The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Historical Sew Monthly: A Cap with a Pleated Ruffle

_Plucking the Turkey_ by Henry Walton,
1776, Tate Gallery.
I won't be able to keep up with all the challenges this year, and will probably be finishing up the blog post and putting it online after the deadline on whichever challenges I can complete, but hopefully people will enjoy seeing the results anyway!  Here is the challenge for February, in which I make a simple 18th century cap with a pleated ruffle.  Although I'm posting this in March, the sewing actually happened at the beginning of February ... 

Challenge #2: Tucks & Pleating – make a garment that features tucks and pleating for the shape or decoration.
Material: ¼ yard of cotton-linen blend fabric  
Pattern: self-drafted from Sue Felshin's instructions online
Year: 1775-ish
Notions: white thread, 20 inches of cotton cord (kitchen twine) and 26 inches of 1-inch wide ribbon 
How historically accurate is it? 75%, producing an accurate-looking, entirely hand-sewn cap, from a modern blend of linen and cotton. 
Hours to complete: 6 hours (by hand; would have been less if done by machine) 
First worn: for photos only, in mid-February.
Total cost: all from the stash, but it would have been less than $10 total if I'd bought everything new.

_The Butter Churner_, by Henry Robert Morland,
before 1797, Bonhams Auction House.
As many costumers have discovered, once your family knows that you make costumes, they turn to you when they want to borrow an outfit for whatever costume-friendly events come up in their life ... often not giving you much advance notice for pulling something together!  As if you have a whole costume shop inventory – in their size – at your disposal ... Anyway, as long as they don't expect me to let them do whatever they want to the costume or give them the aforesaid costume to keep, at no charge, I'm usually happy to put together an outfit for them, if I have the time.  This time around, it was my cousin's daughter, who is in 5th grade, and who had a special social studies theme day at school at the beginning of this month.  The theme was the English colonial period of America's history, and all the students (and teachers) in the 5th grades were expected to dress up and bring a period-inspired lunch for the day.  The teachers had gone to Party City and bought a bunch of cheap "Colonial" costumes for the kids to wear if they didn't come up with their own costume, but I had seen those before, and they were hideous, as those things typically are. 

_The Sailor's Present, or The Jealous Clown_, Carington Bowles,
 c. 1778, Lewis Walpole Library. 
When my cousin called me, two weeks before Colonial Day, and asked if I had a colonial costume she could borrow, I told her I didn't have anything in her exact size, but I would see what I could alter.  I looked through my stash of fabric and costumes, and discovered that I had a few things that I'd taken apart to make into something else, in fabrics that were appropriate for the mid 18th century in North America.  I decided I could re-make those things and come up with a more accurate – if less "blingy" costume (most of the other girls were going to wear sparkly princess dresses as their costumes) for my cousin, as if she were an average girl in the English colonies in America around 1776. I didn't even have my cousin's measurements, but I do have a niece who is almost the same size, and I had taken her measurements over Christmas, for a Tudor costume to wear to the Renaissance Fair.  I decided to use my niece's measurements, and see whether or not the apparent sizing flexibility of 18th century women's and girls' clothing would make it wearable for my cousin.

I had, in my stash, a white cotton shift, very voluminous, with a drawstring-gathered neckline and long puffy sleeves, that was originally part of an Italian Renaissance-ish costume I made in college, and that I had wanted to re-make for a while.  I cut the sleeves shorter, so they would be elbow-length on my cousin (I hoped – in reality they are a bit too short) and gathered the hem edge into a band, with a bit of elastic holding the ends of the band together, since I didn't know my cousin's arm circumference for putting in buttons and buttonholes. I left the shift at its original length, which was to the upper thigh on me, assuming it would be almost knee-length on my cousin.  I also left the neckline with its original drawstring, which was too short to make a good-sized head opening for me, but I assumed it would be all right for her. 

my cousin in the shift, jacket, petticoat and
neckhandkerchief I loaned her.
Photo: Laura BeBeau. 
Several years ago I threw together a Victorian-ish blouse, out of chocolate brown linen, cut from a pattern I don't remember – I thought it was the Truly Victorian 1880s' yoked blouse pattern, but I am not sure I even have that pattern in my collection!  Anyway, the version I cut out didn't have a yoke, but was a basic jacket-style, darted bodice with long sleeves, a standing collar, and since I literally threw it together for a costumed skit, it wasn't lined and didn't even have proper fastenings!  I safety-pinned it closed for the skit, and then promptly folded it up and put it with the rest of the brown linen in my stash.  This, I fished out, and decided that I could take it apart and make it into an 18th century-ish jacket or bedgown.  I took a look at several costume pages, like La Couturiere Parisienne and, and original images online, as well as in my costume books, to settle on the overall design I wanted to re-create.  I took all the pieces apart, took out all the darts, and then folded the center front edges in, like, 6 inches.  I also took in the side seams a little bit, and added a center back seam, before sewing the fronts and back together.  I also cut down and re-hemmed the neckline about 3 inches, so that it would be a square, but not too low for my cousin.  I wasn't able to have the sleeves in one piece with the body, since they had been separate in the garment's original incarnation, so I re-cut the sleeves to be elbow-length, and sewed lengths of linen tape (from the Steampunk-style scrapbooking supplies at my local craft store) to tie it closed across the front.

ca. 1770s re-created linen cap, outside
view.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach. 
For the petticoats, I found a red cotton petticoat in my stash, that I had taken off its waistband, intending to shorten the skirt and put it on a larger waistband to fit my waist.  Originally I thought I would just shorten it to my cousin's height, and put it back on its tiny waistband, but I didn't like the shade of red, and the fact that it was thin, flimsy cotton (it was a hand-me-down from someone else).  Then I found 1 ½ yards of a green checked cotton in my stash, that I had set aside for an apron, or a working-class Victorian blouse, and decided that I liked that better as a petticoat.  With a narrow hem, a casing in the top, and a long shoelace for a drawstring, it was the perfect length petticoat for my cousin.  I ended up only making the one green checked petticoat, but with the length of the shift underneath, it was fine. 

I also pulled out a linen square that I had hemmed to make a neck-handkerchief, but it was too small for me.  I thought it would fit my cousin, but it was a bit too small for her, too; she ended up just tying the ends around her neck and wearing it like a bandanna instead of tucked down the front of her jacket like I had showed her, but oh well.  I wasn't able to get an apron the right size for her, but her mom said she had a white apron with ruffles (1940s or 1950s, but whatever), so she wore that. I had visions of making a red heart-shaped pincushion, and a pocket, for her out of other scraps, but those didn't even get cut out in time! 

ca. 1770s re-created linen cap, inside view.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
And now for the subject of this challenge: the cap!  I looked at my costume caps, and I didn't have anything the right size or style, but my cousin said they were going to make "bonnets" in class.  I had my suspicions about those "bonnets" (which turned out to be correct: they were barely-large-enough circles of white cotton, with baby ribbon stitched through in a line about 2 inches from the edge, to make a "mob cap"), so I decided to make a cap for her out of some cotton/linen scraps from my stash.  I found some really cute cap styles in portraits and illustrations from the mid-to-late 1770s, and decided to do a simple dormeuse cap style, with a blue ribbon tied in a bow on top. 

Using Sue Felshin's cap-drafting instructions at the 18th Century New England Life webpage, I drew an oval, cut off on one end, making a sort of bowed arch that measured 15 inches over the curve.  I then made it about an inch longer and 2 inches wider to serve as the crown of the cap.  I also measured and cut a rectangle of linen for the band, or brim, and several strips for the ruffles.  I did a narrow hem on all raw edges, and then butted the hemmed edges together and whip-stitched the band to the curved edge of the caul, slightly gathering the caul across the top to fit.  I whip-stitched the ruffle strips together to make enough for one ruffle (unfortunately, I didn't make it long enough to pleat as full as I wished), and then pinned the pleats around the short edges of the band and across the long edge.  I whip-stitched them into place, and then threaded two lengths of cotton cord through the hem at the nape of the neck, and pulled the ends out of the hem/casing in the center, knotting the cord at their ends.  I also tacked two horizontal pleats in the band, pulling the center of the band back from the forehead for more shaping.  Then, I cut two lengths of blue grosgrain ribbon (unfortunately I didn't have any silk ribbon), tacked one end of each just behind the ruffle on each side, and then tied the other ends together in a bow, which was tacked down to the pleats in the center of the band.  Unfortunately, the cap wasn't finished in time for my cousin to pick it up the night before with the rest of the costume.  I did finish the cap that night, though, and brought it to school (I work there, too) in case she wanted to wear it, but all the other girls were wearing the "bonnets" they made, so she wanted to wear hers. 

ca. 177os re-created linen cap, side view,
on a "model".  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The cap I made turned out really cute, however, and I wish my cousin had tried it on!  She looked really cute in the costume; the jacket was only a little bit loose, and the sleeves were too short, but otherwise it fit perfectly.  The ties on the jacket and the drawstring on the petticoat made it very flexible in sizing.  I saw her swishing the petticoat hem around, with her friends, at recess, so it looked like it wasn't getting in her way.  She ended up liking the costume so much that she asked to keep it ... I reminded her that my niece was one year younger, and might want to borrow it next year for her class, and that she had a younger sister who might want to borrow it after that ... As for the cap, I may have to make one in a bigger size for myself!

For more information:
"Colonial shortgown sewing pattern" from World Turn'd Upside Down 
"Ministryof Silly Hats" by Sarah Lorraine 
"Shortgowns" by Mara Riley 

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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)