How To Sew An Authentic Mid-Victorian Day Cap – Tutorial

How To Sew An Authentic Mid-Victorian Day Cap - Tutorial

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).

How To Sew An Authentic Mid-Victorian Day Cap - Tutorial

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).

 

Materials:

  • 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 victorian cotton day cap

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.

 

victorian muslin ruffles

Cut strips of the cotton fabric for the cap frill and ties.

You could also omit the ruffle (plain cotton cap without frill) or use lace or bobbinet tulle instead (Valenciennes lace day cap).

Mid-Victorian Cap Tutorial

Sew a narrow hem with tiny running stitches at all four sides of the cap ties.

1850s cotton day cap

Hem just three sides of the frill.

1850s day cap

Leave one long edge of the cap ruffle strips unfinished for now.

1860s day cap

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))

1860s morning cap

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)

victorian cap crown

Cut out your crown piece, sew rolled whipped gathers round the curved edge, and hem the bottom of the crown. But prior to hemming …

Mid-Victorian Cap Tutorial

… sew two eyelets in the middle for the drawstrings.

sew victorian day cap tutorial-6

After hemming, the eyelets should be on the outside of the cap, as in the picture above and this Victorian broderie anglaise cap.

victorian cap crown

Gather the crown at the top till it fits the brim piece.

sew victorian cotton day cap

Attach the crown to the brim with tiny overcasting stitches. (19th c. lady’s cap: crown attached to brim with rolled whipped gathers; 1820s baby cap with rolled whipped gathers)

sew victorian cotton day cap

I found it worked better to sew the overcasting stitches from the wrong side of the cap.

sew victorian day cap tutorial-

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)

sew victorian day cap tutorial-5

Attach the cap ties with running stitches at the bottom of the brim on the inside or outside.

sew victorian day cap tutorial

Insert a cotton string into the hem of the crown piece and secure it at the seam between crown and brim.

sew victorian day cap tutorial-8

Then gather the crown slightly and tie a bow, like here.

sew victorian day cap tutorial-1

And your mid-Victorian day cap is finished! 😀

authentic victorian cotton day cap
Close-up of cap ruffle
sew victorian day cap tutorial-4
Close-up of rolled whipped gathers

 

How To Sew An Authentic Mid-Victorian Day Cap - Tutorial

4 thoughts on “How To Sew An Authentic Mid-Victorian Day Cap – Tutorial

  1. Victorian Day Cap just what I’ve been looking for to go underneath the Victorian Bonnet I have made. Already for the Christmas Rochester (Kent) Dickens Festival, where I will be joining other Members of the Rochester & Chatham Dickens Fellowship all wearing Dickensian costume.

    1. I’m glad you found the tutorial helpful. 😀 Do you have a blog? I’d love to see a picture of your finished Victorian bonnet and cap.

    1. Thank you for your comment. 🙂

      The video you linked isn’t for rolled whipped gathers (you’re folding the fabric, not rolling it). In the Victorian and Edwardian era, rolled whipped gathers are made differently. The source I linked explains it quite well: To make rolled whipped gathers, the fabric edge is rolled tightly between the thumb and forefinger. Then overcast the rolled edge and draw the thread tight. It might seem difficult at first; but it’s a very easy and fast way to make ruffles once you’ve practiced it a bit.

      Yes, both narrow tapes and string was used at the back of the neck. Thanks for mentioning it.

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