Summer Series – Were Milliners only Single Women?

Actually, the question is usually “Only single women could be milliners. Right?” or “Could milliners be married?”

Many of us were taught married women didn’t work outside of the home or couldn’t work outside of the home for much of the nineteenth century. This is a misconception.

Looking at advertisements, Miss. and Mrs. are used with women’s names. Of course, this could be for public relations purposes.

Looking at census records, milliners have statuses of married and widowed. In 1855 Livingston, New York 47 women’s occupations were recorded as milliner. Of the 47, 7 were married, 5 were widowed, 6 were head of household. 12 were living at home with a parent (listed as daughter to the head of household.) 13 women were living in homes other than their biological family, listed as milliner, assistant, boarder, servant, laborer, and maid.

In New York, prior to March of 1860 a married woman’s wages were legally her husband’s money. In March of that year, a bill went through the legislature and was signed into law giving married women the right to the wages they earned.

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.

The 1860 Act also required a married women to get her husband’s written consent to sell real property but gave ways to do so when a husband was unable to do so. (In New York, married women also retained ownership of businesses owned prior to marriage after the Married Woman’s Property Act or 1848.)



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Published in: on July 25, 2022 at 6:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Focusing on Education

For the second year, I was able to focus my millinery interpretation, during GCVM’S Civil War Living History Weekend on women’s employment. Shifting from the “pretty” of millinery to the women and history connected to each part of a piece of millinery allows us to have more indepth, more genuine conversations with visitors.

Before and After

To prepare for the weekend, the Insurance Office needed to be transformed once again into a millinery shop. Here are before and after looks from the doorway.

With the focus on education, I brought educational display items in addition to the items for creating the appearance of millinery shop. On the front table is the straw millinery display showing the steps from wheat to straw to plait, with different examples of plait and straw motifs. To the right is a visual resource book filled with illustrations, cdvs, photographs of my millinery blocks, and copies of billheads. Additional reference books are on the shelf beside the mantle. On the side table is a new display board I thought of last minute and plan to develop further. These are touchable items, each representing not only a component in making a hat or bonnet, but also an employment for women or children.

Having resources and visuals available to share with visitors as their questions and our conversations unfolded was extremely helpful. I grabbed the visual resource flip book several times each day to show visitors the illustrations of cottage industry, photos of millinery blocks, and billheads. The copy of Virginia Penny’s Employments of Women was also referenced a few times either to show the multitude of employment opportunities for women or to let a visitor look up a particular job.

This year, visitors came with excellent questions. Some wanted to know how a woman got a job working in a millinery, what kinds of things they did, how much they got paid, and what the work day was like. Some even want to role play in first person. I plan to include some of these questions in coming Millinery Monday posts.

On a Personal Note….

I once again failed to get many photos. I feel good about this trio as it shows I am managing the physical aspects better than I have the past several years. I am not yet as fit as I once was, but hope keep improving.

Published in: on July 24, 2022 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Summer Series – Isn’t Straw Delicate?

“Isn’t straw delicate” is one of my favorite questions. It shows a visitor is thinking through what I am working with, imagining the fiber itself, and questioning either what they see or what they think.

Straw as a straw is delicate. It can be snapped or shredded with little effort.

Yet, straw once paired together with other straw can be quite strong.

Straw braided and sewn together can hold its shape well. It can be relatively strong. It can also withstand elements better than other contemporary materials.

One of the great things about straw is it can be forgiving, allowing it to be retrimmed or redecorated a number of times.

One of my favorite straw bonnet stories from the nineteenth century tells of a young woman who has the same bonnet for ten years. She redecorates it yearly…… Cite

Advertisements for millineries and straw goods stores often include bleaching and reblocking of straws in their lists of goods and services. Straw bonnets and hats can be reblocked into their original shape with new sizing (stiffening) or, within reason, be reblocked into a newer shape for a more updated style.

Straw can also be repaired. This can be seen in original bonnets and hats with patches of straw plait.

Clients have shared with me a few survival stories over the years. Most recently, is this hat who had a rough journey to its owner. The box suffered significant damage including the dented in side seen here and the opposite side ripped into. The hat within survived with only some mis-shaping from the trauma.

Another hat took an impromptu flight and dip into the ocean while its wearer was on a leisurely excursion. The boat was able circle around while the hat floated in the water. When it was fished out, the hat needed only to dry before it could be worn again.

Now, this isn’t to say straw millinery is invincible. A straw hat or bonnet is unlikely to survive being sat on or trampled. Straw can also be susceptible to mold or mildew if not properly dried after getting wet or damp. Straw can also become brittle if stored too long in a dry area.



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Published in: on July 18, 2022 at 6:05 am  Comments (1)  

Bon Bon Baskets

I have been waiting for months to make these straw bon bon baskets.

When I first saw the illustration for a basket made from straw plait in Godey’s Lady’s Book’s 1858 edition, I was nearly giddy. I had been thinking about baskets made from straw for a while. I had seen splint baskets repaired with straw. I had even repaired one with straw. It just made sense to me to make one with straw. I just needed documentation to place them in the nineteenth century. Ta da!

Let’s start with the morning videos.

This weekend’s set up was fairly simple. I made a couple baskets earlier for visitors to see while I decorated one and sewed a third, then fourth yet to be completed.

The baskets are made very much like the crown of a hat. The straw plait, or braid, is sewn in a spiral creating the bottom of the basket, then turned up for the sides. These bases are blocked just like a hat with a little sizing to stiffen them. The handles and decorative edges are straw shaped separately and added. Two are edged with double braided straw. One is edged with a looped design.

The baskets are decorated with the wheat heads, corn flowers, and poppies described in Godey’s.

I found I did not like the look or process of sewing the individual flowers and wheat heads as I decorated the first basket. I also found the wheat heads would block ease of reaching into the baskets for the chocolates. Towards the end of Saturday, I tried soaking some of the what heads, or the stalks of them actually. I was able to insert a wire and shape them. This made it possible to wire several Sunday morning and create a garland of wheat and flowers that could wrap around the basket. This needed only a few stitches to secure.

I have since had friends share additional straw basket images with me. Of course, some of these will need to be made as well.

Published in: on July 17, 2022 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Woven Bonnets

The past couple weeks I’ve been working on a series of woven bonnets. Each of these bonnets was blocked on an original, antique bonnet block. I tried a different technique for finishing the edges this time. I am pleased with the finished edge I achieved with the wiring and abaca plait.

I have such a love<>hate for these woven bonnets. I love the pretty look of the woven bonnets. I hate how the sharp edges of this material cuts my hands and arms as I work.

Currently, 4 of these are in the shop. The 5th is going the the Civil War event at GCVM for the millinery interpretation. It will be available after the event. I love the look of this particular weave so much, I have two more in my cart waiting.

Published in: on July 15, 2022 at 8:12 pm  Comments (1)  

In Shop and Waiting

I have been working on two hats this week. One is now available in the shop. The other will be available after the GCVM Civil War living history event next weekend. It will be a dusplay piece during the event.

Published in: on July 13, 2022 at 3:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pretty Hat

I love how this triple series came out. I regret not getting a photo of all three together. The two previous were packaged for the Post Office before I finished this one. I was pretty anxious over a couple things yesterday. So I put on an audiobook and sewed through to escape my thoughts.

This tapered crown shape is one of the most common styles seen during the American Civil War era. I wound black and grey straw vining around the brim. A very pretty and dramatic look. This hat is 21.5″ around the crown and 11″ across the brim.

The three pieces together.

I have just a tiny bit of each left.

Published in: on July 11, 2022 at 9:41 am  Comments (1)  

Summer Series – “What should be my first bonnet?”

This week’s question comes from a visitor who wants to begin reenacting as a hobby. They are either just starting out or have been reenacting for a short time. In developing their wardrobe, they know they need a bonnet. They ask “What should be my first bonnet?” or “What bonnet should I buy.”

My answer often surprises.

A sunbonnet.

So many women post about just starting and needing a bonnet. They often waste money on a bad fashion bonnet. I would rather see them buy a sensible sunbonnet and save for the right fashion bonnet. But, no. The bad fashion purchase gets worn far too long out of the feeling of remorse for the expense.

A correctly made sunbonnet is a purchase that will last many years. It will protect the wearer’s face, hair, and neck from the sun. It can also protect the fashion bonnet by allowing it to stay “home” in inclement weather.



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Published in: on July 11, 2022 at 6:05 am  Leave a Comment  

More Vining Grey and Black

This tapered crown shape is one of the most common styles seen during the American Civil War era. I wound black and grey straw vining around the brim. A very pretty and dramatic look.

This is 21″ around the crown.

Published in: on July 9, 2022 at 10:19 am  Leave a Comment  

A new favorite

I might be having too much fun with this grey straw. I love it.

This bonnet has black and grey straw vining around the brim.

Published in: on July 8, 2022 at 2:40 pm  Comments (2)