July 25, 2017

Lace on My Clothes & Bows on My Caps

"'I wonder if I shall ever be happy enough to have real lace on my clothes, and bows on my caps?' said Meg impatiently." - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

A mid-century fancy dress cap.

Getting back into the swing of sewing, today's blog post details the construction of a mid-19th century fancy dress cap.  For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by these frilly, lace and beribboned confections, so I set to make my own for the May challenge of the Historical Sew Monthly.  I am just getting around to writing about it now...better late than never?


Historical Inspiration  

When it comes to informal and formal caps during the mid-19th century, there seems to be an abundance of terms used in periodicals, plates and extant identifications.  From "morning" to "breakfast," "day" and "evening," "fancy," "dress" and even "fancy dress" caps, there was a style and term for every occasion.  Other specific references include "widow's caps," "Marie Stuart" and general "house caps."  In fact, Heather Sheen of the blog Southern Creations wrote a nice article on Ladies' Caps of the Civil War.  I was drawn to the extravagant dress caps, much like those offered by Originals by Kay.  

Full and evening dress caps appear in many period sources including this fashion plate from the September 15, 1860 edition of La Mode Illustree: 

A silk and tulle cap from Mode Illustree, September 15, 1860.
(Image source:  Ebay, via Pinterest)

Another source of inspiration from an 1860 edition of La Mode Illustree:  Please see the descriptions in the caption.

"Bonnet en Tulle de Soie noir et blanc." (Bonnet in black and white silk tulle.)
"Bonnet en Tulle blanc avec rubans Roses." (Bonnet in white tulle with pink ribbons.)
La Mode Illustree, 1860.
(Image source:  Pinterest)

Further examples of "morning" and "dress" caps of "silk tulle, silk lace, and silk ribbon" from page 207 of Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine, 1858:   
Morning and dress caps from Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine, 1858.
(Image source:  Google books, page 207 of
Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine, Volumes 11-12
).

There are also plenty of period photographs depicting how fashionable dress caps  and hairnets were worn:  

Lady with cap.
(Image via: Pinterest)

As well as extant examples, like this one from the MET: 

Cap, 1863-65.
(Image source:  Metropolitan Museum of Art via Pinterest)

For further historical examples and inspiration, please check out my 1860s Fancy Caps & Nets Pinterest Board.


Construction Details 

The cap is completely hand-stitched with a base formed from a strip of buckram shaped with a millinery wire.


Three rows of pleated net frills were added, as well as navy ribbon loops.  

An extra layer of buckram and net were added to soften the wire lines.

Detail of the navy ribbon loops and extra side frills.

A layer of white point d'esprit flat lined with black point d'esprit were pleated and stitched onto the band form the caul.  

Inside view.

Outside view.

Two frills of black lace were pleated and more navy ribbons complete the look:

Bow and lace frill at the top of the cap.

The completed cap from the front featuring long, navy ribbon streamers.


Completed Project Shots


Front view of fancy dress cap.

The following excerpt is from Chapter Nine, "Meg Goes to Vanity Fair," of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:
"'Annie Moffat has blue and pink bows on her nightcaps. Would you put some on mine?' [Meg] asked, as Beth brought up a pile of snowy muslin's, fresh from Hannah's hands. 
'No, I wouldn't, for the smart caps won't match the plain gowns without any trimming on them. Poor folks shouldn't rig,' said Jo decidedly. 
'I wonder if I shall ever be happy enough to have real lace on my clothes, and bows on my caps?' said Meg impatiently.  
'You said the other day that you'd be perfectly happy if you could only go to Annie Moffat's,' observed Beth in her quiet way. 
'So I did! Well, I am happy, and I won't fret, but it does seem as if the more one gets the more one wants, doesn't it?'" 
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

Side.

Another of view from the side.

The other side.

Back.


Historical Sew Monthly Entry Details 


May and July HSM entry - an 1860s fancy dress cap.

The Challenge:  The dress cap was originally intended for the May: Literature Challenge – The written word has commemorated and immortalised fashions for centuries, from the ‘gleaming’ clothes that Trojans wore before the war, to Desdemona’s handkerchief, ‘spotted with strawberries’, to Meg in Belle Moffat’s borrowed ballgown, and Anne’s longed for puffed sleeves. In this challenge make something inspired by literature: whether you recreate a garment or accessory mentioned in a book, poem or play, or dress your favourite historical literary character as you imagine them.

My entry pays homage to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.  Inspired by both Meg's desire "to have real lace on [her] clothes, and bows on [her] caps," as well as Annie Moffat's "blue and pink bows on her nightcaps," from Chapter Nine: "Meg Goes to Vanity Fair," my dress cap could have been sported by a refined woman like Mrs. Moffat or other elegant, wealthy company.


Screenshot of Meg from Little Women (1994).
(Image via: Pinterest)

My entry also fits in the July: Fashion Plate Challenge – Make an outfit inspired by a fashion plate, whether it is a direct replica, or a more toned down version that fits the resources and lifestyle of the character you are portraying. If you want to stick to a period prior to the 17th century advent of fashion plates, either re-interpret a Victorian ‘historical’ fashion illustration as period accurate, or use an image from your period that depicts and idealised and aspirational fashion.

It resembles fancy dress caps like this one from an 1854 Le Moniteur de la Mode fashion plate:

Dress cap with side frills and back lappets.
Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1854.
(Image via: Pinterest)

Material:  
Buckram, net, point d'esprit, lace and navy, satin ribbon.

Pattern:  My own, based on period inspiration.

Year:  1850s-1860s

Notions:  Millinery wire, black and white thread of various weights.

How historically accurate is it?  The shape and decorations were based on period examples, though the materials contain some polyester.  It is also completely hand stitched.  I believe it would be recognizable in its time period, so, 75%?

Hours to complete:  Too many!  It was quite a fiddly project, though I look forward to further experimentation with net caps!

First worn:  For pictures.

Total cost:  If I had to guess, maybe $25 for all of the materials?

Photograph courtesy of Maria M.
  

Recommended Resources:
  • Ladies' Caps of the Civil War - an excellent article written by Heather Sheen of the blog, Southern Creations, which offers detailed descriptions of "breakfast," "day" and "evening" caps. 
  • Originals by Kay - a one stop shop for any and all kinds of hairnets, informal and formal caps, and evening coiffures!  
  • 1860s Fancy Caps & Nets - my pinterest board featuring over a hundred period photographs, fashion plates, paintings and extant examples of dress caps.  

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