Thursday, October 13, 2011

Threaded Bliss

A Black Silk Bonnet,

black silk bonnet, 1770-1790

The Pattern: Drafted by me, by trial and error, with multiple mock-ups until I got the shape of brim and volume of crown that I wanted.

mock-up of a bonnet, 1770-1790
The final mock-up of my pattern!

Inspirations: Although there are scores upon scores of prints, engravings, paintings, and textual descriptions representing a wide variety of bonnet styles from throughout the 18th century, only one extant example of an actual bonnet can be confidently dated to that period (as far as I'm aware).  This one, owned by Colonial Williamsburg (acc. no. 1993-335), has served as my primary point of reference for my project. 

The only extant bonnet that can be confidently dated to the 18th century.
It is owned by CW, acc. no. 1993-335.

It is made of black ribbed silk and features a doubled brim supported by baleen.  CW's description further says its "puffy, mushroom-shaped crown is pleated to the boned brim, adjusted with a ribbon drawstring at center back," that is it unlined, and that the ruffled trim and the bow are made of fabric and tacked in place at the point where the crown meets the brim.

My other primary reference for this project is George Stubbs's well-known painting of The Haymakers, dated 1785, which features a bonnet similar in style, though with a slightly larger crown and wider brim, and the latter appears to be lined in white (see the detail below).  Although this is clearly a working woman (however idealized, in her white accessories!), her bonnet could still be made of silk, but wool is another close possibility.

George Stubbs, The Haymakers (1785).
Image linked from the Tate Gallery.

The Haymakers, detail of the bonnet.  Note the white lining of the brim.

If you're interested in seeing more images of a variety of bonnet styles, be sure to check out Nicole's three fantastic posts on bonnets (one, two, three) on her blog, Diary of a Mantua Maker.  Karen's 18th Century Notebook page on bonnets also offers a list of images and further resources.

Construction Details: I have not examined the CW bonnet in person, and I freely admit to knowing next to nothing about millinery techniques in general (though I'd love to learn!), so my construction method was based on the details provided on the CW e-museum listing and on 18th century cap construction techniques.  Whether I've done it "the" period way, I don't know, but considering there's only one extant example to study, I figure it's anyone's best guess how these things were put together!  If any of you have done bonnets like this, I'd love to compare notes and hear how your assembly process differs from mine!

black silk bonnet, 1770-1790
Side view of the bonnet.

First, I made up my brim out of a couple layers of cotton buckram and sewed a light-weight wire along the edge to help the brim maintain its shape.  The CW original uses baleen to achieve its shape, but the baleen substitute I used in my stays (ash splints) was just too heavy to use in the brim, so I adapted the buckram and wire method instead, which worked quite well.

I then covered the brim, top and underside, with silk and finished it along the inside edge.  The crown is unlined, as is the CW example, so I sewed a drawstring channel for the ribbon adjustment at the back and then finished the other edges of the crown before I whipped it onto the brim, just as I would do for a cap.

black silk bonnet, 1770-1790
Front view, with the self-fabric decoration copied from the original.

Finally, I created self-fabric poofs and a big self-fabric bow at the front, based on the CW original, and voila!  A bonnet!

The Fabric: A beautiful Italian black silk taffeta that is the ideal weight for something like this - stiff enough to hold its shape well in the crown and brim, and well worth the "designer" price.  I found it on a mini shopping spree to the incomparable Banksville Fabrics over the summer.  Just wait till you see what Ashley walked out with...but that's something for an entirely separate post!  :-)

black silk bonnet, 1770-1790

Finishing the Look: Although I started this bonnet before UTR and fully intended to have it done by then, I got tangled up in other projects and ended up putting it aside for months.  I picked it up again a few weeks ago to finish it and finally gave it its first airing this past weekend at our local event.  For this event, I gave it a "nicer" working-class look based off the Stubbs painting above, wearing it over a linen cap and paired with white linen accessories and a linen gown (which was supposed to be done in June for summer camp-wear, but didn't get finished until mid-July. I sense a pattern here?!  More on that gown coming in the next Threaded Bliss post, so stay tuned!).

black silk bonnet, 1770-1790
Pray forgive the weird way the shadows fall here - you can't really tell
where the bonnet brim ends and my face begins, but you get the general idea!
Photo taken during "1776: South Britain Comes Alive," 8 October 2011.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"1776: South Britain Comes Alive!" local event

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011

This weekend, we of the 5th CT Regiment helped to promote local Revolutionary War history with the third annual "1776: South Britain Comes Alive" event, a fundraiser for the Southbury Historical Society.  The event took local residents and visitors on a horse-drawn wagon tour of the town's historic district.  Along the route, groups stopped to sample tidbits of town history, which included a drilling demonstration by members of our regiment, the re-enactment of an 18th-century style service in the 1825 church, costumed tours of several privately-owned and recently restored 18th century homes, a visit to our kitchen fly and camp, a demonstration of spinning techniques by a local artisan, 18th century ghost stories, and an open house in the museum of the Historical Society. 

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011
Chatting under the kitchen fly during dinner, before the festivities began
(with prodigious admiration for the new wig, Mr. S!).

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011

The evening weather was balmy and perfect for the walking crowds, and we enjoyed spending time chatting with the guests and responding to their eager and often thoughtful questions about 18th century life, both from the "history book" perspective and from the perspective of one who regularly re-enacts it.  It was a unique and fantastic opportunity for us all to share our passion for this period, and to teach those close to home about the very rich and valuable Revolutionary War history of our little corner of the former colony of Connecticut.

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011
One of the house tours included a tavern scene that enacted the capture
of a British soldier, who spoke to the visitors about his views on the trouble
with the "traitor" colonists.  Unfortunately, none of our pictures of the Brit on his
(brilliant!) tirade came out, but here's Mr.S.. (the other one!) minding the bar during the scene.

After the event concluded, we reconvened as a group to enjoy each other's company for a bit longer, sampling all of the tasty 18th century goodies that remained from the evening and enjoying a round of songs and good cheer before bed.  Many thanks to those who hosted the events of the evening, for your very generous hospitality!

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011
Letting our hair down, period style, for some...

1776: South Britain Comes Alive 2011
...after-hours socializing in the Golden Dog, sampling all of the
leftover 18th-century treats.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

(Re-)Making Royal Fashion History, Pt. 2

After reading our post yesterday about Butterick's new Kate Middleton-inspired wedding gown pattern (#B5731), our friend Laurie from Teacups in the Garden alerted us to two additional royal wedding gowns that have been commercially patterned.  The first is Grace Kelly's iconic 1956 gown for her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.  The gown was designed by Helen Rose and made by the costume department at MGM, as a gift to the bride from her former studio.  It was reportedly made of 25 yards silk taffeta and almost 100 yards of silk tulle.  Valenciennes rose point lace decorated the bodice and sleeves, and the veil was trimmed with lovebirds in appliqu├ęd lace and embellished with thousands of tiny seed pearls.

Grace Kelly's wedding gown.
Photo linked from

Vogue has created a lovely Grace Kelly look-alike pattern (#V2979) that closely adheres to the details of the original and successfully captures its old time Hollywood glamour.  That this is a recent pattern release is unsurprising, considering the degree to which Kate Middleton's gown (and her overall sense of style) has been compared to Grace Kelly's.

Grace Kelly in her wedding gown (left), with the Vogue reproduction V2979 on the right.
Photo of Grace Kelly linked from
Vogue photo linked from; follow the link to purchase the pattern.

The second pattern Laurie discovered is an old and (alas!) now out-of-print Burda pattern (#7940) for Princess Diana's wedding dress. I wish this was easier to find now because it would be such fun to try to recreate such a fairy tale gown, with the big poofy sleeves and all the lacy frills and bows.  This pattern seems to appear occasionally on ebay and etsy, so check those sites if you're looking for one.  If you'd like to read more about the original gown, visit our earlier post here.

Burda pattern envelope for Princess Diana's wedding dress.
Photo linked from a recent etsy listing.

A big thank you to Laurie for sending us these links and permitting us to share them with you!

And while we're still on the topic, just two final notes.  To complement your reproduction Kate Middleton wedding gown, a reproduction of the diamond Cartier tiara lent to her by the Queen is, of course, an absolute must (because who can resist a tiara?!). This is by far the closet reproduction I've been been able to find (and it's even affordable, too!): click here.  If you'd like to compare it to the original, check out the photos here.

And if you're interested in recreating Kate's sapphire blue Issa engagement dress to add to your royal wardrobe, a combination of Simplicity 2145 (quite obviously inspired by Kate's) and McCalls 5974 should do the trick.  Happy sewing and don't forget to let us see what you create!