Summer Series – “How much did a bonnet cost?”

This is one of the hardest questions for me to answer. Why? Because I don’t fully know.

Ideally, I would have a big pool of bills/receipts, an assortment of ledgers from many different milliners, and a few dozen diary entries to create a database of prices based on year, region, area, time of year, type of piece, etc.. Then, I would feel like I had a hint of an answer.

But, I don’t have that. I don’t think anyone has that.

I save every 19th century bill/receipt that comes up for sale. I have even bought a few. I note every diary entry.

I try really really hard not to cry at the auction in front of all those people when a dealer out bids me on the stack of ledgers with a milliner’s ledger in it.

Take a moment.

Yes. It happened. I saw them go out the door.


Diary entries like these from Caroline Richards of Canandaigua, NY give us a look at the prices she paid for her millinery:

Wednesday, 1854 – Ann Eliza is going down street with us this afternoon to buy us some new summer bonnets;. They are to be trimmed with blue and white and are to come to five dollars. We are going to Mr Stannard’s store also, to buy us some stockings.

April 12, 1856 β€” We went down town this morning and bought us some shaker bonnets; to wear to school. They cost $1 apiece and we got some green silk for capes to put on them. We fixed them ourselves and wore them to school and some of the girls liked them and some did not, but it makes no difference to me what they like, for I shall wear mine till it is worn out. …

 Saturday, 1854 – We got our new summer hats; from Mrs Freshour’s millinery and we wore them over to show to Aunt Ann and she said they were the very handsomest bonnets she had seen this year. 

Bills or receipts can show the price of items from particular stores. They can also show the variety of store types as well as methods of keeping track of sales. This bill from 1849 lists several items purchased:

One trimmed bonnet cost $4.50 in May. A pink silk bonnet cost 43.50 in December. Two bonnets and trimmings “last spring” cost $6.35. (This bill also tells us the products and services this shop in Springfield provides, the frequency in which this family of an unknown number of women purchases bonnets, and the delay in payment from “last spring” to April, 1849 for this bill to January, 1850 for the payment.)

If I have to give a price, I can give a window for the mid century of as low as $1 for Shaker bonnets for school to $4.50 for a decorated silk bonnet. But, my answer has holes in that these examples span two different geographic regions and come from two different size cities.

So, the exploration continues…….

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Published in: on July 4, 2022 at 6:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Step forward

Step back

Step this way

Step that

If only we could happily dance our ways through this inflation. If only.

Just two hours ago, I posted about a summer sale with a coupon code taking 10% off millinery and pockets for the whole of my summer recess. This sale would allow people to buy at just above the prices I had two years ago. I was hoping this would help sales pick up so I could feel a little less scared about paying my bills.

Then, I went to order more straw.

I was shocked to see the price increase. 😳

Hanks of wheat straw went up 76% from the last time I ordered, last month.


I double checked other vendors. One is on vacation until September. One doesn’t offer wheat straw. The rest are in England.

I need to make some decisions.

My millinery business has become a substantial part of my income. A full third. With rent going up and needing a new car soon, and the general increase in costs, I am scared.


I have a stash of straws. Some are earmarked for particular pieces. I may have enough after that to sew through two-thirds of the summer.


Published in: on July 3, 2022 at 10:22 am  Comments (1)  

Summer Sale!

I am offering a special summer of 2022 coupon code.

Use code SUMMER2022 to receive 10% off Millinery and Pockets.

This sale will bring the prices down to nearly 2020 prices. The sale runs through August 31st.

Published in: on July 3, 2022 at 8:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Currently in the Shop

I am considering reducing the number of posts about new millinery to 1 a week so the blog isn’t dominated by sales posts. But, I also want people to get announcements of new pieces. Please let me know what you prefer: A. Posts as finish pieces. This could be multiple a week, particularly during the summer. B. One post a week with everything I’ve added to the shop.

Published in: on July 2, 2022 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

New York’s – An Act Concerning the Rights and Liabilities of Husband and Wife

A supplement to the “How much did Milliner’s make?” post.

An Act
Concerning the Rights and Liabilities of Husband and Wife
Passed March 20, 1860.
The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

SECTION 1. The property, both real and personal, which any married woman now owns, as her
sole and separate property; that which comes to her by descent, devise, bequest, gift, or grant;
that which she acquires by her trade, business, labor, or services, carried on or performed on her sole or separate account; that which a woman married in this State owns at the time of her marriage, and the rents, issues, and proceeds of all such property, shall notwithstanding her
marriage, be and remain her sole and separate property, and may be used, collected, and
invested by her in her own name, and shall not be subject to the interference or control of her
husband, or liable for his debts, except such debts as may have been contracted for the support of herself or her children, by her as his agent.

S 3. Any married woman possessed of real estate as her separate property may bargain sell, and
convey such property, and enter into any contract in reference to the same; buy no such conveyance or contract shall be valid without the assent, in writing, of her husband, except as
hereinafter provided.

S 2. A married woman may bargain, sell, assign, and transfer her separate personal property, and
carry on any trade or business, and perform any labor or services on her sole and separate account, and the earnings of any married woman from her trade, business, labor, or services shall
be her sole and separate property, and may be used of invested by her in her own name.

S 4. In case any married woman possessed of separate real property, as aforesaid, may desire to sell or convey the same, or to make any contact in relation thereto, and shall be unable to procure the assent of her husband as in the preceding section provided, in consequence of his refusal, absence, insanity, or other disability, such married women may apply to the County Court in the county where she shall at the time reside, for leave to make such sale, conveyance, or contract, without the assent of her husband.

S 5. Such application may be made by petition, verified by her, and setting forth the ground of
such application. If the husband be a resident of the county and not under disability from insanity
or other cause, a copy of said petition shall be served upon him, with a notice of the time when
the same will be presented to the said court, at least ten days before such application. In all other cases, the County Court to which such application shall be made, shall, in its discretion,
determine whether any notice shall be given, and if any, the mode and manner giving it.

S 6. If it shall be satisfactorily appear to such court, upon application, that the husband of such
application has willfully abandoned his said wife, and lives separate and apart from her, or that
he is insane, or imprisoned as a convict in any state prison, or that he is a habitual drunkard, or
he is any way disabled from making a contract, or that he refuses to give his consent without
good cause therefor, then such court shall cause an order to be entered upon its records,
authorizing such married woman to sell and convey her real estate, or contract in regard thereto without the assent of her husband, with the same effect as though such conveyance or contract had been made with his assent.

S 7. Any married woman may, while married, sue and be sued in all matters having relation to
her property, which may be her sole and separate property, or which may hereafter come to her
by descent, devise, bequest, or the gift of any person except her husband, in the same manner as if she were sole. And any married woman may bring and maintain an action in her own name, for damages against any person or body corporate, for any injury to her person or character, the same as if she were sole; and the money received upon the settlement of any such action, or recovered upon a judgment, shall be her sole and separate property.

S 8. No bargain or contract made by any married woman, in respect to her sole and separate
property, or any property which may hereafter come to her by descent, devise, bequest, or gift of
any person except her husband, and no bargain of contract entered into by any married woman
in or about the carrying on of any trade or business under the statutes of this State, shall be
binding upon her husband, or render him or is property in any way liable therefor.

S 9. Every married woman is hereby constituted and declared to be the joint guardian of her
children, with her husband, with equal powers, rights, and duties in regard to them, with the

S 10. At the desease of husband or wife, leaving minor child or children, the survivor shal hold,
possess, and enjoy all the real estate of which the husband or wife died seized, and all the rents,
issues, and profits thereof during the minority of the youngest child, and one-third thereof
during his or her natural life.

Published in: on July 1, 2022 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Two last pieces for June. I just finished and added a white tapered crown hat and a natural 1860s bonnet.

Published in: on June 30, 2022 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Same Style, Two Sizes

I have two of my popular tapered crown style 1860s hats in the shop now. One is an average size, 20.5″. One is a larger size, 22″. Both are in natural straw.

Published in: on June 28, 2022 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Summer Series – “What is a Cottage Industry?”

A cottage industry at its simplest is product creation in the home.

Product creation in the home, cottage industry, simultaneously provides income for the home, ideally utilizing the resources immediately or locally available, and contributes to the economy of rural and developing areas. When the product created went from the home to a larger manufacturer, as was the case with sewing straw bonnets or hats, this was known as piece work. This is not to say home manufacturing solely occurs in rural or developing areas. Product development can also be done in urban homes, where it is often referred to as home manufacturing instead of cottage industry. In this case, the materials are often provided. Flower making or band-box making would be examples of this.

Straw plaiting and straw sewing as cottage industries in the 19th century were prominent in England and Italy in Europe, and in the New England through New York areas of the United States. (Some areas, such as Luton in England, continued plaiting well into the 20th century.) Straw cottage industry took fibers easily grown in these regions, commonly wheat and rye, and transformed them into money earning product. (more details in From Field to Fashion) The workflow differed between the US and England. In England, straw markets were the norm. Plaiters and sewers exchanged their goods for the best price of the day based on their materials and work. In the US, an industry representative would come to collect finished work in exchange for pay. (I did read a single passage saying a woman could take her work to the local dry goods store with the merchant acting as the industry representative. I need to find additional support for this to be sure of the actuality.) These pieces (bonnets and hats) would then go a factory to be wired and finally sized (blocked and stiffened.) At this point, they were ready to go to straw goods stores and millinery shops.

I used to think straw sewing as a cottage industry in the US faded out by the turn of the century. Then, I discovered this log book for tracking straw sewing from 1904. Likely, this sewing was done by machine. This is based on the year and by the number of pieces this person could get done in a month. The booklet gives directions for sewing and shop regulations inside each cover. The pages give space for tracking: Date – Block – Pattern – Goods – Price – Amount

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Published in: on June 27, 2022 at 6:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Mid-week Hat

I finished a this evening for the shop. This one has a tapered crown and slightly narrower brim with great shape.

Published in: on June 22, 2022 at 6:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Summer Series – “Do You Hand Sew All of It?”

In person, as a visitor watches, the question is usually “Are you hand sewing all of it?” or something about the stitches itself. Online, the question I get is about what kind of machine I am sewing with.

Straw plait millinery was hand sewn up until the invention of the straw sewing machine in the late 1860s. The first straw sewing machine was for sewing the bind edge of a bonnet or hat, not the whole body. The machine for sewing all of the straw came just a short time later. These machines came into common, but not universal use, in the 1870s. I say not universal use because some original pieces from the 1880s still show hand sewing for the construction.

I sew my straw millinery as they did in the nineteenth century up through the mid-century: by hand.

I use little stitches on the outside and long, half inch to inch long stitches on the inside.

To this day, I am still amazed by the visible stitches inside many straw bonnets. Here is an original bonnet I have in my TLC collection. The left photos is outside. The right photo is inside. Notice how you can barely, if at all, see the stitches on the outside, while on the inside the stitches are very visible.

From an artistic or craft standpoint, I find I have far more control over the straw when working by hand. I can adjust the tension, slightly curve, shape, or even fold the straw as I work. This allows me to create the shapes of each style including the height seen in an 1860’s spoon bonnet or the straw bavolet in an 1840s bonnet or the V point of a Regency or late century hat. This straw manipulation is the job of my left hand. So, both hands get tired, often very tired and sore, when I push them. I go through a lot of creams and visit my massage person regularly.

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Published in: on June 20, 2022 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment