Measuring Your Head for Mid-19th Century Hats – Picking the Hat that Fits

There are two factors for finding a comfortable fit: Size and shape.


The difference in wear or placement means we measure for a mid-nineteenth century had differently than we do for a twentieth or twenty-first century hat. The modern hat is measured just above the eyebrow. (This is also where many of us measure for bonnets. We want to keep you on your toes.) For mid-nineteenth century, we measure higher, at the hair line. In this illustration, we can see the difference between where the two measurements would be.


These higher, hairline measurements are often smaller than those taken at the eyebrow. A hat worn at this point can be slightly smaller to slightly larger for comfort. So, add and subtract an inch to your hairline measure.

For example: I am 22.5″ around at my eyebrows and 21.5″ at my hairline. The vast land of the internet tells me that the average woman’s head measures 22.5″ to 22 5/8″ around at the modern measuring point. So, I am about average. I comfortably wear a mid-nineteenth century hat that is 19.5″ to 21.5″

Here is my head with the tape showing where to measure. This is where I wear most CW era hats. This is the circumference of my head. My measurement is 21 1/2″. (Note: this is a full inch smaller than the modern measurement take lower.)

General guidelines I use:

  • Small = Less than 21″ at the hairline (crown less than 20″)
  • Average = 21″-22.5″ at the hairline (crown 20-21.5″)
  • Large = Greater than 22.5″ at the hairline (crown greater than 22″)


It is helpful to know whether your head is more round or more oval.When looking from above, some people have rounder heads while other have more oval heads. I have an average oval head. Very round hats don’t work for me without adding to the lining.

round oval

Hat blocks can be more round or more oval with the same circumference. To illustrate: Both of these shapes to the right can have a circumference of 22.5″. Yet, the same hat would fit each head differently.

My straw hats and bonnets are available in my Etsy shop as I finish them:

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Published in: on March 1, 2023 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Follow Up to Yesterday’s Corset Post

After writing yesterday’s post and a mid-day meeting, I spent the afternoon trying to back track the sources behind the BBC/Netflix corset ban story.

To the right is a sample of the search results.  While I am not familiar with many of the UK publications,  I do recognize several of the results as tabloid style publications. Each references an undisclosed “source.” I find this frustrating because I like documentation.  I want to read official written announcements or, in this case, the equivalent of an inter-office memo.

I haven’t found such.

So, this makes me wonder… Who is the “source”? Is there really a “source”?

Or… Is this just another one of the quasi-annual “corsets are awful” PR stunts?

As I continued looking through the search results, I found several 2021 articles of a similar tone – actresses being quoted as saying corsets are awful, uncomfortable, etc.. The articles are filled with claims propagating the myth of the evil corset.

I can’t help but wonder: Just how many actresses actually complain about period support garments? How many are pushed into saying negative things about their experiences? How many have snip-its of their statements spun to dramatize corset wearing as awful?

Corsets as awful, painful, unhealthy, degrading is news. The headlines get shared and make money.

After all, who wants to read about how comfortable a corset is to wear?

ADDITION: This article from Jezabel takes a different look, also seeing this as a PR move, and contacted the BBC that denies the foundation of the story.

Published in: on February 24, 2023 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  

The Good and Bad of Wearing a Corset for Nearly 30 Years

As I sit here listening to the thick layer of ice being scraped to safety outside and waiting for my weather induced migraine to subside, I am thinking about how I want to respond to the BBC/Netflix corset “ban” news floating around social media this week. The articles talk about the various statements made by actresses wearing corsets describing their experiences. In contrast, newer articles include statements made by costumers, corsetiers, and fashion historians regarding the proper fit and purpose of the corset as a support garment.

What can I offer?

The same thing I have always offered – My honest experiences.

I have been wearing a corset and/or stays for going on 30 years of wearing a corset. Okay, pause. This is a bit of a shocking statement, in a couple ways, even for myself. First, I counted and recounted. I have to accept it really has been that long and that is really how old I am now. That totally feels weird. Second, I have not been wearing a corset everyday for these years. It is the 21st century after all and I live in it; I have a “day job”, I wear modern clothes most of the time. I have worn a corset in different capacities and for different lengths of time through the past thirty years. In my early twenties, I wore a corset for work and hobby, 1810s, 1850s and 1860s. At this time, I generally was in a corset 6 or 7 days a week, 8 to 20 hours a day. I drove, ate, worked, played, and danced in a corset. In my later 20s and early 30s, I wore a corset more for hobby and volunteering; generally 2 to 3 days a week for various lengths of time and activities, for most weeks from spring through fall. Now, in my forties, I wear a corset far less than I would like as I currently only do a speckling of volunteering, ca 1800-1860s.

So, let’s start again.

I have worn corsets for going on 30 years – well fitted corsets and poorly fitted corsets….

Let’s start with the poorly fitted corsets. When I first started working at my local museum and doing reenacting, I bought the corset I was told to buy at the time – the Fredericks of Hollywood corset. This was a polyester, gored construction corset offered in sizes based on bust measurements (if I remember correctly.) At the time, they came with thin spring steel boning. Later, these came with poly boning. Wearing this style corset lasted a few years for me, until the story below quickly pushed me towards better corsetry.

I moved on to making corsets fit to my body. At first, I drafted patterns using my measurements and period diagrams using white denim and thicker spring steel boning. During this time, my mid-20s to early 30s, my body changed constantly. I was making a new corset each or every other year. I moved into using the duck-tape method of fitting and making my corset with coutil and the heavier spring steel. This has been my preferred method for over a decade. Only recently, out of curiosity, I decided to try the RedThreaded patterns, which I am quite pleased with.

Now, let’s talk about these experiences…..

The current articles talk about corsets limiting mobility, of being “famously restricting.” My experience does not find this to be the case. I find, when wearing a properly fitted of the right size, the garment is supportive and allows for quite a bit of movement. The best way for me to explain this is through images. These photos are from a work day at GCVM some year ago. I wore both a corset and a cage while doing a full day of manual labor. We tore down and rebuilt a fence moving rails & stones, and hauled corn to the crib. I was in no way restricted by my corset. Rather, my corset helped me as a support garment protecting my back.

Restriction happens when a corset is not the right size or does not have enough ease in the hips. This became screamingly obvious to me when I gained a bunch of weight during a health issue and tried wearing my pre-weight gain corset. I was not comfortable and could not move actively as I should.

There are a couple mentions of bruising and marks from corsets in the current articles. I would love to say I don’t get marks from my corsets. I do. I am a curvy woman who works her butt off in hot and cold weather wearing a corset. My chemise wrinkles underneath leaving wrinkles on my skin. Some of the designs are pretty cool. Sometimes they itch and take an hour or so to relax out in the evening. My bras on the other hand, have left deep red marks under my breasts and even have broken the skin if I work hard in one.

I will admit I even have a scar from one of my corsets. Earlier on in my history “career,” I was performing in Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the historic village. This was when I was wearing one of those poly Freddy’s corsets. This was in the fall, after a full spring/summer season. The performance was on the front porch and lawn of the Ladies Seminary, with a few hundred people gathered as the audience spilled out onto the village square. During one of the dances, I stepped in, stepped out, turned to put my left hand in, and snap! One of the spring steel bones in the back of my corset snapped. I finished the dance, finished the performance, fleeing and crouching in fear of the headless horsemen as the broken ends of the metal bone dug into my bloody skin. After the final bow, we exited “stage” into the town hall. I stripped to my chemise in the few steps from front door to inner door. Under the corset, my chemise soaked up the blood. The cut left a scar that was easily visible until my late 30s when it only showed itself if I got dehydrated or had a very long day in nineteenth century dress. Since then, I only use thicker, not wider, spring steel boning.

This brings us to “she ‘couldn’t f**ing breathe'” and accounts of feeling faint. Well, in nearly 30 years, my now overweight, out of shape self only recalls almost fainting once* due to my corset. Again, this was in my early 20s. I did an 18th century fashion show for a friend. For the show, I was dressed entirely in her clothing, stays included. The stays I wore were made for a woman with a longer waist and smaller bust than I was/am. I did the show. Then quickly drove to meet up with a friend, with plans to change there. Okay, maybe I wanted to show off this rather sexy look to my particularly handsome friend. Once there, I got a bit light headed and faint. I can not say for sure how much was the incorrect stays or the swoon-worthy man.

Yes, breathing in a corset can be a little different. I tend to breathe up and down in my chest more than out and in with my diaphragm. It is far from a “can’t breathe.”

I keep changing my mind about whether to include this last part. If you have been reading for some time, you may recall this photo. This photo was taken just a couple weeks after getting out of the hospital. I was very proud of figuring out how to wear mid-nineteenth century clothing post surgery. The other reality of this image is that the corset I was wearing saved me from a trip back to the hospital. I was good though the event. Then I over did it during packing up. I tore open my incision from the inside out. My corset kept my skin and tissue together on the outside. (Okay, a little woozy again thinking about that.)

I need to cut this “short” to get ready for a meeting. I hope this gives a better understanding of what it is like for an average, 20th turn 21st century person wearing a corset, whether for work, volunteer, or hobby. Let me know if you have any questions.

Please be sure to read my follow-up thoughts post.

*The time I did pass out from heat exhaustion does not count as I already had unhooked my corset and was exhausted from going from working at a resident camp program to a history event on next to no sleep for the prior week. I also don’t count the time I did pass out during a Yuletide performance because that was more a matter of dancing back to back day with little time to eat.

Published in: on February 23, 2023 at 11:07 am  Comments (4)  

February Recess (aka Birthday Week) Sale!

I usually get a little down around my birthday. This year, in hope of a pick-me-up, I decided to have a sale!

For the duration of February Recess, I will select 1 hat or bonnet each day for a special price of $111.11!

The time of day I pick the new piece will vary from day to day. But, it will happen at some point that day.

February recess is February 18th through the 26th.

Published in: on February 18, 2023 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

1870s & 1880s Hats & Bonnets

I spent the last week focusing on making a selection of 1870s petite hats and 1880s pieces. The 1870s pieces are fashionable hats worn perched forward on the head. I focused on these illustrations from 1870 and 1871 for my inspiration. You can see them below. The 1880s pieces include two Capote bonnets and a hight crown, “flowerpot” hat. (I am not fond of that name.)

Special Announcement: Each day during February Recess, I will select one piece in my shop to offer at a special price of $111!!!!!

1870s Petite Hats:

1880s Pieces:

Published in: on February 18, 2023 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

A February Full of Hearts- Project Review

I hope you’ve enjoyed the past two weeks of heart theme posts. Here is a review of the projects so you don’t miss any.

But first….. here is a special treat. This is an exclusive In Detail looking at an original heart pin cushion.

Heart Projects:

Published in: on February 14, 2023 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  

A February Full of Hearts – A Little Heart Book

Today’s Heart filled post is a history inspired project, a little heart shaped book. This sweet book can be made using techniques from Fanciful Utility, with paper pages inside instead of wool.

To make this book, you will need pasteboard, outer fabric, inner fabric, and several sheets paper for pages.

Start by cutting a heart shape you like. This can be a fat heart, a lean heart, even and asymmetrical heart. Just be sure one side is flat enough to become the spine. This will become your template for cutting. You may find it helpful to mark which side or spot is your spine.

Using your template, cut 4 pieces of pasteboard the size of your template. Cut 2 exterior fabric hearts and 2 interior fabric hearts, adding a generous 1/2″ seam allowance.  Using your favorite FanU technique, cover two with your outer fabric and two with your inner fabric. Whip stitch the cover layers together.

Fold your sheets of paper in half. Do this individually or in pairs rather than as one stack. Place your template with the spine along the fold. Trace your template and cut. Double check that your placement and pages are as you expect. If so, trace and cut the rest of your pages.

Open each pair of pages and stack them. With a strong needle, pierce at least 3 holes in the fold. Try to make them equidistant with the middle one centered on the spin. Refold the pages in pairs of triples. For each grouping, sew through the holes. Stack your folded pages on top of each other with the folds and holes lined up. Sew through the threads snugging the pages together. I recommend watching a video or two on simple booklet binding for this as I know my description is clear as mud.

Place the paper pages on the back cover. Center as desired. Secure the paper spine to the cover at the edge or just in from the edge.

Place the front cover on top of the paper pages. Bind the covers together using your favorite FanU technique.

You can embellish as desired. Consider a ribbon to tie the book closed, embroidery on the cover, or beading around the edge.

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Published in: on February 11, 2023 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  

New Millinery Available

I added more hats to my Etsy shop. One has a narrow brim set on a tapered crown. One has a new vining technique. One has a braid around the brim edge using plait of different widths.

Also available:

Published in: on February 10, 2023 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

A February Full of Hearts – A Heart Needle-book

To make a heart shaped needle-book you will need: pasteboard, exterior fabric (silk, wool, velvet, cotton), interior fabric (silk, cotton), and thin wool for pages.

Begin by creating your own heart template. The extant examples I have observed are symmetrical hearts roughly the same width as height.

Using your template, cut 4 pieces of pasteboard the size of your template. Cut 2 exterior fabric hearts and 2 interior fabric hearts, adding a generous 1/2″ seam allowance. Fold your wool and place the top curves of your heart template on the fold, edges just meeting the curve. Trace the template on the wool. Using pinking scissors or a pinking machine, cut just inside the line. Repeat if you prefer 4 pages.

Cover 2 pasteboard hearts with exterior fabric and 2 pasteboard hearts with interior fabric using your favorite Fanciful Utility technique. Pair the front and back covers. Whip stitch around the edge.

Place the covers together. Create two hinges at the top curves of the hearts.

Place the wool pages inside the covered hearts, lining up the fold with the hinges. Stitch in place. (Embroider the pages prior to inserting if you wish.)

Embellish your heart needle-book with a ribbon closure and/or embroidery if you wish.

Are you one of the many readers enjoying my millinery blog posts?
Consider becoming a Patreon patron. Doing so helps support my work and helps me write more useful articles.
Published in: on February 9, 2023 at 1:05 am  Leave a Comment  

What is Ahead for You?

I feel like I’ve lost touch with where history minded people are at with their plans for the coming year, both museum interpreters and reenactors. I have been focused lately on some rebalancing for myself and some projects for myself. So, this out-of-touch feeling is both a good and a bad thing.

I would love to hear what you have in mind for your coming season…. What are you looking forward to? What are you working on? What are your goals? Are you working on something important to you?

Also… Are there any new, local projects or exhibits you would like me and/or readers to know about? Any trends you are noticing?

Please share in the blog comments.

Published in: on February 7, 2023 at 1:57 pm  Comments (2)