Hannah’s Adventures in Bonnetland

Like many girls who grew up in the ’90s, I first heard the word ‘milliner’ in Felicity’s Surprise, the third book associated with the colonial American Girl doll. Right around the time I was reading those books, my family took a spring break vacation to Colonial Williamsburg. Being, at 8, just as much of a nerd as I am now, I read everything I could get my hands on about colonial America. As if my encyclopaedic knowledge (as in, I’m sure I literally read any related encyclopaedia articles in my spare time), wasn’t enough, my mother also dressed my four-year-old sister and I in lovely handmade colonial dresses for the trip. I was in heaven. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around how amazing it was that there was a place in the world where everyone acted like it was 1775.

We strolled the streets of Williamsburg, eating rock candy and dressing up my two-year-old brother in a tiny tricorn hat, until we reached THE MILLINER. I knew all about milliners–I had read Felicity’s Surprise! I chatted away with the reenactors, thrilled beyond my wildest dreams. I would be totally embarrassed, except that as a reenactor myself today, I know how much fun it is to interact with people who are really excited about history, especially kids (if you’ve never taught four thrilled seven-year-olds an English Country Dance, you’re missing out). So, I talked all about sewing to the ladies there and they told me how maybe one day I could be an apprentice, and I wish I could find them and thank them, because they made one little girls year that day. In fact, I pretty much forgot that this wasn’t real, and when I realized I wasn’t actually going to move to Williamsburg and become a milliner’s apprentice, I was crushed. Like I said. Big nerd.

BUT. Now I am a grown-up! It’s my turn to millin (I really wish that was a verb)! So after completing my spencer, it was time to create my very first bonnet (because who doesn’t like a matched set?).

I used Lynn McMaster’s Regency Hard Crown Bonnet Pattern (view B). There are places where the instructions could be a bit more explicit, but I doubt this is an issue for anyone who’s made a buckram hat before. Even as a newcomer, it didn’t take too much head-scratching to figure it out. I’d definitely recommend it.

The first step was to create a poster board mockup, which made me feel like I was back in kindergarten making paper bag hats. When I was sure that the mockup fit, it was time to cut into the buckram. This made me pretty nervous, until I realized I had enough of the stuff to make a whole second bonnet if everything went really wahoonie-shaped (Terry Pratchett, anyone?).

IMG_0144With buckram pieces in hand, I settled down to wire them. It’s oddly satisfying to stitch millinery wire around the edges of this heavily stiffened fabric. This step also included sewing the back seams of the brim and the crown side piece, and stitching the top of the crown to the sides. The buckram was a little unruly until I had it stitched about a quarter of the way around, and it’s tricky to find a good way to hold something so 3-dimensional while you’re sewing, but soon I had a funny-looking mesh fez. I definitely tried on pieces of the bonnet at every stage of the process. I’d lie and say it was to check the fit, but let’s be real. It’s because it looks hilarious. I realize now that this might have been the time for selfies…oh well. Guess I’ll have to make another bonnet.


Once the form was wired, both both pieces got bias binding, and then covered with flannel, which smooths the silhouette of the bonnet and protects the outer fabric from the scratchy buckram and wires.

Finally, the bonnet got to start looking pretty as I stretched taffeta over the crown:


Somehow I missed taking pictures when I covered the brim, so I’ll skip straight to the fun part: decorating!

IMG_0159IMG_0160Okay, so I lied a little. I did have to sew the brim to the crown before I could start decorating–but now it looks like a bonnet! What a relief when the two pieces actually fit together without too much drama, beyond the inherent struggle of shoving a needle through all those layers.

IMG_0163IMG_0165At this point I started straying from the pattern. Instead of binding the raw brim edge with more of the taffeta, I edged it with that lovely velvet ribbon from Renaissance Fabrics (I bought the taffeta there too). Unfortunately, I took this picture late at night, and the flash made everything look magenta. Just for good measure, I put a strip of velvet ribbon around the top of the crown as well.

IMG_0156 IMG_0158 When I was at Joann picking up fabric glue and other sundries, fate led me to walk past these adorable little felt roses, in the perfect color to match the bonnet! I made some of the green ribbon into flowers using this tutorial from What A Beautiful Mess, et voilà! The rest is history.

IMG_0166 IMG_0167IMG_0169IMG_0171

The only thing left was to line the inside, which is a bit of a letdown from the fun of decorating.

There’s definitely some ripples and bumps, but sometimes even a perfectionist likes me has to admit that this is just my first try, and I’m really pretty thrilled with the results. Can’t wait to show you pictures of the whole ensemble in action at Indiana Frontier Experience!


P.S. The next bonnet won’t be until this summer sometime, but I’ve decided I’m going to leave the beaten path and try to recreate this gorgeous thing:


My First Spencer

Let me tell you about the beginning of my Regency wardrobe.

Almost two years ago, on the first of July, 2013, I moved from my childhood home in Petoskey, MI to Louisville, KY. I was moving down to become the second full-time employee at Custom Wig Company (as in, just me and the owner, Heather). It was a big jump. I had been doing contract work for Heather for a few years, business was growing, and she decided it was time to have four hands working all year round. I was lucky enough to have a bit of extra cash for the move and a wonderful boyfriend who was willing to take the leap with me, move to a new city, and take our chances on this job.

Not long before we moved down, Heather sent me an email: some relatives were taking her and her husband on a vacation to the Caribbean, and she was going to be gone the week of the Louisville Jane Austen Festival. It was happening only three weeks after my move, so it was up to me, but could I please, please, pretty please man a table, all by myself, in a new city, for a company I’d only really worked for for a few weeks. I agreed. Oh, she told me, and you’ll need Regency clothing.

Great. I love Jane Austen, and I had worked in the costume shop at my university’s Theatre department. I knew my way around garment construction, and had a solid background in fashion history. How bad could it be? Well. I ordered patterns and fabric for both Brandon (yes, he likes Jane Austen too, how lucky am I?) and myself, trying to time the orders so they would be delivered right around our arrival in Louisville.

Nothing went quite as planned. First, half of the patterns never turned up. Whether they were delivered to the wrong house or taken from the porch before we arrived, I’ll never know. Then, the fabric came, and instead of the lovely cotton lawn I’d ordered for my dress, they’d sent a horrible striped waterproof canvas. By the time I’d borrowed some patterns and gotten the right fabric, I had only a week to make chemise, short stays, dress, breeches, shirt, cravat, waistcoat and frock coat. After almost no sleep, very little food, and a lot of mental support from Brandon, I got everything but the shirt done in time (Brandon had a shirt he’d used for Renaissance Faire that wasn’t perfect, but was good enough once the waistcoat and cravat were on).


Since then, the two of us have become Costumed Interpreters at Locust Grove, a local historical site, and I’m constantly adding to our 1816 wardrobes, working for ever-more historical accuracy (for example, I no longer walk around during the day with chest, arms and hands uncovered, as in the picture above). My most recent addition was a spencer (short jacket) made from maroon cotton twill, with military detailing. It wasn’t based on one specific piece of research, but was inspired by many extant examples and fashion plates like these:

British, ca. 1815, at the Met.
La Belle Assemblée, November 1816

IMG_0107I started with maroon cotton twill for the body and black silk batiste for the piping, both from Farmhouse Fabrics. The velvet ribbon is from Renaissance Fabrics. I originally intended to do all the trimming with the ribbon, but ended up buying a maroon braid to do the bulk of it instead, since that was easier to support with research.

I used the Period Impressions 1809 Spencer Pattern, which I modified to make it more appropriate for 1816. I removed the peplum, which was overly large, made a waistband that went all the way around and added some simple sleeve caps and a more interesting cuff to dress things up a bit. I got lucky and a size ten fit me almost perfectly right off the bat, I only took in the curved side back seams a tiny bit at the bottom to prevent unsightly gapping.

IMG_0110Once the lining was sewn and fitted, it was time to start with the main fabric, which means–decorating! I very carefully measured and marked where the braid would go on the fronts to make sure it would line up in the end, and I’m really happy with how it turned out! Since I’d already done the lining, putting the rest of the bodice together was a piece of cake. This sturdy twill sews like a dream!

IMG_0112In order to put off the moment when I would have to make the sleeves, I piped the collar next. I had never made piping before, but I got out my handy-dandy rotary cutter and went for it. I overshot the yardage I would need a little (ok, a lot–there’s enough silk left to make Brandon a new cravat). I got the cord stuck in the seam in a few places, but I managed to take out those stitches and fix it without too much trouble. There’s a few lumps and bumps, but I can live with them.

IMG_0114But now the sleeves, the dreaded sleeves. It isn’t as if there weren’t plenty of plain-sleeved spencers in 1816, but I had to go and decide I wanted sleeve caps. I made another copy of the sleeve pattern, cut it up and modified it to make the puff. I went through several mock-ups before I got a shape and size I really liked (my first try was enormous!). When I was finally satisfied with the muslin version, I used it as a pattern and cut into the twill with baited breath. After the obligatory left-sleeve-in-the-right-armhole debacle and a lot of shuffling the gathers around, everything turned out all right!


After that, the cuff was no big deal. Just a rectangle of fabric, sewn in half lengthwise, then pleated to fit the wrist opening, basted in place and attached. I wanted to at least use some of that lovely velvet ribbon, so I added a strip of it to mask the join.

Now, it was just a matter of finishing. I sewed the lining to the fabric (with piping down the front–that was the scariest bit of piping), cut a waistband and sewed that on (with more piping, ’cause I was on a roll!), added hooks and eyes, and I was finished!

IMG_0119I’ve decided I like making spencers. It’s a fun item to tweak and play with. Since the bodice is such a basic shape, you can make pieces that look very different by altering parts of the pattern. I’ll look forward to making my next one, but that won’t be for a while. So many things to do! My next project will be (drum roll) a bonnet! All the supplies have arrived and I should be starting it this weekend.

IMG_0142I was bad and didn’t order a swatch of the taffeta first, but miracle of miracles, it matches the spencer fabric exactly (thanks, Renaissance Fabrics!)! The green is a double sided silk satin ribbon that is even more beautiful in person, and look–the velvet ribbon gets to join the party! Hopefully this doesn’t end up looking too Christmas-y, as I’ll be wearing it for the first time at the end of April. Whatever happens, you can see it here.

Until then, yours from bonnet-land,



Hi there, Everybody. This is Hannah. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting this blog for a while. Enough people have told me they enjoyed my sewing updates on Facebook, and people keep asking my how they can keep up on my writing life as well. So, I’ve been toying with names and ideas for a blog for months, and finally last week I landed on this one.

I was sitting at the Cactus Heart table at AWP (the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference) last week with my friends Sara and Killian (they were doing the fabulous work with Cactus Press, and I was pretty much just taking a load off and mooching on their chairs). Anyway, a woman came up and asked about the magazine, and introduced herself to us, going down the row and asking us what genre we wrote in.

“Fiction and Poetry.”

“Fiction and Comics.”

She got to me. “Fiction,” I said, and as she walked away I mumbled, “and fabric,” with a shrug. I looked at Killian, Killian looked at me.

“Fiction and Fabric. Fiction and Fabric. Fabric and Fiction,” I said. “That would be a good name for a blog.”

Simple. Informative. Not trying too hard to be cool or snappy. (Believe me, I’d come up with plenty over-the-top-look-how-clever/adorable-I-am titles already.) So here it is. Look out soon for an overview of my recent spencer, and an announcement of my next big project (millinery, here I come!)