Women, Religion & Head Coverings

I originally sat down to finalize two blog posts about 19th and 20th century hats for ladies. I got side tracked into religious head coverings for women. I found it so interesting that I put aside (temporarily) the two other blog posts.

According to Wikipedia, there is no actual command in either the Old or the New Testaments of the Bible that requires women to wear head coverings. Apparently the closest admonition is in the New Testament: “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved” (1 Corinthians 11:5). That said, through out time various institutional decrees and analysis have made it practice in many groups of the major world religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

I remember my American Aunt Elise, a devout Catholic, had several beautiful mantillas (from Spanish manta, mantle), she wore on her head to church every Sunday. Her favorite was a fairly large black silk mantilla that had been her mother’s; it was either crocheted or knit – I don’t remember which. (That’s not my Aunt Elise to the right wearing the mantilla; the picture is from a vintage crochet mantilla pattern available on eBay.) But I also remember she had several smaller ones that I thought were doilies. They weren’t, as I found out when I asked her why she had a doily on her head.

It has been Catholic Church canon law, Muslim Sha’aria law and Jewish Halachic law that have proscribed which women must cover their heads (e.g., all, married, single, widowed), when (e.g., always or just during religious events?), and how extensive coverings must be (e.g., burkah, hijab, hat, wig or long hair?). The extent to which various groups define and practice head coverings for women varied and continues to vary widely.

Curiously, it was not a universal law for Catholic women to cover their heads when in church until 1917 (Canon 1262). That law stayed in place until 1983. Eastern Catholic Church women were never universally obligated to wear head coverings. According to the Vintage Fashion Guide, in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church decreed that women must cover their hair at all times. Plain and Simple Headcoverings has many pictures of the head coverings worn by Christians throughout the centuries.

Orthodox and/or Conservative Jews rely on halakha (legal part of Talmudic literature interpreting Scripture) on this issue. It is a matter of tzniut – modesty or privacy, as a character trait, general conduct, and/or dress for women.

The picture at the left (Wikipedia), shows the backs of three Jewish women praying, each wearing a head covering. From left to right, they are wearing a snood (a sort of bag worn at the back of the head, either solid or lace, into which a woman stuffs her hair – very popular among American women in the late 19th century), a fall (a type of small wig – were very popular among non-Jewish American women in the 1960s), and a hat.

According to Britain’s Investigating Islam, the specific verse of the Qur’an addressing women’s head covering is: “And say to the believing women … that they should draw their head-coverings over the neck opening (of their dresses), and not display their ornaments except to their husbands, their fathers …” (Surah 24:31; see also Surah 33:58-59). It is an issue of modesty and avoiding sexual attraction from anyone but one’s husband. Again, the type and extent of head coverings to be worn by women varies by country. (If you are interested, see Wikipedia’s page about these variations.)

The woman in the picture above wears a hijab. (If interested in hijabs and how they are worn, take a peek at the page that’s the source of the picture: “How to be Beautiful.”)

The picture at the right is from the BBC website and shows two conservative Muslim veiling options: the Niqab and the Burka. (The BBC website has drawings and comparisons of several different forms of Muslim veils for women.)

While the Catholic church ended the universal obligation of women wearing head coverings some 30 years ago, several Protestant churches still mandate their women wear head coverings. The women of the Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, Quakers, Shakers, and Wesleyan Methodists wear some sort of head covering as do women from many Christian evangelical and fundamentalist groups. The head coverings are generally hats, bonnets, small caps or scarves and signify submission to god and/or husband. (To see the variations among some of these hats – both in style and color – visit Quaker Jane.)

As I prepared this post and my two previous posts (Hats Off! and Wimples & Haps), I thought about the gender difference in dress requirements. However to be fair, in some of these religious groups men were also expected to wear some sort of head covering (e.g., Quakers, Jews, Muslims), though the requirements varied by community, country and religious interpretation.

Interestingly, except for the Amish, I could not find any sort of outward sign indicating whether a man was single or married. Amish men are expected by their Ordnung (rules) to be clean shaven until they are married, at which time they grow beards. No Amish man, whether single or married, is allowed to have a moustache.

Now, for those of you who want to try their hand at making some of these head coverings …

Check Sock Pixie and K2P2 for great knitted kippah aka yarmulke patterns or, for a very nice crocheted kippah aka yarmulke pattern, visit the Purl Bee.

For beautiful crocheted taqiyah aka kufi patterns worn by Muslim men, check out Erika Luke’s blog or, for a knitted one, take a peek at K. Salihah Schaff’s pattern at http://queenrapunzel.com/2009/12/knit-kufi-pattern/ (findingsalihah@gmail.com).

For patterns for beautiful vintage mantillas, in addition to eBay link provided above, take a peek at this spectacular mantilla shown on the right, also available on eBay.

For a basic wimple patterns to sew, visit Lady Wenyeva atte grene (free pattern & instructions). If you’re interested in 12-16th century wimples, check out Amazon.

If you are interested in sewing bonnets or caps such as those worn by Amish and Mennonites, visit Candle on the Hill and Plain-n-Simple Headcovering.

For a pattern to sew a lovely snood, see Shoshana’s Snood Pattern.

For learning to elegantly tie tzniut scarves, see Tznius.com. And, as noted by The Gloss, you don’t have to be religious to wear beautiful scarves with style and panache.

Now I will go back to work on cloches, hat pins and fascinators. 🙂


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Miscellany and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Women, Religion & Head Coverings

  1. What a great post! So well handled!

    I cover my hair. and although I am Jewish and wear head wraps in a typically Jewish style, I do not wrap for religious reasons. For me, covering my hair and dressing ‘modestly’ are about bodily integrity and bodily privacy. It helps me feel symbolically, I suppose, that what and how I choose to share my body with is completely under my own control. It was a big part of feeling safer and more in control outside of my own home following an attack.

    For me and for many women who I know of all faiths, covering our hair is a matter of personal preference and conviction, with little if any reference to men at all.

    Also, as a weaver, crocheteur, and needlewoman, it is my desire to make and wear beautiful pieces of cloth at all times!

    If anyone is interested in checking out lots of stylish ways to wear headwraps, I suggest checking out Wrapunzel, it’s amazing! https://wrapunzelblog.com/

    Lots of love,


  2. No … Scarves don’t shade my face and shoulders. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. victoria214 says:

    But never any type of head scarf?


  4. I have very fair skin so wear large sun hats in the summer. (I found I actually stay cooler in hot weather when I have a sun hat on!) I also have an array of hats I have knit that I wear in colder climates.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. victoria214 says:

    I never pictured myself becoming a head coverer, but they discovered me and are now a part of my life. When and what do you wear for a headcovering?


  6. What fascinating information covering traditions from a number of belief systems.


  7. I am pleased you enjoyed reading this post! Recently I read an article in Piecework about traditional Turkish head coverings for women. Beautiful craftsmanship!


  8. Margaret says:

    Love this! I bet there are some amazing vintage patterns out there for head coverings that are just waiting to be rediscovered. And I agree that headscarfs and head coverings don’t have to be something exclusive to certain religions or religious communities. I tend to pull my snood/circle scarf up over the top of my head when I get cold. This post has really fired up some creative thoughts as I’m thinking about ways to make modern headscarf patterns.


  9. It is such an interesting topic! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. To this day, I enjoy reading about different head coverings worn by women of different cultures. I recently read one on one worn by women in Turkey at the end of the last century in Piecework, I think it was.


  10. knottybebe says:

    Very interesting! Thank you for covering this topic so thoroughly and without judgement. Much appreciated!


  11. Thank you. (I wear a lot of hats!)


  12. fabrickated says:

    Lovely post. Most interesting.


  13. Wow, that sounds serious. 🙂 Was that a habit that was difficult to break?


  14. Mare F says:

    Growing up I was taught to always keep a small mantilla in my purse in case of an unexpected church visit. I was raised Catholic.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Mellissa says:

    Reblogged this on Chic 'n' Fish and commented:
    Points to ponder!


  16. Thank you, and thanks for reading. I endeavored to try not to display any cultural stereotypes or mis- or preconceptions about head coverings. And thanks for the references to the novels. They both sound excellent.


  17. christinelaennec says:

    What an excellent post! It’s so informative, and very sensitively done as well. Thanks also for the links to other websites. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Muslim writer Leila Aboulela. Her novel Minaret is about a westernised Sudanese young woman who decides to wear the hijab. One of the pivotal moments in the novel is when she takes that step. There’s also a teen novel called Does My Head Look Big In This? about a teenage Australian Muslim’s struggles with the demands of her religion and family’s culture.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It’s good to be reminded.


  19. What a fab and delicately handled POST. I am grateful I live in a Country (Australia) that has laws that honor choice. Hoorah for the Aussie laws. Family Violence is unacceptable and perpetrators will be prosecuted. People are free to wear and not wear what they like.as long as their genitals are covered. I am very fair skinned and personally like to cover up but I am glad I get to choose.


  20. Thank you! I had a lot of fun working on that post and tried to write it in a way so that no one would be offended.


  21. I really admire you for posting this, and giving such an extensive unbiased summary of each. Thank you :]


  22. paulaayn says:

    Some Anglican churches are basically ‘Catholic-lite’ or Anglo-Catholic and we cling to the old ways against the intrusion of modern 🙂 We like the old Gregorian chants, incense and hats. I’m trying to figure out how to knit myself a lace covering for church. I have some pretty ones from Garlands of Grace, but a knitted one would be most suitable for me.

    As to your wimple post, I’ve worn one before (belonged to the SCA) not that comfortable or flattering. I’m very glad they have fallen from fashion.


  23. Thanks for reading my post. And I didn’t know Anglican women had to wear head coverings in church. It’s nice there is still the option of wearing beautiful scarves etc.!


  24. paulaayn says:

    When my Mom married Dad, head coverings (usually hats) were required in the Anglican church. A difference for Mom who was raised United. A number of us still love to wear our hats or lace scarves to Mass.


  25. I wasn’t aware of a difference in the wearing of prayer shawls – thank you. And I have always wondered why it is more socially acceptable for married men to go without a ring than married women. I have to assume it has to do with other men having a clear sign she ‘belongs’ to someone else thus making it less likely she will fool around while the same doesn’t have to apply to the husband?


  26. I’m embarrassed to say I’m not sure how true this is, but apparently in SOME (though not all) Jewish communities, only married men would wear prayer shawls, or single and married men would wear them differently. Your post really makes me want to look into signs of marital status in male clothing.

    I’m really glad where we live in a society in which men and women both wear wedding rings, or at least have the option to do so. I find it a little uncomfortable, though, that only women wear an outward sign of being engaged.


  27. knittedfog says:

    Hi Karen,
    In the Brethren women were not allowed to lead anything! Hats always and scarves when cleaning the church.
    Yes I am in the UK and I no longer follow a religion – did some good for making me think and question for myself.


  28. Thanks for reminding me about the Brethren! I had forgotten about them! Were you brought up in the UK? In my religious upbringing, women had to wear headcoverings only if they led a prayer (etc.) in front of a man. But I like hats nonetheless! 🙂


  29. knittedfog says:

    Thank you for this highly interesting piece on Headwear. I was brought up in a religious household – Plymouth Brethren – and all females over 5 had to have their head covered – I discovered I have an affinity to hats even after I left the church.


  30. We’re a judgmental breed unfortunately but we have so much to learn from other cultures, whether that be in lessons of values or new techniques and projects for our needles. 🙂


  31. Thank you! In many ways it was a difficult post for me to write. I endeavored to be careful as to how I presented what I think is a fascinating topic: religiously-mandated head coverings for women! I think it is problematic for many women, whether or not they are religious (I am not), to either write or read about this topic without simultaneously judging (e.g., how old-fashioned, are only women expected to do this, etc.). How religion is expressed and followed, of course, comes with a large cultural context. So the issue of head coverings seems to go beyond religion and bleeds into social culture. And then, of course, there’s just the fiber-creation-craft-arty part too. 🙂


  32. Thank you for presenting what has unfortunately become such a sensitive issue in this modern day with dignity and respect. This is fascinating, from a historical and a cultural point of view. I love the idea of us knitters going out and whipping up mantillas today, you may have started a craze! But again, it’s just a shawl by another name. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s