Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz.
Cords for feather spines
For the spangled cord for the feather, I first measured the length of the feather’s spine, from the base of the fluffy section of the feather, up to the point where the spine didn’t look like it could take much more weight.
I started the plaits off like mentioned for the hair cords, but then rather than alternating the spangles on each side, I placed them all on one side, to ensure that when the feather sat sideways, the spangles would all hang in the same direction.
To attach these to the feathers, I used some thread of a similar colour to the feather. I put a few stitches through the base of the cord, then put it around the base of the spine of the feather, and tied it securely.
From hereon, I held the cord in place along the top of the feather’s spine, and stitched it down, going between the frondy bits of the feather, back around the spine of the feather and through the spangle cord to secure it. Once I got to the end, I finished it in a similar way to the start – stitched through the cord and around the feather, and tied it off with a secure knot at the back of the feather, then wove the thread back through for a little way, to hide it. This process is a little bit fiddly, as the fluffy bits of the feathers tend to get in the way, but it is still doable, especially if you hold the fluffy bits in place either side of where you are trying to stitch, and don’t make the thread you are working with too long.
I’ll post a pic of the finished feathers once I get around to taking a pic.
That’s all there is to it! Not so hard, huh? 😉