I completed the knitting portion of A Bonnet Cap from Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (1843, first series) on the larger needle size and was able to achieve a width of 3.5″, which is close enough for me!
Finishing that section, I have one large rectangle, 3.5″ x 18″ and one short rectangle 1″ x 6″. Miss Lambert is not particularly forthcoming on how to assemble these two rectangles into a bonnet cap. On the large rectangle, she says:
… form a band of about four inches wide, which is to be drawn up at the two ends, and strings attached to tie it close to the chin. (My Knitting Book, p.9)
This seems straightforward enough although a little guidance on how to draw up at the ends might be helpful. And strings? For the small rectangle, she says:
This is to be sewn or knitted on to the head piece, and forms the band for the back. A riband should be run through this band, to tie is close to the head. (My Knitting Book, p. 29)
To me, at least, this seemed less clear. Where do I sew it? How do I sew it? Along the long side of the two rectangles? Do I sew it one short side of the rectangle to one side and the other short side to the other side? Do I tie the ribbon at the back with a bow so it can be adjusted to fit? Since there are no images in this book, I searched through some other knitting books of the era to see if they could help me find some clues on how to assemble my bonnet cap. There are several books from the 1840s and 1850s that have patterns for bonnet caps but most have limited details. However, Mrs. Gaugain and Mrs. Savage both provide some useful information.
Mrs. Gaugain’s book, The Lady’s Assistant in Knitting, Netting and Crochet Work (Second Volume, 1842, p. 27) provides a pattern for A Very Pretty Knit Cap For Wearing Under The Bonnet. Although there is no illustration, she describes the cap as being “merely a forehead and a back, without a crown” and provides a lot of detail for finishing her version of a bonnet cap:
The cap is finished with a ribbon to draw through the caser at top of cap, which is tied in front of the cap, and another at the neck part, tying at the back. The ribbon that is drawn through the front caser is usually double the width of the other, so that the strings that tie under the chin may be about 1 1/2 inch wide. Before putting the ribbon through the front caser, double the ribbon as when it it must appear as if it were the same breadth of the other; it is fastened to fit the width of forehead; leave sufficient ribbon at each side to tie under the chin. (The Lady’s Assistant in Knitting, Netting and Crochet Work, p. 27)
Mrs. Savage, in her book, The Winchester Fancy Needlework Instructor (YEAR) describes the assembly of the pattern called Bonnet Cap as follows:
Sew it [the band for the back of the head] to the broad part about 3 inches from each end, draw up the ends to half the width, add strings to match. (The Winchester Fancy Needlework Instructor, p.28)
So, here is what I learned: The bonnet cap is a partial cap with only a forehead and a back but no crown, it comprises a forehead piece (the large rectangle) and a small band for the back of the head which is attached about 3″ from each of the two ends of the forehead piece. (That would be 9 barleycorns for those who read my previous post.) This distance may end up being much less as I have a large diameter head, especially in comparison with a Victorian era lady and may have to make some modifications to be able to model the finished project.
The purpose of the bonnet cap is not discussed in these books, perhaps someone who knows more than I do could comment below; however, my (hopefully educated) guess is that it was an object that would help to keep the wearer of the bonnet warm while also holding it in place, possibly along the back line of the bonnet. And perhaps, allowing the hairstyle to remain un-squashed. Miss Lambert and Mrs. Savages’s suggestions to use dark hair brown colour, which implies to me that it was an object of practicality rather than beauty; however, as Mrs. Savage says:
Dark hair brown is a very suitable colour for the above, but white, edged with blue, pink or scarlet and interlaced with narrow satin ribbon, is very pretty. (The Winchester Fancy Needlework Instructor, p.28)
I love that she suggests both the conservative and more liberal colour combinations!
My next step is to go shopping for some matching “ribands” (ribbons) and will post an update when my bonnet cap has been assembled.