01 December 2010

How to make a neckband

Historical background

The neckband, sometimes referred to as a cravat, is the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bow tie, originating from 17th century Croatia.

From the end of the 16th century, the term 'neckband' applied to any long-strip neckcloth. Apparently the neckcloth, or neckband, has been around since 3,000BC when the ancient Egyptians used them as a towel or general wiper, and tied them around their necks to soak up the sweat. Remnants of cloth that were obviously neckbands were found in the tombs of ancient Egypt.

Roman Soldier

The Roman army wore wide neckbands made from a red wool material to prevent the armour and leather straps from chafing their skin.

I suppose that we would call them scarves nowadays.

There were other instances of soldiers having a cloth wrapped around their neck but the most influential event in necktie history was in 1635. A group of Croatian mercenaries came to Paris to support King Louis XIV. All the Croatians were wearing very interesting scarves tied around their necks. The materials of the scarves varied by the degree of rank from rough materials to fine cotton and silk. When the French saw this new idea of clothing they couldn't wait to get their own neck scarves, and so 'la cravat' in a wide variety of different styles was born.

Modern day

In the 1800's and the early part of the 1900's farm labourers, road menders, gypsies, and in fact anyone who worked outdoors usually wore a neckband. The main reason for this was because worn with an open-neck shirt it prevented the loss of body heat, very useful in the winter months. In the summer it was used to mop up the sweat. I always wear one in the cold months and I find it really does keep me warm. I don't like wearing a tie, I feel as if I'm choking. In fact I only possess two ties, but I have about twenty cravats and neckbands!

Modern expensive cravats are not much use because they are usually very thin and made of silk or polyester, and have a tendency slip undone during the day unless you use a 'cravat pin'. The ones I make, and about to describe, are made of a thin woollen mix that wont come loose if tied properly (which see).

The Romani necker is just a large square of material about 60" X 60" (152cms square) folded as shown in the following diagram. You can see how the pointed ends have become a feature of modern preformed cravats. In the preformed neckers I make it is easier to just cut the ends square!

Folding a cravat

The diagram is self-explanatory. If your material is thin enough you just keep folding until the width feels comfortable around your neck.

How to make your 'necker'

Cut a piece of thin material 50" X 10.5". I use either thin cotton or wool material.

Cutting size

Fold the material in half lengthways, making sure you have the wrong side of the material facing you.

Folded and pinned

Pin the edges and sew one end and down the length.

Sewed up

Turn the necker inside out and turn the open end in by about 0.5" and sew up. It's best at this stage to press the necker.


I have changed over to a plain necker to show more clearly how the part that goes around the neck is created. Carefully fold the necker into three equal sections as shown and pin it near where the cross stitching will be. Follow the dimensions given and sew across twice at the places shown above.

The business end

You now have a long end (above) and a short end.

Finished neckband

The finished neckband should now look like the one on in the picture on the left. Now you know how to make one you can perhaps change a few things to suit your own idea of how you want it to look. Personally I like to wear small pattern tartan neckbands, like the one shown in the photo below. You could change the ends to the more traditional pointed ends if it's for a lady to wear on the outside of a blouse or dress.


I would be interested in any variation or ideas you may have on how to improve on my pathetic design.

You can leave comments on my blog at earlshilton.org.uk or email me; my address is on the blogpage.

The last diagram shows my preferred method of tying the neckband. Of course there are several other methods of tying a cravat/necktie, but I find that this way ensures that it doesn't slip undone during the course of the day.

How to

15 June 1996

Romany Gypsies


"The English gypsies call themselves Romany Chals and Romany Chies, that is Sons and Daughters of Rome. When speaking to each other they say "Pal" and "Pen"; that is, brother and sister. All people not of their blood they call ""Gorgios", or Gentiles.

Gypsies first made their appearance in England about 1480. They probably came from France, where tribes of the race had long been wandering about under the names of Bohemians Egyptians.

In England they pursued the same kind of 'merripen' (life) which they and their ancestors had pursued on the Continent. They roamed about in bands, consisting of thirty, sixty, or ninety families, with light, creaking carts drawn by horses and donkeys, encamping at night in the spots they deemed convenient".

- From "Romano Lavo Lil" by George Borrow (1803 - 1881)

My Family Connections

Great Grandad

My great-grandfather on my fathers side was a true Romany gypsy who went under the name of "Brandy Joe Smith" (I can't imagine why).

He was a bare-fist prize fighter and he toured around all the Gypsy Horse Fairs from Stow-in-the-Wold to as far north as Appleby Horse fair in Cumbria, and all the County Fairs he could find in-between. He set up his boxing ring and challenged all comers for 1/- a time; winner takes all. The family also worked on farms up and down the country as the season demanded. In the Spring, sowing potatoes and crops. Tending the hop fields in Kent, and in the Autumn harvesting the apples in Hereford, or in Lincolnshire harvesting potatoes and green crops etc.

My Grandfather told me that they lived well because my great-grandfather was a good provider.

In the mast-head picture great-grandfather is second from the right, sitting between two of his brothers, at the entrance to the bender*.

The sepia photo above shows him when he was a lot older, with my great-grandmother, who's name I dont know. Romany gypsies didn't keep many written records in those days, practically everything was passed on by word of mouth. The only record I have of them are a few old photos that I have tried to restore.

My grandfather can be seen sitting between the steps and the front wheel of the vardo**. At the time the photo was taken he was under 25. I know this because when he was that age he met my grandmother who was a gorgio (non-Romany). He asked her to marry him and she said she would providing he gave up the wandering life, bought a house and a got steady job. Because he loved her so much he agreed, and they lived happily ever after (I think!).

- - - - o O o - - - -


* 'Bender' tents were often used by the nomadic gypsies. They were made from easy to find materials, and were quick and simple to construct. All the cooking was either done in the bender, or in the open if the weather was dry. No self-respecting Romany would cook in the vardo.

**A 'Vardo' is the familiar wooden horse drawn cart with a rounded top, usually painted green or brown and extensively decorated with painted flowers, and other emblems associated with the owner.


Nowadays it's against the law to cut branches from trees and hedges, without the owners permission, in order to build a bender, especially in the New Forest where most Romanies spend the winter months. Most gypsies now use a commercial tent or modern gazebo alongside the vardo.



10 October 2000

Romany Proverbs