The Odd One: OK, but WHY?
The only extant cap so far that comes close to the huge linen piles of the late 18th C is this example in the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. This one is very fine muslin, with a huge caul gathered on a completely circular doubled band. There is no way to adjust the size; it must have been made to fit.
Most of the caul’s gathers are at the center front (CF), on the high forehead. The sides are not gathered, and the rest of the caul’s cloth is gathered in lightly at the nape. All the gathers are stroke gathers, tucked into the band.
Here is my repro:
My muslin is thicker than the original, so maybe that’s why it sticks up so much? I also don’t know much about period lace, so I just used something with the same look, and tried to figure out where to put it. There’s a layer sewn inside the band, a layer sewn at the join of the band and the caul, and a third piece that only goes half way around sewn in between the other layers. I assume that layer denotes the front.
The museum dates this cap 1790’s, and that fits with portrait evidence. Here is more about the portrait evidence in this post.
Questions that Remain
So far so good. But here’s what I really want to know: why don’t we have more of these? If the high crowned caps are later than the simple lappets, why do we have more extant earlier caps? Of all the portraits showing these crazed mushroomy caps, why would only one American example survive?
Speculation: there was so much cloth and linen in each one, they could be turned into two or three other caps after they went out of style, so they were all remade.
Worry: all the surviving caps we call 18th C are just a bunch of 19th C Quaker caps that we have misidentified.
Worrier: This one is a reproduction made much later, for the Centennial, for ex. The construction might argue for that, as this is the only cap I’ve seen gathered on a band with no adjustment.
Still, it’s beautiful and unique.
In this 1798 portrait by Ralph Earl, Mrs. Elijah Dewey ( Mary Schenk) wears a cap with a very large poufy caul, with a round headpiece, and lace for ruffles. The difference here is that the face-shadowing lace is not ON the headpiece, but added to its edges like a ruffle. Her cap includes a lace piece at the join of the caul and the headpiece, like our artifact. but note that the lace is shaped, getting wider at the back. That ruffle shape is associated with a cap called a Corday, after a famous female hero of the French Revolution who wore caps of that type.
Notes and Pattern
Here are my notes and the pattern I used. I had to really guess at the shape of the caul. DAR 2005.13 notes
Thanks to Alden O’Brien, Curator of Costumes and Textiles, of the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, DC, who gave me permission to blog about the DAR caps I saw.
This cap is not in their online catalog and has no provenance that I know of.