Glossary and Stitches

Glossary of cap terms in the 18th C context. 

I have tried to link these to examples or instructions.

Bonnet : A head covering with a large stiffened brim framing the face, worn over the cap.  18th C Notebook: bonnet examples.

Brim: an extended headpiece used in bonnets, made wide enough to come to the edges of the face, and stiffened with board or slats.

Cap: a cloth head covering, usually white linen, created in many styles, worn by most women most of the time, in the 18th C.

Caul (or crown or body): the roughly circular / semicircular gathered back piece of the cap

Line drawing with caul, headpiece, and ruffle designated.
My very bad drawing showing the parts of a typical 18th C cap.

Cotton: a less common cloth, more expensive than linen in the 18th C. In White for caps. Comes in many weights and colors.

Hat: a straw or felt head covering, worn over the cap, with style and decorations appropriate to one’s station and the occasion.

mia copley

Sara Allen ( Copley, 1763 at MIA) wears a cloth-covered hat held on with a wide pink ribbon over a gauzy round-eared cap.

Headpiece (or headband): the piece(es) of the cap attached to the front of the caul, of various shapes. Sometimes shaped to create lappets.

Lappet: Long rabbit-eared shaped cap piece.  The lappets can be created by extensions of the headpiece, or of the ruffle. Made of cloth or lace.  Usually joined under the chin with a tape or ribbon bow, but sometimes worn tied or pinned on top of the head. Caps with this piece are called lappets caps. 

This woman wears a lappet cap edged in lace. Unknown artist; Portrait of a Woman; ca. 1725-1775; Oil on panel; Amon Carter Museum of American Art. 1981.14

Linen: the most common cloth, available in many weights and colors, made from flax. For caps, nearly always white.

Nape Ruffle: a ruffle at the nape of the neck. Sometimes a separate piece, and sometimes an extension of a ruffle from the front of the cap.

Round-Eared Cap: The headpiece of a round-eared cap stops at the edges of the caul; in other words, it has no lappets. 

Ruffle (or frill:) a decoration of cloth or lace attached to the cap (usually on the front edge of the headpiece), often framing the face.


I think the best guide to stitches as used in period is the Kannik’s Korner booklet, The Lady’s Guide to Plain Sewing. (I promise I’m not getting paid to say that.) I recommend buying this because it is clear and concise, and because it is printed to look period enough that you can have it open at events to help you.

Apartment Therapy offers this nicely detailed list of 6 basic stitches, with how-to photos.  This covers slip, running, catch, blanket, whip, and back stitches.

Also, this webpage from NWTA has a lot of good photos, with very basic how-tos.

In trying to find demo videos about these stitches, I discover that many people have many different definitions for stitches.  Also, a lot of people sew backwards, and awkwardly….  well it looks like it to me anyway.  I guess we all find ways that work for us to get at the same end product.

These stitches are used in the cap artifacts I have seen, and this is how I am defining these stitches when I talk about them:

Hem: the cloth is folded twice, to hide the raw edge, and the stitch runs in and out over the top edge of the fold and the cloth. Each stitch catches just a few threads, and is only minimally visible from the front.  A hem lies flat. Video here.

Whip: one hand rolls or folds the cloth, tucking in the raw edge, while the needle moves around the whole tuck/roll.  The thread doesn’t go through the roll, but around it. Creates a raised edge. Used both to finish a raw edge and to join two (previously finished) edges together. See video below.

Roll: instructions will tell you to fold the cloth once, and catch a thread below the fold, then a thread at the top of the fold, and pull  it tight.  When the cloth rolls down itself, the thread is invisible, hidden under the roll.  I also do this by rolling with one hand and sewing into the bottom of the roll, created the same effect. Creates a definite roll. Video here. Or see below for my version!

Straight: two pieces of cloth are held together with a simple stitch that goes up and down evenly.  In period, usually 20 or more stitches per inch. Video here. Or see my video below

Felled:  the edges are sewn together with a straight stitch. Then the edges are trimmed, tucked under, and hemmed down. This is the technique used on your blue jeans: two rows of parallel gold thread on either side of a thick ridge of cloth.  Used in period for joins that will get a lot of wear, such as shirts. See my video below.

Stroke gather: similar to smocking, a gathering stitch in which the gathered cloth is caught in back of or  between 2 layers of ungathered cloth and sewn down. In stroke gathers, each individual gather is sewn in place from both the right side and the wrong side of the garment. The stroke gathers in caps I’ve seen leave a raw edge inside.  See Sharon Burnston’s article and directions.

Whipped gather: a hand stitch that rolls, hems and gathers the cloth in one stitch.  One hand rolls the thinnest possible edge, and the other hand moves the needle in circles over the roll. Exactly even stitches allow the cloth to be bunched up as needed to create ruffles, or stretched out for a flat finished edge. When joining to another piece of cloth, you oversew the same stitch, but now it is tightly packed, and the finished effect looks like a row of beads or popcorn.  See Amber Mendenhall’s video tutorial on this and other stitches. Or see my video below. 

Butted: 2 finished pieces are joined by laying them against each other, and stitching back and forth between them. The pattern of the stitch itself varies, but the defining characteristic is that the cloth lies flat, not overlapped or rolled. See my video below.

Version 6. Wait and see if there are revisions.