Costumes for Medievalists: The Book of Kells

Trinity College allows full viewing of the real Book of Kells online. Since my scanner was broken, I pieced together screenshots from Trinity College’s images to create my temporary tattoos.

fullbodyfront fullbodyback

There were several concerns with making this costume. The first was showing respect for the Book of Kells. When plastering my body with pictures from a copy of the Gospels, I should treat them respectfully. This costume is “personification of the Book of Kells,” not “sexy Book of Kells.” For this reason, I have generally avoided illuminations containing human figures, God or Christ’s names, and complete sentences (though there are some humans on the right arm). This is also the reason for the long skirt. I picked a dark green ballet leotard for several reasons, the primary one being that I already had it. The leotard is low-cut in the back, which gives me more room for images, but is not low-cut in the front.

back chest

I picked beige fabric to be reminiscent of parchment or vellum. The original plan was to put large stitches in the fabric to reflect where the pages of the original have been torn and stitched back together, but I ran out of time. The text on my skirt is the beginning of the Vulgate Gospel of Mark in a Book of Kells font with random letters filled in. Due to my negligence in cutting and ironing, some of the pieces are out of order or missing letters. Don’t try to read the skirt. It’s Latin, but it’s no longer correct Latin.

feet ankle

I would have liked for my arm images to be more cohesive, but I was only able to plan so much.

rightarm leftarm

I had a hard time deciding what to do with my face and hair. I put on heavy eyeliner like the eye outlines in the Book of Kells, but I swept it out at the corners and added a “flower” of 7 dots, as appears frequently in the illuminations. For my hair, I braided in gold fabric and arranged it in a spiral. A spiral seemed the most appropriate way to fix it. The costume was complete with paperback-scented perfume (link through Amazon Associates).


Jewelry seemed appropriate since I was a personification of the Book of Kells. I have seen the torc, penannular brooch, and ear cuffs associated with the Celts at various time periods. I wore them without any attention to accuracy.

Before I went to a party over the weekend, I went to a used book store because it just seemed appropriate to take pictures in the antiques section. The cashier said I made her day (and I did buy that calendar).

Old and Interesting? That's me!

Old and Interesting? That’s me!

Reading the Book of Me

Reading the Book of Me.


I wonder if I'm in here.

I wonder if I’m in here.

Overall, I was pleased with the quality of my temporary tattoo paper (link through Amazon Associates). I had an easy time making and applying the tattoos. The tattoos have a shiny surface when applied, which would not make them ideal for many purposes, but it worked well enough for me. They do not stretch with the skin, so they wrinkled whenever wasn’t standing in the exact posture in which the tattoos were applied, but they were very secure for the evening. Be warned: don’t use these if you have sensitive skin like me. The tattoos didn’t make my skin itch, but I was left with red marks for the next two days (I have the same reaction with non-fabric band-aids).


Costumes for Medievalists: The Book of Kells — 4 Comments

  1. So everything (seriously, everything) about this is 10 kinds of amazing, but I really think I might need a tutorial on how you did your hair. Because it’s absolutely gorgeous. Is it just a braided bun with fabric for two of the sections?

    Re: Shiny temporary tattoos — there’s a way to make them less shiny! Youtube to the rescue!

    • Thanks for the video! It’s so simple…why didn’t I think of trying that? Translucent powder to prevent shininess and adhesive remover to prevent burn marks afterwards. I did look strange for a week after wearing this costume.

      You are correct: the hair is simply a braided bun with fabric for two of the sections in the braid. I wear my hair at the classic length, but it’s quite fine, so I can fit a lot of fabric in there. I’ll do a tutorial for this hairstyle sometime in the near future, but it’s so easy it probably doesn’t require one.

      • Oh excellent! My hair is at tailbone length currently, so there’s hope that this bun won’t eat my entire head! Thanks!

        I had the tattoo tutorial mentally bookmarked since I haven’t needed it yet, but you never know when you might need something like that for a costume.

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