By Nona Pontiff
One of my favorite pastimes is leisurely browsing through antique shops for well-loved linens and baby garments. Occasionally I find fantastic treasures. But more often than not, a humble item catches my eye, simply because it has unique elements that inspire me.
The antique cap that inspired this bonnet project, was found at the famous marketplace on Portobello Road in London. At first glance, it was just a darling little souvenir, small enough to fit in my carry-on luggage. But, as I analyzed it closely, I became more and more curious about how it was constructed. Why was it made of two different fabrics? Why were the gathers made differently in some areas than in others? Also, I had never seen this type of pink trim before on an antique baby garment.
The original is entirely handsewn. The main part consists of two individual puffing strips, joined by rows of finely embroidered trim. Although the trim appears to be pale pink, it is actually white. The colored effect is achieved by strips of bright pink fabric, hand-whipped to the wrong side. The second row of puffing is gathered more tightly to join a circle at the crown. The front, as well as the back neck edges, are trimmed with a lace-edged ruffle. At the front edge, two additional ruffles are applied next to the first, creating an extra fluffy, triple layer around the face.
There are two different fabrics in this bonnet, which may indicate it was cobbled together from useable parts of other garments. But what is very interesting is how two different gathering methods were used. The ruffles are all of plain batiste, constructed with the roll, whip, and gather method, familiar to modern heirloom stitchers. In contrast, all the puffing is made from cotton windowpane Dimity. Initially, I assumed the puffing rows were also made in the usual way, with rolled and whipped edges. But inside the bonnet, the puffing rows had raw edges. This particular hand-gathering technique, which I have seen on many antique garments, uses multiple rows of tiny stitches, and starts with a flat-folded raw edge, instead of a rolled edge. It would allow copious gathers to be pulled into a small area.
Dimity, with its woven-in texture, would probably have been more difficult than plain batiste to roll, whip, and gather. That may explain why the alternate gathering method was used for the main puffing part of the cap, and why plain batiste – easier to roll and whip – was used for the ruffles.
Of course, this is just my own speculation. But isn’t that part of the fun in discovering these timeless garments? As sewists, we can appreciate not just their overall beauty, but the intricate techniques and the hours it took to create them. I can’t help but wonder about the baby who wore this bonnet, the mother or auntie who stitched it, and the family who cherished it through several generations. If only our antiques could talk!
What I have designed for you is a simplified version of the antique, using ordinary machine heirloom techniques. It is an excellent project for anyone who has mastered the essentials of fine machine sewing and wants to try something more advanced. Much of the construction involves basic rolling, whipping, and applying lace. The directions include uncomplicated methods to achieve multiple-row puffing, and the pink shadow effect under Swiss trim. Using a tear-away stabilizer for a base template helps keep everything accurate as you shape the puffing and build the layers of the bonnet. It is designed to fit 0–3 mos., or up to 16″ head circumference.