Big Announcement Tomorrow!

Be sure to check here on Wednesday, March 1st!!!!

Published in: on February 28, 2018 at 8:13 am  Leave a Comment  

The Shape of the CW Era Straw Bonnet

As spring approaches, many are thinking of new bonnets for the season. There are many options out there, but not all are accurately shaped or made. These annotated illustrations will help you learn about the shape of fashionable straw bonnets for the Civil War Era.

Each of these points are general for fashionable bonnets made of straw, primarily straw plait, from approx 1858 through 1863. Finer points adjust with each season’s prevailing fashion.

General Construction – Straw bonnets were sewn by hand in the round. Plaits ranged from 1/8″ split straw to wider whole straw and fancy plaits. Woven straw was also used.

Anatomy 1

Tip – The back section of the crown in the tip. On a straw bonnet this can either be domed, flattened at the back curving to the side of the crown. It should not have a sharp angular transition from the back to the sides.

Crown – The crown of a straw bonnet should create a smooth transition from the crown to the brim. Much of the shaping in the bonnet will be created in this transition area.

Brim – The brim of a straw bonnet will vary according to fashion. The brim’s edge should be a single or double row of straw plait. It should not have raw edges needing to be bound.

Cheek-tabs – The cheek-tabs should have a gentle curve coming from the neck edge of the crown along the side of the bonnet dropping down to roughly your jaw line meeting the brim edge. This is a graceful line, not a straight edge or angular transition. There is a variation in the twist of the cheek-tab from the fifties into the sixties. The cheek-tab is part of what helps hold a bonnet in place.

Binding – The binding on a straw bonnet should be straw plait. Raw edges were covered on the exterior and sometimes the interior along the back of the cheektabs, sides and tip. Multiple rows were used as well.

Lining – A lining is a functional layer of light weight, open-weave cotton covering most of the interior of the bonnet. It aids in keeping the straw from snagging the hair while worn. The lining can not be seen when the bonnet is worn.

Frill/Cap/Ruche –This decorative layer of gathered cotton or silk  covers fills the inside of the brim. This is very fine most often net, lace or organza. The full frill aides in holding the bonnet in place.

Facing – Some bonnets have a facing of silk from the edge of the brim through the first couple inches of the interior brim.

Bavolet/Curtain – The bavolet is attached to the binding edge on a straw bonnet along the sides and crown. This silk piece should be lined with net to give it more body. The bavolet may be a single piece of fabric, most often on the bias and occasionally on the grain, or pieced from bias cuts of ribbon. The bavolet may also be decorated.

Functional Ties – The functional ties are attached to the interior of the cheek-tabs or under the decorative ties. These are narrower ribbon to hold the bonnet in place.

Decorative Ties – Decorative ribbons are wide, 3″-8″ based on a wide survey I did years ago. They are on the grain, not bias. Tied, they do not take the support of the bonnet.

Interior Decoration – Interior decoration also helps hold the bonnet in place.

Anatomy 2

Published in: on February 27, 2018 at 7:30 am  Comments (2)  

The Wide Brim Hat

The question of the the wide brim hat usually comes up each year as spring approaches. The wide brim is desirable to modern sensibilities with our awareness of skin care and eye sensitivity to the sun. I get it. I am pale skinned, burn easily, and get unpleasant responses to being in the sun.

The wide brim hat, that with a brim nearly as wide as the diameter of the crown, has a very practical place in the 1850s and 1860s. I previously addressed this in my visual guide to common hats of the Civil War Years.

common 4

Prior to the war, the wide brim hat was a fashionable hat suited for morning promenade and other casual, social situations. But, we must recognize that even before the war, even as a fashionable hat, the wide brim hat was first and foremost recognized as a garden hat. Here in the Godey’s 1858 “Novelties for July” we see the first two hats being called garden hats. The third hat is called a riding-hat. (Though, I theorize this is not a riding hat as we typically think, a hat for riding a horse, but for riding leisurely in a carriage. This hat departs from all period sensibilities for wearing while riding a horse, including being dangerous in terms of eyesight.)

1858 Godeys July Garden Hats

“Figs. 3 and 4—Garden hats for the morning promenade. Fig. 3, white split straw, with narrow blonde fall, and wreath of daisies around the crown. Fig. 4, tea-colored Leghorn with white plume.  Fig. 5. Riding-hat, small crown and brim, tea-colored Dunstable straw; flowing white plume.”

July 1861 Garden hatWide wide brim hats all but disappear from fashion columns after the start of the Civil War.  A single appearance in the 1861 Godey’s occurs in July with this “Brown Leghorn hat, trimmed with a very full brown feather of black velvet ribbon.” In this case, the brim still is not as wide as the previous decade’s wide brims.

1863 Godeys April Garden hatI don’t want you get to excited about the idea of wearing a late 1850’s wide brim hat as a fashionable garden hat though. The fashionable garden hats in the 1861-64 Godey’s  are not as wide as their predecessors. The “April Novelties”  in 1863 shows us “A garden hat, made of muslin, or barege and ribbons.” This brim is not very wide, despite its layers of fluffy ruffles. This is far from a laboring garden hat. At best, it is a “strolling as I clip a few buds” garden hat.

In photographs, we see wide brim hats worn or held in very specific situations:

  • Gardens
  • Sea side (please click through to see examples)
  • Watercure resorts
  • Occasionally picnics

The key to note about these situations: They are each recreational in nature.

Wide brim hats are not seen frequently enough in photographs depicting shopping, town, visiting, or church situations to justify their wear in these situations. Interestingly enough, sunbonnets are seen more frequently, far more frequently in these situations than a wide brim hat.

There is a particular CDV that people like to send me pleading for her wide brim hat. Well, I’ve got a thing about this image. Sure the hat is lovely with it straw that is photographing as a color, not natural. But, something just isn’t right about it for me. It is the hair that just isn’t working for me. I would really like to see the back of the image to see who this is and if she is a performer or such. (Btw, I found something rather interesting about this photo.)

Still need something to wear and protect yourself from the sun? The sunbonnet is the easiest and usually most cost effective direction to go. Personally, I prefer a corded sunbonnet in an open weave or light weight fabric. There are still fashionable hats with moderate brims that can provide some sun protection. The Chapeau Cloche is an excellent example with its moderately wide brim that curves down. I have clients who love wearing this hat. I also find veils to be helpful for eyes sensitive to the sun, though not for UV protection. Check out my veil comparison.

*** Do keep in mind if you choose a garden hat that these brims also had shape. Take a look: The Shape of the Straw Fashion Bonnet.


 I would define a fashionable garden hat as on you would were for leisure, strolling through the garden, sitting in the garden, snipping a few rose buds. 

A gardening hat would be a utility garment. Looking at photos of those labouring outside, this frequently was a sunbonnet. 

Previous posts discussing hats in context:

Published in: on February 24, 2018 at 3:53 pm  Comments (2)  


Readers, please pardon this personal post.

_20180216_074301This Valentine’s Day I went to bed with a truly warmed heart. When I took Clara to the vet earlier that day, I thought we were going to be treating hairballs. She was throwing up and had a little diarrhea. I did not expect the next few hours to unfold as they did. Her wonderful Doctor Dan showed me her xray, explaining her intestines were not in the right place, loosely filling the abdominal area. Instead, they were all balled up in one area, sound together with some areas swollen with gas. He explained what we were seeing often means an eaten thread* caused the intestines to draw up on themselves. Knowing just how much thread and other fibers are in the house, hit me in the gut.

After calling Dan to let him know and a few tears with Clara humming Grandpa’s song, her calming, sweet nurse, who’s name I can’t remember, took her back to immediately prep for surgery.

What happened next still has me in aww. The care for our Clara flooded in on FB and in my messages. Clara received gifts from a few people I have never met. I listed a few things I could find quickly on Etsy (the batwing bonnet, my bandeau, lace, gloves, some sewing things.) They were all gone overnight. My shop was empty and my heart full.

By the time I was able to pick her up, I had just the right amount to cover her surgery bill. It was such a blessed feeling to be able to say “yes” and be able to giver Clara what she needs.

We want to give a heartfelt thank you to those who helped these last few days, either financially or emotionally. I appreciate you more than I can say.

As we were leaving, I had the most humbling moment. I think I opened the door with a squee of “home!” I began to walk by a woman was standing at the counter with a toweled bundle wrapped in her arms. She had tears running down her face. My heart caught in my throat. I turned around and hugged her. This was such a heart breaking reminder that this could have easily gone the other way. If we hadn’t called the vet and brought her in, if it hadn’t been caught, if we couldn’t do the surgery. Oh, how I felt for that woman and her toweled bundle.

Now, as you’ve been reading and waiting. How is Clara?

Clara is home now. She is recovering with lots of sleeping and snuggling. She is eating little bits of baby food. This will be her diet for a few days after which we will add in soft canned food. We are going to keep her on a higher moisture diet. (she had been eating dry food in the mornings, wet in the evenings.)  We will be going back today to get her IV catheter out. It stayed just in case. After that, a couple other follow-ups.

There wasn’t anything in her intestines – no string, no wool. Her intestines and omentum were balled/wound up in a ball up in one section of her abdomen. They should be loose, filling her whole abdominal area. The doctor does not know why this happened. Gummy, stickiness is usually from dehydration. She was not dehydrated. So, Clara has yet another mystery. xraysClara is resting and sleeping a lot, as she should for her recovery. Last night she did not leave me at all. She was okay with being next to me, but preferred to be on my shoulder, chest, or neck. I don’t think she likes that I am getting ready for work. I’ll be putting her cone on just in case.



We do not know what caused this or if it can reoccur. Obviously, we hope not.

Published in: on February 16, 2018 at 6:45 am  Comments (3)  

February (Mini) Project

This month’s project is over on Don’t Paint the Cat. I turned an antique pin cushion ball design into a toy for Clara.

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  

The Three Year Rug

My latest project is over on Don’t Paint the Cat. Can I call a project that spanned three years my “latest”?

Please go check out Fallen Snow on a Starry Night.

This is a sewn rug using early nineteenth century techniques with an modern subject.

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 7:11 am  Leave a Comment  

How They Wore Their Bonnets

A few years ago we looked at how some original women wore their bonnets perched on the backs of their heads as well as how we can also do so. If you missed it, the post was called Got Perch?

This was only one of several ways women wore their bonnets. Today, I would like to look further at how mid-century women wore their bonnets. Let us start with more examples of the bonnet being worn behind the mid-point of the head.

How did they close ups backYou will notice some variation in how far back the bonnet is worn. The two women on the lower left appear to have their bonnet furthest back among the group. These two also happen to have their bonnets angled more than the others. From the views/positions we have, the third woman from the left on the bottom row appears to have a nearly vertical position to the brim and tip. We can not say for certain with the other women; though I suspect the top left may also be nearly vertical. We can also see that most of these women have their flowers reaching further forward than the brim edge of the bonnet. The position of these flowers may help hold the bonnet in place. In the lower right, the flowers can be seen cupping the top of her head. Take a particularly close look at the woman on the lower left. There is a piece photographing white sitting below the flowers/decoration. This may or may not be a stay.

This next group of women are wearing their bonnets at or just forward of their mid-point.

How did they close ups mid forward 2

We see greater variety in the angle of which these bonnets are worn, seeing them worn nearly vertical, angled slightly forward and angled slightly backward. The bottom right and bottom left images show the further forward reach of the spoon bonnet while displaying noticeable difference in the depth, angle and shaping of the crown and tip. In the top left and top right images, we can see how the frill aids in holding the bonnet on.  Again, the flowers are aiding in securing the bonnet to the head. In the bottom row, third from the left, you can see the woman’s flowers reaching down over the hair line. (The lower right image could be considered as wearing her bonnet quite forward.)

In this next group, we see the bonnet worn quite forward of the mid-point.

How did they close ups full forward

Many will notice these women each look more mature. I do not know if this is a coincidence or if there is truly a connection between age and mode yet. I will look further into this. While these bonnets are worn further forward and a couple are rounder, the fashionable spoon shape is present. The bonnet with the daisies, second on the bottom row, demonstrates well how the flowers can hug the top of the head. In several cases, the flowers sit forward enough to reach to or even beyond the hair line. If there is a connection between age and this mode of wearing, there could be further speculation that this positioning of flowers could conceal a thinning part.

The following group was collected as I was looking at untied or partially tied bonnets. These are late 1840s through early 1850s examples. Each either has the ribbons simply looped over each other without a bow or completely untied. Many, if not most, of the women above would have worn their bonnets in this style ten to twenty years previous.

How did they close ups 40 50 not tied

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 7:30 am  Comments (3)  

New Arrival 

This adorable hat block was waiting for me at my mailbox when I got home. I wasn’t expecting it until Saturday. This was a pleasant surprise. Pocket friendly price and uber-fast ship. Double win. 
This block has a beautiful taper to the crown. The wood is very pretty too. Here Clara holds it in place so you can see the pretty wood and nice taper. 

This isn’t an antique block, but it will help me make a few different historic styles. 

There are Civil War era styles:

And, 1870-80s styles:

If I try to go a couple rows beyond the block, I may be able to pull off this earlier style:

I am planning to bring this block along with my Julie block, with straight sides, for when I interpret straw sewing. They will make a nice comparison. This crown has yet to be named. I have a couple in mind. But, I want to wait until I take the first straw off it. 
I am trying to replace as many of my hand carved foam blocks/forms as possible. Foam becomes misshapen from over use. Wood is much better for me. This is a slow process of finding the right historic shapes at an affordable price. 

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 6:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Mid-Winter Figgle-Faggle

For a little Mid-Winter amusement, may I recommend A Dictionary of Reduplicated Words of the English Language.



And for the more serious…. The Domestic Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Manual.

Published in: on February 1, 2018 at 1:39 pm  Comments (1)