The Ladies' Tea Guild

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Making a late-Victorian day cap, ca. 1882

Day caps.  Frank Leslie's Lady's Magazine, 1863.
Now that the winter is closing in, we costumers start thinking about sewing projects that we want to complete for the holiday season.  There are so many fun events happening all over the United States that it can be hard to choose which ones to attend!  Here in the Bay Area we have the Great Dickens Christmas Fair going on, and California costumers love to go there in Victorian costume.  The best costumes are complete outfits, including all the little details of accessories, like day caps, that make you look like you've stepped out of the past.

Dickens Fair-era day caps can be very simple to make; just a half-circle or triangle big enough to cover the top of the head and hang down an inch or two at the back and a few inches at the sides, decorated with rows of lace, ribbons, and perhaps some embroidery or small silk flowers.  They were worn at home, by married and older women, to cover the hair during the day.  While day caps were not widely worn by the 1880s, older women and widows – and of course, servants – continued to wear them.  They were useful to cover greying or thinning hair, and did away with the necessity of dressing the hair in the elaborate fashion of the era.  The hair could be simply and smoothly parted in the center, pulled back and pinned up in a knot, and the cap would cover the top of the head and provide some ornamentation. 
Day cap.  Harper's Bazaar, 1882.

Late-Victorian day caps don’t cover the back and sides of the head or frame the face the way caps did in the 1860s and earlier.  There are no ribbons to tie under the chin, or lappets hanging down over the ears.  Occasionally, the caps are decorated with “bows, knots and ends” of ribbon, where the ribbon ends hang down over the hair at the back for an inch or two, but for the most part, the decoration doesn’t hang down below the wearer's temples.  Rows and frills of lace, pleated ribbon, and the aforementioned bows and knots of ribbon cover the cap completely. 

I took an illustration from an 1882 issue of Harper’s Bazaar as my inspiration for the day cap.  The cap is a simple oval of fabric, hemmed, edged with three overlapping rows of lace, and the center is filled in with a standing half-moon frill of lace and cockade of ribbon on one side, a pleated frill of lace on the other side, and two folds of lace and a ribbon bow on the back.
Reproduction 1882 day cap.

The base of the cap is an oval of some sheer white fabric; I used linen gauze because that’s what I had.  The oval is 11 inches long by 9 inches wide, with the edges in a narrow hem.  It covers the crown of the head from the forehead to the curve at the back of the head, and from just above the ears on either side.  The oval of fabric is fitted better to the curve of the head by narrow darts taken in the underside, running from the hem to the center, at the left and right sides at the temples and behind the ears. The original design showed white lace and dark satin ribbon, but I used a combination of white and black lace, and black organza ribbon to interpret the design.  The cap is kept on the head by hair pins stuck through the cap and into the hair.  

Next on the list, along with a new wool 1840s dress, is a mid-Victorian day cap to go with it!

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)