Head Coverings c. 1800: A Bergére-style Bonnet

After another week full of jumble, I want to add a little prettiness to this last day of the week. So I am sharing with you (at last) the early-Regency hat I made for this month’s “Heroes” challenge at the Historical Sew Monthly. The task was to create an item inspired by one of our historical fashion or costuming heroes. Some of the entries I have seen so far are some absolutely stunning costumes offering homage to a wide scale of historical and fictional costume heroes. For example, this very gorgeous open robe Crystal made, inspired by Janet Arnold and some of our fellow historical costumers.

My own entry is a much smaller thing, due to the thesis having seen its hottest phase in July / August (perhaps you can spot some of the paper chaos going on in some of my photos ;) ). It is my third jab at making the bergére hat I have wanted to make for song long now. It is inspired by and based on this tutorial by the Dreamstress whose blog has been a big inspiration for me to get into historical costuming. This makes her my “hero” for the challenge.

But wait… is a bergére not more of an 18th-century item? You are right. Those flat-topped, wide-brimmed straw (and sometimes also felt) hats were an accessory that fit in with the “pastoral” themes of fashion throughout the 18th-century. Here is just one of the many portraits: Eleanor Frances Dixie wearing one of hers with a beautifully patterned sacque gown.

Eleanor Frances Dixie by Henry Pickering (c. 1753).

Eleanor Frances Dixie by Henry Pickering (c. 1753).

At the end of the 18th century, however, the bergére did not disappear completely. Instead it lingered around into the early Regency years (if not longer in the lower classes). Although an interesting new style of wearing these hats emerged around 1800. For this time, there is some proof of the hats being worn tied down with a scarf or ribbon. For once, I found this 1797 portrait by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun of a young lady who seems to have secured hers against a storm.

Portrait of a Young Woman by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (c.1797; MFA Boston).

Portrait of a Young Woman by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (c.1797; MFA Boston).

And this portrait of Henrietta Marchant from 1800 shows the style I was going for more clearly:

Henrietta Marchant (Mrs. Robert Liston) by Gilbert Stuart (c.1800; National Gallery of Art).

Henrietta Marchant (Mrs. Robert Liston) by Gilbert Stuart (c.1800; National Gallery).

This style, which has informally also been called a “gypsy bonnet” because of its somewhat “adventurous” look was my solution to fit the bergére into my main costuming period. To help me along with shaping it, I used these tips from Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion website (scroll down to the “Bonnets” section). Here is how mine came out, in a few photos, from start to finish:

The hat I started with: A real straw boater from Claire's.

The hat I started with: A real straw boater from Claire’s.

I started with this straw hat my parents and I found on my birthday in July. Following the tutorial, I began by separating the crown from the brim, leaving the bottom three rows of it on the brim to be ironed down. I took out about two rows of straw braid in the middle and left the top bit of the crow as is. Since it already had quite sharp angles, I did not have to iron it. They brim I flattened into shape by putting it under a wet towel and ironing over it on medium-high. After sewing the two parts back together, the basic bergére was done.

The finished basic bergére.

The finished basic bergére.

While the hat was still flat, I trimmed it with a red bias strip, about 3/4″ wide after hemming. Bias is really fun to work with when trimming unevenly shaped hat or bonnets. As my hat was oval, it saved me some easing and swearing. ;)

Trimmed with the bias band.

Trimmed with the bias band.

Now came the fun part of molding the hat. This is not strictly necessary, but it makes tying the finished bonnet a lot easier since the brim does not need to be tackled into shape every time. For this I pinned the seam tape I used as a tie into the spot where I wanted it to sit and tied it down firmly on my hat stand. Then I sprayed it with water and let it sit there for about a week. After about three days, I repeated the spraying, just to be sure.

The bonnet molding on the stand.

The bonnet being molded on the stand.

Once the bonnet was in shape, all I had to do was to tack down the tie in several places.

A top view, with the tie stitched in place.

A top view, with the tie stitched in place.

And here is the finished project. Since I still struggle a little with hat-making, the result is perhaps not the most refined head covering; but it is absolutely wearable. And I find it pretty cute, too. :)

The finished hat / bonnet.

The finished bergére-style hat / bonnet.

And now it is back to the last few days of the thesis for me. I hope this post added a little “pretty” to your pre-Halloween Sunday, as it did to mine. Very soon (hopefully) I will try to show you the other early period head covering I made this summer. And please, have a lovely week and a Happy Halloween tomorrow!

Until very soon, Nessa

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