Title: Nightcap
Place: England
Date: 1600–25
Medium & technique: Linen, hand-embroidered with coloured silks and metal threads
Dimensions: 200 mm
Themes: Bodies – Inside & Outside / Monstrous – Marvellous
Collection: (c) Manchester City Galleries, 1971.50

This nightcap is elaborately designed with phoenixes and obelisks situated between swirling stems of oak leaves and acorns, signifying renewal and strength. From the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, nightcaps referred to two types of men’s head coverings – a plain one worn in which to sleep and a decorative one used as a domestic accessory worn for comfort and warmth, from the seventeenth century often replacing wigs when they were removed. They prevented the head from becoming too cold and from the danger believed to be attached to the escape of bodily vapours. It may have been worn for receiving informal guests, like friends and family. Nightcaps were typically created by women of the household, either by a family member or skilled servant. Embroidered with silver and silver gilt threads, and with pink, green and gold silk threads, this cap is an exquisite example of early modern domestic wear. Similar examples are held, for example, by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O357046/cap-unknown/ and http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O357050/cap-headgear-unknown/). 

Danielle Gravon & Cordelia Warr, University of Manchester

Further Reading:

Sasha Handley, Sleep in Early Modern England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016).

J.L. Nevinson, Catalogue of English Domestic Embroidery of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (London: HMSO, 1938).