Cap Conundrums – Making a Regency cap

As it will be April soon, it is almost time for HSF challenge #7 “Tops and Toes”. For me, this means making my first Regency-era cap. It will be the “Cap à la Russe” I already wrote some about in January. In the meanwhile, I had little trawl through the online archives and found the original fashion plate I used at the library. It really is stunningly beautiful:

Fashion plate of the cap “à la Russe” (Ackermann’s Repository, 1813).

On Saturday, I started working on the pattern and, well, ran into a few, not so unexpected, surprises.  Originally, I was going to use this cap from the “Workwoman’s Guide” as a starting point for my pattern:

Cap pattern from the “Workwoman’s Guide”.

After patterning the cap, I cut out a toile, only to find that it was a whole bit too small for my noggin. Of course, this little problem was not really new to me; I already ran into it when making my Elizabethan coif last year. So, like last time, I grumbled a little and devised a plan B: drafting my own. Inspired by Jenni’s simple Regency cap, I started out with a semi-circular pattern.

For this, I puzzled out where I wanted the front edge of the cap’s head-piece to sit. As the cap will have a rather wide brim later, I decided to end it pretty much in the center of my head, about where the middle of the ears is. From the center point, I measured around my head, going around the base of my skull. I came out with a remarkable 56 cm (22 inches). To get the cap’s length, I then measured from the same point, straight down to the nape of my neck. This measure was 30 cm (12 inches). The pattern I got, using these two lengths looked like this:

Instead of drawing out the whole thing, I only drew half of it, on a piece of brown paper which was 30 cm (12 inches) long and 28 cm (11 inches) wide. Placing it on the fold of my scrap fabric, I cut out another toile, then basted the rounded back seam together. With the toile on my head, I had another look at the fashion plate and marked out the sections in need of trimming.

After playing around a little, I took off a few more centimeters at the front and cut the side line somewhat asymmetrically, so the head-piece was still right on top of my head, with the ears free on the opposite sides. Considering how a “Russian” cap was tied right where the brim and head-piece meet, I narrowed down the toile’s front section a bit, to comfortably hold a wide ribbon, without it getting entangled with the brim. When I was done, the toile looked somewhat funny. The brown paper piece on the right shows you what it looked like before I put the scissors to it:

The toile, before and after alterations.

Next, I measured from the center of my head, down to the top of my forehead, where I wanted the cap’s brim to end. This way, I found that the brim should be about 20 cm (8 inches) long and about as wide as the widest part of the head-piece, namely the 56 cm I measured earlier. To get the width and shape of the brim’s top end, I placed half the toile on a sheet of paper and traced along the front edge like so:

Patterning the brim.

At this point, I had a workable pattern for my cap “à la Russe”. Despite my previous hassle with historical caps, it was actually pretty easy. To make up the cap, I cut out two brims and two head pieces (one shell and one lining) from the muslin I had left over from my Regency underthings. Right now, one of them sits in my big embroidery hoop, getting pampered with some decorative period white-work.

At first, I was a little hesitant to line the cap as, normally, simple Regency cotton caps were unlined. But then, I find embroidery thread poking into my hair-do somewhat irritating. After a very helpful exchange with some of the awesome folks in the HSF’s facebook group, I decided to go for it and add a bag lining, to cover up all these poky little threads. On top of that, it will also save me the hassle of finishing the curvy back seam. Yay. =)

Now I only have to get ahead of all the embroidery before the deadline on April 15th. Once that has progressed a little, I will treat you all to a, long overdue, post about 19th-century white-work.

See you all then,




The Cap à la Russe – Some Research over Christmas

Merry late Christmas, everyone!

After the holidays, I am finally back with a new post for you. Over Christmas I have sorely missed my sewing projects. So I did some research on Regency caps instead. There is a rather special day cap that caught my attention. It is called a “cap à la Russe”. I found it in a mid-1813 issue of Ackermann’s. Right below is a quick (slightly sloppy) sketch of it I made at the library. Funnily, there is next to nothing about it on the internet, so here is my take on it for your reading pleasure:

My sketch of a "cap à la Russe" with notes.

My sketch of a “cap à la Russe” with notes.

What is a “cap à la Russe” and how is it Russian?

When you read through fashion publications from the 1810s and 20s you will usually find praise and descriptions of the latest French couture. Seeing how the Empire look was mainly a French brainchild, this is not so surprising. Now, between 1813 and 1815 that enthusiasm ebbed away a bit in most English journals. And no wonder, it was the hot phase of the Napoleonic Wars. So, patriotism found its way into English fashion.
For once, Spitalfields Silk became a fashionable dress fabric all over the country. On the other hand, Regency fashions from other countries, especially from Russia, gained a little more attention.

The “cap à la Russe” in one of these non-French twist on Empire clothing. Basically, it is a round-eared cap, like the one from the Kannik’s Korner 1740-1820 cap pattern. But, unlike your average cloth cap, it is laced to one side, rather than below the chin. That is pretty much it.

Some general thoughts on cap construction:

Being pretty new to cap making, I took some time to look around for helpful construction and patterning hints. One of the first things I found was Jenni’s girls’ cap on Living with Jane. It gave me a good idea of the general shape and construction of regency caps. There is also Sarah Jane’s organdy caps on Romantic History. Here, the brim and ruffle are a little shorter and further away from the face. I like both very much, but the second cap is probably a bit closer to the look I want for my project.

As another source, I looked into some “newer” cap patterns from the early Victorian era. The 1837 night cap from “The Female’s Friend” is close to the roundish Regency shape. But, when you look at the overall length of 45 inches, the pattern turns out to be slightly too long.

Night cap pattern from "The Female Friend" (1837)

Night cap pattern from “The Female Friend” (1837)

Another pattern comes from “The Workwoman’s Guide”. The measurements on it are in nails. One nail are 2 1/4 inches. Surprisingly, you can actually use Google to do the conversions. On top of that, both books are available in full through Google Books. :) Especially the “Workwoman’s Guide” is worth a look as it features lots and lots of authentic 19th-century underwear and linen patterns.

Cap pattern from “The Workwoman’s Guide” (1840).

For my “cap à la Russe” I am going to make a sort-of hybrid out of these two patterns with some alterations:

  1. Shorten the main pattern piece so that the ruffle ends just on top of the forehead.
  2. Measure the brim and ruffle short enough to leave a little gap at the nape of the neck.
  3. Close a portion at the bottom of the cap because the lacing will not really do that job here. (I could also use a circular pattern and draw it up, but then it will be more of a mob cap. ;) )
  4. Insert a length of ribbon or bobbin band between the cap and brim that laces to one side of the head. A narrow casing for tie would be another option. We will see what works best…

Once I have made a working cap pattern, I will show it off to you on here. But perhaps you will be quicker making your own now. Either way, I hope my post was helpful for you. If you have questions or further pattern suggestions, please let me know. :)

Meanwhile I will finally get to work on my chemise for the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014. This will be my first-ever project for the HSF and I am super excited about it. :D

Much Love and a Happy New Year,



Useful links:

“The Workwoman’s Guide” (1840) and “The Female’s Friend and General Domestic Adviser” (1837) on Google Books.