In this tutorial I’ll show you how to sew an authentic 1840-1850s plain cotton day cap by hand.
In the early- and mid-Victorian era, all women covered their heads with caps during the day; whereas in the later part of the Victorian era, just married women and elderly ladies wore caps. These caps were usually called morning caps or day caps. For rich ladies, day caps could resemble a piece of lace trimmed with silk ribbons and flowers; while a middle-class woman or a servant would choose a plainer cotton day cap, such as the one I’m sewing here (1860 painting, daguerreotype of mother with day cap). A simimlar cap is described in the The Workwoman’s Guide (1840, p. 65) as ‘pretty and not expensive’.
Such a cap might also be worn as a bonnet cap which was worn under bonnets with just the cap frill looking out from under the bonnet. In the night, night caps were worn: ‘The border must depend upon the purpose for which the cap is intended: if for a night-cap, a double border in front and single behind will be required: if for a bonnet-cap, a double border or quilling only, in front will be sufficient.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 65)
Women’s day caps are made of clear, spotted, sprigged, twilled, or jaconet muslin with frills of cambric, muslin, net, or Valenciennes lace; and night caps of checked muslin or soft fine calico. (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, p. 61ff) Here are pictures of caps and patterns (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, plate 9), and some more pictures and patterns of bonnet and other caps (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, plate 15).
In the 1830s, the ruffle was gathered evenly round the brim (1830s cap), while in the 1840s and 1850s the frill was gathered more at the sides (1840-50s cap): ‘The form of the caps, both for the morning and evening costume, are very plain upon the top of the head and full at the ears’ (1843, Godey’s Lady’s Book). 1850s day caps exposed more of the front hair than earlier caps (1855 painting and 1859 painting).
- white, thin cotton fabric, such as batiste
- white cotton sewing thread
- needle and scissor
- awl or something similar, such as a knitting needle
- cotton string
Measure round your head from below ear to below ear (the petrol-blue line). Decide how wide you want your brim piece. My finished brim piece (without seam allowance) measures 8,5 x 50cm. Then make a bun at the back of your head: higher for the 1840s and lower for the 1850s. Measure loosely across the bun from the crown-brim-seam to the crown-brim-seam on the other side (the mint green line). Then measure loosely from the top of the crown piece to the bottom (the pink line): the cap should roughly cover your neck hairline. My crown piece measures 25 x 29cm. Round the top corners like here: The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840, plate 9. Decide how long (you should be able to tie them into a bow) and wide you want your cap strings (some Victorian cap ties are very narrow, while other are wide). My tapes measure 2,5 x 38cm and my cap ruffles 3,5 x 85cm. That was the difficult part of the day cap making, 😉 the rest is easier. 🙂 If you want you could sew a test cap with cheap fabric on your sewing machine to verify that your pattern fits you.
Cut strips of the cotton fabric for the cap frill and ties.
Sew a narrow hem with tiny running stitches at all four sides of the cap ties.
Hem just three sides of the frill.
Leave one long edge of the cap ruffle strips unfinished for now.
If your strips for the cap frill aren’t long enough, join them with small French seams after hemming. (Close-up of hem with running stitches and ruffle joined with french seams (enlarge the picture))
Finish the unfinished edge of the frill with rolled whipped gathers. ‘Whipping is forming gathers by overcasting a rolled edge of fine material, and drawing up the thread.’ (source)
Cut out your crown piece, sew rolled whipped gathers round the curved edge, and hem the bottom of the crown. But prior to hemming …
… sew two eyelets in the middle for the drawstrings.
After hemming, the eyelets should be on the outside of the cap, as in the picture above and this Victorian broderie anglaise cap.
Gather the crown at the top till it fits the brim piece.
I found it worked better to sew the overcasting stitches from the wrong side of the cap.
Sew the frill to the front of the brim, again with overcasting stitches from the inside, like you’ve attached the crown to the brim. (Close-up of cap frill, rolled whipped gathers, and running stitches; woman’s cap with whipped ruffle)
Insert a cotton string into the hem of the crown piece and secure it at the seam between crown and brim.
Then gather the crown slightly and tie a bow, like here.
And your mid-Victorian day cap is finished! 😀