Monday, June 3, 2013

A Bonnet for Second Mourning

I have finally been getting around to covering a buckram-and-wire bonnet form I made almost two years ago. I am not a milliner. Through attempting to make some of my own bonnets I have gained a very deep respect for people who *are* milliners. It is a completely different thing from sewing garments.

There are lots of layers. It's hard to figure out how they all work together. Judah watched me work on this particular bonnet and said, "It's just like a body, Mommy! You have a skeleton and muscles and a fatty layer and epidermis and dermis."

And something clicked. Yeah! It's like that. Well, sort of. You have your buckram layer, reinforced with wire. You have padding, if needed. You have interfacing, if needed. You have your outside layer. You having lining and facing on the inside. It all works together somehow.

Although this bonnet form was not intended to becoming a Mourning bonnet, it was quite convenient to have it already made and ready to cover when I began preparing to make a mourning bonnet.

Now, a "Mourning Bonnet" per se, isn't exactly what I wanted. I have found it difficult to find any hard-and-fast "rules" about mourning during the 1860's. Some magazines and books give guidelines for dress for the various stages of mourning but they do not all agree with one another. Generally, though, a bonnet of black crape (a thin gauzy sort of material, from what I can find) was worn during Deep Mourning. This would have not had any trimmings except perhaps a band of crape, and the inside of the bonnet, which is typically finished with a white frill, would have been trimmed with crape as well. A woman in deep mourning may have worn, over her bonnet, a very long veil made of crape that covered her to the waist in the front and back. It was all very sober and black and crape-y.
This is one of those "I found it online" images. . .so if it is yours, let me know!

From there, it seems there are less strict guidelines for lesser degrees of mourning.

"The next degree is to wear white collar and sleeves, a bow of crape upon the bonnet, and plain white lace facings, leaving off the crape veil, and substituting one of plain black net. . . From this the mourning passes into second mourning. Here a straw bonnet, trimmed with black ribbon or crape flowers, or a silk bonnet with black flowers on the outside, and white ones in the face, a black silk dress, and gray shawl or cloak, may be worn. Lead color, purple, lavender, and white, are all admissible in second mourning, and the dress may be lightened gradually, a white bonnet, shawl, and light purple or lavender dress, being the dress usually worn last, before the mourning is thrown aside entirely, and colors resumed. " - Florence Hartley, The Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness 1860

A fashion plate description from 1864 Godey's describes a bonnet for "light mourning" as such: : Bonnet for light mourning. the front is of black velvet. The crown is soft, and formed of white tulle, which is covered with a fanchion of black and white plaid silk, edged with bugle fringe. On the left side of the crown is a spray of white flowers. The cape is of black velvet, trimmed with a bullion of plaid silk. the inside trimming is of pearl color, and white flowers, and white tulle.

And another from the same year: : Bonnet for light mourning. The front is of black silk, with a fall of chinille dringe drooping over the front. The crown and caps are of white silk, trimmed with a chinille fanchion. The inside trimming is white roses, black grass, and white tulle.

There are other references that indicate sometimes mourning was not observed through attire at all, but rather through household practices, or the social behavior of the person in mourning.

I decided to make a bonnet for "second mourning", or a lighter stage of mourning, that could also be used as "normal" bonnet. A plain black silk bonnet (not of crape - it's not even made or available these days anyway) is perfectly serviceable for a woman of the 1860's period whether she be in mourning or not. I also decided to make a veil, since the use of one just seems to indicate modesty and reserve; traits that are desirable for a person who is in mourning. Quiet respect. Because I am not in deep mourning (one in deep mourning would not have gone out to the sort of social opportunities an average Civil War reenactment offers) I am not making the long crape veil, but rather an every-day style of bonnet veil.

So I started covering this thing on Friday and I finished hemming the veil today. I decided it can work for the current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge, which is something made with rectangles, squares or triangles - one curve allowed. My bonnet is covered with completely rectangular strips of silk with the exception of the back tip, so that can count as my one curve.

Besides the fact that the bonnet is of low-sheen black silk this is no different than any bonnet. (Shiny, showy fabrics were to be avoided during the mourning period.) I decided to add a drawn section to the brim of the bonnet as many original bonnets seem to have a drawn section, plus I just like the look. And it hides any lumps or bumps in the buckram form! I didn't have wire or reed on hand to draw the silk over so I used a cord braided from wool yarn instead. It's a bit "soft" looking, but from a distance is not that noticeable. I padded the form with natural cotton batting before covering it, since the silk is a bit thin. The ties are made from the same silk and hemmed all around since it is hard to find ribbon wide enough to approximate the period look, not to mention ribbon made of natural fibers!

The inside is trimmed with a frill of white cotton and lace. Usually this frill would be made of silk net or tulle, but as that is incredibly expensive these days many milliners use cotton net instead. I, being the cheap person I am, found a light weight lace trimmed dresser scarf at the thrift store. I bought it for the lace since it is cotton and quite pretty but decided the actual cotton fabric was very nice as well. I cut two strips from the scarf, leaving the lace on the edge, and sewed the strips together and then gathered it up and attached it to the inside of the bonnet brim. I had some little white flowers on hand that were perfect for the inside trimmings (not only do these trimmings look pretty, they also serve a useful purpose for these bonnets that are worn far back on the head! They prevent the bonnet from sliding off!) I added some of the green leaves that were with the flowers (originally part of a long floral length) but I may take them off. I am not sure if green leaves were used for mourning wear, and I'm not sure if these particular green leaves are even appropriate. I like how the green, white and black looks together but the more I look at those leaves the more I am not sure about them. . .

The veil is a long rectangle that is wide enough to cover my face in the front and long enough to pin to the bonnet plus some. While original veils were made of net or lace, again we costumers have the problem of not having the appropriate fabric these days! I decided to use black silk gauze and I think it was a good choice. It is transparent enough to easily see through and still offers some privacy and shade.

While many bonnet veils had a drawstring at the top edge, to gather up to fit the bonnet, I decided to just pin mine to the bonnet instead. It's easier and I like how the floating ends look. I have seen veils worn this way in several images from the time period.

I am pleased with how this came out and I hope it gets a lot of good use in the years to come - although not necessarily connected with mourning!


The Challenge: Squares, Rectangles and Triangles

Fabric: Silk for the outside, cotton batting for the padding, cotton voile for the inside lining, lightweight cotton and lace for the inside frill, dotted swiss cotton organdy for the curtain lining and silk gauze for the veil.

Pattern: None. All rectangles! ;) (except for the bonnet tip, but I traced around it to get the pattern.)

Year: Late 1850's/Early 1860's

Notions: Thread, needle, pins.

How historically accurate is it? The look is appropriate. The materials are plausible, although I made a few compromises. The fibers at least are correct. Constructions was done with a combination machine stitch and hand stitching.

Hours to complete: Perhaps eight.

First worn: Hopefully to an event this coming weekend.

Total cost:

New materials for the cover and the veil, about $15. Recycled or stash materials for everything else, about $5. Total cost: about $20.


  1. this is beautiful! i love the trims. if you ever do want a modern substitute for crape, you can get crinkle silk crepe from Kay Gnagey. It's not a perfect match, but it's as close to the original as you can get these days. it has the crinkled texture that is so typical of mourning crape. i used it for my full mourning ensemble:

  2. Beautiful!

    I've curated exhibits about funerals in the 1860s, so can offer a few extra tidbits on crape... It came in a variety of types in the mid-19th century, most often silk, but sometimes wool blends, and was treated with a chemical coating that contained arsenic! Some was quite solid, while other kinds were see-through. There was also white crape. I've handled crape from the 1860s (a drapery made to cover a floor-length parlor mirror), and got a bad rash from touching it, so I know there's something icky going on! Imagine having it next to your skin, or even over your face all day.

    As far as I've been able to gather, it was only widows who were required to wear a thick veil of crape. In the mid-19th century, it usually hung straight from the brim of the bonnet to her waist and had a particular type of border sewn into it. The proscribed time for wearing the full veil was a year and a day after your husband died. After that there was another year of half mourning. Men only had to wear a black band on their hat, or a black arm band. And they mourned a dead wife for 6 months.

    I think it is such a lovely gesture that you are going into mourning for your grandfather. I lost my favorite grandparent last year and wished there was more I could do to honor her in my everyday life.

  3. 'Ivy' in the Victorian language of flowers means 'dependence' and 'endurance' which makes the leaves quite a suitable sentiment to be part of a mourning bonnet. 'White carnations' also mean 'sweet and lovely, innocence, pure love, faithfulness' so they could also fit. Together they seem suitable for a young woman to wear in remembrance. could imagine a young widow wearing this bonnet.

  4. It's so beautiful! I love drawn work on bonnets, and I like veils.

  5. It's gorgeous, and looks like a $500 custom commissioned piece!

  6. Judah is so smart! I am very impressed.

    Its interesting about all the etiquette and different clothes for mourning. When my great grandma died, I inexplicably felt like I had to wear a covering on my head all day...I got weird looks in class, and I still don't know why I did it. Except that it felt right....maybe there's some deep urge inside us to dress differently for mourning, on some level I don't really rationally understand....By the way, the picture of you with the bonnet and veil on looked so...real

  7. I love your bonnet, and it's so pretty. I too have a frame in the works, awaiting covering. Could you explain/ show what the "tip" is? I have hear this referred to several times, but have never really figured out what/where it is exactly.

  8. Thanks guys!

    Thank you so much for that explanation of the floral decor - I have no clue when it comes to flowers or the meanings thereof, and it was wonderful to know what mine mean - so now I think I'll keep the ivy (I failed to even realize it was ivy!) at least for now.

    Wow, that is really something about the original crape being somewhat toxic. I remember reading a bit about that somewhere but I didn't realize it could be so irritating. I wonder how crape came into use and for mourning ritual, being a rather unpleasant material to work with and have near the face?

    The "tip" is the back circular or oval piece of the bonnet - the part your hair sits underneath. At least that is what I think it is - I am very much a newbie at millinery, mainly because I am so intimidated by it. But I think that is what it is called.

    Thanks again for your really kind comments. I too wonder if we do have some sort of intrinsic need to demonstrate our grief in ways that others can also see. My Grammie died 18 years ago and I was only 8 years old at the time, but I felt I needed to dress in a very modest and reserved way, and in dark colors. So I did. Now, with Grampie, having this to work on has really been therapeutic for me. It is something to *do*. It is something I feel like I can physically do to show my respect for him and my sense of sadness at my loss of him in this life. It is a way I can share him with others, in a way. Because I know others will notice and may perhaps ask about my more sober attire, and then I can share with them about my Grampie and why I am doing this.

    I wish in some ways we had mourning traditions like this today. So often people die, then they are expected to grieve for a time, but after the visitation and funeral is over it seems people are less understanding of grief and mourning and expect those who have lost someone to be strong, to move on, to carry on. And of course, that is good, but grieving is a natural process and a necessary one. As I read on another bloggers post about mourning, being in mourning during the Victorian age gave you the ability to cry when you needed to, without people raising eyebrows or talking. It gave you privacy and respect. Understanding. Sympathy.

  9. Oh my good golly gosh! Your mourning bonnet is so beautiful!! I love the drawn element that you added! Yeah! The veiling is beautiful! I am now going to go and see if you have pics of the dress that goes with this beautiful creation!

  10. Dear Sarah,

    Fantastic post. Loved the quotations about the mourning clothing strictures. Loved all the helpful comments, too. Everything worked together, from the ivy to the cording in the drawn section of the bonnet, to make an appropriate and handsome article. Wonder if you can hide a note somewhere inside the bonnet that tells who it was made in honor of

  11. Your bonnet is so beautiful, and so well made! I hope making it helped with the grieving. It is certainly a very constructive (and wonderful) way to express your feelings.

  12. I think the idea with mourning fabrics was to create something that wouldn't reflect light -- i.e. bombazine. Since black clothing was so ubiquitous anyway in the 19th century, mourning clothes had to be extra black. The texture of crape makes it absorb light, and I guess they used the icky chemicals to set the texture?

    You not only sew beautifully -- you also express feelings with exquisite tenderness. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! I inherited many of my grandmother's clothes, and most of her non-valuable jewelry. It means a lot to me that most days I can manage to work a little bit of her into what I wear. No one else knows of course, but I do.

  13. I just saw this 1940s hat on ebay and thought of your bonnet. The way the flowers are encased in chiffon(?) mutes them in a very sombre way that might be a good match for your mourning bonnet leaves. The beading is also quite Victorian in style too. I was thinking that any millinery trim used on a bonnet of this era would have been made of fabric.

  14. The bonnet turned out beautifully! I like how it looks on you. I agree that I think the green leaves should go. I think they detract from the lovely contrast of the white and black. I think the black silk gauze looks lovely. Definitely a good choice considering lack of choices!

  15. Merrian, that is fantastic. Thank you for the link!

    I did end up wearing the bonnet this past weekend with the green leaves. I think I may omit them though for next time. Later on I can add in color with purple blossoms and such. I want to remove the white frill and place it closer to the edge of the bonnet as it seemed too far back when I saw pictures after the event was over.

    Thank you so much for all your positive comments and helpful advice! It has really meant a lot to me as I work through this because of my grandfather.

  16. Late to the party, but a lovely bonnet! Looks very period appropriate to me (but that doesn't say that much, as I'm not a stickler to rules at all). I was wonderingif you have a picture of the pattern you used (or the buckram laid out flat) as I have been looking for a spoon bonnet pattern and coming up short. :( I try to make some sort of pattern out of cardboard to trace, but all my attempts come out more as cottage bonnets or even poke bonnets. *sigh* Do you have any tips?


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!