A Sewing Sunbonnet

While I was working on my entry for the current Historical Sew Monthly challenge, the weather here decided to become unusually warm for May. So I could sit outside and sew on the terrace. Because it was very sunny out there, I decided to whip up a quick sunbonnet over the long Pentecost weekend. Since this month’s HSM theme was “Specific Time of Day or Year”, it became a bonus entry of sorts.

I used the slat sunbonnet pattern by the wonderful Elizabeth Stuart Clark. You can download the PDF for free on the Sewing Academy website.

Being a mid-19th-century pattern, this is a little outside my usual sewing periods. But precursors of this useful bonnet style have been around since at least the 1830s. Most earlier examples are stiffened with cording like this one from c.1835. Twila made a beautiful corded Regency bonnet that is quite similar. You can find her tutorial for it here.

Sunbonnet, cotton, c.1840, Metropolitan Museum.

Slats, like in my version, came in a little later. Here is an especially pretty example in fine linen, with slats, from around 1850. A combination of both slats and cording was not unusual either. Very similar, quilted varieties of these bonnets could be worn in the cold season, too.

Sunbonnet, linen, c. 1850, Metropolitan Museum.

Slats were made from stiff materials that added shape to the bonnets’ fabric brim. The pattern suggests using manila paper or something similar. Since the slats are removed for washing, the stiffening does not have to be waterproof. Though I was not looking forward to having wet paper stuck inside the fabric when it rained. So I used the opportunity to try out Lina’s DIY buckram tutorial on a 12″ by 16″ scrap of cotton canvas.

Making cornstarch paste for the buckram.

It worked like a charm and the fabric can be re-starched as needed. She suggests to iron the buckram dry. A quick dry out in the sun worked fine, too.

The dried cotton buckram.

I cut most of my slats 2″ wide, to speed up sewing the channels. Only the outer ones, near the ear, are 1″ wide, like in the original pattern. It took a moment to fiddle them in between the voile facing and outer fabric. But now they sit snugly in their channels. I did not have to tack down the facing to keep them inside at all.

Cutting the slats.

Here is a front view of the brim.

All my fabrics are white, including the checked cotton percale from my stash. They go together nicely, though I might dye the bonnet a different colour, next time I decide to do a round of dyeing in the washing machine.

To tie up the back, I used two 14″ pieces of 5/8″ wide satin ribbon, also from my stash. The pattern says to add a pair of tape ties inside, to keep the sunbonnet from flying away. Mine is doing fine without. So far at has not even slipped around while I was out there, sewing.

All in all, this bonnet was a fun spontaneous project. It just sort of happened from one day to the next. I think it is even the fastest historical item I have ever sewn by hand, coming together in just over ten hours, from pattern drawing to finish. At the moment, it is the most worn one, too. Here is a selfie of me puttering around in it on the terrace last week.

Awkward terrace selfie…

Did I mention I am not good at taking those? Still I am very happy with this sunbonnet altogether. It is a lot of fun to wear and just shades the face enough to keep me from squinting at my handsewing. Now I am definitely ready for more outdoor sewing adventures this summer.

Nessa

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4 thoughts on “A Sewing Sunbonnet

    • Nessa says:

      Well, yes and no. Starch is more sustainable than paper I guess. If it washes out you can reapply it to the slats. Wet paper might decompose and leave behind a lot of icky bits while wet fabric does not fall apart. :)

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