Monday, May 18, 2009

How to make an 18th century cap

Step-by-step instructions on how to make a simple 18th century woman's cap.

There are many variations, but they all go together about the same.
These instructions are free, this is my own pattern based on research, experimentation and trial & error.
Caps are for sale on my business web site, if you would like one go here for more information.
I do not sell this pattern. It's too easy to figure out on your own, and it's here for free... the illustrations below are all mine.

History of the cap:
In the 18th century (1700's) most women wore linen caps. Various styles were available to all social classes, but generally the more hair you covered the more conservative you were. Caps ranged in size from tiny scraps of lace that were pinned on, to huge hood-like creations with ruffles, pleats & substructures. Or they could be simple, functional garments.

Caps were worn for multiple reasons.
The first is cleanliness. Wearing a linen or cotton cap will keep your hair cleaner longer. Caps keep smoke & other household / environmental stuff out of your hair, and the less you fuss with your hair, the less oil / dandruff will build up.
The second is health. By covering your hair, you are less likely to have your hands by your face, which helps prevent eye & skin infections, etc. It also reduces the number of 'bugs' (lice, fleas & other nasties) that jump from one person to the next. If you keep your hair up & covered you are less likely to get split ends or broken hair.... ladies didn't have access to good quality conditioner & having long beautiful hair was a point of pride.
The third is religion. Most of the western world was Christian or Jewish, and women covering their hair in public was a major element of those religious cultures.
The forth is fashion. Few outfits are complete without the proper hairdo or headgear. Caps complemented whatever the latest style was, and let's face it, they just look super-cute.

Linen scraps (about 1/2 yd) ... you can also use cotton, but it's not as common until the 1800's.
Silk "ribbon," rip on the straight.
Cotton cord.
Optional: lace, embroidered linen / cotton, metallic ribbon, etc.
This will take about a day for an experienced hand-sewer, or an hour for machine sewing. It could take more or less depending on the variations & how fine you want the stitching to be.

Note: the pattern below is just a guide, not a hard & fast rule. Feel free to make as many variations as you like. Look at paintings & prints from the time for more ideas. Not to scale at all.

1. Cut a 1/2 circle or 1/2 oval with a curve measuring 25" - 50" (depending on how much room you want in the cap). The smaller the circle, the less the cap will cover.

2. Cut 2 bands 4" - 9" wide & 16" - 30" long. Length will determine if the cap has barbes or not (barbes are the bits that hang down, flip up or fasten under your chin).
Width of the band will determine how much of a "brim" your cap has. This cap has a 1 1/2" band & ruffle, not a brim.
From center, mark 16 or 17" (this is where you attach the cap).

3. Optional: cut a ruffle 2 - 3 x the length of the band. 1" - 5" wide (will depend if you want pleats, ruffle, etc.). You can also cut it double wide, fold over & stitch the raw edges together.
4. Cut or rip silk for ribbon (or use silk ribbon). length = crown + 10" for bow.

Sewing the cap:

1. Turn over a small hem at the corners of the cap. Back stitch or do 4 short running stitches then one back stitch to secure.

2. Turn over a small hem along the flat side & finger press it. You can stitch now or later.
Turn over again to create a small cord channel. Stitch using 4 short running stitches then one back stitch to the end.

3. Find the center of the arch & pin, mark or tailor tack it.

4. Using 4 strong threads, go from center to ends in a double gathering stitch. These will be removed later.

Set aside.

Sewing the ruffle:
1. If it's in pieces, stitch pieces together using a French or welted seam.

2. Turn a small hem over & use a blind hem stitch, overcast, back stitch or 4 running & 1 back stitch to create a neat, secure hem. What stitch you use is up to you, it will change the look of the ruffle slightly.

3. Make 2 gathering stitches along the back edge of the ruffle & either gather in sections, securing each section as you go, or gather all at once, (up to you how you want to do this). Make sure your gathers are even, or well-distributed.
If you plan on removing the thread, use a different color, if you plan on leaving it, use a matching color.

Set aside.

Sewing the band & ruffle:

1. Sew the ends together if straight, folding 1/4" of one band up to wrong side. This will be the top finished edge of the cap-side.
2. Mark center on band & ruffle.

3. Sandwich ruffle inside the bands, making sure the "up" sides are facing each other.
This can be done in 1 or 2 steps:
A. For all at once, sandwich all layers. (same color gathering threads)
B. For 2 steps, face undersides together, stitch, then pin up to up & stitch. (contrasting gathering threads)
4. Pin & preview. (Make sure up-sides are together, down-sides are together, etc.) before you sew.

5. Sew together using a button hole stitch, then running or back stitch below that to make a clean sewing line.
Remove gathering stitches if applicable.

6. Turn & finger press.

Sewing the band & cap:

1. Find center of cap & band. Pin at center & ends.
Pin down-side to down-side first.
Make sure up is to up and down is to down.

2. Gather the cap into the band, making sure gathers are even or well-distributed.

3. Sew together using button-hole and/or running stitch.
Remove gathering threads now.

4. Flip top of band over & pin. (this is your folded-over edge).

5. Sew together using a back stitch for the neatest finish.
You can also use a blind hem, running or overcast, whatever you prefer.

Sewing the ribbons & cords:

Note: these can be sewn in during previous steps, but for easy laundering I like to sew them on afterwards with an overcast stitch.

1. Sew silk ribbons together at desired width (1 1/2" is nice). Turn & press. Turn edges under & blind hem stitch together.

2. Sew ribbons onto the underside of the band using a whip or overcast stitch. Be sure to secure them with at least 2 stitching lines so there's no stress on the fabric.

3. Insert cotton cording into cord channel.


1. Pull cotton cord tight to fit your head, tie in bow & leave it tied (you may have to re-tie after several wears or laundering).

2. Cross ribbons under the back of your head & tie up & over in a neat bow. Tuck ends under & make sure the ribbon lines up with the band.
This works best with hair in a braided bun, bun or chignon.

Hand or machine wash. I always hand-wash hand-sewn garments. You may want to remove the colored silk so it doesn't get ruined in the water... or go ahead and wash it anyway. Set over a ball, milk jug or balloon to dry.
Hot iron on linen, warm iron on silk.
This cap was made from a 35" 1/2 circle, a 17" x 2" band and a 1" x 50" ruffle (x3)... seam allowances included.


Madame Berg said...

This was an excellent tutorial, the best I've seen on the subject!

Heliopatra said...

Fabulous! Your tutorial was helpful and a rare find, thank-you.

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

Corrections & Variations:

In Cutting step 4: Measure your crown & add 20" for a bow (a bow takes 10" on each side to tie).

In Sewing the Cap step 2: you can do 1 of 2 things if you want the string to come out the center in a hidden bow, (more like a true drawstring than the one here).
A: leave the center of the turned-up channel unsewn, so the drawstrings come out the center under the cap
B: sew a buttonhole or eyelet before turning the ends up
In both of these, sew 2 drawstrings into the side seam of the cap & bring the ends out the center opening of the channel.

Shanna said...

Used these instructions to make an 18th century women's nightcap as a part of my daughter's costume for a high school production of Brigadoon. Turned out fabulous! Thanks for the information and helpful photos and drawings.