A Cap Workshop

If you are attending a cap workshop with me, watch these short videos for an introduction to my research. The third video introduces making a cap using my pattern. Please print off the pattern, gather your materials, and if possible, cut out the parts before we meet.

The other thing to bring to the workshop is all kinds of questions about what you find here. I love talking about caps and can’t wait to meet you.

Introduction to my research about 18th C women’s caps.
About my museum reproductions.

A brief tour of the capalog.blog, where I have chronicled my research.

Stats Wrap-Up: Stitch Analysis

I am often asked about which stitches were used when on caps.  There’s a theory afloat about which stitches are likely to be earlier and which are likely to be later. I can never keep it straight.  So I’m not trying to prove or disprove anything here; I just know it’s a question, and here’s my data.

The gathered CF ruffle of DAR 1203

I did a quick and dirty run down of this on Facebook a couple years ago in the “Historically Accurate 18th and early 19th Century Sewing” group. That group is retired now; but I can still get to the archive. Perhaps you can only see it if you were a member, but a lot of my readers were.  Still, it’s OK if you can’t get back to see that, because now I’m going to go back and be more careful.

First of all, we are talking about only 13 caps.  I saw more than 100, and started off saying there were about 30 for the time period, but in the end I’m only betting on these 13 as being 18th C. I have described them all in the posts on this blog. (I started by counting a whole set of caps that were dated 1800-, allowing for wiggle room, but in the end I decided not to include them because there were differences that seemed to attach to the date.)

I’ve laid these out earlier to later (museum date) in the chart below. Remember, it’s a small data set.

Also, there are many places where a cap is stitched, and most caps are put together with several different stitches.

I’ve tried to make a nice, easy, chart here. I had trouble, as you can see, with spacing; it still looks bulky on the page, so here’s a Word Doc for you, too: stitch chart rev

chart of stitches used in 18th Centurycaps on this blog

Can we draw any conclusions here?  We might say that the earlier the cap, the more often the gather on the caul is likely to be a stroke gather. On the other hand, several of these have no gather, or are constructed so there is no join. And the ruffles in all these examples are whipped gathered, so it doesn’t mean they weren’t using that stitch.

Why did they use so many different methods and stitches? I think it is because joining the caul to the headpiece is much more complicated than adding a ruffle.  To add a ruffle, I make a straight piece with a whipped edge that can be pulled to a gather at any point, and I whip that piece in place.  To join a caul to a headpiece, I have to switch from gather to finished edge somehow without creating bulk; the transition is awkward.  Then, I wonder why every edge isn’t whipped? Wouldn’t that be easiest?

Anyway, there’s my data.  Enjoy.


Those Mushrooms: The Dormeuse and the Corday, and the Mystery of the Missing Caps.

We’re going along swimmingly across the 18th C, with familiar cap shapes: lappets, round-eared caps, laces and ruffles, linen on linen.  Familiar construction, familiar materials, and then, 1775,  this happens:

Man and woman seated at a table; her cap is the new dormeuse style
Mrs. Izard’s cap is something new: the Dormeuse. 1775.

The Dormeuse

What’s so different here?  For one, the headpiece is split, or at least shaped like wings. This is something new.  It is decorated with not just a ruffle or lace, but poufs of ribbon, a large, wide, white, striped ribbon tied in a loopy bow, and another row of gathered lace where the caul and headpiece meet. The caul is much larger than it has been, and held back and high up with, one assumes, her hair.  Her neat ‘do is visible in the triangle between  the cap’s wings.

This is one style that has its own name: the Dormeuse, from the French word for night cap. (Cumming and Cunnington, Dictionary of Fashion History, 2010, p. 68.)

Mr. and Mrs. Izard are colonials touring Europe at the time this portrait is painted, but it quickly comes across the water, and the cap continues to grow larger.

Woman in red gown and large loose cap.
Winthrop Chandler painted this portrait, “New England Woman” about 1775. Her large floppy cap is very much the mode.

This woman’s cap, abut 1775,  has the characteristic high point at the center front, and very large, baggy caul.  Something is tied at the side back, leaving loose ends flowing behind.  The ruffle is pleated lace.  We’ve gone from an enlarged but still neat and fitted caul to a roomy, baggy, rumpled look.

Portrait painted by Reuben Moulthorp of woman in colorful gown with cap of layers of lace piled hig.
Mary Kimberly Reynolds, 1788, in her grand pouf.

And it doesn’t end there. Time passes, and the Piles just get higher.  Kimberly Reynolds, 1788, has even more layers of wide lace falling loosely from her tall cap, and a big white ribbon on the crown of it all.  It really looks like she just took all her best lace, arranged them on her head, and pinned them down.

And still it keeps growing. The next year, 1789, Mrs. Salisbury sports this incredibly impractical version:

1789, Mrs. Elizabeth Sewall Salisbury, in her massive pile of linen.
Elizabeth’s cap is the same shape, just hugely enlarged.

All the same pieces are there:  the pointed headpiece, layers of ruffles, the huge caul, the big white silk bow.  There’s no way she could move about with that thing on her head!  It must be pinned into her hair at a dozen different spots.

I would like to find more 1775-1783 portraits to see the whole range of styles here.  Help me if you can! This is the evidence I am using when I say I don’t think Rev War reenactors portraying campfollowers should indulge in this fashion:  as worn in the period, it is high fashion, requires dressed hair, and is too unwieldy for working.

The Corday

A related style that comes along a little later is the Corday, named after Charlotte Corday, depicted in such a cap as she awaited her execution for her role in the French Revolution.   The distinguishing characteristics of the Corday are 1) the ruffle gets wider and wider as it falls from the CF point, so it is widest at the nape (while the headpiece itself is fitted) and 2) the caul is poufed up like a chef’s hat.

Mrs. Alsop's cap has the standing call and falling ruffles of the Corday style.
1792: caps that look to us like chefs’ hats are popular.

These have a neater look than the Dormeuse, starched and regular rather than soft and layered.  These, too, reach crazy heights.

The Corday cap is large, starched, and has wide ruffles at the nape.
Mr and Mrs Elsworth, 1792. Her Corday cap is very high.    

And then there are some odd items that I don’t even know how to categorize, like Hanna Bush:  I can see that the double ruffles come out

Women in pink with large cap with tall pleats standing up across the top of a teased-out hairdo.
Hannah Ackley Bush, 1791, in a cap that rides her big hair like a sail.

pleated on either side of a headpiece, with a wide lace bow around it.   The whiffs to the right might be feathers, or a suggestion of further pleats.  The caul is hidden, so we can’t discern its shape.  A square piece of lace-edged cloth hangs down behind like a backwards apron.  She has the same style echoed in her body linen: smaller pleats on the edge of her gown and really big starched pleats standing up from her bosom under her neckerchief.

The Artifacts

There is only one: described over here, from the DAR Museum.

Which makes no sense.  Portraits attest that these were all the rage from 1775 ish to 1800.  The whole last quarter of the century was full of them.  So there should be more of these than other, older styles, right?  Or at least as many?  Or more than one?  Why don’t we have any extant mushrooms to examine?

One thought I’ve considered is that there was so much cloth in one of these that as soon as the style passed, they were dismantled for the pieces and remade. Fluffy caps come back in the 19th C. Maybe those deep lace ruffles that curtain their faces are made from grandmother’s cap pieces.  What do you think?


10 Best Practices for Your Museum Research Visit

[This is a repost of an article I wrote for the ARLIS Fashion Librarians SIG blog, July 14, 2014.]

Does your heart sing when you imagine going to a museum to see a child’s sampler from 1757? Do you dream of getting a good look in those incredible store-room drawers of linens and gowns and hats?  I have been doing a lot of this for my current research on 18th C caps.  Here are some things I think are Best Practices to follow.

DAR Aug 13 090

1. First, dig deep into the institution’s web page. If there is an online catalog, use it. Do not to ask the curator to do work you can do yourself.

Learn the policies regarding research visits: specific times, fees, forms, etc.

See if they have an institutional library; it may have unique resources, such as in-house reports or picture files. Do you need a separate appointment to use the library?

Discover the best contact person to receive your request to visit.

Consider bringing a colleague who has done this before and can help you the first time out. (Thank you, Sharon!)

2. Now you are ready to e-mail an informed request. Be as specific as possible. Tell them what you want to do: see, measure, pattern, photograph, etc. Tell them where you have already been to show you have some experience.

The online catalog is often not exhaustive; say, “I found this item that I am interested in, are there others like it?”

Ask about policies you could not locate: fees, forms, etc.

Suggest possible times to come visit, and be flexible.

3. Gather the tools you will need: loop, graph paper, pencils, camera, measure, gloves? (And be prepared to leave any or all of these articles in the locker as per policy.) Test your camera settings ahead of time; bring extra batteries.  Bring a flashlight for picture lighting.  Make yourself a checklist of what you want to examine in each item.

Bring the e-mail and phone number of your contact. Find out where you may park, which entrance to come to, and at exactly what time. Print off maps or set your GPS. Bring change for the meter.

4. Be on time. Find your contact person and do what they say. Ask again about policies and procedures. (You should already know these things, but make sure, in person, that you understand.)

If you are making a full day of it, ask when and how you may leave to eat lunch – and take your contact person out to eat.

Be ready for anything!  A volunteer might sit beside you all day, or you may be left alone in a room with a stack of boxes until closing time.  Some work rooms are roomy and sunlit; sometimes you work on top of a cabinet in the basement.


5. Be GENTLE and respectful of the materials. If you move the item, support all the cloth. Look at one item at a time, returning it to its box or stand when you are done.

Write the item’s number on a slip of paper that can be in every photo, to avoid confusion later. Photograph any accompanying documentation.

6. If your contact person is knowledgeable, ask permission to take some of their time today to discuss your research subject. Ask if they can refer you to other items, people, or collections.

7. Be done before your time is up. Don’t keep someone late at work today.

8. Write a thank you note. Send a donation to the foundation. When you go home, look over your notes, redraw your patterns, etc., as soon as possible.   Ask If the museum wants copies of your drawings, patterns, photos, etc., for their files.

9. Later, when you write up your research, give appropriate credit to the institution, and individuals who helped you. Follow their rules about publishing photos or academic vs. commercial uses.

10. Corrections and additions much appreciated! Tell me what you think.

photos: by Sherri Saines, DAR Collections, Washington, DC


The Evidence: American Portraits


We have two main sources of evidence for anything we say about caps in the 18th C.  -portraits and artifacts. *  This article is about the portrait evidence.

Narrow the set of portraits to only those that are American, adult, 18th C, and women**.  Throw out English, European and children, and see what is left. The results are surprising.

These ideas are based on a set of about 300 portraits gathered from books, internet searches, and museums visits, over a 15-year period.  I feel I can make these generalizations because, even as I add more portraits to the set, the ratios aren’t changing.

(This is an actual research method, where you gather data without making hypotheses, and stop gathering when you seem to be getting mostly repeats in the same ratios.  I was glad to learn this recently.)

Here’s what I found:

  1. We have no cap evidence before 1750.  American portraits are rare in the first half of the century. Of the few we have, most wore no cap for their portrait. 
  2. The majority of women across the 18th C wear no cap in their portrait.  There are feathers and flowers, pearls and ribbons in their hair.  Around 1765-1789, there is a vogue for veils in portraits called A la Turque. After 1785, younger women in Empire styles wore fewer caps in general than their elders.
  3. There are no genre paintings made in America until 1796.  These portraits are of women with money.
  4. Between 1750 and 1775, women wore one of two 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). There are more lappets than round-eared caps (a little more than half), especially among older women in portraits. (In artifacts, lappets far outnumber the 2 round-eared caps I discovered.) 
  5. After 1775, the cap world explodes with mushrooms and clouds of caps, piles of linen and lace, chef’s caps, bonnet-like styles, the Dormeuse, and the Corday. . .
  6. … until caps disappear from young and fashionable heads with the emergence of Empire styles in the late 1780’s.
  7. Meanwhile, older women continued to wear the lappets they had always worn.
  8. And Quakers wear an especially plain – and fine – version of the lappet that then becomes the fossilized style they wear for the next 100+ years.
  9. American cap styles are more sedate than many seen in portraits from Europe and Britain. We have only one portrait of a woman wearing really long lappets, lace or no lace, so common in French paintings. Another “missing” style is the scarf tied under the chin. Although these appear on poor women in Cries of Dublin, for ex., we do not find them in U.S. portraits or artifacts, perhaps only because we have no drawings of poor American women. Apart from Kilburn’s young woman, the dramatic butterfly cap is not apparent, although common in European portraits. Nor are there any ship – shaped hairdos with flags and feathers. Cap styles in the U.S. were, in general, more sedate.


I am not saying these women didn’t see the fashion plates, genre scenes, or portraits from England and Europe in a timely manner. We know they did.  They were aware of French hairdos and Swedish ruffle boxes. But portraits of rich women offer no evidence they actually wore them.  And that was the question I was asking.  


**By “American” I mean the areas of the North American colonies that became the United States.  While this short hand is inaccurate for all you geography sticklers, it is necessary for brevity.

By “women” I mean adults and not children, or even teenagers, where we can tell.

By “18th C” I mean 1700-1800.

*Other sources are newspaper ads from milliners and makers, a handful of first-person mentions, court records, death inventories.  Here’s a wide-open field of research to plumb, digging into the ephemera. So far, I haven’t seen anything that describes the style of the cap.  But maybe you can find that to add to our understanding.


What Cap Should I Wear? What the Rev War Camp-follower had on her head

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?”

Table with caps on display in the sun.
My table full of caps, at the Fair at New Boston

Saines wearing 18th C clothing, with caps on display.
This is me at the Costume Society of American Symposium in 2016. I didn’t realize I was so completely grey!

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 wive  to wear the fashionable piles of linen and lace that arose around 1775 and grew larger over time.  (More on that over here…)

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 to 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 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 portrait of Mrs. Pemberton by Wollaston. © Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence
Nice example of lappet cap with lace ruffles. 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? Lappets are a little more common than round-eared caps, and are underrepresented in reenacting, I think. So, yes, make yourself a lappet. And you can leave your lappets lose; there are a few examples showing them worn that way, but it is not the norm. (And only the French pinned them up.) 

Where can I get an HA pattern?  

I keep going around on this question…

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 directions adapting caps for machine sewing and muslin cloth. Ouch.

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.. . . .

Also, the split ruffle is, of course, characteristic of the fancy caps, so save that for your not-a-camp-follower outfit. I’m actually having second thoughts even about the shape of the ruffle on this pattern, as all the ruffles I’ve seen on cap artifacts are straight strips. And, you’d want to make the headpiece straight, not curved.

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. Still, it’s 1789, but I have seen one dated earlier.

Rural Pennsylvania Clothing has a lappet that’s pretty close, but the headpiece is too wide, and there’s a button on the tips, so definitely later.  Someone made commercial patterns of the caps in that book, but you can just use it straight from the source.

….I see a need for patterns that copy common construction for our era…  well, that’s a project for another day….   WAIT, I DID THAT! I made a lappet pattern that is an average of all the lappets I saw.  Enjoy.

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I didn’t make a round-eared cap pattern because so far we only have 2 that are probably 18th C, and both are very late.  So there’s not enough evidence here to find an average so to speak, and the 2 examples are too late anyway.  I could create a pattern that looks like what we see in portraits, but that’d be cheating because it wouldn’t be based on artifacts.

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. That very old BAR pattern that has a paddle-shaped, double-layered headpiece. 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.
  3. 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 48 round-eared caps in the original portrait set.
  4. No tightly gathered ruffles down the front of the lappet.  The ruffle of a lappet is gathered only at the turn around the tips.
  5. No “butterflies”.  These are the caps with stiffly starched wings riding high on the head. One portrait of an American child has this. No adults.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!

version #5. Still needs portraits