Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Victorian Sunbonnet Tutorial ~ Part One

So, at last, I have gotten round to that sunbonnet tutorial I promised, oh, 3 months ago or so. The arrival of a certain little lady soon thereafter caused me to fail on that promise but she was oh, so worth it.
Anne shows off her new reproduction quilt, made by the wonderful Janice. Almost four years ago Janice made a similar quilt for Malachi. He still sleeps with it every night!
Now with her 12-pound chubby little self settled into a somewhat predictable routine of sleeping, eating, bathing and playing (i.e. staring, blinking piously and at times gurgling, chortling, snorting or saying "geeewww!" and batting her dimply little hands at various faces that peer over her, or cheeky little toys that dangle by their necks from the activity gym) I have predictable time to work on getting this tutorial out there once and for all.
And here she is showing off her eyelet baby gown, made from a thrift shop curtain.  It  finally fits, just as the weather turns too cool to wear it.
I have divided this tutorial into 5 sections, although the whole bonnet is easily made in a day.
This is the sunbonnet we will be making! The brim on this one is simply quilted with parallel lines of machine stitching that the length of the brim. 

So, for Day 1, here we are!

Day 1: Cutting Out the Sunbonnet

Materials: Approximately 1 yard of fabric, matching or coordinating thread, stiffening agent*.
Janice included a length of this pretty fabric with the baby quilt. It was the perfect choice for a sunbonnet!

Note on materials: There is quite a bit of variation in the materials you can use for a sunbonnet. For a dressier bonnet consider using sheer or semi-sheer fabric in a period style print, or with a woven check, plaid or striped design. For a sturdy "everyday" style sunbonnet, medium weight cotton in a period print, check, plaid or stripe works very well as it can be laundered as needed. But be aware; cottons fade fast with routine wear, especially when worn in the sun. Lightweight wool is another option and has many benefits; it holds its color longer than cottons, it "breathes", it is cool in hot weather and warm in cool weather and does not show wear and tear as soon as cotton may. For a hood suitable for winter wear, choose wool or silk and line the bonnet with silk or polished cotton, extending the width of the brim so you can have a turnback, showing off the lining or facing.

*These instructions are for a quilted bonnet, which uses cotton batting for the stiffening agenst inside the brim. You can, however, easily make a corded bonnet by sewing in multiple rows of narrow cotton cord into the brim (sandwich between the layers of the brim and sew close to the cord) or you can make a slat bonnet by sewing channels into the brim and then inserting thin cardboard slats to stiffen the brim.


Wash, dry and press your fabric.

The first piece to cut is the brim piece. For this, cut a rectangle 20" long x 15" wide. Fold the rectangle in half, wrong sides together and press, so that the rectangle now measures 20" long x 7.5" wide.
Here you can see the brim piece, folded and pressed. The cotton batting is the piece on the bottom.

Cut a piece of cotton batting 20" long x 7.5" wide. Set aside.

Now cut out the crown of the bonnet. Cut a rectangle 12" x 18". Press in half so the rectangle measures 12" long x 9" wide. Round off one corner of the rectangle so that you end up with an upside down "U" shaped piece.

For the bavolet (curtain), cut a strip of fabric measuring 40" long x 12" wide.
Press the bavolet in half so the rectangle measures 20" long x 12" wide. Round off one corner of the rectangle so you have a very wide U shaped piece.

There should be enough scrap left over to cut and make ties once the bonnet is complete. So save those scraps!

To be continued.



  1. Thank you for this - I wish to see different ways of making a sunbonnet and pick elements that I like to create my own. I mean to cord mine, but I'm caught in the web of how to cut the brim and hopefully I'm just overthinking the complexity.

    Doesn't Elizabeth's pattern on the Sewing Academy have you 'draft' it- measuring your crown and such to create a pattern? I suppose that's not necessarily necessary? (Common sense says heads aren't hugely different in size between women, I think.)

    Anne's dress is beautiful, and so is she. I love baby's clothes that aren't way, way, way too big. A shame it's getting colder!

  2. Anne is so Adorable in the Eyelet dress.

  3. I've just started following your blog, and the post about your daughter's possible attempts to resist historical re-enacting being futile had me hooked.

    I absolutely love the dress she's wearing as well as the little cap. It's beautiful, and she looks fantastic in it. The quilt really makes it pop.

  4. Nora, I am not sure how Mrs. Clark's bonnet pattern works exactly. It's been a while since I looked at it, but I think she gives a range of sizes or perhaps she does have you draw out a shape based on your own head measurements. I have made a few patterns/tutorials for headwear and although I find the finished bonnet/cap/whatever fits me well, other ladies have said it runs a bit small for them. So, although there may not be much difference in head sizes it doesn't hurt to use your own measurements if that is what is needed. This particular tutorial is made to be a bit roomy for me (roomy sunbonnets are nice anyway) so hopefully will work well for everyone else.

    For a brim, I've seen 2 shapes. One is a simple old rectangle, like you see here. The other type is slightly shaped/flared so you get more of a blooming flower effect around your face. The Timely Tresses sunbonnet pattern has a brim shaped like this. You can cord either shape. I have corded the brims of rectangular-brim sunbonnets and also have made a sunbonnet using the Timely Tresses pattern, which I corded. It's easier to cord in straight rows with a rectangular brim, but some careful stitching and cord manipulation can make cording a shaped brim pretty easy too (just rather time consuming).

  5. This is wonderful! I'm going to give it a try!

  6. Hi, I'm working on this bonnet and appreciate your tutorial. Could you please add a link at the end of pt 1 to pt 2, from pt 2 to pt 3, etc, so the parts are easier to find? When I search "sunbonnet tutorial" I get several other results in between, so it'd be lovely to just click to the next section. :) Thank you!!

  7. Thank you so much Ms. Sarah for this tutorial! I've just completed one bonnet and I'm off to make another. :)

  8. Hi, I can't seem to find a link for all the days of the tutorial. I can only find Day 1. Thanks for putting this together. I really want to make one for me and my little girls. Thank you!

  9. This is not my usual period of reenactment (I do renaissance) but I saw this and thought it might work well as a gardening hat. Has anyone worn one in that setting?

  10. I was going to try this, it was one that was really easy to understand but I can't find part 2,3,4 so I guess I won't be doing this one , to sad

    1. Kim let me look and see if I still have those posts saved. I dont know why they would be gone but its possible I changed the settings on them. Ill go check right now. If not, I will make a new tutorial sometime soon!

    2. Kim I just looked through the posts from that month and year and all four parts are there. I reverted the missing posts to a draft and re published them so all four parts should be there now! I am so sorry about that.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!