What Cap Should I Wear? What the Rev War Camp-follower had on her head (2nd draft)

Issues: add portraits; more citations?

I began this incredible odyssey many years ago with the question, “I am a camp-follower in the American War of Independence; which cap should I be wearing?”

IMG_20150606_224125669FNB- 031

So, here’s the easy answer: You can choose between 2 caps: one with a ruffle under the chin, and one without.  These are commonly called a “lappet cap” (ruffle under the chin) and a “round-eared cap” (ruffles curve around near your ears).

See the Glossary for more definitions.

I base this answer on a sample set of about 300 portraits of American women, and the more than 100 caps I have examined in museum collections in America.  I am chronicling this research over time with this blog, so you can see what I am seeing.

I’m also basing this on an assumption that camp-followers would not be seeking the latest styles because their circumstances demanded practicality and frugality.  Assumptions are dangerous things, of course, and no one that I know of recorded that sentiment directly, but it is supported by what we know of their difficult lives, documented in many sources.

Note: I would, however, fully expect visiting officer’s wives  to wear the fashionable piles of linen and lace that arose around 1775 and grew larger over time.  (More on that later…)

American cap styles are more restrained in general than French styles, of course (oh, those French!), but they are also more restrained than even English styles.

What should my cap be made of? 

The finest linen you can afford. Because linen of the era tended to be finer than ours, our lightest handkerchief linen (2.0- 3.0 ozs) is a good match.  And, of course, the richer your persona, the finer the cloth should be.

Does it have to be white?

Yes. Every artifact is plain white. There are a few examples of colored caps or cap covers in European paintings, and a few examples of a black kerch over a white cap in America. I am aware of only one American cap that is made of patterned cloth.

Do I have sew this by hand?

Yes, you have no choice because HA caps cannot be made on a machine. There are no hidden stitches.

Should I make the ruffle out of lace?

Only if you are an officer’s wife.  Lace was so very expensive, camp-followers shouldn’t include it on their caps.  What you can do, though, is make the linen ruffle from an even lighter linen than the rest of the cap.  This is common enough.  And, just like our WAI predecessors, maybe you can afford just 1/4 yard of that exquisite stuff to add to your cap.

Should I wear a ribbon?

YES! We should all be wearing a plain silk ribbon tied in a bow over the headpiece.  These can be pinned on so washing is easy. Depictions of even the meanest women of our era include a ribbon around her cap.

Can I piece it together from scraps?

Yes. I’ve seen caps pieced in all different places: the top of the headpiece and along the ruffle is common, but one cap I am just now copying has 3 pieces just in the caul.

Can I re-purpose used linen?

I say yes to used linen because we shouldn’t be as clean or tidy or new looking as we usually are.  Also, linen shirts from the second hand store are a really good source of finer linen than we can get easily by the yard.

1750 Mrs. Pemberton by Wollaston
Portrait of Mrs. Ebenezer Pemberton 1750 John Wollaston, American, fl. 1733-1775 Artstor IAP

I hate having something under my chin! 

I know, honey, but you got used to stays, didn’t you? And, yes, there are 2 portraits in which the lappet is left loose, but only 2 so far. (And only the French pinned them up, sorry. ) So, yes, you need to make yourself a lappet for next season.

Where can I get an HA pattern?  

I’m still saying Kannik’s Korner 6602 is the closest for the round-eared cap. It also includes really good directions and documentation.  But her sources are a smidge later than AWI.  I recommend starting here, but making the small size caul.

For a lappet, you could start with Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor, which isn’t the most common 3-piece construction, but is at least verifiably accurate, really easy to make, and free on Google.  Also, it’s 1789, but I have seen one dated earlier.

….I see a need for a lappet pattern that copies common construction for our era…  well, that’s a project for another day….

I’ve bought and tried just about every pattern out there. The most common problem is the caul is just too big (and I have a large head). Another common problem is techniques adapting caps for machine sewing and muslin cloth. Ouch.

Here are some things we do not see in the American portrait evidence for 1750-1775:

  1. Caps that cover the face, or ruffles long enough to fall down the chin or into the eyes.  Reenactors frequently wear too big a cap, pulled too far forward.
  2. Caps with very large cauls.  Part of the problem here is we often don’t have the thick masses of hair to pull up under the cap, so it rides too low.  I wear a hairpiece to fill out my cap.  Even then, the large cauls of most commercial patterns are from a little bit later time.
  3. That very old BAR pattern that has a paddle-shaped, double-layered headpiece.  Just no. I’m still trying to figure out where that came from.  If an original exists for it, it is a rarity and should not be used.
  4. A lot more round-eared than lappet caps. In both the portrait evidence and the artifact evidence, lappets outnumber round-eared caps. My current count is 21 lappets to 2 round-eared caps among artifacts, and about 50 lappets to 30 round-eared caps in portraits.
  5.  No tightly gathered ruffles down the front of the lappet.  The ruffle of a lappet is gathered only at the turn around the tips.
  6. No “butterflies”.  These are the caps with stiffly starched wings riding high on the head. One portrait of a child has this. No adults.
  7. No ships, no birds, no turkey butts, no 3 foot hairdos, nothing from Versailles.  No evidence of this craziness exists for American women in portraits or artifacts.
  8. Gehret’s Rural Pennsylvania Clothing has a cap with a simple rectangular headpiece on a gathered caul, with strings under the chin, on Pg. 68.  This cap is only seen early and late in the century, and not during our time period.  Too bad! I made a bunch of these!

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s