Little Biggin Two

18th C Cap 2a
Another 18th century baby’s cap – with frills.

This little cap is a favorite. Yes, the linen is coarser than the lovely smooth cambric in most of the other really old baby things I’ve found. The slubs are noticeable, and they show even more due to washing and wearing. But there’s just something about that little ruffle around the brim. And the extra gathers right in the center – can’t you just see them sticking up, stiff with starch? Rather like a little plume or crest!

18th C Cap 2b
A perfect frame for a baby’s face.

The measurement around the brim, including the ruffle, is about 12 inches; the center front to the back is about 9 inches.

18th C Cap 2f
Baby’s cap with the two-part brim folded open.

It seems like every time I examine a garment to write about it or list it for sale, I find something I’d overlooked before. And sometimes it’s unusual, a feature I haven’t seen before. That happened here, too.

The little crown was stroked and gathered and attached to the upper brim with backstitches, the same way cuffs or collars were attached to shirts. Then the under-layer-brim was hemmed to the crown from beneath. That does make the technique look like “setting in,” a construction process taught from (at least) the 18th to the early 20th centuries – if you’re one of the rare people who’ve seen my book Plain Needlework, you know what I’m talking about.

The strangest thing though, is how the upper layer is hemmed. It’s backstitched! But not securely on the folded hem itself; instead the stitching rests along the very edge. In fact, I really don’t see how it holds. I’ve looked at it with magnification because it’s so different from what I’m used to seeing. But that’s right. The hem is barely caught with the backstitches.

The under layer is normal – if you can call a 1/16 inch hem normal; it’s simply hemmed. Then the ruffle is whipped and gathered on both. The back of the cap is gathered and set in a narrow band, also with backstitching.

18th C Cap 2c
A closer view of the “plume” – and you can see the backstitched hem.

Like last cap I wrote about, this one is in remarkably fine condition and there are no vestiges of ties. Unlike many other fine linen bits, it’s lost its starch. I think the wearer would have approved. Floppy ruffles are more comfortable.

18th C Cap 2e
A back view of the cap.

18th C Cap 2d

Save Ye Whales

Save Ye Whale Placard
Pharaby Protests Whaling

It’s been a whale, er, a while, since Pharaby had an update in her wardrobe. Stays were next on the list since no 18th century female would be caught dead without them. I dreaded it though, not only because I’m not a staymaker, but because Pharaby is so feisty and I feared she would not be very accommodating.

I was right.

Pharaby comtemplating violence.
Pharaby comtemplating violence.

It wasn’t hard finding some period glazed linen, and stitching was tedious but not difficult. The challenge was making a pattern and making it fit. Hooboy. I have no talent for patterns to begin with, and Pharaby was utterly unyielding. Her curves would not give an inch. I must have drawn two dozen versions before we came to terms. I think she herself came close to desperation, because late one night I caught her reaching for the seam ripper when she thought I wasn’t looking.

Pharaby Stays Boning
Pharaby plays well with knives.

Well, between tracing and taping and heavy use of aluminum foil, we made it. The next part was finding appropriate boning. My first thought was to use old whalebone, but the idea of cutting them to fit was rather daunting. And Pharaby feels strongly about whaling – see above. I experimented with plastic ties (too soft), wooden skewers (too hard), cardboard (too bendy), and even some perfectly shaped plastic applicators I found in a cosmetic box (too thick). I decided on reeds, and Pharaby and I spent considerable time shaving them to size. I think she rather enjoyed that part, but I can tell you I had to get new blades for my Exacto knife before we were finished!

Eleventy weeks later, they were done. All but the lacing holes. It looked so simple to do and there were plenty of nice images available to help. But if I thought pattern making was a chore, figuring out the spacing for spiral lacing required three afternoons. Gee, the back of the stays is only 3 inches, how hard could that be? For me? Ha.

Persistence pays, however, and she is now laced in her stays. I’ve sewn a little pocket inside the lining so I can make her a busk. And I think, despite her protests, it may be made of baleen. She’s now ready for the next garment: I expect it will be a petticoat.

P.S. I did add buttonholes to the shift cuffs, so she could wear pink silk ties. Have you ever tried sewing buttonholes to fit within 1/8 of an inch? I recommend a nice Pinot Blanc.

P.P.S. If you haven’t read ye etymology of “Ye Olde,” you might enjoy it.

Pharaby Stays Front 1
A Queen Anne wooden doll gets new stays – shorter than originally intended since her hips were more than I could cope with.
Pharaby Stays Front 2
Doll stays, front view.
Pharaby Stays Back
Doll stays, back view.
Pharaby Stays Side
Doll stays, side view.
Pharaby Stays Full
Pharaby speaks her mind.

Little Biggin

18th C Cap 1a
18th century linen cap for a baby.

Babies look so sweet in caps, and once upon a time they wore them from the time they were born. They wore a lot of things actually, as Thomas Jarrold wrote in this 1736 excerpt:

18th C Cap 1b
Infant’s linen cap, lace insertion on brim.

Formerly, the dress of an infant was cumbersome and oppressive, it is now much simplified, but still it admits of improvement; many parts are unnecessary, and even injurious, and require an experienced person to adjust them, and, in dressing the infant, so much time is consumed and so much toil occasioned as must greatly exhaust and weary it; to this it ought not to be subjected, that cannot be proper which distresses the child …. its dress should be light and warm, and so constructed, that the time occupied in dressing may not be greater than the capacity of the child to bear it.

18th C Cap 1fIndeed! The Foundling Museum’s record books also list a great variety of garments, and those for the head include cap, bonnet, biggin, forehead-cloth, and head-cloth – not necessarily worn simultaneously. I’m particularly fond of these little caps because they show such exquisite stitching. I don’t think anyone today does plain sewing so fine and dainty.

18th C Cap 1e
A measure to illustrate just how fine the work is – can you see the backstitching?

This elegant example is made of linen, and it measures about 10 inches across the double brim. From the front to the back hem is about 8 inches. The lace insertion is on the upper brim only. (If you can identify the lace, please let me know!)

The embroidery worked along the edge of the insertion and where the crown is gathered to the brim is typical of 18th century whitework on infant clothing.

Closeup of lace insertion on cap.
Closeup of lace insertion on cap.

One puzzling feature is the running thread along the hem of the brim. On the under layer, it terminates a couple of inches short of the center on each side. It appears to function as the familiar “stay stitching” of today. However, on the upper layer, it continues from both sides, meeting in the middle. And the threads are left hanging!

The back is finished simply, with two tiny cords to draw for a closer fit. There are no ties (or pin marks) on the cap, another feature that was common into the early 19th century. Does that suggest that another head covering was worn with it? I don’t know of a baby today who could keep such a hat in place.  And “that cannot be proper which distresses the child!”

18th C Cap 1d
Little ties to adjust the fit of the back.