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.
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
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?
Another of those rare birds: a cap with provenance. This one, held at Winterthur Museum, #1982.0064, was part of a group of needlework passed down through the Canby-Ferris family. The note with this cap reads, “Great-great grandmother Martha Canby’s cap – died 1826.” She was married in 1774, but no birth date is included. That puts the majority of her life before 1800, and no construction details make me think otherwise, so I accept this as a possible 18th C cap.
Martha’s cap is a well crafted example of what later became Quaker fossilized fashion in caps. A simple lappet, with no lace or froufrou. Made in three pieces: caul, headpiece, ruffle. The only gather is around the tip of the lappet where a short tape ties it under her chin; the caul is gathered with “kissing strings.” The ruffle skinnies as it goes around, and ends about 1 3/8″ back along the caul, but doesn’t wrap around the back.
Every edge is first finished with a rolled hem. The bottom of the caul has a channel just big enough for the long strings that gather it. I hadn’t figured it out yet, but I think these are attached on either side after going through the channel. So they criss-cross in there, and pull at the opposite side. They come out where the caul and headpiece meet under her ear, on top of the ruffle. These strings aren’t tapes; they are small round strings. (Is that a datable clue?)
The top of the caul is whip gathered across the top 6″, then whipped to the headpiece along the rest of the join.
The ruffle goes from 1 1/2″ at the CF, and gradually skinnies down to 1″ at the turn, and 1/2″ by the time it gets to the end. I’ve pondered that before. But this is the most extreme example so far. The front of the ruffle seems to stay on the straight grain, so the difference happens on the join. You can see my confusion in my notes. I kept marking the grain as straight, but the width changed; what was changing? the ruffle? the headpiece? Answer: ruffle. The two finished edges of ruffle and headpiece are whipped together, and the seam is immeasureably small. Go ahead, zoom in on that seam. I wish my photos were clearer. I’d like to get another look at this cap.
The headpiece has a really narrow point, only 1/4″ across at the skinniest. The point is reinforced to hold that 5″ long tape. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to trying to reproduce that very small detailed work. The back edge of the lappet, from tip to under the ear, has a nice curve; sometimes that line is rougher, or straighter.
0verall, Martha’s cap is 11 1/4′ tip to stern, 8 1/5″ at its widest point laid flat.
Questions that remain
My notes say, “Tape sewn to outside,” yet the picture shows clearly that the tape is on the inside. That’s because I was confused with this one, whether it was being stored inside out or not. That isn’t unheard of; I’d already seen a couple like that. 18th C seams can be so incredibly perfectly minutely made that you really have to look hard to determine inside from out. I think I had decided this one was inside out. You look and see if you can tell — again I wish my pictures were clearer. I only have an average camera, and lighting isn’t always photo-friendly.
Have I ranted enough about the sewing here? This one reminds me of the fineness of Mary Alsop’s cap. I’ve wondered if the edges I’ve seen are really selvages. That is, what I am seeing is not two edges rolled, then whipped, together, but two selvages whipped together. How could I ever tell? But this example, where the inside edge of the ruffle is NOT along the grain, sort of proves that edge, at least, is a hand-rolled edge.
I haven’t reproduced this one yet. You try it, and share your attempt with us, OK?
I was so excited to discover this cap, and see the photographs. It has provenence, it is beautifully made, its style is interesting and unique. At Winterthur, the research assistant walked me through many layers of security, locked doors, hidden entrances, to bring me to a workroom with this cap laid out under a cloth. It felt like the big reveal when we pealed back the cloth, and I couldn’t help myself, I cried out, “This is a child’s cap!” It is so small and perfect and jewel-like. So, like the Boston MFA cap, the query here became: could it really be, as the record asserts, an adult wedding cap?
This cap is at Winterthur Museum, # 1955.003.013. Their online catalog includes a photo and description.
3″ by 5″ is a very small caul. The lappet is only 8 1/2 ” at its tip. The “ruffle,” which isn’t gathered at all, averages 5/8 wide. So all the dimensions are small.
The needle work is incredible. Each edge is whipped, then whipped again to join it to its neighbor, creating a little raised edge inside. But what you see on the outside is just 25 perfectly even tiny stitches per inch. The entire finished join measures less than 1/16″ across. The outside edges are rolled, not whipped, to finish.
The caul is pieced up the back, and has a 1/8″ casing along the bottom, but no exit holes for gathering strings. The only gather is along the top 5″ of the caul, a perfect miniature rolled gather.
The shape of the lappet headpiece and the unruffled ruffle is unique among the examples I’ve seen. The headpiece is cut on the grain, but curved under the ear, ever so slightly. The ruffle is shaped like a bread knife, with the slightly wider part near the ends. Joined, these two pieces make a round end, with the join going right up the middle.
Winterthur dates this cap with provenence because it came as part of the collection of needlework made by Mary Alsop (1740-1829), with a note pinned to it, “My Mother’s wedding Cap.” As Mrs. Alsop was married on April 27, 1760, that is the date given the cap. (All this is on the long record of the item.) You can see more of her needlework in the online catalog.
The cloth shines like silk, but it is cotton. The cloth is beginning to wear away; several mended places are visible.
Questions that remain
Is it an adult cap? I noticed when I went back to the record to write this post, that its description is changed now to “child’s cap.” (And then changed back!) It is true that many items that come to us with provenance end up, upon close examination, to be falsely attributed. So maybe her family did not know which cap was really her wedding cap. I’ve also seen in museum records, conflicting accounts by various visiting experts about the date or story for an item. I love that the curators carefully attach all these to the item for the next person to discover, a story gathering over time, perhaps with a conclusion, perhaps not.
I’m leaning toward calling this an adult cap. Here are my reasons:
First, I put my reproduction on the head of Newbold Richardson, (Newbie) who claims she has the “smallest head in the world.” It fits her. True, Newbie has short hair, so there isn’t any bulk under the cap. Also, as I note below, my version is a little off, but not substantially, I think, for fitting purposes.
Second, unlike, for example, Boston MFA #49.366, which has gathering strings that will make that cap even smaller when worn, this cap shows no sign of gathers. The normal method of sizing by gathering the caul is not being used. This would sit on her head in just this shape, exactly fit for the purpose. And, as Newbie shows us, it is rather nice looking laying simply on her head. It could be worn higher, on dressed hair, with ribbons and flowers, and still look fitted and appropriate.
No portraits. No examples. I’ve never seen this shape anywhere else. Have you? I’ve been looking at baby caps in museums (of which there are hundreds!), websites and books about baby garb, portraits of women and children, both 18th and 19th C sources. I don’t see anything anywhere like this. Which doesn’t help, does it? If something is unique — Mary’s one-of-a-kind self-designed custom-fit not-really-fashionable wedding cap — it leaves us at a loss to place it, prove it, or dispute it.
As with many caps, one challenge here was reproducing exact 25-stitches-per-inch perfection. I used silk organza to mimic the shiny look of the original. The fineness of that cloth, with silk thread, made it possible to achieve those minute edges.
I had some trouble with the shape, especially in the lappet. Mine ended up pointy rather than rounded. And the curves suffer from stretching. I pulled so hard on the cloth to make those tiny rolled edges that some look riffly when they should lie flat. I think I would enlarge the pattern pieces of both the caul and the ruffle to allow more room to work.
Linda Eaton, Senior Curator of Textiles, gave me permission to discuss this artifact here. Lea Lane met me at the museum that day and helped me with questions afterward.
Museum record photos by Winterthur Museum.
Other photos by the author. Thanks for permission from Newbie to show her modelling this cap. Thanks for permission to include the young woman modeling the dressed hair; I will add her name when I find my notes.
Other Related Scholarship
The museum record notes this article, which details many other needlework items owned by Winterthur and made by Mary Alsop. This cap is not described in the article.
Krueger, Glee. “A Middletown Cameo: Mary Wright Alsop and Her Needlework.”Connecticut Historical Society Museum & Library Vol. 52, No.3-4 Summer/Fall 1987
A Quaker with a taste for simple elegance created this cap, probably between 1750-1800.
Philadelphia History Museum records associate this cap with Rebecca Jones, a Quaker “minister” (their quotes, not mine), who lived from 1739-1818. It’s a 2-piece lappet, with one unusual skinny ruffle sewn along the bottom of the cap, encircling the nape of her neck.
The pattern for this cap is very simple: cut out 2 flat piece of super fine linen, and sew them together up the middle. But first, whip the edges, then butt them together and whip again, with the resulting join measuring less than 1/8″ across. This is another example of fine and exact stitching.
The front edge is rolled, not whipped, to a minute, neat, finish. The gathering channel is only about 6″ long, along the nape. The short string comes out at the back, inside, through a buttonholed opening. After the channel, the edge smooths down to a 1/16″ hem that finishes the back of the lappet.
A gauzy ungathered ruffle only 3/8″ wide decorates the bottom edges, from the tip of one lappet, around the nape, to the tip of the other. Its edges are also minutely hemmed, then whipped to the cap.
Inside the lappet, you can see the difference in the 2 kinds of cloth used.
The seam up the back is made up of very small whip stitches
Why did Rebecca Jones mark this cap with a red “G”?
The other decoration is a row of tiny straight stitches 1″ back from the front edge of the cap, completely straight and even, giving the impression of being pieced, or maybe she just liked the sheen of the thread. I’ve seen this detail on numerous Quaker caps.
I think this is the only cap I’ve seen with a laundry marker. It is a red “G” in itty bitty cross stitches. I wonder why Rebecca Jones made a cap marked “G”? I guess “associate with” doesn’t mean “hers.” Made for daughter Gertrude or Gina?
Questions that remain
One detail makes me wonder about the pre-1800 date: the squared lappets. Curators at both Philly and Chester County were willing to say that is characteristic of post-1800 caps.
The front of Mrs. Cooke’s cap looks similar to this one, a simple lappet with no ruffles. The Philly example has ties at the tips, but in this portrait I think she has overlapped the ends and pinned them. I do think this one is made in 3 pieces, so it has shape and gathers that this cap doesn’t have. I can’t find a portrait of a cap that seems to be made of only 2 flat pieces. Can you find one?
The pattern was easy because the cap lies almost completely flat. The only question I had was whether to dip in the nape or cut it straight and let the gather string make that curve. I opted to cut in the curve.
I had a problem with this one that I’ve had with others: when I whip an edge, then whip the whipped edged together, I end up with dinosaur humps. See how it makes a Stegosaurus back? That join is stiff and inflexible, too. Someone suggested it was because I was stretching the cloth as I worked, and to run a line of stitching up the edge before whipping it. I’ll try that next time.
I also forgot the strings at the ends.
I think this cap has an especial simple beauty. It’s unique and intriguing and elegant.
Few caps are actually dated, but this one has a story and a date. It’s a simple lappet cap, small and unadorned, of soft sheer cotton mull. The catalog record tells the story:
“Janneke Phoenix Krum was the wife of Hendrck W. Krum — a soldier of the American Revolution. The flax was spun and woven by Janneke Krum, and the cap made by hand — also by her.”
They were married on May 4, 1777, so the record implies this is her wedding cap. The DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. owns this cap.
Made of three pieces, caul, headpiece, and ruffle, but with wide (1/4″) hems throughout. The caul is
gathered to the headpiece with whipped gathers over the top 6″ of the headpiece. The headpiece is on the straight grain, 1.5″ at the CF, widening to 3 1/4″ where the caul and headpiece meet under the ears, and skinnying down to 1/2″ wide at the point. The ruffle is joined to the headpiece with a whip stitch.
The ruffle is gathered at the CF and at the turn of the lappet only, a common characteristic of the era. The headpiece is reinforced with tiny triangles of cloth at the tips to withstand the tension of the gathering strings attached there.
Questions that Remain
The wide hems and the cotton cloth make me wonder if this is 19th C, but the style and construction fit the bill for 18th C. Note the museum record says Mrs. Krum spun the flax (i.e., linen) herself, but then identifies the cloth as cotton mull. I wonder if this is a cap from later in her life? I wonder if the hand-spun cloth story is real.
Lappet caps are the most common mid-century cap. Notice that she has a ribbon under her chin. DAR 1203 has a surviving tie sewn on to the tips, to tie under the chin. I wonder if the ribbon in this portrait is sewn on to the cap, pinned on, or tied around her neck separately? I’d opt for sewn on to the cap, but I’ve never seen ribbons on an original, not until the 19th C when they grow large and wide.
I’m still learning about how the weight of the cloth impacts the gather. On this cap, although the whipped gather only goes across the top 6″ of the cap, I had to keep gathering it nearly all the way down the sides to make the caul fit onto the headpiece. That’s also partly because I was still learning how to infer a flat pattern from gathered shape, and got the proportions wrong. Another complicating factor was replicating that curve under the ear. Most caps are straight here.