Who Wore Coarse Straw Bonnets?

We often talk about the fashionable side of millinery, where straw plait is finely braided and at times quite fancy. There is a whole other side to straw millinery though, that of coarse straw.

What is coarse straw?

Coarse straw can be poorer quality straw braided into plait. This can be short shafts of straw as well as straw shafts that are uneven or discolored. Coarse straw can be poorly plaited straw, either loosely or thickly plaited. In English plait markets, this plait would be purchased for a lesser price. In the United States, such plait would earn a lesser pay.

Who Wore Coarse Straw Bonnets?

There seem to be two sets of answers, one based on time – That prior to approx 1850 coarse straw bonnets appear in mentions of fashion with the height in the 1830s (roughly). These mentions reference coarse straw for morning wear with simple adornment of only ribbons. As we reach further into the 1840s the mentions switch to saying this practice is falling out of fashion. By the 50s, 1851 actually, these mentions seem to disappear. Coarse straw bonnets 1831

Chapeaux of very coarse straw are now also in favour for morning desbabille; their trimming is ribbon only, but of the most rich and expensive kind. (New Monthly Belle Assemblée, 1841)

Once we turn the mid-point of the century fashion descriptions fall away.

Spanning the 1830s through the 1860s, coarse straw bonnets and hats appear in textual references for the poor, institutionalized and somewhat for school girls.

Asylum records in England list plaiting and bonnet making as one of the activities inmates undertook. It is possible these bonnets were worn in house or made for profit. There are descriptions of inmates wearing bonnets. In a short story in The Mirror, 1842, page 75, the author attends a New Year’s Eve event at a Pauper Lunatic Asylum that seems to have been a fundraiser or benevolence gathering. She observes the inmates wearing white caps in some cases and straw bonnets in others, including: “She stalked about in her poor straw bonnet and short sorry gown, with a lofty stage stride, as if she had been the original goddess of plenty.” Admittedly, this is a special event. So, which they wore when is up in the air. I did see an illustration of a store room filled with box style shelves stacked with bonnets. Each box and bonnet was numbered. Many of the bonnets appeared to be straw. I will share this once I find it again. (sorry.)

This excerpt recommends supplying poor families with straw so the mothers may make bonnets for the school children:

Coarse straw bonnets for the poor 1832

In this work of fiction, Everley, a women of wealth dresses like a servant, the straw bonnet being discussed as key to the attire. Coarse straw bonnets for servants 1855

Here a young couple, described as “unsophisticated” are attired in other clothes associated with being poor and a “rough straw bonnet of home manufacture.”Coarse straw bonnets for the poor 1857


I have one outlying reference from 1859 that suggests coarse straw may also have been worn for times of extreme heat. I will keep my eyes open for additional mentions or clarification.

Coarse straw bonnets for hot weather 1859

Additional Fictional Mentions:

Jane Eyre – Wearing coarse bonnets in the garden

Bleak House – Mrs. Baguet returning from market red-faced in a rough straw bonnet.

Published in: on April 23, 2015 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Random Thoughts

It is rainy and windy out. So, guess who has a migraine. It is one of those fun ones that are a combination of moderate pain with the occasional feeling of getting wacked with a rolling pin, accompanied by nifty vision issues – blobs, double vision, blurrinness. loads of fun. Weirdly enough, while it hurts to look at the computer screen for more than a couple seconds, it helps relax my brain and focus to close my eyes and type. Okay, so the title said, I have random thoughts.

~~ I just posted about band boxes for millinery last week. I don’t think I talked about an important difference between 19th century and 20th century boxes – Those carrying strings. In the 20th century the cords that hold the lid onto the round box and make a handle coming out of the side for carrying became common place. This was not the case in the 19th century. Mid-ninteenth century bandboxes did not have cords for carrying. Think about it. Do you really want your bonnet flipping to its side inside a box as you carry it sideways? I didn’t think so.


Not These

~~ Also sorta on bandboxes… At this weekend’s seminar someone (I’m sorry I don’t recall her name) showed how she made the cutest little bandboxes by hand. She had a couple sizes that caused me to mention how they would make great sewing pincushions. Here are a couple visuals of what I was talking about:

See? Ridiculously cute and useful. (The auction sites for the last two are down. If these are your pieces and would like them removed, please let me know.)

~~ Peddler’s Market. This weekend is the Peddler’s Market in Caledonia. Locals, if you haven’t been you should go. I’ve found several surprise finds there for nice prices in the past. For me, this is sorta the unofficial opening to the antiqueing season in our area. The rural antique shops without heat are just getting warm enough to walk through. This also means yard sales and  estate sales. Usually, I have a wish list of what I would like to find. This year, the list is rather short. I need another advertising, shipping box in the same size as the one I have to alleviate the book shelf problem. I figure such a box will be nice for shelving thin periodicals. We are in need of a new bookshelf, a rotating one or one that is more efficient behind the entertainment center. Of course, I always look for shawls, ribbons, sewing cases and now, additions to my shopping/collection problem.

~~ I feel like I aught to have a nice, sound list of events together for the year. I don’t. I think this is because the summer is still up in the air budget wise since I don’t know about summer school and there appears to be an ‘end of the 150th cycle mass exodus resale; happening. Both of these have good and bad factors beyond the budget aspects. But, back to events. Currently, I’ll will be attending….

  • GCV opening weekend in May
  • Sometime will be a sewing day on the porch.
  • June??? I would like to pull off a Regency dress to visit for the 1812 event. That falls between two weddings in the midst of finals. So, we shall see.
  • I would really like to do Independence Day at the Museum this year.
  • July is our Canandaigua Lady Excursion.
  • July is also the GCV “Mumford” event.
  • Might do a workshop in July too.
  • August is Tinker (need to see if this lands on Lily’s birthday again.) It is a whee local event.
  • It looks like August would be a good time for a workshop or a picnic or something.
  • September – Oh, how I would love to go to Zoar
  • October – Ag Fair….. I have a special idea….

~~ “Huzza<>Horra” = Headache: Noah Webster’s 1830 American Dictionary of the English Language:


Published in: on April 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

For Your Weekend Reading Pleasure: Auction Catalogs

I think everyone will find something of interest within these pages. I added clips of what I look for.

Auction in NY, 1845


Auction in Boston, 1840


Auction in NY, 1824


Auction in North Carolina, 1863


Auction in NY, 1866 – Art and furniture

Published in: on April 17, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

How Do I Store My Bonnet(s)?

wpid-2013-10-26-10.34.27.jpgOne of the “Ask the Milliner” questions was about storing bonnets. I did answer it. But, now I feel like I want to say more about it.

There are a few layers or directions with this:

  • Short term vs Long term storage
  • Home storage vs Event/Site storage
  • Stationary storage vs Mobile storage

There are a few things to consider with each.

For long term storage, meaning the storage from year to year at home, you will want to consider the containers you use and the environment they will be stored in. If you have anything original, antique or vintage on your bonnet, you may want to consider using archival boxes and paper. If you have a moisture or mouse issue, you will want a more air-tight and nibble proof container. Since I house my bonnets inside my home and don’t generally use original materials, I use a Sterilite tote (right)

that fits 2 bonnets comfortably and 3 if need be without squeezing. The totes sit on their shelves that are adjusted to the height of the totes.

Ideally, I would have a head form or stand inside each tote for each bonnet to keep the weight of the bonnet from crushing the bavolet or misshaping the cheektabs. If this is not possible, the least crushable position in my opinion is to have the bonnet sit on the tip facing upward. This is assuming there are no decorations on the back of the tip.

Ribbons can wrinkle or sag while stored. A trick for the long, loose ribbons is to take acid free tissue and roll it into in a tube shape. Start at the end of the ribbon and roll it up neatly. Repeat on the opposite side. If the bonnet is on a stand, tuck the ribbon between the cheektabs and the stand. If it is on the tip, set the ribbon rolls inside. For the loops of bows or decoration, take the same tissue rolled into light balls. Tuck the tissue balls inside the loops. You may want to do this to support any particularly large, heavy flowers. I find light, delicate decorations are best left without anything touching them.

For mobile storage, such as moving or long distance transportation to & from events, you will want to consider how the bonnet(s) will move inside the box. I have found that a tote of boxes when turned on end causes the bonnets inside to all fall on their bavolets. When this is not caught, it takes hours to try to steam out the wrinkles and get the right shape back. Keeping the bonnets from moving can save a lot of trouble later. This can be done with tissue as it is light yet helps hold in space. I would avoid using anything heavy or bulky inside with a bonnet as it may cause crushing rather than helping.  My dream fix is a stand attached to the bottom of the box and a gentle way of attaching the bonnet to the top of the stand.

carrying 2For event or site storing/carrying/displaying, you will want a period correct option. This pretty much comes down to bandboxes, bonnet baskets and a couple other unique options. While currently we are offered circular hat boxes with nifty cords looping about them, mid-nineteenth century boxes were a bit different. First, most were a different shape. They were an oval, squared off oval or a rounded off rectangle. Second, they did not have the nifty cords. Third, they were generally much stronger than many of the thin boxes sold today. In my opinion, when looking for a band box, you want one that is strong, thick walled, large enough for a bonnet to lay on its tip, and with a period paper or able to be recovered.wpid-2015-04-15-16.14.24.jpg.jpeg As the oval shapes are not easily found currently, I have found deep round boxes are nice for short term bonnet transportation (ie in the car to an event) and wider round boxes do okay as long as they are strong.

I almost forgot. I wanted to say something about size. Looking at the oval and ovalesque boxes used for millinery, most offered at auction or on museum sites: The lengths seem to range from 15″ to 22″ with 18″ being the most frequent. The widths seem to range from 12″ to 18″ with the width proportionately increasing with the length. The depths or heights seem to range from 8″ to 15″ with more landing between 10″ and 14″. Of course there are larger and smaller bandboxes. There seem to be a good number of extant boxes just smaller than those I grouped. Just looking at images with notes, I can not say what their particular use was.

imageNow, if you’ve ever tried to carry a stack of bandboxes, especially in a breeze, you know it isn’t easy to the point of comical. This is where bags come in – shaped to fit the bottom of a bandbox, tall enough to carry at least 2. I find these are essential as I can carry 2, 3, 4 band boxes of bonnets up and down the stairs or across the village at the same time.

Further Reading:

“Strike Up the Band(box)!”

For those doing period traveling (there are many other articles here of travel):

Bandboxes are seldom used now, except for the convenience of conveying a cap, bonnet,
or dress to the house of a friend or milliner. They are rarely found among the baggage of a
genteel female traveler, square wooden boxes, with locks, keys, and handles, being substituted
for them. These wooden boxes are generally tall enough to contain a folded dress under the
bonnet or other millinery, and should be painted on the outside. They will last for many years,
will bear exposure, and can go outside with the rest of the baggage. Tall square leather trunks
are sometimes used for carrying bonnets, &c. A paste-board bandbox ought to have a strong
loop of twine, red tape [red cotton twill tape used to tie documents together], or galloon [a
trimming of wool, silk, cotton, worsted or a combination of fiber], passed through one side, large
enough to slip over the hand in carrying it. To secure the lid, bore two holes in it near the edges,
one on each side, and pass through them strong pieces of string, each about a quarter of a yard in
length, fastened by a knot on the inside. Make two corresponding holes near the upper edge of
the bandbox itself, and pass a similar string through each of them. Then put on the lid, and tie
each pair of strings in a tight bow knot. These is no better way of keeping a bandbox fast. (Miss Leslie’s House-Book)
Published in: on April 15, 2015 at 7:38 pm  Comments (3)  

Straw Hat

I really like how this hat came out. The brim dips front and back with a bit more dip in the front. The edges of the brim have a gentle curve down that is oh-so-cute. The crown is shallow with just a hint of curve on the top.


This pretty already has a home.





Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shell Pincushions

shellYou know how certain items make you just a bit more excited than other at antique shows? You know how some of them cause you to let out an accidental “squeee!” that may be just a bit embarrassing afterward?

Well, this little seashell pincushion was one of those items. Of course the photo had to come out awful and blurry. This little pincushion was simultaneously a fond childhood memory in the seashells, a fun flashback to Pioneer Day Camp in the theorem, and a tangent curiosity as a researched for Fanciful Utility. Oh, it was also a little over $100, out of my pin-money price range at the time.

I findb pincushions interesting. I find what I’ll call “mixed media” pincushions fascinating. There are many kinds of mixed media pincushions. You likely already saw the post on why I have walnut shells in my sewing basket. Then there are little baskets with pincushions inside, tins with pincushionas inside or on the lids, small band or pasteboard boxes with pincushions on the lid. Pincushions and needle-books made from seashells can be found in girl’s activity books of the 19th century such as these from The Girl’s Own Toymaker.

We still see an assortment of original shell pincushions around. The most common exterior fabric is velvet, either in a single color or in a white/ivory/cream with either theorem painting (a type of stenciling) or painting. I have yet to determine how common it was for the shells to be an exact match or just a close match or just the same size.

This trio has unadorned velvet for each pincushion.

This is a beautiful example of theorem on a shell pincushion. (This Etsy seller happens to have some incredible original pincushions if you are looking.)

These are swoon worthy painted seashell pincushions.

My shell pincushions:

wpid-2015-04-12-15.32.57-1.jpg.jpegHere are my first two shell pincushions drying. I used the method from A Girl’s Own Toymaker of a cotton inside covered with the velvet on the face and glued in place. I have them tied with thread to secure them while they dry. I anxiously wait to see how well they stick after work tomorrow (well tonight if this goes live in the morning.)

I picked the brown velvet for the larger pair because that shell has a brown in the dips of the scallops. I picked the blue velvet for the red and blue shell to bring out the blue in the shell. wpid-2015-04-12-15.33.08-1.jpg.jpeg

I have a special shell supplier who I am grateful to for my assorted pretties. I definitely need more velvet pieces. I need a natural white to do some theorem or painting. I am really looking forward to doing some of the painting. There are a few smaller shells in the set. Those who know me, know I love playing with pieces on a smaller scale.

Want to know more about Theorem Painting? I suggest this article.

Published in: on April 13, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Not a Child’s Toy

wpid-2015-04-02-14.03.06-1.jpg.jpeg A few weeks ago, I looked into a display cabinet to see this goodie. I was excited to see the velvet pretty. I was also excited to see it still proudly displayed its pins.

It seems some time in the latter 20th century these ball shaped pincushions went from functional utilitarian item to a toy. Originally, these were not toys. I’ll admit, once I learned they weren’t toys, meaning when I saw them illustrated in ladies’ magazines and girls’ books, I would get squeemish when I would afterward see one used as a toy. Modern merchants seem to offer these as “Amish” or “Shaker” “Puzzleball” pincushions or toys currently, as this merchant did. The thing is, I just can’t seem to find evidence of either origin yet. In the lady’s magazine example below, they call this a “Chinese Pin-Cushion.”


This example uses lemon shaped segments (“lemon” for the lack of having a name for this shape) to create the ball. I wish I grabbed better photos showing this. In the 19th century, these seem to have been made in one of two ways: either with wedge shaped pieces assembled together or with lemon shaped pieces assembled. I also saw one example that uses rectangles to create the ball. Without separating 19th century and early 20th century examples, materials seem to include velvets, satin silks, corded fabrics (corduroy), and wools, with a strong lean towards velvets being a favorite. Examples from the later half of the 19th century show embroidery along the seams. Honeysuckle Lane has a nice blog post with some beautiful examples of this. Earlier directions, such as this 1871 version in Peterson’s Magazine, call for embroidery and embellishment on most of the exterior piece:

Peterson's Magazine, January 1871

Want to make your own ball pincushion? Here are two different versions.

Ball Pincushion

Ball Pincushion 2

Additional Examples:

(*Note: Many examples are from selling sites. If the images become unavailable, I will try to catch them and delete the example. I’m sorry if I haven’t caught one yet.)

This example is made of off white wool and a low pile blue velvet. Small buttons finish the connections. The seller (ebay) lists it as circa 1900.

This example uses velvet on the outside and a berry colored corded velvet on the inside. It appears to be turn of the century.

Published in: on April 11, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Walnuts in the Sewing Basket

I had a couple people ask me why I have walnut shells in my sewing basket. I eventually want to make one of the many cool walnut sewing goodies.

w1This walnut bag was one that came up on my Pinterest feed. It appears it was an Ebay listing (If this is your piece or was your listing, and would like me to remove it, please let me know and I will do so.) This is just the kind of little piece that screams ”make me” to me.

With all the walnuts in the yard, I am tempted to try to make something like this pincushion that looks like a basket. (By the way, this Etsy seller has some incredible original pincushions in you are in the market.)

Published in: on April 11, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Ask the Milliner

Where do my ties and ribbons go? 

There are a few different placements of utility ties and fashion ribbons. For bonnets of the later 40s through mid 60s, most commonly we see:

  • Utility ties on the inside of the cheektab with the decorative ribbons on the outside.
  • Utility ties on the very end of the outside of the cheektab with decorative ribbon over it.
  • Utility ties on the very end of the inside of the cheektab with the decorative ribbon above it.

This 1840s/1850s example shows the utility ties on the inside cheek tab with the decorative ribbon on the outside. In this arrangement, the utility ties position varies along the cheektab. This example has the utility ties placed higher inside the cheektab. The wider decorative ribbon is neatly folded and attached further down on the outside of the cheektab. Please click on the thumbnail to link to the original posting and additional photos.

This example from the Henry Ford Museum shows the utility tie on the very end of the cheektab on the outside with the decorative ribbon over it. Please click on the image thumbnail to link to the Henry Ford Museum and additional photos. Zoom in on the right cheektab to see the remnants of the original utility tie.

This example of Pam Robles shows the utility tie on the very end of the cheektab with the decorative ribbon over it. The remains of the utility tie can be seen at the very end of the tip on the inside with the decorative ribbon folded and attached over top of it. This would put the stress of holding the bonnet on the utility ties while minimizing the wear on the decorative ribbon.

Courtesy of Pam Robles

Courtesy of Pam Robles

Courtesy of Pam Robles

Courtesy of Pam Robles

Courtesy of Pam Robles

Courtesy of Pam Robles

 Visit my Etsy Store:

Spring straw bonnet banner 2015

Published in: on April 10, 2015 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fanciful Utility Blue Swap

wpid-2015-04-09-16.37.19-1.jpg.jpegHere are our fabrics from our Fanciful Utility Blue Swap.

I suspect the post ate one of the fabrics. I keep counting 13 rather than 14. If someone wants to share a photo of the one I am missing, please do.

These blues show just how many blues there are. Now that I have the photo of them together, the tone on the top half remind me the quilt Grandma gave me. It is something about the feel of the blues.

Decisions, Decisions….

The Blue Swap was our 15th swap. We’ve swapped red, green and blue fabrics, silks and cottons, mini-prints, stripes, themes of leaves and paisley, fabrics for the Romantic era, even a special holiday swap. With an average of two groups of eight fabrics being swapped, we have swapped around 240 fabrics. That is pretty impressive.

I’m sure you are thinking “what is she getting at?”

The bad news is, I’ve decided I need to take a little swapping break.

The good news is, I am going to spend more time on developing new Fanciful Utility project templates and patterns as well as some additional workshops. Those further away, don’t worry I’ll have some goodies for you too. As I get details together for the workshops (locations, dates and costs) I will share them.

I will probably start missing the swaps over the summer. So, they are not gone forever.

Published in: on April 9, 2015 at 6:21 pm  Comments (3)  

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