Sheared Bliss

May 25, 2013, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Fiber Arts, History, Sewing | Tags: , , , , , ,

Despite evidence to the contrary above, I’ve never owned a proper bonnet.  Those are day caps up there.  In the 1860s, the term bonnet referred to two different types of headwear.  Fashion bonnets (like the spoon bonnet below) were, as the name suggests, fashionable, but not very practical.  More well to do ladies might wear bonnets like this every day, but not farm women.

For farm women (and any other women who needed sun protection without having to carry a parasol), the sunbonnet was the headwear of choice.  Sunbonnets come in three main varieties – slatted, corded, and quilted.  The description refers to how the brim of the bonnet is stiffened.  Slatted sunbonnets like this one have brims that are stiffened with slats of something like cardboard or paperboard inserted into pockets in the brim.

The effect is similar to wearing a mailbox on your head – great sun protection, no peripheral vision.  Corded bonnets like this one have brims stiffened with rows of cording sewn into them.

The cords themselves add some stiffness and the corded brims can be starched to give them a little more oomph.  Quilted bonnets like this one have a thin layer of batting between the two layers of brim fabric.  The brim is then quilted to hold the layers together and provide extra stiffening.


I’ve been wanting a sunbonnet to wear at the museum, but kept procrastinating on actually making one because I didn’t have a pattern.  I came across an excellent tutorial on Romantic History and yet kept procrastinating.  Finally, with this year’s Sheep to Shawl event breathing down my neck, I decided that I needed to make not only a bonnet for me, but also a bonnet for SweetP.

I started with SweetP’s bonnet.  Using two fat quarters of quilting cotton, some polyester quilt interfacing (I was in a rush and using what I could get my hands on, but next time I would use cotton batting), and an excellent tutorial by Sarah at Romantic History (which sadly appears to be no longer available) I whipped up a wee sunbonnet surprisingly quickly.

After I had one bonnet under my belt, it seemed less daunting to make an adult sized one.  I followed Sarah’s tutorial and used a yard of cotton that came from MommaCodeMonkey’s stash and that I had intended to turn into curtains for our guest room (I think there’s still enough left for curtains whenever I get around to them).  Again, I cheated with the polyester quilt interfacing and also some premade white piping and bias tape.

I’ve worn the bonnet quite a few times since Sheep to Shawl and I really like it.  It doesn’t go flying off my head at the slightest breeze like my old (and historically inaccurate) straw hat did.  My history hair fits under it which was not the case with the straw hat.  It provides really serious sun protection – I’ve done a full afternoon of gardening in it with no sunscreen for backup and my complexion was none the worse for wear.  The quilted brim can be turned back for better peripheral vision or pulled forward for more shade and the bonnet is very light and and breathable.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Any president for Renaissance bonnets?

Comment by Julia Keilman

No, sadly. Well, they wore coifs which are sort of like bonnets but they don’t provide much sun protection. Stay tuned for a post about Renaissance caps though 🙂

Comment by ShearedBliss

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