Monday, April 14, 2014

Plaid Sunbonnet I: Research and Links

I decided I needed a more utilitarian headcovering for days when I'm baking or 'doing the wash' at the Fort. I've been using my white sheer sunbonnet (from the 1857 Godey's pattern), but want to try a print/figured fabric that won't show dirt as well and/or doesn't make the visitors compare it to a christening gown*.

The fabric I selected is a light shirting-weight cotton plaid, in white, grey and purple.

Fabric in hand, I went looking for original patterns/instructions circa 1845-1855; I figure this garment would primarily be for Fort use (1855), and wanted to make my mid-century wardrobe less 60's-centered.  I tried all the usual places--Google books and internet archives, looking for Godey's, Peterson's, and other magazines**; I also checked "The Workwoman's Guide" (1838), and "The Ladies' Self-Instructor..."(1853). Apparently, sunbonnet patterns weren't in high demand.

And I can sort of see the point.

If you're not trying to imitate a specific historical period and it's aesthetic foibles, and are acquainted with the general shape, you don't really need a pattern.  The sunbonnet isn't exactly a complicated garment: there's a bit that goes over the head, a bit that goes behind the head, and a bit that hangs down.  All three are/can be basically rectangles (with varying degrees of rounded corners), and can be draped to fit; the same shape could be gotten in two pieces by either cutting the crown and brim as one piece (as in the 1859 hood pattern), or extending the crown and brim to form the curtain/bavolet (I haven't seen this actually done). Mrs. Clark's pattern (see "Make a Slat Sunbonnet"), manages a pretty bonnet out of only one piece.

Not finding an original pattern, I decided to just drape a pattern, using the 3-piece format, and looked to some original bonnets for inspiration.

This corded sunbonnet in a brown cotton plaid looks a lot like my '57 white sheer bonnet in shape and cord placement, even though it's dated c.1840.  The bias-cut brim is a cute touch, which I may duplicate.  The brown is more full than the '57 pattern, and I suspect it's a hold-over from the full, gathered crowns used on caps and bonnets earlier in the century.

I also considered doing a slat bonnet, like this beige linen example, dated 1850. It appears to be cut as a single piece (less ruffles and ties), much like Mrs. Clark's pattern.  I confess, I don't really care for the ruffle on the original.  

This drawn bonnet of teal silk confuses me a bit.  I tend to think of drawn bonnets as fashion bonnets, and long curtains as a practical trait of sunbonnets--even nice sunbonnets.  It's dated c. 1845, and could have something altogether different going on. [Edited to add: apparently, it's actually a capeline: a dressier version of a sunbonnet, or a more practical fashion bonnet.] On the subject of (apparently) weird hybrids, there's this c. 1860 cotton gingham drawn bonnet which has almost no curtains, and is transgressing all of the other generalities.   

This white corded sunbonnet looks a lot like the one I made, with a fuller crown (1840's?) and short-ish curtain.  The horizontal cords along the neck-edge of the brim is an interesting variation, which also appears here.  I'm not sure I could pull that off neatly, but I'm tempted to try...

Sunbonnets in prints, in solid color cottons, and in white cambric cotton.

If I ever find a sheer green wool (or just a sheer wool, it'll dye), I'm making this one.  It's another of those drawn-bonnets with the deep curtains; the date is given "early 19th century".

The more I think about it, the more inclined I am to use the plaid bonnet as a guide.  It's a nice, classic shape that I'm more or less familiar with, and corded brims can be light and comfortable to wear.  I'll save the slat design for next time I'm in a hurry.  The main difference between this and the white are the shape of the side front brim (straight, not curved: should make the cording a little more straightforward), and no apparent back ties.  The crown may also be a bit fuller; it's hard to say.  Ten rows of cording at the front brim should also impart more stability; my white has 5 rows at the front, and it droops awfully if insufficiently starched.

*No idea why.  It's an unadorned, cotton, corded sunbonnet that happens to be white and semi-sheer.

**I did find a lot of references to sunbonnets in fiction; they are rarely described, but are sometimes differentiated "white" (most often), "pink", "blue", "gingham", "check", "print", "muslin", or "calico".  The dictionary of Americanisms (1860) defined: "Sun-bonnet: A homemade bonnet, with a large 'cape', so as to shade both the face and neck, much worn by women and girls in the country."  Elsewhere, there was also a language discussion, in which it was noted that "hat" had largely replaced "bonnet", except in the term "sun-bonnet".  The hyphenated term appeared most often, "sun bonnet" less, and "sunbonnet" not at all.

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