Straw Bonnet Critique

As I promised, here is a critique of one of my bonnets. I’m going to try to honestly cover the good, the bad and the ugly.

A little background first- This is a straw bonnet I made while in New Mexico. We were invited to an event at Ft Sheldon by some local friends. We had just a short time to pull everything together. I realized I didn’t have any millinary with me that was appropriate for the very sandy, red-dusty terrain I saw in photos. This bonnet was made in a few days out of materials I found in Alamogordo since there wasn’t time to order anything.

Now, a look at the materials. 

The straw came from a vintage hat from a thrift shop. It is just about 3/8ths of an inch thick and rather smooth. This is about as wide as I would suggest for a fashion straw bonnet. The width of the plait and the width of the split straw borders on what would have been considered ‘coarse’ in the 1850s and 1860s. The coarser the straw and plait, the cheaper. The finer the split straw the finer the plaits or other straw work can be and thus the more expensive. The straw plait was completely unsew from its original state, soaked to let the sewing holes fill back in then let to dry to an almost dry state. Then it was sewn back together into the bonnet.

The white lining is made of white cotton voile I had on hand. I stiffened this with lots of my husband’s uniform spray starch despite it already having a fairly full body for a cotton sheer. (I’ll talk a little more about this later.) The spray starch method is not one I would normally use preferring a material with more body and stiffness already.

The flowers came from the local floral shop. They were the closest to natural looking I could find. These are rather sparse/thin for my preferences and what appears to be the level of fullness in period images

The ribbon and bavolet, or curtain, are silk taffeta I had in my stash. The ribbons are cut straight on the grain. The edges are frayed on the body of the bonnet and sized with a glue mixture to keep the silk from fraying more. While this can be seen in a few examples of extant bonnet, it is less common than ribbon which has a selvage edge. You would not see the ribbon fashion ties set on the bias.   The width, about 4″, is common for mid-century fashion bonnets. The ribbons are an adequate length. I would not suggest going any shorter. The ribbon does stand fairly well despite spending the mid-day out in the rain and thoroughly damp.The bavolet is cut and pieced on the bias. The bias in the bavolet helps with the fullness. As you can see in the side view of me wearing the bonnet the bavolet is rather limp. This is because I do not have any net backing the silk. If I had net, I would hem the net into the silk or tack it to the silk. Then I would pleat the top of the silk and net as one.

Just under the taffeta ties, is the silk functional ties. This is 1″ wide silk ribbon

Now, let us look at shape and parts.

Looking at the side view of me wearing the bonnet, this is what happens when I put on a bonnet without a mirror, using the side of the car instead. The bonnet is angled backwards more than I would like. While it doesn’t need to be perfectly vertical, it certainly should be more vertical than this. To adjust what I see, I would sit the tip slightly higher on my small bun (I often wear my hair with braids flat against the back of my head, but opted for a bun instead which does stick out further from the back of my head.) with the top of the brim angled closer to vertical.

Looking at the overall shape of bonnets, one of the first things I see is the transition line from the tip though the crown to the brim. This should be a gentle transition not a drastic one. See how in this straw the transition has gentle curves? Compare that to this original straw bonnet which has a markedly deeper tip or this lovely original black straw

 As I noted the depth of the tip in the original compared to mine, we can look at that next. Yes, mine could be deeper. I think one or two rows of plait moving into the crown would make the difference. One thing to keep in mind when looking at the tips on straw bonnets is that they were not flat. Instead, they rounded from the back of the tip to the sides. Sometimes this was a small curve, other times it was more ball-like.

 The cheek tabs are an area that was quite the challenge when I started working with straw. At first they were thick and angular. But, as I looked at more bonnets, I saw cheek tabs were more narrow with a nice curve to them. Sometimes they were almost pointy.  

 Back to the frill. It isn’t frill enough to be a true frill. I would much rather have another layer of stiffer material double box pleated with the raw edges filling the edge of the brim. When thinking frill, think full and three-dimensional. The flowers need to be much fuller too.

The black across the inside is the velvet band that holds the bonnet on my head. I love these. They work wonderfully. Even with the bonnet perched at the odd angle on my head, the rain coming down and repeatedly wacking myself in the bonnet with my umbrella, the bonnet stayed put without feeling like it wanted to move at all thanks to this strip.

I’m sure there is more I can pick apart on this. But, that is all for tonight.

Published in: on June 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Anna, I am fairly new at bonnets and have not seen the velvet band before. Can you explain how tha works? I have only made 2. I made my first bonnet 14 years ago, using a Miller’s Millinery pattern. The bonnet looks great but I can’t get it to stay on my head. I had attributed it to having a large round head and maybe being too small but now I wonder how this band works and if it would fix my problem.

  2. Hi Karen,
    The velvet band is called a bonnet stay. Pam Robles, of Victorianbonnets dot com, had been compiling information on these quite indepthly. If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out her website.
    The plush side of the velvet basically sticks to the hair holding the bonnet in place. I have mine sit with the ribbon roughly where I would have a hairnet. The attachment points, for utter lack of a better comparison first thing this morning, are just about where rabbit ears would sit on your head. (you know those headband kind.) To find the best placement for yours, cut a ribbon of velvet 10″-12″ long. Pin one end where you think you might need it. Put the bonnet on and adjust the ends so the bonnet sits where you need it. Take the bonnet of, pin the ends evenly & more securely. Then try the bonnet on to double check he placement. Secure the ends in place (I turn the raw ends under) with thread. The velvet will sit along your hair behind your floral decorations and frill. (Which also help with placement)
    Good luck.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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

%d bloggers like this: