I Shall Call Her Galaxy


Yes, Galaxy.

Because, when my new, original bonnet block arrived Clara was instantly fascinated. She kept trying to lick it. So, I covered it with a blanket. Next thing I knew, she was curled up with it; guarding it.

…..Guardian….. Guardians of the Galaxy…..

Thus, Galaxy.

Now, what you really want to know is about the block.

At first, the seller’s photos didn’t tell much. We could tell it was a bonnet block.(I asked a trusted millinery friend.) We thought is might be an 1820s block.

Once I had it out of the box, it was saying 1840s. This 1840s plate of bonnets came to mind. The shape of the crown and brim seemed like a near match. The tip was what was different, round verses flat.

I have to admit, I was a bit bonkers, kid in a candy candy shop the first few days it was here. I really wanted to test it out. Since I don’t work with woven straw, I didn’t have a straw hood laying around to block. Luckily, when I went to order more color straw, she had a closeout Toyo hood for me to test on.


If you think watching paint dry takes a while, watching Toyo takes longer. Here are the untrimmed results.


After cutting, Clara inspected.


At first, I thought it was small. I laughed thinking my luck was to get a child’s bonnet block. Then I out it on. Small was not the case.


The plait version will get rows of plait around the bottom edge. It is taking tremendous self control not to jump into making a bunch of bonnets with the block right Now. But, I really have to focus on the pieces for the CW event that weekend after next.

Btw – I am discovering I can block a few other shapes on this block.

Published in: on July 5, 2016 at 8:00 am  Comments (3)  

Life of a Straw Bonnet – Cutting Down

Cleaning bonnet Family Economics 1861insert image of cutting down text

Published in: on May 3, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Life of a Straw Bonnet – Longevity


Published in: on May 2, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Life of a Straw Bonnet – Cleaning & Care

Miss Leslie’s Lady’s House-book; a Manual of Domestic Economy Containing Approved Directions for Washing, Dress-making, by Miss Eliza Leslie, 1850.

TO CLEAN A STRAW OR LEGHORN BONNETHaving separated the crown from the brim and the cape or neck-piece, and removed the lining and wire, the next thing is to take out whatever stains may be found in the bonnet, the crown of which should be put on a wooden block. For grease, rub on with your finger some powdered Wilmington clay, or a little magnesia; and in an hour or two brush it off, and renew the application, if necessary. For other stains use either cream of tartar or salt of sorrel, put on a little wet. If salt of sorrel,must be washed off again almost immediately, lest it injure the straw by remaining on it. Afterwards (keeping the crown still on the bonnet-block) go over the whole surface of the bonnet with a brush dipped in a weak solution of pearl ash in lukewarm water, (a tea-spoonful to a quart.) Then scour it off at once, with a strong lather of brown soap and cold water, put on with a clean brush. When all the bonnet is well cleaned, rinse it in cold water, and hang it in the sun to dry. Bonnet cleaning should never be undertaken in damp weather. When the bonnet is perfectly dry, you may proceed to whiten it. Fill a chafing dish or portable furnace with burning charcoal; carry it into a small close room or into an empty press or closet, and by a line suspended across, hang the bonnet over the charcoal, at a safe distance, so that it will be in no danger of scorching. Then strew over the coals an ounce or two of powdered brimstone, and immediately go out and shut the door, seeing that no air whatever can get into the room. After the bonnet has hung in the vapour six or seven hours, throw open the door, (having first left open an outside door or window, so as to admit immediately the fresh air,) and go into the room as soon as you find you can do so without inconvenience from the fumes of the charcoal and sulphur. Then bring out the bonnet, and hang it in the open air till the smell of the brimstone has entirely left it. If the day is windy, so much the better; but the bonnet must on no account be hung out if the weather is damp, and it must be brought in before sunset. If it is not sufficiently white, repeat next day the process of bleaching it with charcoal and brimstone.The next thing is to stiffen the bonnet. To make the stiffening, boil in two quarts of soft water, a quarter of a pound of vellum shavings, (the vellum of buffalo’s hide is best,) filling it up occasionally, if it seems to be boiling too dry. It must boil or simmer slowly for six or seven hours. Then, when you take it from the fire, let it stand a while to settle; after which,pour it off into a basin, and it will become a thick jelly. To the sediment left in the pot, you may add a second two quarts of water; and after a second boiling, it will form another jelly or sizing, strong enough for similar purposes. When you are going to use it for a bonnet, melt up a pint of this jelly, and mix with it a small half-tea-spoonful of oxalic acid, (not more, or it will injure the straw,) and then with a clean sponge or brush go all over the bonnet, inside and out, with the sizing. Dry the bonnet; and when quite dry, go over it again with a second wash of the stiffening. Dry it again, and then spread over it a wet piece of jaconet muslin; or damp the bonnet all over with a sponge and lukewarm water, and then cover it with a fine white handkerchief, while you press it hard and evenly with a warm box-iron, exerting all your strength. The crown must be pressed while on the bonnet-block; the brim may be done on an ironing-table. Afterwards expose the bonnet to the air, till it becomes perfectly dry; and next day it will be ready for putting together, lining, and trimming; first mending whatever defective places may be found in it.The front of a bonnet will keep its shape much better if the wire is thick and stout. In lining a bonnet, the best way for a novice in the art, is to pin a large sheet of thin soft paper on the outside of the brim, and (having fitted it smoothly) cut it of the proper shape and size, allowing a little for turning in at the edge. Then pin the paper into the inside of the brim, and if it fits perfectly smooth, cut out the silk lining by it. A piece of oiled silk sewed all round the inside of the crown, at the joining place, and extending down a little upon the brim, will prevent the stain from perspiration, that so frequently disfigures that part of a bonnet.—Without a regular cleaning in the preceding manner, a discoloured straw bonnet may be improved in appearance, if previous to putting on a fresh trimming, you stretch the bonnet on a block, (or something that will answer the purpose,) and go all over it with a sponge dipped in lukewarm water, in which has been dissolved pearl-ash, in the proportion of a small tea-spoonful of pearl-ash to a pint of water; afterwards rinsing it off, wiping it hard with a flannel, and drying it well. Next, go over it with a clean sponge dipped in strong rice-water, which will be the better for having dissolved in it a half-teaspoonful of sugar of lead. Then dry the bonnet, and having damped it all over with a wet sponge, cover it with thin muslin, and press it hard with a heavy and moderately warm iron.TO TAKE CARE OF BEAVER HATS A hat should be brushed every day with a hat-brush; and twice a day in dusty weather. When a hat gets wet, wipe it as dry as you can with a clean handkerchief, and then brush it with a soft brush, before you put it to dry. When nearly dry, go over it with a harder brush. If it still looks rough, damp it with a sponge dipped in vinegar or stale beer, and brush it with a hard brush till dry.A good beaver hat should always, when not in constant use, be kept in a hat-box, with a hat-stick extended inside of the crown.

The Lady’s Receipt-book: A Useful Companion for Large Or Small Families Clean bonnet The House Hook 1843

By Eliza Leslie

Published by Carey and Hart, 1847

BONNETS.—Before you send a straw bonnet to be whitened, it will be well to remove whatever stains or grease marks may be upon it. Do this yourself, as many professed bonnet-cleaners are either unacquainted with the best methods, or careless of taking the trouble; and will tell you, afterwards, that these blemishes would not Come out. You can easily remove grease marks from a straw, leghorn, or Florence braid bonnet, by rubbing the place with a sponge dipped in fresh camphine oil; or by wetting it with warm water, and then plastering on some scraped Wilmington clay, or grease-ball; letting it rest half an hour, and then repeating the application till the grease has disappeared. Magnesia rubbed on dry will frequently remove grease spots, if not very bad. To take out stains, discoloured marks, or mildew, moisten slightly with warm water some stain powder composed of equal portions of salt of sorrel and cream of tartar, well mixed together. Rub on this mixture with your finger. Let it rest awhile ; then brush it off, and rub on more of the powder. When the stain has disappeared, wash off the powder, immediately, and thoroughly, with warm water. By previously using these applications, no trace of grease or stain will remain on the bonnet, after it has undergone the process of whitening and pressing in the usual manner.In cleaning straw bonnets it is best to give them as much gloss and stiffening as possible. The gloss will prevent dust from sticking to the surface, and the stiffness will render them less liable to get out of shape when worn in damp weather. For a similar reason, the wire round the inside of the edge should in all bonnets be very thick and stout. If the wire is too thin, even the wind will blow the brim out of shape.An excellent way of cleaning and whitening straw or leghorn bonnets may be found in the House Book, page 67.In lining bonnets, always fit the lining on the outside of the brim. It is not only the least troublesome way, but the most certain of success. Nothing is more disfiguring to a bonnet than an uneven puckered lining— left too loose in some places, and stretched too tight in others. If the lining is drawn more to one side than the other, the brim will always set crookedly round the face. The best way, is first to fit upon the outside of the bonnet-front, a piece of thin, soft, white paper, pinning it on smoothly and evenly, with numerous pins. Then cut it the proper shape ; allowing it rather more than an inch all round larger than the brim. From this paper cut out the silk lining; allowing still more for turning in at the edges, on account of the silk ravelling. Then (having notched the edge of the lining all round) baste it on the inside of the brim, and try it on before the glass, previous to sewing it in permanently. See that it is perfectly smooth and even throughout. A white silk bonnet-lining should be of the most decided white, (a dead white, as it is called,) for if it has the least tinge of pearl, rose, blue or yellowish-white, it will be unbecoming to any face or complexion. Straw bonnets are frequently lined with white crape or tarletane.The lining of a silk or velvet bonnet should always be put in before the brim is sewed to the crown.In trimming a bonnet, after the bows, bands, &c., have all been arranged with pins, sew them on with a needle and thread; and afterwards withdraw the pins. If pins are allowed to remain in, they leave a greenish speck wherever they have been; besides denting the straw, and probably tearing it. Also, sew on the flowers, after you have arranged them to your satisfaction.Bonnet strings when somewhat soiled may be cleaned by rubbing them with scraped Wilmington clay, or grease-ball, or else magnesia. Roll them on a ribbon- block with the clay upon them; let them rest a few hours ; then brush off that clay, and put on some fresh. Roll the ribbon again on the block, and leave it till next day. You will find it look much cleaner. It is well always to buy an extra yard, or yard and a half of ribbon, to replace with new ones the bonnet strings when soiled.To keep the bows of a bonnet in shape when put away in the bandbox, fill out each bow by placing rolls of wadding inside of all the loops.‘A piece of thin oiled silk introduced between the lining and the outside, partly beneath the upper part of the brim, and partly at the lower part of the crown, will prevent any injury to the bonnet from perspiration of the head, or oiliness of the hair.In bespeaking a bonnet of a milliner, always request her to send you the frame to try on, before she covers it; that you may see if it fits.When a bonnet is to be sent to a distant place in a wooden box, (bandboxes should never visibly travel,) to keep the bonnet steady, and prevent its tumbling or knocking about, sew very securely to the brim and back, some bits of strong tape, and fasten the other end of each bit of tape to the floor of the box, with very small tack nails. Fill all the loops and bows with wadding as above mentioned. A bonnet thus secured may travel uninjured from Maine to Texas.TO KEEP A BONNET WHITE.—If you have a white velvet or silk bonnet that looks well enough to wear a secon^J season, lay beside it in the bandbox a cake of white wax, (such as you get at an apothecary’s for sixpence or a shilling,) cover the bandbox closely, and do not on any account open it till you are about to take the bonnet again into wear. You will then find the cake of wax much discoloured, but the bonnet as white as ever. Shawls of white silk or canton crape, or indeed any white articles, may be kept in the same manner by putting a. cake of white wax in the box with them, and not opening it so as to admit the external air, till the season for wearing them has returned.In bespeaking bandboxes, desire that they shall not be lined with white paper. A lining of the coarsest brown paper is far preferable for preserving either the colours or the whiteness of any articles that are kept in them. The chloride of lime used in manufacturing white paper is very injurious to the colours of silks, and frequently causes in them spots and stains. The very coarse thick brown paper made of old ropes is far better; as the tar remaining about it partakes somewhat of the qualities of turpentine, and is therefore a preservative to colours. White ribbons, blonds, &c., should be kept wound on ribbon-blocks, and – wrapped in the coarse brown ironmonger’s paper. ‘ .

Published in: on May 1, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

The Plain Straw Hat (or Bonnet)

The Plain Straw Hat

Published in: on April 30, 2015 at 4:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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)  

Straw Bonnet Critique

When someone asks for an opinon on a bonnet, it can be difficult to try to explain what is not quite right about a bonnet for a variety of reasons – technology based conversations, trying to be sensitive, not knowing who will take offense, etc. Well, this is the bonnet I made in NM out of what I could find at the local shops in a couple days for an event we never actually made it to. I’m going to go through it this week talking about the shape, materials… basically ‘the good, the bad and the ugly.’





Published in: on June 11, 2012 at 5:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Anatomy of a Bonnet

There is a helpful little file here for developing a better understanding of late 50s & early 60s millinery. Use it alongside browsing museum collections.

Published in: on May 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm  Comments (1)  

How I Made the Hood Veil

Many people have asked about the veil I made for the hood last week. I’m happy to share. But first I must say the person who has done the research along with the trial and error on veils is Bevin Lynn. She’s done a good deal of research and working with different shapes, materials and colors. I keep waiting and hoping that she will put all of her great work into an article. But, now she has herself incredibly busy. So, we shall see.

In the meantime…..

The veil I made was a request from a client to go with her black taffeta winter hood. She wanted both some sun/glare protection for her eyes and face protection from the cold winter wind.

This black silk hood is edged with black velvet and is draped with a veil. Commission/Sold

I used the 3mm silk gauze from Dharma which Bevin determined to work nicely. I chose black. They have a white which can be dyed. Bevin determined plain white actually makes the sun glare worse. Dharma’s gauze comes 45″ wide. The selvage is there but barely so, therefore usable. I do not know if there is a comparable net to originals at an affordable price.

For this veil I went back and forth deciding between a simple rectangle or the semi-oval/fruit wedge shape. Since I had not worked with this incredibly fine gauze before, I opted for hemming the straight lines for the rectangle. (The hemming wasn’t bad at all. So, the curve should be quite doable.) I cut the gauze in half to get a piece 36″ by 22.5″ giving a veil approx 35″ by 21″, which is in the realm of the original sizes I looked at online. One tip for working with this gauze, this slippery gauze – find your cutting line and draw out a thread from the weave. This is easy enough to do slowly and gently. The drawn thread will provide a cutting line when laid against a contrasting surface.
I do not have the skill to do the incredibly beautiful lace work on the edge. I used a simple rolled hem, which I rolled over three times rather than twice. The hem is about 1/8th of an inch wide. I tend to use a technique where I dampen the edge of fine fabric for a hand-rolled hem. Liz has a technique where she presses the first turn, trims it and uses a stitch to grab the edge and draw it into the hem.(I’ll grab that link when I re-find it.) The gauze did hem nicely to the point where I stopped dampening the silk because it turned quite nicely without much fraying. This hem went on both sides and the bottom edge.
For the top, which is where I put the selvage, I turned under a half inch hem with enough space to draw a cord through. On either end of the cord, I made a loop. I was really guessing here since I didn’t want to bug Bevin on her way to Zoar. Another option would have been to gather the veil onto a ribbon (example). I wanted my client to have the flexiblity of moving the veil to her other bonnets or hood as she needed, making the flexiblity of the drawn cord a better option.
The veil is simply drawn up on the cord, centered on the hood and pinned in place.


Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

A Closer look at Straw Plait

One of the most common mistakes in making a straw bonnet for living history or reenactment, is choosing a plait that is to wide and coarse. I will admit, I too made that mistake in the begining. We are often tempted and occasionally encouraged to use the straw from a craft bonnet for making a straw bonnet. Again, yes in the begining I did this. But, I’ve since learned and would like to advise you learn from my mistakes rather than wasting your time.

So, what is wrong with the straw from a craft hat from the craft shop? Most of them are to wide and to coarse. Occasionally, you can find narrower craft straw. But, not always. Take a look at the image below. A is a craft straw. It is 3/4″ wide. Some comes as wide as 1″. While there were wide straw strips used during the era for bonnets, these were much more delicate, often woven or crochet. You can see the difference in the quality of the straw itself compared to the other plaits. Plait A is made from whole straw. Whole straw is not bad. It is a method used for making plait throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. You can see how the whole straw E is the width of the straw used in plait A.plait-sample-labled

Plait B is approx 1/2″ made from whole straw. This straw has a nice even color. The straw is in nice shape and is pliable. This is a good straw to begin. This straw comes from Frank’s Cane and Rush Supply.

Plaits C and D are narrower plaits from Judith M’s Millinery, 8mm and 6mm each. These are split plaits. Split plait is made by splitting a single straw into narrow widths before braiding them. To acheive an all matte or all shiny plait two split plaits are layered together. Notice how plait D is the almost the same width as the straw E.

If the straw plait has been dyed, it may require more sizing and wire to hold shape. Some how some dyes weaken the body of the straw.

The below image shows a straw plait along side a hemp plait. You can see the difference between them easily at this magnification. The hemp is a stringier fiber than straw. The hemp needs more sizing and wiring to hold its shape compared to whole or split straw plait.


This page from The Millinery Department, 1918, by Aiken, shows straw plaits from the early 20th century.


Just for fun check out….


Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 11:04 am  Comments (3)