My 1830s Bonnet

In the quest to be ever huger in our 1830s attire, the Gigot Girl Gang™ chose a variety of headgear to top off each of our ensembles. Maggie used bonnet shapes from Workwoman’s Guide, Chrissy used an 1830s-specific Lynn McMasters pattern, while Nicole made a stellar hat and Abby a monolithic beret.

I went with a bonnet as well, but I started with a more generic buckram form I purchased years ago from Timely Tresses. It’s been in naked buckram-and-wire form since 2014, waiting patiently for decoration which, to be honest, I really had no idea how to do.

I studied my Lydia Fast bonnet and determined a kinda-sorta-construction technique. If I had not purchased this buckram form, I would’ve just ordered the bonnet of my dreams from Lydia (support small business and avoid all that blood and anguish at the same time!), but I hate waste, so covering it was.

Mull me like one of your French bonnets….

The first step was to mull the entire thing, which means covering all surfaces with thin batting. I didn’t have enough for the underside of the brim, which proved to be a mistake, so take a tip from me and don’t skimp. It will seem bulky to put the thin batting all over, but it’s the key to getting both a smooth cover and creating a quality-feeling hat.

I’ve never worked with an already-constructed bonnet before, so this was a challenge. I went in this order for covering with the silk taffeta:

1. Top of the crown
2. Outer brim
3. Crown lining
4. Inner brim
4. Crown stand with special buckram bias magic trick

Applying the silk taffeta to the top of the crown. This is probably the easiest step in the whole project. It’s important to get a good tight fit here. The wrinkly raw edge are trimmed away and later smoothed out with bias buckram.

A smooth cover on the brim – tension is very important here and as you can see, I didn’t get it perfect. I used Wonder Clips, which are amazing for working on millinery, to fold the silk over the brim edge and hold it taught, adjusting as I sewed.

Not going to lie – this is all tedious and all tricky. Lots of stabbery, but with diligence and some ingenuity it comes out looking pretty swell. I picked up a tip from Chrissy (who learned this from Lynn McMasters) to use strips of bias-cut lightweight buckram to smooth bulky parts and create crisp edges, particularly on the join between the top of the crown and the crown stand. I also used the bias buckram between the crown stand and the brim, and while I didn’t do it perfectly, this did make a big difference in the quality of finish.

The underbrim is a straight strip of pink taffeta gathered on both long edges. I should have run more gathering stitches to get a better, less pleated-looking effect, though pleating is perfectly accurate too. So is a smooth lining but that is quite a lot more challenging!

 One of the trickiest parts was lining the crown. Normally I would use a drawstring bag lining, like in 18th century hats, but because of the architectural hair, I wanted “space” up in there and nothing touching the hair. There was a lot of “stitch in the ditch” to sew the lining in, and I installed it before I did the crown stand covering on the outside.

Once the underbrim lining was on, I went ahead and lined the inside of the crown. I stitched in the ditch along the top and passed the needle out to the mulling on the outside, to be covered in the next step. The raw edge at the base was turned under and applique stitched to the brim lining. Looks a lot easier here than it was!

Covering the crown stand – you can see my use of the buckram bias strip on the bottom. I also put one around the top, covering and smoothing that area right where the crown top and stand meet. The trick here is to pull the bias tight enough that it blends with the mulling, which I didn’t accomplish so well…take practice!

Last bit for the silk taffeta – turning under the raw edge on the crown stand silk and stitching it through all layers. This, thank goodness, doesn’t have to be too pretty because it’ll be covered by the hat band and a mountain of other trims.

The last step was to bind the brim edge. I used 1 inch wide silk satin ribbon and applique stitched it to the silk on the top and underside both. At least on this step I had experience from previous projects. It gave a nice finish and covered all my raw-edge sins.

And finally, binding the brim edge. This is a nice touch but not the only way to do this – a clean turned edge is also accurate. I wanted the black to tie everything together, though, so I bound with silk satin 1 inch wide ribbon.

Huzzah! The finished covering! You can see how my underbrim would have benefited from the mulling, and how the buckram bias strip shows on the crown stand, but for a first time I’m pretty happy with this result. And yes, that is a wayward sleeve plumper acting as my hat stand cushion.

Hooray! The hard part was done, right? LOL. I actually *suck* at decorating bonnets. The general rule for 1830s headgear is to keep adding stuff, but I kindof feel my bonnet is just chaos. I used tons of ribbons, a couple antique feathers I love, and just sortof splattered it all on there until it looked alright. I’m happy with the result, even if it’s not quintessentially 1830s.

Decorate with ALL THE THINGS

These weird feather bits you always see at craft stores…

Sh*t-tons of ribbons and bows. There are bits of antique ribbons, some taffeta self-made ribbon, and some satin ribbon I overpaid for in Paris.

In this project I learned some interesting things about ’30s bonnets. The biggest “ah ha” moment was in how the bonnets worked with the hair. My bonnet has a rather low and broad crown and the angle at which is sits on the head is not particularly conducive to wearing with hair. This is because the bonnet form is generic, covering c. 1800 -1839 (I have the “Sophia” form). The Workwoman’s Guide bonnets, however, have a particular angle and height in the crowns that are specific for wearing with towering coiffure. The crown circumference is also smaller than the general head measurement so that the bonnet stays back on the head and doesn’t rest uncomfortable on the the curls at the temples. So as much as I love this bonnet (and I’m happy I can wear it with a good 40 years of costumes), I’m already feeling the draw to experiment and learn from the original bonnet shapes specific to my new favorite time period.

I know this post is a long one, but I hope it was informative. Constructing and covering bonnets is quite a skill, one that takes lots of practice and many hours. I probably put as many hours into this bonnet project as into the entire gown, but I do love the result. Now to figure out how to get this on the plane!

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