I love hats! Especially the fancy, floral, floofy numbers from bygone ears. For a large part of history, women wouldn’t leave the house without a chapeau!
For my 1780s look, I decided to work with a straw hat I had in my stash. Once upon a time I thought I might have a go as a milliner and thus collected a lot of straw hat bodies and blocks to make new hats of my own. This base was actually a modern hat, but the size was perfect for this project. Here’s what it looked like when I started.
After removing the inter and exterior bands I started steaming the hat out. Moisture allows the straw to relax and take a new shape (which is why you may have noticed if you get a straw hat wet at the beach, it will lack the definition it had when you bought it). I wanted it to have a very shallow crown, like a bergère hat that was popular in the 18th century. I knew I’d be covering the hat with fabric, so an identical shape wasn’t necessary - just the rough form. I also found that I could flip the back brim up and it would hold nicely, which I knew would be a good place to slip in some decorations. I gave the whole thing a good steam and let it dry.
Next I started on my fabric covering. Around the brim I created half inch pleats using a cotton sateen, a bajillion pins and a ton of patience. I first pinned the pleats to the edge of the interior brim, as you can see at the right. As I brought them to the edge of the brim, I let them spread just a bit and then brought them back in on top where the brim meets the crown. This was an easy place to become too perfectionist and fiddle! One thing I like to remind myself about historical sewing is that imperfection is historically accurate. We’ve become so accustomed to huge racks and full size runs of identical garments it’s no wonder something handmade feels a bit foreign to the eye with a little jumping stitch here or a slightly bigger pleat there. I’ve started to really love what a handmade piece looks like - one of a kind!
So anyway, when I got the brim pleats to a place I liked with pins, I hand sewed it down to the straw.
With the whole brim complete, I moved onto the brainy bit at the top. I used the same fabric but in a darker shade of blue and I love the combination of the two. For this part I turned to The American Duchess Guide to 18th Dressmaking (which I highly recommend!) and used their tutorial in the 1780s section to create the texture. Once it was all pinned in place, it also got tacked down with heavier buttonhole thread.
Now that the top of my little hat looked perfect, I set out to make the inside of the crown just as lovely. I made a very large and shallow tube (only a few inches deep) which I gathered at one side and created a drawstring channel at the other. The gathers were drawn in to match the circumference of the crown and sewn down. The drawstring channel was also draw up using a piece of string, tied, trimmed and tucked into the new crown covering. I also made two ties that were tacked down before the gathered interior crown bit went on. These let me to pull the hat down tightly and further emphasize the flipped up back!
Lastly was the question of feathers - how many and in what placement. After trying a bunch of different combinations, I settled on just one white feature layed horizontally in the back and tacked down.
In all I used 1 yard of light blue fabric and just a half yard of the darker blue. I had enough leftover to make a matching waist sash/belt to coordinate everything together. Because there are so many pieces to an 18th century kit (shift, stays, petticoats, bum rolls, socks, shoes, buckles, gown, fichu, apron and hat to name a few) I think I’ll keep my costumes from this era in the same general color story with this pretty blue as the common link.
I can’t decide if I should make one more gown (I do have the fabric on hand) as a birthday present to myself (it would photograph so beautifully in the snow!), do some modern sewing or start planning for the next era. I realized when I was sick for a day earlier this week that I cannot not have a project sitting around to pick up and play with. And as all of our outdoor chores are coming to an end for the season and it’s time to sit by the fire for the next few months, I do think another lap project is in order. Are you interested in progress shots or is a big reveal more fun? I’m not sure which way to take this one on. Let me know what you think!