The Colour of Things to Come


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I have a thing for hats– well, for bonnets, really. I know I made stays and a shift before I made anything else for the 18th century, but I might have made a bonnet before I made a proper gown. It’s a condition I inherited from my grandmother, and a great aunt who was a milliner, so there’s little to be done about it– except to dive in deeper.

Miss Theophila Palmer (1757-1848), oil on canvas, attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds ca 1770. Pretty sure that’s a white “whalebone” or “skeleton” bonnet.

As people do more research and generously share it with me, I’ve come to realize that I need to synthesize what we are seeing. It’s a tricky thing, what with that single (known) extant bonnet at Colonial Williamsburg and only prints and images to go on. What I’ve done to compile a stack of references from newspaper ads (primarily Mid-Atlantic and New England colonies at the moment) and interfiled them with images. This has given me a much better sense of  the change in shapes and construction over time, as well as the range of colours– yes, colours, available and popular.

It’s not just that wool bonnets are a thing– there’s the ““a reddish coloured worsted bonnet” in the April 8, 1776 Pennsylvania Packet an ad for runaway Margaret Collands, and the “black durant” recommended in Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor– but close reading shows that the colors are more varied than we’ve accept lately, but they vary by region and time period.

The Misses Waldegrave. Are blue bonnets *only* for children? Maybe.

There’s been a rule that “all bonnets are black silk,” which is too broad a statement. Most bonnets are black, that’s true. But in 1768, in Boston, a place where folks would have you think that black is the only colour bonnet you can ever have, you can have “Black, pink, blue and crimson sattin hatts and bonnets” (Joshua Gardner and Com. ad, Boston News-Letter, November 24, 1768).

Heck, if you shopped at Caleb Blanchard, you could have a green bonnet, too! Blanchard advertised “black, blue, green, white and crimson Sattin bonnets” in the Boston Gazette on December 18, 1769.

What does this mean? My SWAG is that roughly 60-70% of bonnets should be black. After that, blue, white, red and green would make up the balance. In Philadelphia, green bonnets– and green flowered bonnets– last longer in the ads. Philadelphia is also where I see more white bonnets, a brown silk bonnet, a diaper bonnet, a “queen’s grey” bonnet, and, in Trenton, a “lye coloured” bonnet. In Rhode Island, there’s a blue stuff bonnet. So yes, bonnets should mostly be black. But they can also be other colours.

Come Dancing


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There haven’t been as many chances to dance as I’d like of late, so when I got the Museum of the American Revolution’s invitation to come dancing at their January History After Hours event, I said yes. Luckily, I had to be in Philadelphia for the next day anyway, so out came the 1780 appropriate dress and the fancier shoes, along with my resolve not to be a wallflower, and off I went. I very nearly made it on time, but I dressed as fast as I could, and managed to join the crowd with my dress pinned and my hair tamed.

As at past balls, I was rescued by a kind soul (and excellent dancer) who took me through the steps and saved me from my occasional pattern dyslexia. (Reversing can be tricky– they didn’t let me drive the forklift much in school because my brain sometimes struggles to process a mirror image.) But Miss V was a gracious partner, and reader, I confess: I greatly enjoyed myself.

One aspect of historical dancing that has always appealed to me is the relationship between classical ballet and traditional English country dances. While you won’t find tutus on Jane Austen’s dance floor, you will find balancé and glissade, and the use of positions. This connection between two things I love, and the way movement can connect us to the past, makes me enjoy these dances even more. Using steps I learned and practiced endlessly decades ago in a hobby I pursue today is a very personal reminder of the persistence of the past.

An evening of dancing, with the best dance caller and instructor I’ve yet had the pleasure to meet, was a welcome winter treat.


Many thanks to Miss G.J. for the use of the photos, and deep honours to Miss V.D. as a partner, and Mr. N.V d.M., dancing master.

Hoods and Caps and Bonnets, oh my!


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Griselda Countess Stanhope. Mezzotint engraving by James McArdell after Allen Ramsay. British Museum, ca 1760

Let’s take a closer look at Griselda, Countess Stanhope. She wears a hood over a fine white cap, as well as a hooded cloak. Around her neck, she wears a fur tippet, and her hands are snuggled into a muff. While most of the “common” women in the colonies wouldn’t rise to the Countess’s ermine tippet, they did have hoods.

Thomas Howe Ridgate’s inventory taken 19 June 1790 in Charles County Maryland includes “3 velvet and silk hoods,” while Mrs. Elizabeth Lawson’s inventory, taken 3 May 1766 in Prince Georges County Maryland includes one velvet hood and one “Allamod” hood. (She also has “1 old Striped Bonnet,” as well as 2 Womens New Capes, and 1 Womans Life everlasting Petticoat, which bears further investigation.)

Hoods appear fairly regularly in prints, worn over caps (as in Countess Stanhope), under hats, and even under bonnets, as in this print from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

January, engraving, ca. 1780. E.3520-1953. Victoria & Albert Museum

The mantelet hood worn over the bonnet, hood, and cap layers.

In the images above, I’m wearing a white cap, black silk hood, and black “stuff” bonnet, with a black silk mantlet over a silk neck-handkerchief. The hood needs some tweaking, size-wise, but the layers definitely recreate what we see in the print of “January.” The bonnet has an adjustable caul, so will easily fit over hair, cap, and hood; the hood has a drawstring closure at the neck that helps keep out the wind. Taken altogether, these layers are definitely insulating! Looking like an 18th century engraving is almost a bonus– but when you wear what they wore, you look like they did.

2019 Planning Survey


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Gentle readers: I’m planning 2019 and while I have some ideas for new things to offer on Etsy, I’m also open to your input.

On my mind for this year: winter hoods, new collapsing bonnets, and shaped reticules. What’s on your mind?

Please do me the favor of completing this survey!





“Comfortably Covered”


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The last event of 2018 (for me) was the “March In” evening event at Valley Forge. My reasons for choosing events may be quirky: anything I can get to at Fort Ti, because I love that fort and landscape; MoAR events because they’re imaginative, not too far, and, bonus, I get to see my mom; anything immersive at which I’ll have tasks and a role; anything that gets me behind the scenes or gives me a new perspective on a site, museum, or event; anything that allows me to flex my interpretive muscles. March In gave me a new perspective, a new site, and a chance to expand my interpretive range. I loved it. My son, not so much. While I’d thought he’d enjoy it– he got us into this living history business, after all–since we’d visited Valley Forge every summer when we went to see my mom, and our parts would be small, progressive-focused scenarios.

Reader, he quit. Ten minutes before the park reopened to the public, as we stood in the dark on the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail, he told me he wanted to quit reenacting.*

No wonder I found the evening chilly.

I wasn’t too concerned about keeping warm after surviving and thriving in Princeton. The weather on December 19th seemed, if not balmy, seasonably pleasant, so I left off a layer or two from the Princeton list, skipping the third neck handkerchief. My bonnet this time was an old woolen “stuff” bonnet made back when my bonnet obsession first began. In the April 8 1776 Pennsylvania Packet, an ad for runaway Margaret Collands records that she was wearing “a redish coloured worsted bonnet.” My choice seemed pretty apt for winter in Pennsylvania, and, lined with linen, I can confirm my head stayed warm. My neck was not!

Griselda Countess Stanhope. Mezzotint engraving by James McArdell after Allen Ramsay. British Museum, ca 1760

At Princeton, I solved the neck draft problem by tying my third neck handkerchief around the neck of my cloak hood (see above). When I came home from Valley Forge, I went shopping in the historical record to see what I could find: hoods. Close-fitting hoods, worn over caps. Some velvet, some, possibly, quilted. I also found bonnets with “quilted crowns,” which I think may describe quilted hoods.

The title is taken from Tench Tilghman to John Cadwalder in Boyle, Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment, 1:26 “Our Men have all got comfortably covered in their Huts and Better quarters are not in the World…” Tench Tilghman to John Cadwalader, Valley Forge, 18 January 1778.

*More on this another time, but yes: he’s still alive and well and seems happy enough for an enormous 20-year-old home with a classic college break cold.