“The Old Bonnet” by Henrietta N. Babb.

“I do so wish Sallie Curtis would not wear that old bonnet!” exclaimed a lady, as she entered the parlor of a fashionable boarding-house, which some half dozen families miscalled “home” – that sweet word, which the heart can only apply to the place that shelters our own household band!

“Why does Miss Curtis’ bonnet trouble you? Asked her husband, laughingly.

“Trouble me? indeed it does – indeed it does – it takes away all my comfort in church! It looked badly enough in the early part of the season, but now that all the ladies in the pews around them have such elegant new hats, Sallie and her mother do look most forlorn in their old straws!?

“Is her mother’s as bad as hers?”

“Yes; and a hundred times worse. IT is shameful for ladies in their position to dress so meanly! I beg your pardon, Mrs. T—-, I did not see you,” said the last speaker, with a blush.

“Oh, you need not apologize to ma, she sees Cousin Sallie’s hat in the same light in which you do, and aunt’s too!” spoke up a young lady, at the side of the person addressed.

“Yes, indeed; and I am not surprised at their being the subject of remark. I told them it would be so, when I saw them fixing up their bonnets, (for they trimmed them themselves with ribbon they had in the house;) but I hoped then they would be worn for a few weeks, until cold weather set in; but they are bent on making them do service during the entire winter! Such a foolish notion as my sister-in-law has in her head; because this is a hard winter, and business men are cramped for money, she is determined to save a dime wherever she can, without causing actual suffering to herself and family! I am lecturing her continually on the absurdity of her course, but I cannot mover her. I told her that Sallie could not possibly do without a new bonnet this winter, even if she did. A married lady, you know, may occasionally enjoy the privilege of being careless about her own dress; people take it for granted that in her anxiety about her family, she has forgotten herself; but it is absolutely necessary for a young lady to be always well dressed, and I am sure I am ashamed of Sallie, this winter! My Julia wouldn’t wear her best hat, even for ‘a hack bonnet’”

“No, that I would not!” said the young lady. “I should be afraid of losing caste, if I did so!”

“But I thought Mr. Curtis was a man of wealth!” said an intimate friend to Mrs. T— , in a lower tone.

“He is considered so; but now even the wealthiest men are embarrassed, you know. My husband says that one dollar, this winter, is worth more than two were last year!” she said laughing.

“But you are not obliged to economize?” and the speaker glance at the rich velvet, costly furs, and the “lovely hat,” in which Mrs. T— was arrayed.

“Me! oh, I can’t do it; and if I could, where would be the use of worrying and slaving myself to asve a little here, and a little there? What would it all amount to, in the end? A few hundred dollars, which, if my husband is going to fail, could not prevent him, and which I may as well enjoy while I can! My sister-in-law says that if her husband becomes involved, it shall not be through any extravagance of hers; and that she is resolved

to make no unnecessary purchases this winter. I represented to her that with all her efforts, she could not save more than a trifle, and that she had better give up the struggle and take things as they come; but her earnest answer was – ‘No, Elizabeth, although the sum may be ever so trifling, I am resolved to exercise self denial, in order that I may have the satisfaction of feeling that I have done what I could!” It has really become quite a mania with her, and Sallie just like her mother. Whenever I tell her of anything she needs, her reply invariably is – ‘I can do without it at present, for we wish to economize,’ or, ‘we are trying to retrench.’
“What a pity! She is such a fine-looking girl, when well-dressed!”

“I know it; and I am so glad you alluded to her dress, for I meant to tell her it has been remarked upon, and I shall do my best to prevent her face being again seen under that old bonnet!”

The ladies who carried on the above conversation, and a listener, of whom they little dreamed. Mr. R—, a wealthy and elegant gentleman, who had spent several years in Europe, and had lately returned home, with nothing to do but to seek enjoyment and a wife, lay on a sofa in the adjoining parlor trying to reed, but unconsciously taking in all that the ladies said.

“So Miss T— would be afraid of losing caste, if she wore a bonnet as her cousin’s, would she?” he repeated to himself sneeringly. “How finely her position in society must be established, if so a slight a thing as a straw hat could hurl her from her place! When will our women have that noble independence which should be their birthright?” and as the voices died away, he lay musing for some time upon the old straw bonnet, and its wearer.

Despite the eloquent way in which Mrs. T—- reported to her niece the remarks that had been made upon her old bonnet, Sallie’s pretty face was still seen under it at church, and on the street.

“You foolish child!” the aunt persisted, “what are ten or fifteen dollars to your father, in his business, when he has thousands of dollars to pay out almost every day?”

“Very little, I know; but then the consciousness that I am trying to lighten his cares, is a great deal to me; and mother says that the feeling of independence, which we call forth by our self-denial, will be lasting benefit to me.”

“Pshaw! you don’t know the disadvantage it may prove to you! Just in an age when the appearance you make will have a great influence on your future destiny; it is all –important that you should look as well as possible; and what girl can appear in an old bonnet?”

“Mother, just think of it,” exclaimed Julia T—, a few days after. “Sallie fancies she can go to that party in the with dress that she has worn, I don’t know how many times!”

“You don’t mean to say that she had not made a new dress for this occasion?”

“So she says.”

“Well, then she had better stay at home, that’s all!”

“So I told her myself. I wouldn’t go into society in an old dress, if I never went at all, for I should not expect to receive the least attention! But let me tell you the funniest thing you ever heard, Ma!” continued the young lady, laughing immoderately, as if she just recalled something excessively ludicrous. “She thinks she can’t even afford a new pair of gloves for the party, and so what do you suppose she has done? Taken soap and milk and cleaned the pair she wore to Mrs. C—-‘s; I laughed ready to kill myself, when she showed them to me with the assurance that they were ‘just as good as new!”

“How did they look?”

“I couldn’t see for laughing’ and just think mother, they have dismissed the seamstress, and Sallie is going to do the family-sewing, until times are easier, she says!”

“Why, is there anything especially wrong in her father’s affairs?”

“Oh, no; only the old story of, ‘he is embarrassed, and I wish to do what I can!”

It is said “stone walls have ears;” I do not know how true it is, but somehow or other, Mr. R—- overheard this conversation, as distinctly as he had the one about the old bonnet.

One word respecting that gentleman. Young ladies said he was about thirty; certainly spinsters and affirmed that he was “all of thirty-five,” while he laughingly owned to thirty-three; but he was so lively and interesting in conversation, that even very young girls forgot his age.

After the above revelations respecting the economy of Miss Curtis’ toilet, he certainly expected her to present a shabby appearance at the party; and he began to dread seeing her pass through the trying ordeal of feeling herself the most illy-dressed person in the room; and enduring the slights consequent upon that circumstance, she did not appear until quite late, and as he looked around upon the rich satins and gorgeous silks, in which many of the guests were arrayed, he found himself hoping that she might not come at all.

“There is one young lady here, dressed in such pure artistic taste, can you tell me who she is?” inquired a friend at his elbow. “There talking to that tall man with the light hair!”

Mr. R—- looked, and recognized Sallie. But he sought in vain for evidence of her dress being old, or unfit to grace a scene like that. Its snowy folds were a positive relief to the eye, dazzled by so much splendor, while her dark hair – which formed so fine a contrast to her alabaster skin and white dress – was most tastefully arranged, and ornamented with a few white rose-buds. The effect of that simple toilet was perfect, but he remembered what had been said of the gloves, and looked eagerly at her hands.

“If they are the same, she was right in pronouncing them as good as new,” he said to himself; and so absorbed was he by these profound reflections, that he almost forgot to reply to his friend.

The crisis that business men had apprehended came, and those whose credit had stood highest, were the first to fail. Among them was Mr. Curtis.

“So it seems that with all your worrying and economy, you were not able to keep your father from failing!” said Mrs. T— to her niece.

“No, aunt, we did not expect to be able to do that.”

“Then your wisest course would have been to enjoy life while you could. Here you have been denying yourselves all winter to no purpose!”

“But, as mother says, we have the satisfaction of feeling that since father has been pressed for money, we have not cause him one needless expenditure!” and she looked radiantly happy.

“Will you permit me, Miss T—, to ask you a direct question?” Inquired Mr. R—, , of that young lady, as they found themselves left alone in one of the parlors.

“Certainly,” was the gracious reply, “ask me any question you like, since I can use the privilege of replying to it or not, just as I happen to be in the vein!”

“But I hope you will deign to answer this one in which I am greatly interested – is Miss Curtis much depressed at her father’s failure?”

The question was different from what Julia had anticipated, but she replied with a laugh –

“Depressed! you should see her! Were I in her place, I confess that I should be plunged into the depths of woe, at the thought of the retrenchments, and the changes that must be made in their style of living; but Sallie is as light-hearted as a bird!”

“Perhaps she does not realize it yet!”

“Oh yes she does; and she has her plans all laid out as clearly as we had to note down the various revolutions on our historical charts at school, and she talks about their moving into a small house, and keeping only one servant, as gayly as if she were planning a pleasure trip! And that is not all, she says she has been reviewing her studies with a view of teaching, so that they can thus continue her little sisters at the expensive schools they are attending. Just think of her stooping to become a teacher, isn’t it absurd?”

“I confess, I should prefer seeing her occupy a different position,” said Mr. R—-, with emphasis.

As long as her father lives he ought to be able to support her, and I told her that if I were in her place, I would reserve that degradation for some greater emergency; but she said she would rather prepare herself, by her own exertions, for any emergency.”

“I suppose they see no company now?”

“Oh yes, just the same as usual.”

Mr. R—- called on Sallie that evening, and to his delight found her alone. He was really relieved at seeing no cloud on her young face but instead, such a joyous expression as only springs from a happy heart.

In a manner not to be misunderstood he told her how glad he felt at seeing her thus, and she answered frankly –

“Why should I not be happy? My father is reduced, but he can never be dishonored! Perfect integrity and uprightness have characterized all his dealings, and if he has been unfortunate, the way in which he bears up under it makes me more proud of him than ever!” and tears filled her eyes as she spoke. “I don’t know much about business,” she added with a smile, “but I am told that all my father’s liabilities are to be met, so that no one else is to suffer through his failure.”

“But do you not shrink from the changes that must take place?”

Sallie wondered to herself why it was that she felt so perfectly free with Mr. R—, it seemed as if they had known each other all their lives as she answered -,

“Oh no, there is nothing very hard in that! Cousin Julia has been trying to convince me that I ought to be very wretched, but she did not succeed in her mission.”

There was a pause, and then the conversation renewed by Mr. R—-, but we are not going to tell the reader what he first said, though all the light that he can get upon the subject from the remarks that follow, he is welcome to. Mr. R—- spoke for about ten minutes in an earnest tone. Sallie, at first, looked down, and then raised her eyes to his face with an inquiring glance. At length she said —

“Had you spoken so, to me, half an hour ago, I should have supposed you ignorant of the change in our circumstances; but you know all.”

“I do!” was the answer, and he went on to tell Sallie of the effect that knowledge had produced upon him, and again the conversation was too earnest and tool low for our ears. At last he seemed to be urging her to reply, and if we give her answer, just as it fell from her cherry lips, we shall have to record the very trite words, “ask father!”

“Are you aware , sir, of my failure!” inquired Mr. Curtis, in answer to something Mr. R—- said to him next morning in his counting-room. “My daughter is now penniless!”

“I know all that,” was the reply; “but she is a fortune in herself!”

“That is most true; and, since you can appreciate her, take her, and may God bless you in proportion as you make her happy!”

“Thank you for the precious gift!” said Mr. R—–, much affected; “and now, sir, may I talk a little about business?”

The merchant bowed.

“I have lately received, from a relative, an overlooked-for gift of thirty thousand dollars, upon condition that I will go into some kind of business. I have been puzzled to know how to invest it, for, of business matters, I am sorry to say, I am most profoundly ignorant. You have experience and patience to bear with my want of knowledge; now, are you willing to consider my ready cash equal to your practical information, and so take me as a partner?”

The business arrangement being satisfactorily concluded, Mr. R— was urgent to have the wedding take place as soon as possible.

“Why didn’t you offer him the use of your money before, it might have saved his failure?” ask a friend of Mr. R—.

“I did long to do so, but was afraid to have the girl I loved feel that she was under obligations to me! I never could have hoped to win her affections then!”

“Pshaw! that would have been the very way to get her!”

When Mrs. T— and other friends were offering their congratulations to the blushing Sallie, her husband said —

“By the way, aunt, did I ever tell you what caused me to fall in love with your niece?”

“Her own loveliness, of course, drew our your love!”

“No such thing! it was her old straw bonnet!”

“Why, aunt, you told me, I don’t know how many times, that my old bonnet would prevent my ever marrying!”

“How had that fright of a hat anything to do with your admiration?”

“Why, you see, I wanted a companion in a wife; not a mere doll to please my fancy by her pretty face and costly dress; so I said to myself, ‘a girl who can reason thus correctly about economy, and who has independence enough to carry out that reasoning by wearing an old bonnet, has a mind above the ordinary herd, and powers of which any man might be proud?’”

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dress Reform

Today begins a series on Dress Reform. This will primarily be original articles. 1853 Feb

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Sewing on the Go

As interpreters and/or reenactors, we are most often sewing in temporary locations be it a house or shop we are in for a short time, an outdoor demonstration area or a pleasant gathering to catch up on ufos with friends. Having a sewing case that has all the essential tools is, well, essential.

Here are some of the mobile sewing cases, boxes and baskets we find to be our favorites:

wpid-251064_10150306169812846_1073733_n.jpegLong time readers know how much I like sewing boxes. This is one I made for someone years ago. (I am hoping she will share a current photo of it with her pretty tools inside.) This box has a good size compartment with pincushion, decorated needle pages and a scissors case. (You can find the directions for this case in Fanciful Utility.)

???????????????????Bevin recreated the same case, just a bit bigger. Her box holds just about everything you can imagine. She also has decorated needle pages and a scissors case, plus a pocket for a straight measure.

I have come to  love pockets of pockets or pocket rolls. Originals are found in silks as this one and in cottons of mixed colors as well as variations of the same color set, such as a selection of turkey reds. Pockets can be the same or varied sizes, flat or full. Some are found with needle pages, some with small pincushions. The pockets easily hold thread winders, flat tools, small scissors, buttons, a cloth measure and still have plenty of room for more. This one ties closed with silk ribbons.




???????????????????For small containers that you can turn into sewing boxes, here are a few to consider. Each of these can be used as is or can have a lining with pockets added. The top left is a small oval Shaker box. (ignore the price sticker that I still need to get off the top.) Some examples can be found with a pincushion set into the exterior of the lid. In the upper right is a small basket. This one happens to look like an apple. A basket with a tight weave is nice because you are less likely to have a pin or needle fall through the cracks. In the front is a small pasteboard box covered with paper. You want a durable box. I suggest a squeeze test. If it gives, pass on it. In all of these cases, it is important to have a snug lid that won’t fall off in transit. 

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 1:02 am  Leave a Comment  

What is in Your Sewing Box?

I was planning to talk about what tools to have in a sewing box/case/basket later this year in the fall. But, there are a few conversations happening now. So, let’s take a look now at what the original cast keeps in their work-box and what we keep in ours.

When looking at what they kept in their work-boxes we can look at extant cases, advice manuals, personal & descriptive literature and paintings. Virginia Mescher has already done a very nice job discussing recommendations from advice manuals and descriptions, while sampling originals in her article “The Case of the Lost Thimble.” I strongly recommend reading that first, before assembling a sewing kit of your own. Interestingly, we don’t see a sewing box or basket in “The Seamstress“, 1858. Bloch’s “The Artist’s Parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch in Their Sitting Room“, 1855 shows a nice knitting basket. (Knitters may also be interested in this painting.)

Sewing Box Filled This is my basic simple sewing box for going to day events where small sewing jobs  may come up or I may have a little back-up cloth project such as making a sewing case, sewing a quilt block or making a set of under-sleeves. In the box from left to right is a bone bodkin, bone stiletto, a metal bodkin, small pair of scissors, thimble, two thread winders and a case of needles. These easily fit into my 4″ box or a rolled sewing case.

???????????????????For events where I plan to be sewing most of the day, I have a basket as well. This basket tends to become a collect-all at events. I like to have:

  • The above items in a rolled case
  • Two pairs of scissors that are also good for cutting fabric, each in their own cases (I tend to loan or bury a pair.)
  • Spools of thread I know I’ll be using. Usually, this is white, natural, black and a couple colors plus a heavier white and maybe a heavier black.
  • Paper and pencil
  • Measures (My fabric one is next to the spool. The metal one is one I still need to date.
  • A few spare buttons (side pockets)
  • Pinball with pins (bouncing around tables at the time of the photo)
  • A small ball of crochet cotton (missing)
  • A small ball of wool (missing)
  • Scrap bits of fabric (pulled for sorting. You can see a couple small pieces and some paste board in a pocket)
  • A Magnet for finding lost needles and pins (missing)
  • Wax
  • Assorted ribbons
  • My emery if I can ever find it again.
  • If I’m going to be working with straw, I bring those scissors, those needles and a cloth for my lap.
  • Yes, those are walnut shells

???????????????????This is Bevin Lynn’s Shaker box dressed as a sewing box.  We live in an area where there were multiple Shaker communities. GCV has and interprets a Shaker building. These oval boxes were available in our area. Trish Watrous Hasenmeuller took time to contact South Union Shaker Village regarding some conflicting views as to the availability of these oval boxes to the public rather than being kept in the Shaker community. Trish writes “They said that the oval boxes were often sold to the public but were usually made in the northern Shaker settlements. They have catalogs of items for sale from the 1870’s that have them. Evidently they didn’t print a catalog in the 1860’s. Tommy Hines, the Executive Director at South Union said: “The northern Shakers both marketed and used the sewing boxes. The oval variety is more common and probably more prevalent in the period.”” (Thank you, Trish)???????????????????

I would say this is 8″-10″ on the longest side.  (Suddenly wishing I would have measure these.) Bevin has lined the box as well as the lid. In her box, we find a pincushion, measure rolled in a bag, thimble in a pocket, wax, thread winders, tailor’s chalk, a bodkin, small container and little bits of thread. In the lid she has a pincushion, scissors pocket and needle pages.

???????????????????This next box, also Bevin’s, is a pasteboard box covered in period decorative paper and lined with period printed paper. This box has multiple levels. Inside the lid fits a large pincushion, decoratively embroidered. This has ribbon loops to make removal easy. ???????????????????Inside the box, a blue velvet covered tray holds a number of tools with ribbon loops. We see a fish needle-case, a bone bodkin, a bone stiletto and a seam-ripper. This tray sits inside the base of the box on top of divided compartments inside. As with the lid, ribbon loops help to lift the tray out.  In the compartments we can see a small balloon bag, tailor’s chalk, a thimble, bees wax, a shell case, thread, rigs, a pencil, a measure in a bag and a thread winder.

I’m hoping to have one more sewing kit to share soon.

I am also adding a post for Sewing on the Go.

Edit to add: Be sure to catch Liz’s “Fitting Out a Sewing Box”

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 1:01 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Shopping Itch” carry along

Some years ago, I wrote a quick piece called “The Shopping Itch” as a guide for newer reenactors and interpreters who enjoy shopping at events. Here is a nifty carry along version:

Shopping Itch Mini Booklet Thumbnail image

Click Here for PDF

Follow these directions to create a small booklet:

  • Fold in half the short way, putting the dashed line on one side.
  • Cut along the dash line being sure to stop at the end.
  • Unfold and lay face down.
  • Fold in half the long way.
  • Fold the right hand side in along the dotted gray line. Then fold backwards.
  • Fold the left hand side in along the dotted grey line. Then fold backwards.
  • Turn the booklet up on end. Pull the sides along the cut out wards to form a star.
  • Fold into a booklet with the front on the outside.


Published in: on February 28, 2015 at 9:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Listen – The Milliners

Something to listen to…

Audio Program “Glance at the Past: The Milliners”

There will be a box with a play button in the upper right. Click play.

Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Box for Everything

Rolling thoughts….. We all know I love little sewing boxes. I love making them and I love using them.

But, some times you need a box for Everything. I rather like Lydia Jane’s nickname for this type of sewing box, the “mothership.” This is the sewing box that holds just about everything you might need, every tool, every thread, every “just incase”. For some, this might contain a small project or two. (Before going further, there are a couple must read pages from Miss Leslie I think would be nice to tuck into a sewing box for occasional reference for mind set. READ ME.)

The women of the mid-nineteenth century certainly had their “box for everything” sewing boxes, aka “Work-boxes”, “sewing chests”….

Some were downright Amazing such as this stunning inlaid box in England. This example is lined with red and white silk and velvet, inlaid with flowers, birds and butterflies, filled with silver tools for every need.  Just beautiful. Just as costly then as it would be now. More my style of drool-worthy is this ca 1830s rosewood and bird’s eye maple chest with incredible flowers worked into the wood. It has delicate mother of pearl inlay and a blue velvet interior. This too would have been a sewing chest for a lady with a more comfortable position. (While the 1830s date would put many items out of the 50s-60s bracket for most, in my opinion a piece like this is a life-long piece that could have been acquired in one’s 20s.) She has long since lost her sewing tools. This prompts me to wonder how many such sewing chests which have lost or been stripped of their contents over the years have been dubbed jewelry boxes instead. If you have an impression for which such a sewing chest is suitable, I highly suggest reading up on furniture styles of the 1830s, 40s and 50s before making a selection. Keep in mind, these highly decorative boxes might not be the proper goal for every impression. (Pricing thoughts to ponder further- We can find them listed in exhibition catalogs (ex1851) along with other very high end goods. This gives a hint.)

If you particularly love the chest style box but have an impression more towards upper working class, a simpler box with simple decoration may suit. These examples fall on the upper end of what I am trying to describe. Example 1, Example 2, Example 3. The MOP inlay on example 1 and the interior decoration in example 2 are the parts I am iffy on in terms of where the pricing would have landed for some one. Example 2 is also post-war.  That said, these are boxes that could be carefully mimicked sans inlay. Notice how the interior compartments are actually a separately constructed piece that sets inside the box itself? This could be done with velvet or silk covered pasteboard or covered wood. (Guess who has just realized she has given herself another project???)

I do need to look into how much imported sewing boxes, such as this one at the MFA, actually cost in the mid-century and who would, or would not, have owned them. This page makes me wonder even more since this shows two girls being gifted sewing boxes, un-described sewing boxes.

What about the sewing box an everyday, middle of the working class women?

g wIn areas where Shaker goods could be purchased (paragraph 6), a Shaker sewing box is an option. Here are two examples of Shaker boxes made into sewing boxes from a show I was at a few years back. When properly made, these boxes are quite sturdy. They have nicely fitted lids usually. They range in size as well, giving you several options. (I thought way in the back of my head thinks there may be standard sizes.) In the examples to the right, the box is lined on the bottom and around the wall with pockets for items. Matching pieces such as pincushions, needle-book and scissors holder are often seen. If this type of box is what appeals, find a well made Shaker box. I suggest doing the lining by covering a pasteboard or cardstock paper with the fabric, pockets already set in. This, slid in snuggly, will allow you to use minimum adhesive while giving a clean edge. This also allows you to change the interior later. (note – This is what I know in this area growing up to be Shaker boxes. I’m anxious to hear what T.L. shares about the difference between the boxes Shakers had for themselves and those they sold.)

If you are interpreting at home, do not discount the sewing basket. We often see the sewing basket, cloth or projects draping out of it, in paintings. While these may not be the idea for mobile impression, they are practical and correct for stationary ones. Do keep in mind that baskets have holes while tools and needles are small. Plan to have smaller storage pieces, such as a sewing box, inside.

And, then there are sewing stands. In my opinion, a whole other subject that very few mobile impressions would need.

Possibly more to come….

Related reads:

The Old Lady’s Work-box

Examples of which I am fond:

Things to look up:

  • Imported sewing boxes, prices
  • Find price lists of Shaker goods
Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm  Comments (2)  

Seaside, Gardening, Resort and Other Shape Straw Hats

Now that I’ve talked about Fashion Straw Hats, there will of course be people saying “but what about this one”. One word:


Yes, there were other shape hats…. They all have their place. It is very important to understand the context of these other shapes before you wear one.

Harpers Monthly June 1850Hat shapes are time sensitive, such as the promenade hats to the left from June of 1850, age sensitive, such as hats for youth, year sensitive, such as hats from late in the war, and situation sensitive.

Garden Hats:


William Sidney Mount’s Returning from the Orchard shows a good example of a garden hat. She wears a hat with a shallow crown and a round, full brim.

Straw Garden hat clip 2

Lily Martin Spencer gives us a very nice look at a garden hat in her painting The Artist and Her Family at a Fourth of July Picnic, ca1864. On the right, you can see the hat held just behind the woman in pink. It is an almost circular hat, though still an oval crown, with a wide brim.

To give us even more perspective on the garden hat, take a look at this story snip-it:

Straw Garden hat clip 1

Seaside and Resorts:

One of the first things you will notice when looking at seaside/resort images is that the range of millinery is in addition to rather than instead of. We see round, wide brim hats in addition to fashionable hats, in addition to bonnets. This 1859, Harper’s Weekly image demonstrates this.

Seaside hats from Charles Wynne NichollsNotice – Charles Wynne Nicolls paints several of his seaside women with hats that don’t fit the norm we see seaside. This is important to note because these pieces were painted on the other side of the pond in England. These were also painted late or just after our Civil War eras. A further detail of how important context is.

Reform Dress Hats: 

The American ladies’ new costume. (1851)

Many 1840s – 1860s illustrations of reform dress show a wide brim, shallow crown hat as part of the attire. This shape of hat was seen a practical, shading the face and eyes from the sun.

More coming. I just wanted to get this much up….

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 2:52 pm  Comments (1)  

The Shape of Straw Fashion Bonnets

I may be on a (cranky) roll. But, I’m sick of incorrect shapes when there are some very nice ones available.

First and far-most, 1850s and 60s fashionable straw hats were rarely circular. (This does not count seaside hats, garden hats,  hats for the watercure and such. Those are not fashion hats.) Fashionable hats were ovular. Fashionable hats had curves. I can’t get any more simple that this:

Shape of straw

This is not new news. Take a look at this nice blog post from Crown Heads Millinery from 2013. Don’t miss her example either. We also took some time to look at shapes here back in 2009.

This hat that was up for auction some years ago is excellent for seeing the shape from above. Notice how the crown is oval as well as the brim. The front and back reach much further than the sides.

Here is a page from the September, 1857 Godey’s Lady’s Book. Notice the general shapes.


From http://www.thegracefullady.com (click link for full image)

The images to the right show ladies holding hats that obviously show the shape of the crown and brim.

his painting, Portrait of Mary French, 1862, shows how a shaped, fashionable hat sits on the head. Notice how the brim dips in front of her eyes and in the back. If her head was level, part of her vision was likely blocked.

Looking for a CW era straw fashion hat? The first place you should look is on Pam Robles site. She spent a very, very long time getting her woven straw shapes right. I will also hand make hats on occasion.

I strongly caution you to get a solid second opinion on any hat under $75. Take a close look at the type of straw, the sewing, the thread used and of course the shaping. Handsewing a straw plait hat will take at least 6 hours. They then need to be wired and blocked. Woven straws need extra special attention to the details of shaping in the blocking and wiring process taking time.


Coming soon in another post:

Now that I’ve talked about Fashion Straw Hats, there will of course be people saying “but what about this one”. One word:


Yes, there were other shape hats…. They all have their place. It is very important to understand the context of these other shapes before you wear one. 

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 10:46 pm  Comments (3)  

Why I am Not Sharing

I am quite convinced that certain issues come up in a cycle rotating almost every two years or so.

This post has to deal with one of those issues. I will try to get through it as nicely and politely as possible. Intellectual property

Lately, there have been some issues with violating Intellectual Property Rights. As such, we will start there.

What is Intellectual Property?

“Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” (World Intellectual Property Organization.)

What are Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual property rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time. (World Trade Organization)


Article 27. Section 2 “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

Copying and distributing someone’s research without permission violates Intellectual Property Rights. Using someone’s photos from the internet without their written permission violates Intellectual Property Rights. Taking photos of someone’s slideshow and sharing them violates Intellectual Property Rights. This is as much a moral issue as it is a legal issue.

Now, I am not going to address other instances of late as those are other people’s business. I will address part of my end.

I feel I share quite generously that which I am happy to share. This past year, I shared transcribed primary information weekly for millinery and in a variety of series for other social and material culture topics. I have shared a number of how-tos and directions over the years. Besides my blog, I have shared a notable amount of research and information in printed publications.

Frankly, I put a great deal of my time, thought, energy and money into my research and writing. I know there is some delusion oou there that those of us who work in the public school system live a comfortable lifestyle. I assure you, this is not the case. I do not have oodles of extra time and extra cash laying around to toss at a fun little hobby. I take my research seriously and choose to cut other parts of my budget to get what I need to do my research.

I have been asked for particular pieces of research lately.

  • I have been asked for up-close photos of the techniques I use in my winter millinery.
  • I have been asked for step-by-step images of how I do my straw millinery.
  • I have been asked for up-close images of originals in my collection.
  • I have been asked for construction details from originals in my collection.

want to be happy to share these. My gut reaction actually is to share. But, the reality is I have had my millinery work copied and sold. I have had my directions copied and distributed.

There is no way for me to tell if someone asking is doing so for honest reasons of personal enrichment, curiosity and improvement, or if they are looking for some pre-done research they can make a quick profit off of.

I acknowledge some people may not realize they have done this; they may not have malicious intent.

But, it happens.

And, frankly it sucks.

This said…. Yes, I am working on a couple projects. I have one pet one in particular. You will see some of the products resulting from some of the work during this project. You, meaning the general internet public, will not see the details of this project until I have decided the format and venue to properly introduce it.

Please, as take time to consider how you can protect Intellectual Property Rights whether your’s or someone else’s. 

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 6:44 pm  Comments (16)  

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