View Full Version : Correct Bonnet Fabric

10-12-2006, 07:29 AM
I have read one or twice that the fabric or material a bonnet is constructed of should correspond with the fabric of the dress being worn. Straw bonnets should be worn with cotton, silk bonnets with finer wools and silks.

Now that it is getting cooler is a straw bonnet still appropriate for cotton dresses. In my mind I think straw is only appropriate for spring and summer. Is this the case?

If both of my assumptions are true (bonnets reflect dress fabric and straw is only for spring/summer) what can be worn in fall/winter with cotton dresses? I know the obvious is winter hood, but in the lower South the weather doesn't get cold enough for arctic wear.

Jennifer Fore

Delia Godric
10-12-2006, 10:41 AM
From my research, I have found the frequency of straw bonnet recommendations decreases significantly in the later fall through the winter. It picks up again at the end of the winter for spring fashion. If I had my research notes with me, I could give you a table of the frequency for each month. For fashion recommendations I looked at Godey's, Harper's and Peterson's. This indicates straw was worn more often for spring, summer and fall. There are a few practical reasons for this. Straw bonnets breath rather well. This makes them more comfortable in warmer weather and less comfortable in cool weather. Straw can also become brittle during dry winter months. I have found this to be the case when working with straw. This could be a deturing factor for wearing them in the winter, but I do not have any written documentation for this from the period.

I do not completely agree with the type of bonnet corresponding with the fabric of the dress where silk bonnets go with silk dresses and straw bonnets go with cotton dresses. I think this is to stringent of a statement when looking at straw bonnets. I am sure others may dissagree with me.
Straw bonnets ranged from very simple, coarse and practical to very elaborate, delicate and fashionable. Dickens dresses a few of his poor characters in coarse straw bonnets which were likely whole plait straw bonnets. At the same time, elaboratly woven, plaited and crochet straw bonnets were recommended for highly fashionable ensembles. These bonnets were likely the more expensive straw bonnets.

"It is remarkable how straw always retains its hold as a material for bonnets. A straw bonnet, is, however, a more expensive article than one of tulle; but then it is more enduring, and better suited for country wear. There is also another advantage in straw: it never looks vulgar. A country lass in a bonnet of silk, or lace, or tulle, does not look one-half as well as one in a straw bonnet, neatly trimmed. Straw is becoming to persons of all ages and of every station. It makes a vulgar woman look less vulgar, and the lady more refined. Though common, it is never so in an offensive sense." Routledge's Manual of EtiquetteRoutledge, George. Published London 186? http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/12426

One such as this may be in that catagory:

"Bonnets.—It is no easy, though a pleasant task, from among the several elegant productions offered, to select one which we may precent to our fair friends. The zephyr-like lightness and exquisite taste of that which we choose, will elicit much admiration. It is composed of white hair—embroidered with Swiss straw and bugles; a row of straw blonde meanders along the edge of the brim, which is yet further trimmed with a niche of narrow-pointed blonde. Several fullish rows of French blonde cross the brim, and horizontally the crown, which is soft. Malines lace, with loops of No. 1 white satin ribbon, compose the lining. The strings are No. 22, white ribbon." Harper's new monthly magazine. August 1853. Fashions For August: pp. 431-432

What kind of cotton dress and occasion will you need the bonnet for? This will determine what bonnet I would suggest.

Anna Worden

10-12-2006, 12:37 PM
At least half of my thinking was correct. Thanks for the info thus far.

Because I am a mainstreamer I typically don't bring out the silks and other fineries to the general reenactments due to the environment. I save those for indoor or special occasions. My question is geared toward a basic to nicer day dress of cotton or wool suitable for a middle-class citizen (no specific persona).

I realize this may be too general of a question since clothing should suit the person and their position in life. I am hoping there is a general answer that can be then adjusted to reflect the character's station in life.


PS - Anna, I recently acquired your Straw Bonnet book via eBay and love it!

Delia Godric
10-12-2006, 01:40 PM
I think I have an idea of what you are looking for. For cooler southern winter days, I would go with a simple wool or silk on a buckram base. Think simple covering, modest flowers and ribbon. I would like to put together some examples for you but I need to run to an interview in a few minutes. I will get back to this in the morning.

I will also see if I can find any southern journal/diary/letters that talk about the appropriatness of straw in the winter on a warmer day.

Thank you for the compliment on the booklet.

Anna Worden

Delia Godric
10-13-2006, 11:37 AM
Err. With the car and the snow and every other stressor, I completely forgot to bring in my bonnet files disk this morning. Sorry this won’t be as complete as I wanted.

Here are a few bonnets that I think are nice but not to fashionable for a modest, middle-class day dress. I would be happy to hear anyone’s agreements or disagreements on my picks.

This one is a little early. I think it is still a good example of a nice silk bonnet which is modest and pretty. The description says gauze. I think from the sheen it is a silk gauze. (Can a cotton gauze have that sheen?) A side note – I love this ribbon. It is such an interesting combination of the green and the black & white. I like how the ribbon becomes the decoration inside the brim rather than outside.

This is a simple brown silk. It has a little bit of gathering through the brim. If this was embellished simply, I don’t think it would be to much for what I think you have in mind. http://www.thegracefullady.com/civilwargowns/images/originalgarments/bonnets/brownbonnet3.jpg

I also think this would be appropriate for fall and winter with the right flowers. It’s now to fashionable or over the top. http://www.thegracefullady.com/civilwargowns/images/originalgarments/bonnets/bonnets24.jpg

In comparison, these straw bonnets are done in a way that I would consider them more appropriate for a fashionable dress rather than a simple cotton dress (not counting nicer sheer cottons.)

I still owe you quotes and passages discussing winter bonnets.

For others who might be looking at winter headwear for colder areas – This is the cutest hood: http://tinyurl.com/yylfxq

Anna Worden

10-13-2006, 03:04 PM
Thank you so much for the information. Your photo examples have set me along the right path. A quilted hood actually might not be too heavy for Jan/Feb. I have a brown silk bonnet started that might be just right if trimmed modestly.

Thank you so much!

10-13-2006, 05:30 PM
Anna - I have a straw bonnet I have not yet trimmed that is composed of flat woven strands. Am I learning that it is not dressy enough to wear with a nice day dress? And what does"whole plait straw" mean? Those straw bonnets you have pictures of are _so_much nicer! My impression tends to be working-class or lower middle class. Thanks, Joanna Jones

Delia Godric
10-16-2006, 06:32 AM
Straw plait is basicly a straw braid. Straw plaits can be made from 3 to many (the most I have read about is 15) straws or strips of straw. This image is a piece of plait:
Whole straw plait is a braid of whole/complete straws that have not been split yet. Split straw plait is made from straws split lengthwise with a simple machine. Earlier, they were split by hand. Split straw makes a finer plait that alternates the shiny and maute sides of the straw. A plait using two split straws braided as one so the finish is just shiny or just maute is the Dunstable plait. The hats in craft stores tend to be wider whole plait. Split straw plaits don't always hold body as well, especially after they have been dyed. They need to be reinforced with milliner wire.
This bonnet gives a fairly clear look at straw plait.

Is your bonnet woven like one of these bonnets are woven?
http://tinyurl.com/yy3ky6 (but obviously not this shape)
If so, what you have is a woven straw bonnet. There are some really nice woven bonnets out there. Some are very simple weaves, others are quite fancy. Bonnets made from woven straw did exist in our era. The were not as frequent as those made of straw plait though. If the bonnet is the right shape, and you decorate it appropriatly, I think it should be fine to wear with a nice day dress. I would like to see a properly shaped woven straw bonnet worn at an event. I have seen a few online. The woven shapes I have seen at events aren't quite 'there'. If I were decorating the bonnet, I would go with a nice but modest ribbon and good flowers. Figure the ribbon you purchase would have been an investment that you could readjust on this bonnet or use on another bonnet. Keep in mind plain ribbons represent just under half of extant ribbons. Straw bonnets were not decorated as heavily as silk or wool bonnets. A good ribbon can be your emphasis. Take a look at the rest of the Boston site above for ideas. Also look at www.thegracefullady.com in the original garments section. She has pulled together many images of straw bonnets in her bonnet section.

Anna Worden

10-17-2006, 08:47 AM
Thanks - It is indeed a woven straw like the second woven one you have a link to, but it's shape is like this one on the Graceful Lady site:
It was sold to me by a member of a local group that has a reputation of being "very correct" so I crossed my fingers and spent more money for it than I wanted - 2 years ago! I have been unable to decide how to decorate it!

When you say that "solid ribbons represent just under half of extant ribbons" are you gently saying I should find a nice ribbon that is Not solid?

Joanna Jones

Delia Godric
10-17-2006, 09:37 AM
I like the shape and decoration of the bonnet you linked from the Graceful Lady. I think it is a good representation of shape and decoration for straw bonnets. If you have had this bonnet for 2 years, it’s definitely time to decorate it. Do you like the basic idea of the decorating in the image you picked? The ribbon coming from the top of the brim with some folding coming down to the cheektabs is an easy and fairly common way to put the ribbon. You can do your curtain/bavolet with the same ribbon or complementing like this one. The flowers you choose can vary from the beautiful large one’s in the linked pictures to something a bit more subtle. What kinds of embellishments are you leaning towards?

“When you say that "solid ribbons represent just under half of extant ribbons" are you gently saying I should find a nice ribbon that is Not solid?”

I do think there needs to be a better balance in the representation of bonnet ribbons at events. (Mind I am talking about the silk ribbons not the screamingly obvious synthetic ribbons.) I think there are more plain/solid ribbons worn at events than were actually worn. I would say about 80% of good ribbons I see are plain/solid. (I will confess my bonnet ribbons right now are solid white and solid black vintage ribbons.) I think the reason so many bonnet ribbons are solid is because it is rather challenging to get nice ribbons without making our own. (something that should/could be done more often.) I created a database of bonnet ribbons looking at color, style and width. This is the distribution of the ribbons by style:
Solid 49.5%
Floral 15.9%
Plaid 11.9%
Solid w/ edging 10.1%
Stripe 5.5%
Check 1.9%
Paisley 1.9%
Moiré 1.9%
Other 1.9%
Just under half of the ribbons were solid. The other half of the bonnet ribbons were floral, plaid, edged, striped, checked and moiré. To me this means roughly half of the bonnets I see should be plain and roughly half should be floral, plaid, striped, ect. I do admit my database could be skewed because it is primarily based on remaining bonnets which are more likely to represent upper and upper middle-class women. I did look at fashion descriptions as well. I was not satisfied with the detail of their descriptions to make a separate full database. The advertisements and journal entries I looked at for the majority list bonnet ribbons but do not describe them in detail telling whether they are solid or styled.
So, these are my thoughts on bonnet ribbons in short. It’s really up to you. What will work for your impression is more important though.

Anna Worden

10-18-2006, 08:51 PM
What are good sources for patterned/printed silk ribbon?

These are listed as hand-dyed up to a width of 2-1/2". Would this type of ribbon be appropriate for our period?



Delia Godric
10-19-2006, 06:13 AM
Very good question. At one point there were several good merchants listed in various threads on Elizabeth Stewart Clark's site. (of which we are all anxiously and patiently waiting the return.) I will see if I can scrape some of them back together today....

In the meantime, this is my page of Victorian and Edwardian ribbons

For the handdyed ribbon – I wouldn’t use any of the variegated ones. Some of the solids might work. The width is good. Don’t go any narrower than that. I wish they said more about the silk itself. I would like to know what it feels like. You want something that will hold a nice body and not droop badly. The bias isn’t my first pick – I found that most of the plaid and stripes were on the grain not bias.

Anna Worden

Delia Godric
10-19-2006, 09:05 AM
Here are the few merchants I found this morning.
I decided to skip all the sites that had ribbon sold only by the 40+ yard bolts at $100+ no matter how lovely the ribbon because that is far, far to much ribbon for a bonnet.
Ribbons should be wide - 2.5 to 6 inches wide. These can be challenging to find. Remember, can make your own ribbon out of silk fabric. Also, you can combine ribbons such as two solid ribbons side by side, a plaid ribbon and a solid ribbon layered or side by side, a wide plain ribbon edged with a narrow ribbon.

I have not tried any of these merchants personally. I can not attest to their reliability or business only what I see for their ribbons.

This site has some interesting wider ribbons and vintage ribbons. I have an email in to them asking about the fiber content in their vintage ribbons.

Wooded Hamlet has silk ribbon up to 2” wide in solid

This site has a cotton/silk blend ribbon in solid 4.25 inches wide. Something I would also like to see in person. I just wish they also had others besides grosgrain because I have only seen a few ribbons which were grosgrain.

Ribbon Connections offers 2 inch satin and narrower taffeta.

This site may be worth watching. Right now there is one (maybe two) ribbon I would consider. Many prices are by the foot though.

I am going to keep an eye on this site to see if they end up with something useful. Right now they have wider silk ribbon but it is bias and dupioni.

There are several collections of ribbons out there that I would consider using if it were not for the wired edges. I have pulled the wire out of the edges of spools of ribbon before. But that still leaves an edge that is frequently stitches improperly. What are other peoples thoughts on the wire edged ribbons?

This doesn’t work for our bonnet needs, but I Had to link these incredible ribbons! Be sure to look at the commission piece on the bottom right.

I know there are several merchants I am missing which we discussed elsewhere.

Anna Worden

10-21-2006, 08:34 AM
I do know that wooded hamlet is a good site. My friends bought some ribbon from there, and it was very, very pretty.

10-21-2006, 09:28 AM
Anna, Heaven Willing and the creek don't rise, the site will be back online tonight, along with the forum. We're still trying to import the old forum's data without compromising the new one.... PLEH.

(And, THANKS for all the work you're doing on bonnets! You and the tremendous milliners we have these days make it possible to look good head to toe!)

10-21-2006, 10:41 PM
The forum is back up--still haven't given up on the database of old topics, but it's not loaded back as of tonight... we'll keep trying.

10-22-2006, 12:26 AM
Please excuse the off-the-bonnet-topic post, but Welcome Back Liz! We are very glad to see you able to get up and going again (well.. my husband isn't - he just rolled his eyes and muttered something about never getting the computer back again...;) ) Good luck with the data base. Joanna Jones

Carolann Schmitt
10-23-2006, 09:48 AM
The Ribbonry in Perrysburg, OH has a wonderful selection of appropriate ribbons. Their staff is very gracious about making recommendations and sending samples. www.ribbonry.com

Hyman Hendler is an established purveyor of ribbons including vintage selections. Their shop in Manhattan is stacked from floor to ceiling (literally) with ribbons of all kinds. www.hymanhendler.com

Tinsel Trading, also in Manhattan, offers a wide selection of ribbons and braids, including antique and vintage selections. They recently opened a second location, The Store Across the Street, that focuses solely on ribbons. www.tinseltrading.com

If you’re near or traveling through the mid-Atlantic states, Offray has two ribbon outlets. Locations and contact information are available at http://www.berwickindustries.com/about/index.cfm?fuseaction=ViewOutlet
Selection changes with the season but prices can be VERY affordable. The outlet in Hagerstown is a good stop on your way to or from the Conference.

Another very affordable source for appropriate ribbons is to make your own from a length of silk taffeta. Cut the fabric into strips (preferably on the lengthwise grain, but the cross wise grain will also work), narrow hem the edges, and you’re all set. The ribbon used for the chatelaine workshop at the 2007 Conference and illustrated on our website is cut from silk taffeta, narrow-hemmed and embroidered. http://www.genteelarts.com/Necessaire%20or%20Chatelaine%20reproduced.jpg

Another possibility is to combine several narrow ribbons to make one wide ribbon. Join the edges of the ribbon using a single strand of matching machine embroidery thread and a VERY tiny overhand stitch.

To second Anna’s comments, I do not recommend bias cut ribbon for bonnet strings. I’ve not found it on original bonnets or mentioned in period sewing and millinery books; and bias-cut ribbons will stretch out of shape very quickly.