Introduction: Kokoshnik Tutorial - Traditional Russian Headpiece Great for a Winter Wedding or Party
My take on a Russian Kokoshnik and made from refashioned materials. This Kokoshnik was hand embroidered and beaded in detail and is meant to stand the rigours of use. I also think if you are going to create this for your own or perhaps a friend's wedding day it would be important to sew something that can be kept as a work of art! I liked the traditional Northern Russian use of freshwater pearls in Kokoshnik design and I had just the materials suitable to create this look in a Primark beaded cardigan, which my sister had given me some years back and which I had worn every Winter since to destruction! I also had several other bought or recuperated sewing notions and items, which gave me a basis for the design and I will detail how I used them as I go through the tutorial. The whole costume was based on a refashioning of an embroidered silk dress I had designed and made as an alternative colourway to my own Wedding dress. Luckily, although perhaps not as I am an inveterate hoarder, I had kept all the remnants from that particular project and thus had material with which to match the dress to the headpiece.
The great thing about these headpieces from a construction point of view is that they are made in the flat, so really easy to work on!
The Kokoshnik was made for the actress Kerry Browne, as requested in yellow gold, which is not an easy colour to carry off but I think you'll agree that she did this with beauty and éclat.
Virtually all mine were repurposed/refashioned and comprised
Ribbons - These I used in appliqué to create flowers, as bead fringing and to make the traditional fastening for the headpiece.
Beads - These I recuperated from beaded cardigans, broken or discarded fashion jewellery, of which I was given a whole bag by kind relatives. Many of these pieces although artificial in themselves actually take on a whole new look, when applied to a different setting. I particularly liked the metal bead holders, which I modified and used as the centre of my fabric flowers. You can buy these bead holders in various designs and of course many other types of bead in bulk on-line. Again, as with the faux jet fringing pictured above some of these beads came from a gift ribboning and garland haul. They were originally threaded onto plastic thread but with the addition of thin ribbon from the golden garland above left and some 'seed pearls' from my old beaded cardigan.
Haberdashery Notions - One thing that turned up in a 'lucky bag' I purchased a couple of years back from my local fabric shop, was a golden net neckline appliqué for a full petticoat or slip (see images above). I decided to use this as the basis of a beaded embellishment to form the 'vase' for my planned appliqué flowers.
Fabrics - As mentioned the background material for the Kokoshnick was an embroidered gold silk remnant from the dress, this was lined with a dull golden lining fabric, again this is easy to purchase on-line. The fabric to make the flowers needs to be artificial otherwise the process I use for curling the petals and giving the flowers shape, will not work. I purchased a half metre of organza and the rest I made up from remnants of lining fabric. Traditional Kokoshniks were stiffened with cardboard and you can use this but I had some heavy duty interfacing left over from another project so I used that.
Step 1: Start With the Central Motif
Although you will want to create your own central design for your Kokoshnik, in the following I'll share how I made mine because the techniques could be useful. I started by pinning down my golden neckline appliqué onto a piece of linen. This made it easier to see and thus to work on! I then went on to create a ribbon rose on the base and used small glass beads from my beaded cardigan to highlight the edges of the petals and give them more form. I didn't buy any special needles for this, I just found the thinnest gauge one that would thread through the beads I had. I then highlighted sections of the neckline appliqué with my 'freshwater pearls' and a sprinkling of crystal beads with mounts that could be sewn into the net and sit flat.
Making Ribbon Roses I made three in all on the neckline appliqué. I started by creating a five pointed star in plain gold cotton, which would be invisible beneath the folds of the 'petals'. Then secured the end of my golden ribbon with a glass bead and sewed it to the middle of the star to make a neat start to the centre of the rose. Then threading the other end of the ribbon onto a large eyed needle, I wove it in and out of the points of the star, loosely forming the petals. Before you start it is a good idea to plan out how much ribbon you will need, by just approximating the form of the rose. I finished off the rose by tucking the end underneath the last petal and sewing it down. I then highlighted several petals of the rose with glass beads.
Step 2: Making the Crown
I had decided that in order to give more height, depth and rigidity to my headpiece, without losing the traditional Kokoshnik shape, I would make a double crown. I used my central motif to create the outline of the outer crown with the inner following the same contour at either side but with a higher curved middle section to support the fabric flowers.
To this end I cut the the outer crown from my iron-on interfacing and fused it to my silk fabric with the aid of an iron and a protective cloth.
I then cut the silk following the contour of my interfacing leaving a seam allowance of around 1cm or ½". I then tacked this onto the interfacing. I then followed the same procedure with my second piece of interfacing using a piece of my lining fabric. However, before I tacked it to the interfacing I added a gusset of silk in the middle section of the crown sewing it right sides together to the lining material. I, then went on to sew all the fabric to the interlining. This gave me a fully lined crown (front and back) and a matching silk piece which neatly covered the centrepiece and used the last piece of yellow gold silk that I had!
I was now ready to embellish my outer crown with the central motif, the faux jet fringing and a piece of organza formed into a veil and which matched the flowers which were to be set in the second (inner) crown). I also neatened the ends of the thick gold ribbon which was to be used, as per tradition, to fasten the Kokoshnik on the head.
Step 3: Making the Fabric Flowers
I started by cutting out rough circles of fabric in various sizes. I used pinking shears both to prevent initial fraying but also to make a natural shaped edge to my petals. You can cut several thicknesses at once if you want to achieve flowers of similar size.
I then snipped inward across the fabric vaguely toward the centre of the 'flower' and from five fairly equidistant points on the circumference of the circle, in this way you are creating five separate and non-symmetrical petals. The longer the cut, the more your petal will curl inwards, so as I wanted several layers of petals on each flower, I varied the length of my cut on each circle. However, there is no problem with being precise about this, Nature isn't after all and any 'mistakes' can be hidden by another layer of petals.
This is the clever part, using a candle I now held the edges of the fabric close to the heat of the flame for just a moment and I rotated the circles to get an even heat. If you are worried about this you can hold the fabric circle with a wooden clothes peg or a pair of metal tweezers and you obviously need to be cautious when using a naked flame, so clear away all other flammable material from the vicinity. I also had a bowl of cold water near at hand in case of conflagration. This is why the fabric needs to be artificial, the heat melts the material and makes the 'petals' curl inwards in a very pleasing manner. I also left some of my petals in the heat for longer, this actually gave them a change of colour, which I found an added bonus!
I planned a whole raft of flowers at once, choosing centres and colour combinations. The centre of the flowers are made with various beads and bead holders.
Step 4: Finishing
The flowers were then added to the golden silk section of the inner crown and the two crown sections were placed wrong sides together, with the ends of the thick silk fastening ribbon sandwiched between them. The Kokoshnik was then sewn together, thus all the stitching with which I had attached the embellishments was on the inside of the Kokoshnik, not only hidden from view but making the headpiece comfortable to wear. To this end I also lined the ribbon rose section of the central motif which would sit on the forehead.
Hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and if you have then you can find more on my blog Upcycled Wardrobe, Costume and Clothes and there will be more to come.
All the very best from Normandie,