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.



A simple 1920s mantlet (CoBloWriMo Day 10)

To top off the robe de style from the previous post, I made a quick and easy flanel mantlet. For it, I used this 1921 pattern as a visual source.

An embroidered mantlet, Mode de Femme de France, c. 1821.

Mine is about knee length with my wrist-to-wrist measure as the width. As suggested in the small drawing in the bottom corner, I used a check fabric. It is pretty, with the weird side effect of de-focussing my camera at some angles. ;)

After opening up the front as shown, I hemmed the outside edges. The inner edges are wrapped with some leftover blue wool that is about 15 cm wide on the whole. Over the shoulders, I attached a similar band, embroidered with some lines of chain and stem stitch.

Embroidering the shoulder band.

To wrap the slit, I stitched in the ditch and brought the wool bands around the edge like so:

Stitching in the ditch and wrapping the band to the inside to finish.

The portion of the slit that goes over the shoulders is closed up with a short line of ladder stitch. I did this instead of the herringbone stitch suggested in the pattern.

Ladder stitching the slit in the back.

The finished product then looked like this:

The finished mantlet with trimmings.

At the bottom, the sleeves were to be  formed with the ever-popular 1920s snap cufflinks, poked through buttonholes. I found this interesting period ad for them. 

1920s advert for snap-on cufflinks (Source: Vanity Fair).

Being eager to finish the mantlet, I improvised using regular big snaps, hidden under fabric-covered buttons.

The hidden snap closure.

The mantlet wears like a charm and I would absolutely put it on for modern day wear, going with the current poncho fashion. Here some de-focused photos of the completed item.

The mantlet on me.

And a proper 20s-style back view. ;)

see you soon, Nessa

More Catching Up: A Red Cloak

Last autumn, I made a new cloak to accompany me to one of my first historical outings, a reenactor’s market. It took place in early October, so my blue wool cloak was too warm and my new linen spencer was a bit too airy. So I went out hunting for a medium-weight, cozy fabric and found just the thing on sale: a dark red felted cotton. It is not really a felt but has a soft, woolly surface texture that leans more towards flannel. Hard to describe, really. I am still no entirely sure whether it would have been used in period, but the color persuaded me to go for it.

In the early Regency era, cardinal red walking cloaks were all the rage. They had already been a fashion item during Georgian times so their passing on into the next century posed a bit of an anachronism. The construction stayed about the same over time, but I have the impression that cloaks became a bit “leaner” in design as they moved on into Regency. The pattern I used was the free walking cloak pattern from the Jane Austen Center. I saved it a long time ago, before they chose to make this content registration only. It is still strange to me why they did this, but I will let that be their business… ;)

All in all, the pattern is not very complicated. The body is a semi-circle with a radius of 150 cm. Being a bit short, my semi-circle has a radius of 130 cm, minus 12 cm for a round neck-opening. I drew the circle directly on the fabric. To make drawing and cutting easier, I took a 260 cm long and 130 cm wide fabric piece and folded it lengthwise before I started. Here is the finished body on the dress form.

The cloak body.

The cloak body.

Afterwards I made up a hood with a self-fabric lining. Then I simply gathered the neckline and sandwiched it between those two layers.

Gathering the neckline.

Gathering the neckline.

The hood shape more or less follows Marquise’s instructions for an 18th-century mantelet; with the exception that the top corner is rounded off and not clipped. After learning how to make proper radial pleats during the baby cap project for my cousins, I decided to add a few. They came out lovely:

Some cute radial pleats on the hood. :)

Some cute radial pleats on the hood. :)

One thing that did not really come out well was the trim. I had made up some hand-gathered ruffles from looong strips of fabric. They started at about 5 times their finished length (wow!) They turned out too heavy, meddling with the hang of the cloak. Since they looked so pretty and a lot of time had gone into making them, I kept them around for future projects. We will see what becomes of them. ;)

Lengths and lengths of hand-ruffled trim.

Lengths and lengths of hand-ruffled trim.

The finished product ties with 2.5 cm seam tape in a matching shade of red. It is all rather plain now, but a real joy to wear. It coordinated well with my working-class costume and kept me warm all day.

The finished cloak.

The finished item. I was so excited of show it off, I forgot my shoes…

And the back.

A look at the back.

Some of the people I met on the road to the event took an interest and started telling me about their friends or family who also wear cloaks at LARP events. I was not really prepared for this. So I told them some more about my costume and fashion in the early Regency era in general. Most were a little surprised that cloaks had still been a thing in the 19th century.

I am glad they know now, because cloaks, from any period, are one of my absolute favorite things to make. They are easy and pretty addictive. That being said, I *might* be working on the next one already; this time from a period where you would not really expect it. I will tell you some more about it in the upcoming planning post for 2017. That is, once I have made sense of my notes at last. It will not be long now… ;)

Until very soon, Nessa

Catching up: A linen and silk spencer

Can you believe it has been half a year already? When I decided to leave the blogging part of my life to graduate, I thought I would be back with you after a much shorter while. Now, six months later, I am still working on the master’s thesis, hoping to finish it this month at last. But I have missed you and the blog so badly that I have decided to slowly return now. Plus, I have been sewing a great deal, since it helped me to stay focused and gave me little moments of contentment when the thesis did not really co-operate in that respect. ;)

By now, the queue of projects and little things I am aching to share has become quite long. So it is about time to pick up the threads and start catching up! In this post, I will tell you about the first thing I began to make a little while after my last entry: a linen and silk spencer jacket.

I made it up based on this gorgeous extant roller print spencer from the Genesee Country Village Museum’s collection. The original is made up from a cotton print fabric, in very lovely shades of red. For mine, I used some medium blue linen. I had found just over a yard of it on the leftovers table at my favourite fabric store.

While the original is lined with unbleached muslin, mine got a lining of unbleached silk noil. Noil is a fabric made from the waste fibres combed out in the silk production. While it is usually coarse and not really nice to look at, it handles almost exactly like other silks but is much more affordable. So it worked very well as a nice, warming lining.

The pattern of the extant spencer at the GCVM.

The pattern of the extant spencer at GCVM.

Here is the pattern taken from the museum piece. It has only been the second time I worked with an extant pattern and so I was a little anxious. Though, as far as alterations go, I had to change only very little. Basically, I graded up the bottom halves of the bodice pieces to my underbust measurement, using the waistband (at the top) as a guide. Another thing I did was to extend the shoulder seams to my measurements. The rest I left as is. Especially with the sleeves, it was a little gamble. But since the original sleeve cap had lots of gathers, I got away with it. ;)

Still, it took me a good three weeks to get from the first mock-up to the finished pattern. Though the pattern mostly needed some taking in and lengthening, I was very determined to stick to the “measure twice, cut once” rule because there was not much of the lovely blue linen to waste. In the end, the only part I left unchanged was the armscye and the sleeve. They matched up very well and fit like a charm! Even on modern patterns, this hardly ever happens for me so I did a little happy dance after setting the sleeve into the final mock-up on first go. Yay!

The initial-mock up: a little short, but very roomy.

Yippee, the sleeve going in on the first try!

Yippee, the sleeve going in on the first try!

Cutting out: Not and inch of fabric to waste.

Cutting out: Not and inch of fabric to waste.

The bodice coming together.

The bodice coming together.

The basic spencer with sleeves and the lining basted to.

The spencer, with sleeves and the lining basted to.

Assembling the outer fabric and lining pieces was pretty straightforward altogether. Once the bodice had come together, I more or less flat-lined the bodice, sleeves and collar by basting and then sewing everything together. All the outer edges were left raw as I finished them up with a row of piping and self-fabric bias strips, as it was done on the original. Below you can see the lining process for the sleeves where I basted and then slip-stitched the lining’s bottom hem before sewing up the side seams.

The slip-stitched lining at the sleeve's bottom.

Slip-stitched the lining to the sleeve’s bottom…

… then sewing up the side seams of both layers in one go.

The raw edge on the linen I finished by applying cotton piping to the right side, un-corded edge to the raw edge. This was then enclosed in a 1 1/2″ wide bias cuff from self fabric. The same method I used on the collar. It is a simple round collar with single under-layer of cotton canvas, sewn to the neck edge individually. The bias strip I used for binding here was 2″ wide with about two thirds of it folded into the underside. Amazingly, this trim was enough to make it all lie flat. But then this has also worked on the original. ;)

Sewing the collar around the neck edge (sorry for the blurry photo).

Sewing the collar around the neck edge (sorry for the blurry photo).

The finished collar trim, top and bottom.

The finished collar trim, top and bottom.

Matching trims!

Matching trims!

Finally, the bottom edge was finished with the waistband. It is reinforced with a strip of canvas and has a short overlapping placket hooked shut at the center front. And this was the making process already. The last thing that was missing, was the closure. It is one of the things I like best about the spencer, since it is simple and genius at the same time. Basically it is a cleverly hidden hook-and-eye closure with the eyes sitting over the inside edge at CF and the hooks sewn to a tape underneath the overlapping side. Once you close it, it is completely hidden from view. The hooks are spaced unevenly, with smaller distances at the top and bigger ones towards the bottom. This was also done on the extant spencer and ensures a nice, secure fit.

The hidden closure.

The hidden closure.

And here is the finished piece. I wore it over my blue cotton petticoat, since it was the closest thing to hand and I was a bit excited about finally taking some pictures and entering the finished product into the Historical Sew Monthly’s “Travel” challenge. Now I am glad that I finally got to share the whole documentation with you. I hope you can forgive some of the atrocious photos. My new camera is not very well-behaved in artificial lighting but, at the time, it was the only light available… a by-product of writing by day and sewing by night. ;)

The finished linen and silk spencer... after about five weeks.

The finished linen and silk spencer… after about five weeks.

The back view, by daylight. I was so excited to be done, I completely forgot to iron the waistband. ;)

The back view, by daylight. I was so excited to be done, I completely forgot to iron it. ;)

This concludes my very first post in what has felt like ages. I have missed you all so much! Funnily, the number of the blog’s followers on Facebook has exploded during the idle months. We are not at over 300. Wow! This still leaves me baffled and in awe. I am very happy people stay so supportive and interested, even during longer times of hiatus. Still I am overjoyed to be back. Please give me a little while to catch up on all you have been up to in the past months. It feels like I have missed a great deal of wonderful things!

Much Love, Nessa


HSM #2: An Early-Regency Cloak

After a short weekend at home, here is the long-promised challenge post for the finished Regency cloak. To start where I left off in the research post, here is a look at the molded fan pleats from the inside of the hood. I even out the gathers with my fingers and then tacked them down with a circle of back-stitches, using a few strands of embroidery floss, for extra durability.

The molded fan pleats (inside view).

Admittedly, this looks somewhat messy, compared to this extant, late 18th-century, example of the technique. But the outside view of the pleats is nearly as pretty, as you will see in the photos below.

Molded fan pleats in an extant cloak (owned by Townsend Historical Society).

Before the final pictures, though, here are the cloak’s challenge details:

The Challenge: HSM #2 – “Blue”

Years: 1790-1800.

Pattern: Kelly’s amazing Regency cloak tutorial, based on an extant garment; plus a few tweaks of my own, as suggested in her original post.

Fabric: Four yards of heavy night-blue cotton blend an 1/2 yard of yellow silk-shot wool for the hood lining.

Notions: Two large hooks and eyes for fastening, regular cotton thread and cotton embroidery floss; self-fabric trim.

How historically accurate is it? As closely as possible, although a big part is machine-sewn.

Hours to complete: Somewhere between studying for exams, I didn’t keep count this time…

Total cost: Since most resources came from my stash and were once scored off the clearance rack, I would say no more than € 15 in total.

First worn: For the photos.

And speaking of photos, here they are. Please excuse the glum face. It is actually a happy look, just the exams season version of it. Hoping to be back with more joyful shots next time. ;)

The front view.

The back view with hood…

… and without.

And another side shot to show off the overall drape and hood shape a bit better.

I am so glad I finished the cloak in time for the challenge deadline, despite February having a few days less to spare. Yet I have a feeling that the cloak will spend another season inside, since spring is almost upon us now.

But it will surely get some awesome moments in the chillier half of the year. And I am much looking forward to it.

All the best, Nessa


Early Regency Cloaks: A Quick Overview

Finally I have found a moment, between all the exams, to bring a bit of cloak-related research to you. I will tell you a little about the cloak I am making for the HSM “Blue” challenge and give you a few key facts on the sizing and construction of cloaks in the late 18th and early 19th century in general. Here we go. If you already own a cloak, now would be a good time to get it. Our ride will be somewhat speedy and I would not want you to catch a draught. ;)

A few words about “my” cloak:
The garment I am working on is based on this gorgeous brown cloak, which was auctioned at Christie’s a few years ago. Its date of manufacture is given as 1799, which makes it a very early specimen on Regency capes and overcoats. This is why its width and hood shape are still very close to other examples from a little earlier in the 18th century. We will learn a bit more about these things in the following paragraphs. But first, here is a photo of the 1799 Regency cloak and another late-18th century wool cloak from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. As you can see, they share some similarities:

1799 Regency cloak, auctioned at Christie’s.


Red wool cloak from the last third of the 18th century, Met Museum.

The cloak body:

As you can see, the capes and cloaks of the Georgian and early Regency eras had a rather full, voluminous body, similar to the plissé cloaks that were popular throughout the 1700s. As a general estimate, the cloak body was about 4 yards wide and 1 yard long. The mass of fabric was than either pleated directly into the hood, or into a fitted shoulder yoke. You can see the first method on the red cloak, which also features an extra collar, attached to the body. My version, on the other hand, has a yoke.

Fabric-wise, most cloaks I have seen were made using different weights of wool. It also seems that the cloak body was often unlined. Furthermore, red was a very frequent color choice for cloaks and coats, all through the Regency era. There was quite a long time, when the circular red walking cape was a staple in the fashionable Regency lady’s outdoor wardrobe. The Jane Austen Center has dedicated a short article to this phenomenon and its anachronistic charm. On their website, you will also find a tutorial to create your very own circular walking cape.

The hood:

Opposed to the cloak body, the hood was usually lined with silk or similar soft fabrics. It was rather large and round, to accommodate the high hairdos many ladies sported in the 18th century. The shaping found its way into the early Regency era, too. It was achieved by rounding off the hood’s underside and by gathering the back portion of the hood, using a technique called “fan pleating” or “radial pleating”. Most often, the fan pleats took a round shape. But there were also straight and semi-circular patterns.

Fan pleats, in the hood of the red cloak.

Making the hood:

I fan-pleated my hood, using the translated instructions from Garsault’s 1760s book “L’art du Tailleur”. You can find them on Marquise’s website, along with the instructions for making mantlets and plissés, taken from the same publication. Following Garsault’s pattern, I folded in half a 45 x 90 cm square of fabric and cut out a wedge at the fold’s bottom end, taking out about a third of the center back length. I then cut the lining in the same way.

This shape makes the hood’s neck edge more fitted, while the resulting tip also serves to give the pleats an even, symmetric mold. After closing up the diagonal seams the cut has created, you make the fan pleats by sewing two parallel rows of gathering stitches, on either side of the center-back fold, through both layers of the lined hood. After pulling them up on the inside, you can add some back-stitches for extra shaping and stability. The diagram below sums up the measurements I used for the hood and the placement of the gathering stitches.

My cutting diagram for the hood.

To close, here are a few photos of what my finished hood looked like, before and after putting it into the yoke:

The fan pleats in my hood, before the final molding.

The side view of the hood with trim and shaping.

The hood after attachment to the yoke. (I added the ties in the same step as well).

For now, this concludes our quick venture into early Regency cloaks. When I find a little time, I will try to add an extra post on Regency-era fur cloaks as well. I hope you stayed warm, despite this post’s breezy pace. If you did not, now might be a good time to consider starting your very own period cloak… ;)

Best, Nessa


Cloak Progress: Folding the trim

For the HSM “Blue” challenge,  I am finally getting to make the Regency cloak that has been on my project wish list for so long. And I really owe you a research post to get the whole project rolling properly.  There is just one tiny, little holdup: term finals.

So I have been meaning to do some cloak research all week. But, after spending a few hours with statistics, it gets a bit tough. On the bright side though, I have itched to use my hands after all this brain work. As a result, the sewing is coming along quite well. Tonight, I have been enthusiastically folding and ironing away on the 3 yards of self-fabric trim that will go onto the hood.

Since the woven wool fabric is somewhat fussy about lying flat and being cut straight, it took a small trick to fold over the raw edges. I cut the side out of an old cardboard box to get a strip that was two inches wide; the width of the finished trim. The rest was simple and felt a bit like magic. It went like this:

One: Center it.

Two: Fold, press and pin.

Three: Done. Three yards of blue wool folded. Whew.

And now, I can happily fall over and relax for the rest of the evening.

Wishing you all a Good Night,