18th Century Women’s Fichus and Neckerchiefs

Last updated: Jan 5, 2024

Notice the different sorts of shapes in the links below; some are triangular, some are curved, some are V-shaped (though presumably, some of those are just the borders, embroidered separately to be applied to a kerchief, or where they have been cut away from the rest of the kerchief).

Diderot provides a titillating description in the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1756):

Fichu, part of a woman’s underclothing. It is a square or rectangular piece of muslin, or of another white or coloured cloth, or even silk, which is folded in two at the angles and covers the neck. The point of the fichu falls in the middle of the back and covers the shoulders; the extremities are crossed in front and cover the chest; but with white skin, curves, firm flesh and a bosom, even the most innocent peasant woman knows how to let just enough show by arranging the folds of her fichu.

Wikimedia Commons has a page showing many fichus worn in 18th century portraits; while they aren’t in chronological order, they are useful for understanding how these might have been worn.

(A page on patterned handkerchiefs appears elsewhere on this site, with more images of colorful patterns, such as spots, speckles, stripes, and flowers.)

  • PMA 1922-82-38, linen with drawn thread work and embroidery, Nord Slesvig, Denmark, early 18th century
  • Met 10.102.63, Flemish bobbin lace
  • Met 28.39, Flemish bobbin lace
  • Met C.I.42.74.28
  • Met C.I.46.59.21, silk, Spanish
  • Met 1976.148.4, cotton
  • Met 1976.148.5, cotton
  • Met 1976.148.6, cotton
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1954-2, silk embroidered kerchief with silk and metallic threads
  • Maria Niforos LA-246, with a matching apron, Dresden
  • MFA 52.1809, a square kerchief of white silk gauze with silk embroidery, France
  • Met 10.102.47, Flemish, early 18th century
  • Dresden and Baltic work fichu, c. 1730
  • V&A T.263-1922, kerchief made from a wide strip of Brussels bobbin lace attached to a curved piece of lawn, c. 1730-1750
  • Manchester 1965.156, c. 1740-1760; “White cotton muslin with fine linen drawnwork, Dresden quality. Straight shaped neckline. Dense pattern of shadow work, pulled stitches and variations on blanket stitch on surface areas. Outline areas in chain stitch. Edges scalloped with buttonhole stitch and picot worked from it. Lace pattern design with flowers set against pulled thread background.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1985-124, England, c. 1740-1760; “Linen needlework on cotton; linen bobbin lace. Edging from a triangular kerchief embroidered in whitework in leaf and flower design.”
  • Met 2009.300.4018, linen, Austria, c. 1740-1780
  • Met C.I.66.38.3, cotton with whitework embroidery, Britain, mid-18th century
  • Met 2009.300.5290, plaid linen, American, c. 1750; “This shawl was worn in colonial times, all home-made, home-grown flax. The blue is colored with indigo, the brown with copperas, and the thread on hem is home-spun.”
  • Manchester 1953.437, c. 1740-1770; “White cotton muslin embroidered with white linen. Curved shape for neck. Dresden work. Dense pattern of multiple fillings on all flowers and leaves, feathery blanket stitch with satin stitch, touches of shadow work. Outline in chain stitch and blanket stitch. Edges in plain blanket stitch in small scallops on wavy border of featherings 1.3cms deep (1/2 inch). Pattern of floral drawnwork, very baroque.”
  • Meg Andrews 8297, a whitework kerchief, 1750-1775. “The fine linen ground with a Rococo type design to two opposing corners, with drawn work fillings outlined with chain stitch, and some embroidery, the edges with a simple overlapping leaf design filled with a repeat drawnthread pattern. 30 in/77 cm square.”
  • Met 1980.444.1, cotton (with whitework embroidery), third quarter of the 18th century
  • LACMA M.82.23, silk embroidery on silk, probably Holland, c. 1750-1800
  • Manchester 1957.416, c. 1750-1800; “White cotton muslin, unfinished. Indented curved shape for neck. Dense pattern of feathery blanket stitch. Outline in chain stitch; running outlines, chain and feathery before fillings. Edges worked in fine running stitch, unfinished and uncut. Pattern of baroque leaf decoration.”
  • Manchester 1947.3156, c. 1750-1800; “White cotton muslin embroidered with white linen. Straight shaped for neck, worked by good amateur. Dense pattern of fillings, running stitch and blanket satin stitch with half wheels. Outline in blanket stitch. Fine hems all round at 0.2 cms (1/16th inch). Other stitches; overcast holes. Scrolling overall pattern in minature with small flowers and leaves amongst scrolls.”
  • Met 1984.147, cotton with whitework and openwork, with stitched-on lace ruffle, Britain, c. 1770
  • Met 1979.346.167, linen, probably America, fourth quarter of the 18th century
  • Met 1979.346.168, cotton, probably America, fourth quarter of the 18th century
  • Met 1972.212, linen, America
  • Met C.I.38.92.8, cotton with whitework along the edges, America
  • Met 1979.346.169, cotton with whitework embroidery, probably America, fourth quarter of the 18th century
  • Met 1980.280.3, cotton with whitework embroidery (rectanugular shape?), Britain, fourth quarter of the 18th century
  • Meg Andrews 993, India, late 18th century; “This fichu would have been embroidered and produced in India for the Western export trade … The fine muslin embroidered in white cotton, the border with sprays of flowers and slanting larger leaves, two opposing corners with similar large leaf motifs filled with drawnwork and embroidered leaves, surrounded by small flowers, the other two corners with no decoration.”
  • MFA 57.679, cotton muslin with polychrome silk tambour embroidery and metallic threads, France; “V-shaped band of fine muslin, tapered at ends; shallow scallops along outer edges. Design shows on undulating flowering vine with serrated stem worked in flat silver wire and elaborate varied blossoms and buds worked in fine chain stitched with polychrome silks, and highlighted with silver. At center point, a stylized strawberry or acorn in silver. A serrated silver border along two scalloped edges.”
  • MFA 43.1198; “Double fichu or, purple-brown sheer silk, embroidered with gold-metallic thread and polychrome and silks.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1954-3, Europe or India, coral-pink silk embroidered with metallic threads; “Kerchief is cut diagonally on bias on the long end with the cut edge rolled and whipped. Colorful silk and metallic embroidered kerchiefs such as this example were associated with Jewish weddings in Europe.”
  • MFA 41.776, possibly Turkish; “silk chiffon with silk and gilt metal embroidery”
  • Met 1975.128.5, cotton with whitework (drawn-thread?) embroidery, Britain, c. 1780
  • V&A T.285-1977, white cotton muslin with whitework embroidery and Greek key border, England, 1780s
  • MFA 46.883, embroidered, France, late 18th century; curved shape, scalloped edge on ruffles
  • Meg Andrews 8695, large fichu, 1780s; “It would have been crossed over at the front and tied at the back. At two corners the embroidery does not continue. This denoted where to fold the fichu. The fine muslin ground embroidered in chain stitch, two corners with a flower head bursting with seeds, the borders with curving leafy braches with berries, interspersed with flower heads with pulled work centres, a similar smaller outer border, two corners with simiar flower heads within circles of foliage, 4ft 2 in; 1.3 m square.”
  • LACMA M.64.85.11, linen with linen Brussels bobbin lace trim, c. 1780-1790
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1985-131, possibly England, c. 1780-1800; “Triangular neck handkerchief of sheer white cotton embroidered along two edges with colored silks in a running vine and flower design with larger sprig at point of triangle.”
  • Met 1981.14.3, cotton with whitework embroidery, France, c. 1785
  • Met C.I.57.69, cotton with whitework embroidery, France, c. 1789
  • Met 37.20.319, French needle lace, late 18th century
  • LACMA 46.40.7, cotton embroidery and drawn work on cotton, 1790s-1810s
  • Met 2009.300.5604, cotton, American, c. 1790-1810
  • Met 1981.352.1, cotton with ruffle, 1792-1793
  • Met 2009.300.5913, cotton, French, c. 1793
  • Met 1981.210.6, cotton with whitework embroidery and scalloped edge, c. 1795-1800
  • Met 30.105.1, lace, Italy, 18th-19th century
  • MFA 49.1004, a woman’s mourning fichu, made in Nottingham, England, worn in Roxbury, Massachusetts; “black silk net fichu; triangular, seam at center back”

Fichu buckles & pins

Find antique fichu pins on eBay