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Too big!

Lampshade: She’s been the Holy Grail of bonnet making.

There were several failures in the winter of 2016, and some revisiting of the Whale-Safe Bonnet as I tried to figure out the brim and the caul. My first efforts made a caul that was waaaaay too small. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I’ve made plenty of too-big bonnets. (Too small did not make the move from RI to VA, but trust me: too small a caul was far too small.)

This morning, I took another look at George Stubbs’ paintings of working women. I know the lampshade-like bonnet is pre-1770, but where are we at the end of the Revolutionary War period? Well, BIG was in, obviously. (We can have a healthy debate about the likelihood of these gowned women depicting actual working women, but for now, let’s stick to bonnet brim shapes.)  They’re a little cone-like, aren’t they? With generous (yuuuge) cauls, though.

Now, I have gone about this all a bit backwards, which is to admit that I picked up the shellacked brim of yesteryear that did make the move down to VA, and decided to make it up as a bonnet yesterday. The brim is easy– trace and cut with a seam allowance– but the caul? I winged it, using a selvage edge for the inside of the back drawstring (I like my headwear to be adjustable and pack flat) and economized on fabric to leave plenty of taffeta left over. So there’s nothing particularly well-researched about this, except for all the years of looking and thinking and drawing and making that came before the moment I threw this all together yesterday afternoon watching North by Northwest and drinking a Manhattan.*

Making this up raises more questions: how individually fitted were bonnets to wearers? Did caul and brim size vary depending on wearer? What’s the class line below which a woman doesn’t have a bonnet, but only a hat? How quickly did styles change? The sort-of-conical black bonnet is seen on “older” women in paintings well past the height of the style. But as I’ve asked before, what do we really understand about the portrayal of age in art? Are we really reading the symbols correctly? How well do we grasp the semiotics of the 18th century? All of those questions are present when we try to replicate the past using only visual sources. Yes, there is an extant 18th century black silk bonnet at Colonial Williamsburg, and we can use that in conjunction with images to make the things we wear. But pondering all of these questions makes me think it’s time for another troll through collections in Great Britain, just in case new cataloging has put old bonnets online.

*See my other blog, TipsyMilliner, for more.