How To Make a Bonnet and Cap

Godey’s, November 1856

How To Make a Bonnet and Cap.

Drawn Bonnets.—Have a plain willow shape ready, the size and pattern you wish your bonnet to be; measure round the edge, and put a pencil mark to denote half of the bonnet; measure your silk, or whatever material you are going to make your bonnet out of, on the edge of the shape, and let it be five inches longer to allow for fullness. This quantity is quite sufficient. Measure your material selvage way, regulate the edge of the bonnet very nicely; the fullness must be even, the same as putting on a shirt collar, and neat stitches are required. In drawn bonnet-making, do not cut your sewing silk; wind it, and have your needlefuls the length of the silk or material you are going to run; do not fasten off your silk at the end of the runner, as it requires drawing up before the bonnet is finished; halve the material of your bonnet, before you begin to run with white cotton, all the way down; when you have done the tucks in your bonnet material, place the silk, or anything else you may be making in a bonnet of, on the willow shape, and cut a small piece out at the ears to shape it like the willow shapes; never mind fastening off your ends of silk—they will be all right before you finish your bonnet. The tucks in the silk are to be run just as you would a petticoat or a child’s frock. Four or five are enough. When your bonnet is run, and ready to put on the shape, it ought to measure seven or eight inches deep, according to the wearer. Old persons generally require a larger bonnet than young people. Try you hand in making a bonnet in a piece of book muslin or something common at first. The size of the tucks varies according to the taste of fashion a little. They are now worn all sizes. Some bonnets have only three tucks with wires in them, others five. Before you get forward in your running, try the wire you are going to use, “and do not do what is too often done” – run the tucks, and then find the wire will not do. The wire had always better be too small than too large; in fact, the runners must be loose on your wire. The cane or whalebone for drawn bonnets I have never seen used. A wire, covered with cotton, is to be bought any size you wish. The wire must be very hard and firm for the edge, and soft and pliable for all the rest of your bonnet. Attend to this, or you will make people’s heads ache. I would not give two pence for the prettiest bonnet ever turned out if the wires were not light and soft. All these things only require attention; for little things I have no doubt some of my young readers think them in comparison to the look of a bonnet. Many persons can tell you what part of town a bonnet has been made in simply by the foundation—I mean the wires and supports of the bonnet. If you wish to make a drawn bonnet of two colors or two pieces join them together before you begin; and now be careful, joining the work strong; and let the tuck you put in hid where it is joined, not because you wish anyone to think it not joined, but for neatness. When you have run the tucks in your bonnet, before you begin to put in your wires, cut the piece of silk that at the ends the exact shape of your pattern-frame; this after the wires are to be put in; and now place the silk on half of the willow shape;tack the silk, not the wire is in, on the shape, all around the edge of the bonnet; now pull your wires to the right size, that is, exactly like the shape; having done this, now fasten the short wires that come down at the ears to the pieces of chip and wire that you have run through the edge of the bonnet.

When the wire that goes in the edge of your bonnet must go quite round the back, and cross a little. It is almost the whole support of your bonnet. When the wires are all firmly fastened, you may now draw up your sewing-silk that is in the tucks. Be careful not to break them. You will find our bonnet looking better for being run well, and then drawn tight. All this must be done before you take your drawn bonnet off the willow frame. You will require five supports got ready to put in. They must be silk wire, rather firm, and the color of your bonnet. They should be cut one inch longer than the bonnet, so as to allow a small piece to be turned down, top and bottom. Put one piece in the middle of your bonnet, and the remaining four at equal distances. These wires are called support’s, as they help to keep the bonnet in shape. Having reached so far with your bonnet, bind all round the back from ear to ear, and bow put on our curtain. In putting on your curtain, draw the thread at the top to the size of ten inches, and make this firm; place half your curtain to the half of the back of your bonnet; now sew it on; mid the fullness is equal.

If you wish to make a drawn bonnet with puffs, begin the bonnet just in the same way. When you have made a runner or tuck, push up a little of your silk; a very little will do. You require a piece of net underneath your silk. This net must be the size of the piece of the silk. When you turn down the first hem, put the net inside, and run it with the silk. The use of this piece of net is that you may full your silk on it, keeping the net plain. These kind of bonnets require a lining; it should be a little full. Always bear in mind that two or three inches are a good deal of fullness in millinery, in silk, net , or anything else. When you put linings in any bonnet, puff net on the lining before you put it on the bonnet. If you put more than one inch inside your bonnet, put it on the lining before you put the lining in. The bonnet is lined after the outside is done so as to keep it as fresh as possible.


Published in: on March 14, 2016 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Finishing a Straw Bonnet

Godey’s, November 1856

Straw Bonnets.—Straw bonnets generally require some sort of lining, crape, muslin, or a thin silk. Very few are now worn with a plain lining. It requires just the same quantity to make a little fullness, which is more becoming. I will explain to you how to make a plain lining or a plain bonnet will take just the same quantity; or, if any difference, the plain requires more than the full. I think I hear my readers say this if very strange. You are aware that, in cutting out a plain bonnet or lining, there are several small pieces cut out to the shape. The piece make the fullness, for the material is used on the straight when put in the easy and on cross-way when plain, which compels you to cut pieces off , which on the straight and put in full, is not required. A head lining of silk or muslin should be put in after the lining to make all neat and clean when the bonnet is worn. Straw curtains are worn; but a great many ladies prefer a silk curtain made of the ribbon to match the trimming. The curtain is best cross-way with a narrow straw on the edge. The curtain will not quite take a yard of ribbon; three and a quarter or three and a half are sufficient to trim a bonnet. Plain colors on a straw are neater than mixed, such as primrose, light or dark blue. Sarcenet ribbon is better than satin. It is a good plan to sew narrow strings on the bonnet at the same time you sew the wide tie; the narrow first: it keep the bonnet more firm on the head. When I say narrow ribbon, I mean an inch and a half wide. An old fancy straw bonnet will make up again very weill by putting some silk between each row of straw. You must have a wire frame, and unpick the bonnet; cut some pieces of silk on the cross for puffings, and now lay your straw alternately with the silk. Unless the straw is a very good color, mix colored silk with it. This bonnet will require a lining.

Published in: on March 7, 2016 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  

Spring Millinery Reading

As spring arrives, a great many of us are thinking…. Spring Millinery!  Here are a few past articles of interest….

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Straw Plaiting


Published in: on February 22, 2016 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Italian Straw Plaiting

Published in: on February 21, 2016 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Alas, no home

These poor bonnets never did find a home last year. Each is waiting for the right time and person.

The first is one of my favorites from last year. I just love the combination of the velvet calla lilies and pink & green silk.

This is a smaller straw hat. (It fits my head perching forward.) It would be good for an adult with a smaller to average head or a child. Find it on Etsy.

This little hat is ideal for a late war to post war impression. Light weight, made of fine hemp-straw and silk, it sits back over the hair as it begins to rise. The inspiration for this bonnet comes from this 1865 wedding bonnet at the National Trust Collections (below) Find it on Etsy.


**Note: I am going to make a point to share my millinery work here first as the listings are complete. This means, to get the first look and chance at pieces, subscribe to my blog. You can opt to have the new posts go to a feed or your email.**




Examples of a Turn-Over Shawl

A nice example of a Turn-Over Shawl is on Ebay this week. I hope they keep the photos up for a good long while.

A “Turn-Over Shawl” is A shawl that when folded in a triangle, shows all four finished borders. This is done by attaching 2 borders on the right side and 2 on the wrong side.

The three-quarter back view shows the Vs of the two border pairs. These are set on opposite sides so when folded over, both sets of borders form their Vs. You can see the “right side” construction of the top V in one of the photos. This shawl is made with a center piece of black wool, 4 paisley type borders and black wool borders that are frayed. The right and wrong sides of the paisley type borders can be seen in the other two photos. A border such as this one could have been purchased at the time.


There is another one over on Etsy as well. This shawl is 58″ square, within the common size perimeters for the mid-century. Again we can see the borders set in pairs on opposite sides so they will make Vs when the shawl is folded. While this border is narrower than the Ebay shawl’s, the way it is folded and photographed really shows how dramatic and lovely the look can be. The seller includes a teaser photo of one corner showing the right and wrong sides of the border. The color thread clearly shows the construction details. (btw – Please do not dry clean an antique shawl as the seller suggest.)

I believe Genteel Arts just did a workshop on making a turn-over shawl.

Additional examples:

Published in: on January 25, 2016 at 6:50 am  Comments (2)  

Shawls Sizes & Shapes

For more in-depth information, read Paisley, Plaid, & Purled: Shawls of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

PPandP book cover


  • Square shawls should be in the range of 55 inches to 70 inches square with 64 inches square being standard.
  • Long shawls are double squares, sometimes called plaids, which should be 55 inches wide by 110 inches long to 70 inches wide by 140 inches long with 64 inches wide by 128 inches long being the most common.
  • Three-quarter shawls are 3/4ths the width and 3/4ths length of a standard double square shawl. A three-quarter shawl would be 48 inches wide by 96 inches long.
  • Scarves are much longer than they are wide. A shawl 3 feet by 9 feet would be considered a scarf. These were more popular earlier in the 19th century.

The exceptions to these standard sizes include lace, knit or crochet shawls.

Next, consider weight. One of the mistakes I observe is the use of wool which is more of a blanket weight than a shawl weight. The weight of fabric is determined in ounces per linear yard. If you want to think of wool weights in terms of modern suit weights, a tropical weight is the lightest and regular is generally the fabric worn for a winter suit.



For more in-depth information, read Paisley, Plaid, & Purled: Shawls of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

PPandP book cover


Published in: on January 21, 2016 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

How do I …. My Shawl

I am being asked more and more frequently about repairing or strengthening shawls.

Oh, how I wish I had taken classes textile conservation and preservation already. But, I haven’t.

Before proceeding, I want to say I do not encourage the wear of original shawls.

What causes damage to a shawl

  • Folding creases the thread and causes fractures.
  • Dryness can dry out the fibers and make them brittle.
  • Moisture can invite mildew or mold.
  • Moths can eat holes.
  • Time is just time as it wears away the life of fiber.
  • Chemicals/dyes can cause some threads/fibers to be less stable than others. These can deteriorate quicker.


Reading up on the options

Further reading

  • Preservation begins at home: How to care for your textile collections” by Julia M. Brennan. (This is one of the nicer, easy to follow articles for at home.)***
  • Caring for Textiles blog.
  • The Museum Textiles “Issuu” page.
  • “A Conservator’s Approach to Viewing Textiles”, Textile Society of America, Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium, Sante Fe, NM, 2000.
  • Preserving Textiles: A Guide for the Nonspecialist,  Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana:  1999, 92pp.
  •  “Treating Mrs. Robertson’s 1802 Dress”, Costume Society of America, Dress, Earleville, Md,  1993-4, pp. 65-73.
  • “Fabric Wallcoverings: Historic Use, Cleaning and Conservation”, Historic Preservation, The Interiors Handbook for Historic Buildings, Vol. II, Washington, DC, 1993, pp. 5. 21-24.


For in-depth information on shawls and their history, read Paisley, Plaid, & Purled: Shawls of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

PPandP book cover

Published in: on January 14, 2016 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Shawls for Historic Interpretation

For more in-depth information, read Paisley, Plaid, & Purled: Shawls of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

PPandP book cover


Shawls for Historic Interpretation

Kashmir, Asianic Paisley and Paisley-type Shawls

Paisley family shawl, possibly French

Fibers, weave and size: These shawls should ideally be made of hair brushed from the Kashmir/cashmere goat or from a wool and silk blend. The silk should be the warp or blended into the wool in a small amount. Avoid shawls with a rayon or acetate blended with the wool. Original Kashmirs are very light weight because of the tapestry twill weave. I have yet to be able to compare the weights of original and new. Look for sizes around 64 inches square or 64×128 inches as a double square.

Design: When looking for an Asianic shawl, look for a strong cone motif. The cone motifs should radiate out from a center field of black, white or red. These radiating motives create a star or spoked flower appearance from a distance.  The spokes should be connected with ribbon like borders consisting of small floral motives. By our era a newer shawl would have a smallish center. But, the higher cost of these shawls along with their durability means it would not be unlikely for a grown woman to have a shawl with a larger center from her youth. The outer border can be on two or four sides. This borer should be comprised of smaller designs brought together in the border. Kashmir borders will have more independent blocks of design while French borders will visually entwine each block with it’s neighbor.

Two other design options include the striped shawl and the border shawl.

Where to look: There are some nice shawls coming out of India. Many of these are available on online and via Ebay for various prices. When doing an online search use “Paisley Shawl” or “Cashmere Shawl” or “Antique Shawl” for your key words.

(note: I have read several 1990’s news stories regarding the skinning of goats for their under-coat hair, which is used to make shawls, thus endagering the goats. While shopping be sure to find a merchant you are confidant in.)

Woven shawls Red Wool Shawl

Fibers, weave and size: Wool or wool/silk blends. These should also be 64 inches square or 64 inches by 128 double square. A shawl relatively near these dimensions will look nice. The weave should be a tight plain or twill weave. The shawl can range from light weight to rather heavy if hand-woven.

Design : Look for solids, checks, plaids (preferably symmetrical) stripes and border plaids.

Golden yellow plaid shawl with detailWhere to look: This is a type of shawl you can make yourself. Many Museums offer weaving classes thru-out the year. You can also make a fabric shawl from woven wool lengths. You will need a dress weight to coat weight wool rather than a heavy weight  in a 54 inch to 60 inch width. Plain woven fabric and plaid woven fabrics work well. The yardage can fringed on the end by unravelling the ends by hand. To calculate your yardage, decide if you want a square or double square shawl and how long you wish your fringe to be on the ends. For a square shawl, purchase the width of the fabric plus 6 to 12 inches for fringe. For example: if you want a double square shawl out of 60 inch wide fabric purchase 130 inches for a 120 inch shawl with 5 inch fringe.  (see the article on fringing a shawl)

Printed shawls

Fibers, weave and size: Printed shawls come in wool, cotton and blends of wool, silk and cotton. Ideally, you would find a 64 inch square shawl, but the common 55 inch square shawl is not bad.

Design: Printed shawls vary by region. Look for period motifs and borders.

Where to look:  The Russian Pavlovo Posad company still makes printed shawls in their 19th century designs. There are several sellers listing these on ebay and more on the web. I am still trying to find a direct link to the company. I may have to settle with a regular address and phone number. Use “Pavlovo Shawls” or “Russian Shawls” for your internet search.

Sheer Shawls – Muslin Shawls, Grenadine & Barege

Fibers, weave and size: I still have not found sheer shawls that I like. These were silk, wool or cotton. They frequently had a plain central field and a stripe border creating a plaid motif.

Lawn, Gauze, Voile, Silk Organza & Batiste fabrics can be used to make a sheer shawl. The edges would need to be hand finished with a rolled hem. This isn’t what original shawls have though. You may want to starch the fabric as well. You can add tucks to the border or ribbon to the border or edge.  

Design:: Plain, woven plaids, woven checks, woven border plaids.

Where to look: – Online fabric merchants including Exclusive Silks and Fashion Fabric Club

Silk Shawls

Fibers, weave and size: I have not yet found the ideal silk shawl. Thai Silks has larger white shawls in their scarf section. These are a little smaller than ideal, but may suit your needs.

To make your own shawl, you want a durable silk, in the 64inch square range, no slubs with or without fringing. Look for a taffeta, china or habotai silk. Do not use satin.  I have seen solid color, shot (or changable silk) and patterned silk shawls. A couple of the India, China and Thai merchants sell nice silk shawls. I tend to think play it safe for silk shawls and go for simple. Also, many list as silk but are selling Viscose.

Design:: If you want to embroider your shawl, I highly suggest looking extensively at originals.

Embroidered China Crape

There are some fabulously beautiful embroidered shawls out there… but only a few designs are suitable. I occasionally pick through ebay to see what is out there. It is rare I find something that meets size, design, quality and fiber standards. But it is possible.

**Edit – The previous finds are no longer available. I’ll keep an eye out for more.

Lace Shawls

Sadly, every modern lace shawl I have seen is a synthetic. I may not have found the right maker. I suspect the prices may be quite high.

Crochet and Knitted Shawls

Great thing about these is you can make them your own. There are several patterns available in magazines and guide books. Many of these patterns are available digitally through Accessible Archives and online from various sites.

If you are purchasing a shawl, be sure to ask where the pattern design came from and what fibers the shawl is made out of. The shawl patterns above are worked in wool or silk.

Orenburg Lace Shawls

Fibers, weave and size – These should be 100% wool

Design – See originals

Where to look: – These are available from the same places the Pavlavo shawls are available. But not all are 100% wool. These should be square and very, very fine. The idea is they could fit through a wedding band. Most of the ones I see listed on Ebay don’t look like they have been blocked (set to the square shape.)


For more in-depth information, read Paisley, Plaid, & Purled: Shawls of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

PPandP book cover

Published in: on January 7, 2016 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)