How I Reconstructed a Bonnet from an Old Original Ladies Pioneer Bonnet (Part 1)
When I first saw this long neck ruffled brimmed bonnet, (for the record, on our other bonnets I have always considered the back that protects the neck to be a 'ruffle'), I thought it would be such fun to make a few for re-enactors It would work as well for women that are outdoors in the sun a lot (especially in the south) but I really couldn't seem to find a pattern for this style. Maybe it was because I wasn't exactly sure how to label this bonnet or what search terms to use when I looked for it. Either way, I ended up making a pattern on my own and it was not only fun, it was a learning experience for me. Though the project was small and not very difficult, it was still a process.
My sister didn't really remember where she got the bonnet, an estate sale maybe? But it sure looked authentic to me.
It also looked well loved, well washed and well worn. The colors were faded but the bonnet itself seemed to have held up pretty well. I would imagine it's a bonnet that someone's grandmother wore in her garden a few decades ago. Whoever owned it possibly grew up with a grandmother that lived in the late 1800's. My own grandmother was born in 1897. That grandmother may have had the knowledge of making these kind of long neck brimmed bonnets in her memory.
What the Long Neck Ruffled-Brimmed Bonnet Original Looked Like
In the following long neck ruffled brimmed bonnet photos, you can see that everything was hand seamed and as much as I looked, I wasn't able to find any machine stitching anywhere. Though sewing machines were invented in the late 1700's and they were around to make clothing, not everyone was able to purchase one for their convenience. Or even afford one. If fingers were 'invented' before forks, I guess the same can be said for sewing machines as fingers and needles were available when a person couldn't afford a machine.
Stitching on the curved part of the brim appeared to be a running stitch to me. After the brim was sewed and probably ironed, a flat running stitch was applied to combine the material and seams together.
I suspect this was actually done after everything was sewn to the main cap, though it doesn't really make much difference whether it's done prior or after.
My struggle the first time was to get the pieces not only the right size, but sewn in the proper order. The side flaps, after I had gathered the cap, I sewed to the back piece. After I had finished, I decided that what worked for the original sewer and what would work for me would be two different things. I did NOT want to spend the better part of the week hand sewing for authenticity or otherwise, possibly tearing out me work and redoing it again until it was correct. What worked far better for me was to attach the side pieces to the bonnet brim before sewing all the layers together.
When this bonnet was made, the side pieces were hand stitched, taking care to roll over the seam and gradually working around the bottom curve. I took one look and gave me a note to self…."Uh…NO! Not gonna happen, ever."
Making the side piece with a bottom straight edge is no doubt far easier than negotiating around a fabric curve, but the effect is less esthetically appealing when a curved edge looks far better.
Sadly, machine sewing around small, tight curves with little fabric to work with not only creates a pain in the bottom, and everyone else's! It also creates lumps, bumps and a nasty looking spiral twist around the curviest portion of the side piece. I elected to cut fabric on the bias and create my own bias tape which I did all the time back when I did upholstery for a living.
When I was finally done looking the bonnet over, I pulled out my roll of paper that I used for making patterns and got to work. I took a tape measure to the brim first and figured how long and how wide it was while adding in an allowance for the seam. After drawing on paper, I added curves to the brim where I thought they should go.
There are really only 4 pieces to the bonnet (cap, brim, ties and side piece) but I added a fifth to make a bias tape strip. The ties were easy peezy by just getting a length measurement and I decided it wasn't a make or break deal if the ties were wider or smaller than the originals. Measuring the side piece was a guess, too, but I came pretty close. Mine ended up being a bit larger because instead of using the outside edge and rolling the seam over, that was added to the width because I chose run the bias tape around it.
Here's the Pattern Pieces I Measured Out for the Long Neck Ruffled-Brimmed Bonnet
(Apologies for this photo turning out so poorly….I really had no great angle to get a shot from the top and after 4 attempts, gave up and decided to try later. If I remember…!)
The bias pattern piece is not in this photo but one isn't really needed. All that was required to do was cut on an angle a piece approximately an inch or better wide, then cut it longer than the combined outside edge and curve of the side piece. That's it.
The cap was the easiest part, but I also slightly mis-measured there, too. In the end (comparison photos at bottom) my bonnet was a bit longer than the originally. All easily rectified. Anyway, I took a piece of yarn to the top of the brim down to the bottom hem. Since I couldn't lay it flat without tearing it apart, this worked the best. But I also added in allowances for seams. Then I guess-timated where the gathers would be After that, I marked it on my paper.
With a few yards of homespun cotton on hand, a really pretty forest green mix, I decided that it would be perfect to use. Homespun is a 100% cotton with a slightly rough, scratchy feel. Mercerized cotton blended with polyester of which so many clothing items are made today has a smooth feel. Just for fun, I went on Amazon to find a few homespun cottons to use. However, where we live, for example, we are not even close to a Joann's. Fabric stores with huge selections are about a 5 hour round trip from me, so quite often, I just use Amazon to select material. However, I am pointing out the choices below because the fabric you want might not be available in your area. They are all cotton which is nice. In addition they fit in with a period correct theme if you are going for authenticity, There are also several great colors to choose from. Also included is a combination of solid color homespun just below the first table.
There are some really good colors here, but the last one on the right I think is a plaid that might be too large for bonnets. I'm glad that they show a ruler at the bottom of the material swatch so that I can get a better idea of the size. I looked for a bright red and a bright blue, neither of which I found. Probably just as well if I keep to the period correct idea.
Ladies Homespun Cotton Plaid Fabric Pioneer Bonnet Sewing Choices
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Homespun Cotton Plain Colored Fabric for Ladies Long Neck-Ruffle Pioneer Bonnet
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The first thing I noticed was that the weave of my cloth wasn't even. Plaids and checkered fabric drive me crazy. If you want all edges and seams to match (just like they taught us girls in 4-H) you are going to use up more than you planned when you pin and cut. I figured that If I skipped the matching part, I not only would save cloth, but I suspect that aspect of it would be period correct too. After all….they didn't have a lot of money to waste and cut up fabric was going to be a $$ loss.
The bonnet I had used as a model didn't have an insert. It was just two pieces of material slapped together and then sewn. It also didn't have any quilting on the brim to keep it from being floppy. I cut the pieces, then put the two right sides together (although in this case both sides looked the same) an placed the denim insert on top. I sewed around the outside edge, then turned the bonnet outside in and pressed it with an iron, especially the outer sewn edge around the curve.
*****Here is where I made my first mistake but it was really more about not being sure how this bonnet was put together and not paying more attention. I noticed AFTER I had sewn the brim that the side pieces were placed on the inside of the bonnet and THEN the entire brim was sewn together. This created another problem for me. However, because once sewn, (and I sewed edge to edge on the brim without leaving a 1/2 inch at the bottom to accommodate the attachment of the side piece to the back) I had to do one of two things. Either attach the side piece to the brim differently or re-open the brim so that it could be attached to the pieces. I am doing another bonnet with different material and sewing it based on the things I learned working with this one. It will be in Part 2.
Sewing Bias Tape
Bias is Ironed the Same Way as the Bonnet Ties Are, But Cut on and Angle
I pinned the bias around the edge so you would see what I did, but when sewing, pinning just. does. not. work. It can only be sewn as you go around. If it's easier to use a bias tape that matches your material, by all means go ahead and do so. I didn't have any and I sure wasn't going to make a several hour round trip to do so, so this is what I came up with instead.
When making your own, make sure the strip is perfectly even and sufficient to be folded in half and then folded again. I used a strip about 1.5 inches wide and 12 " long. After pressing it, I folded it in half and pressed again. Then I folded the previous fold into the center once more and pressed. It's the exact center that you will be placing the side piece material in as you sew around the curve. Well….after you move the pins of course 🙂
As mentioned about concerning the bias, bonnet ties are made the same way only not cut on an angle but instead following the grain of the fabric. Fold in half. Press, Then fold again and press. You now have a bias strip or a bonnet tie.
Trimming the bottom of the brim to even it out makes for a more finished product. It will also be easier to sew to the ruffled cap and zig zag over the top. However, cutting AFTER you zig zag has it's hazards. Trust me on this, just trust me 🙂
Because I 'oopsed' and sewed the brim first, I did the side piece part to make sure I had them correct. When I do my next brim. I need to make sure that the side pieces lay flush against the sides and bottom of the brim and that the curved bias tape edges face the top.
I pinned the side piece to my Long neck ruffled brimmed bonnet cap, but I left about a half an inch at the bottom. When I finish the bonnet, I can roll this part over the end of the side piece where I trimmed the bias tape. Then I can top stitch and the bonnet will have a finished look.
After I had stitched the side piece to the bonnet cap, I went back to the top of the cap where I had made a notch in the exact center. I measured about 5 inches from the notch on either side and placed a pin in both points so that I would know where to begin and end my basting stitch. Then I began gathering the material together.
I pinned the bonnet brim to the gathered cap and remember when I said I trimmed it? Here is why….once you sew it, you need to zig zag it to help stabilize the material from fraying. A serger would work but for two things….the thickness of the layers of material added to the denim insert make it difficult for a serger to work through and not everyone has serger. Plus, if the edges are not even and you szig zag stitch it, you'll find that it's still uneven. This will require trimming, If I get to close, I will cut through and undo all zig zag stitches.
At the top I added only one round of stitching to 'quilt' the brim. The original, having no insert, did not appear to require one.
There was just no way I could take a photo of how the bonnet looked put together at this stage because the nature of bonnets, or any kind of hats period, do not lay flat. But you can see that the side pieces attached to the cap are now completely and fully attached to the brim. What remains are the ties and the final detail trimming.
You can see where I am holding the edge of the bottom of the cap at the seam where the cap is sewn to the side piece? After trimming any excess of bias, I rolled the cap at the bottom edge over the top and then stitched over it. The top stitching will create a hem on the right side as well as cover the raw edge of the bias tape at the bottom of the seam.
Finally, I am near the end of the long neck ruffle brimmed bonnet! Because I have two pointers in blue, you should be able to see where the corner of the bonnet brim and the top edge of the bias taped side piece are. This is where I sewed the ties on either side of the brim. I top stitched the tie, then turned it around and top stitched again. There are no raw edges showing on the tie as there were in the original tihs way. In addition, I added ties to the back of the bonnet close to where I thought they should go and top stitched those as well.
The original had buttons sewn on the top of the ties which I thought was a nice touch and I may add those to the next bonnet for Part. 2.
So! There you have it. My latest experiment in making a pattern from an original long neck ruffled brimmed bonnet.
A favor, please....I spent the entire day making two patterns and sewing one bonnet. Then spent another entire day putting this post together (writing, uploading, editing photos…) so if I have missed anything, or even if any of the links are broken, please let me know! I would be ever so grateful 🙂 The more posts that go up on a site, the more links and photos that are added, eventually makes it an almost impossible task to to monitor. And when I am working on something, it's easy to focus on the main job and miss little things. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post.