War & Peace: Josephine’s Toque

With the exam season finally coming to a close, it is due time for me to fill you in on my April “War & Peace” endeavor. I have thought long and hard about this one but, at last, I have come up with a solution of which I am very happy. As a result, this month’s thing item will focus on Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine de Bonaparte. Here is a posthumous engraving of the two, walking in the gardens of their estate at Malmaison:

Posthumous engraving of Napoleon I and Josephine, c. 1824 (Found on The History Blog).

The Backstory

Now, how is this project linked to the “War & Peace” challenge theme? Well, I have thought about it in the following way: The piece I am making is meant to portray the wealth and splendor that can be achieved through a series of successful war campaigns. With Napoleon turning himself into the ruler of France and becoming the protector of an increasing number of territories, his success on the battlefields also reflects on his wife and family. During the first decade of the 19th century, Josephine enjoyed the status of a fashion icon, sporting an impressive collection of lavish outfits.

For this challenge I will be making my own lavish fashion item, based on one of hers. It is a gold-embroidered turban cap, or toque, modeled after this extant one:

Josephine’s extant, gold-embroidered toque.

Making Up The Toque

Based on the photos and this tutorial from the Oregon Regency Society, I patterned my own cap. Instead of a circle, my crown came out slightly more oval, with the vertical diameter being slightly longer than the horizontal one. To find the right drape and sizing, I made a muslin and adjusted it by the trial and error method. Here is a quick photo history of my tries:

My toque mock-ups, progressing from left to right.

With the final pattern down, I decided on how to embellish the finished product. As a student, splurging on lavish decorations is not always easy, but I have found my fill of nice things to use: Textured gold embroidery floss, some washable seed pearls and a reasonably priced length of gold braid. Seeing as the braid color does not match the thread all that well, i might leave this one for another project… ;)

The modest selection of embellishments ;).

As for the embroidery design, I decided to swap the Napoleonic bees, which were mainly reserved to be used by the members of his royal family, for a period leaf pattern which I outlined onto my net fabric with a pattern marker. At the moment I am in the process of embroidering it.

The outline embroidery pattern on the crown.

The plan is to also repeat the leaf design on the cap’s band, using the beads. Since I have never beaded anything before, it is something I would really love to try. But, until then, there is still a mountain of gold embroidery to tackle… Although, at the current rate, it is likely that I will finish my “Practicality” item for the May challenge before the toque. I will keep you posted on the progress on either front. (No pun intended ;) .)

Love, Nessa

P.S.: Today, Cassidy has posted a more general overview of the Napoleonic War’s impact on fashion across Europe and America on her blog. It sets a nice backdrop for the “War & Peace” challenge and is well worth checking out.



4 thoughts on “War & Peace: Josephine’s Toque

  1. avantgarbe says:

    That will be awesome when it is done! I am always impressed when people tackle embroidery projects (the pattern and materials for an embroidered elizabethan coif has sat in my stash for at least 3 years now…)

  2. Nessa says:

    Thank you :) Here’s hoping, it will get finished this month… By now I have only embroidered about a quarter of the pattern. But that is the thing with embroidery, it’s not so much the patterning and stitching that’s the hard part. It’s the patience you need to finish off big pieces. Some people, like me, find this very fulfilling and relaxing, while others are driven right up a tree by it. Still, I wish you the best of luck for the coif, I’m sure it will turn out awesome once you get round to it.:)

  3. Mimi Matthews says:

    I found your blog by a total fluke (researching an Ackermann’s fashion plate for my Literature & History blog, which led me to Pinterest, which led me here). I have many failed historical costume sewing projects to my credit which only came out looking right thanks to my wonderful seamstress mom. Though I am rubbish at sewing myself, I love to see the creation of a historical costume from beginning to end, especially done by someone who knows how to do it. That toque is going to be beautiful. So glad to have found your blog!

    • Nessa says:

      Hello Mimi! What a wonderful coincidence. I am very glad you like my blog and the costumes I’m trying to (re)create. Being self-taught, I have only started to pursue historical sewing and costuming about two years ago. Now it is the best pastime I could have ever hoped for. There still is a bin with somewhat messed-up projects and UFOs in the sewing corner though. ;) I think every seamstress has at least one of those hidden somewhere. Your blog on literature and history also looks splendid. It is another topic I am very fond of but never get the time to pursue more in-depth. Now you are providing me with a chance to play at least a bit of catch-up. Again, I am very glad to welcome you here on my blog. :)


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