Sunday, April 03, 2011

From the Collection: Fine Antique Woman's Cap with Hand Embroidery, Drawnwork, and Needlelace

Cap from the side

Nicole of Diary of a Mantua Maker wrote a fascinating post called "Cap Research" on March 30. In it she explained that extant examples of women's caps are not all that easy to come by.

Well, I happen to have one in my possession, and promised her pictures and measurements. Here they are!

You will definitely want to click the images to see very large size views.

The cap is entirely handsewn, in many places with stitches so tiny that they can be barely seen with the unaided eye, and with threads as fine as spider's silk. The cutting and construction stitching are extraordinarily precise and the stitches used consist of hemming, felling, butted seams, and whipping.
The body of the cap is of cotton and the brim features simple, but pretty drawnwork. The back is lightly peaked. Three pieces, divided by handmade insertion are used to make the back share: two leaf-shaped pieces, one on each side, and a curvy spearhead shape in the back.

The insertion used on the cap is embroidered in beautifully rendered padded satin stitch with a classical stem-and-leaf design in extremely fine thread. At either edge of the embroidery is a minute line of drawnwork, 1/16" wide. It's so small that it barely shows up on the cap...the effect is more of minute pinholes than anything else.

To the cap edge is whipped a super-fine cotton frill, barely gathered, itself edged with a sort of needlelace.

First, the Pictures

The back of the cap.

The cap, flat, left side. Note how it does not lay flat: the leaf-shaped pieces ensure a convex shaping, and the leaf tips a peak at the top.

Wroops...the cap is not right side up...what shows as the left side should be the bottom. can you squinch your neck around to see?

The cap, flat, right side. Darn it, once again, I have the puppy on its side: what shows as the right side is actually the bottom. Sorry about that!

The side of the cap, showing the drawnwork on the brim, and the frill.

Ditto, but a detail showing the corner of the front of the cap, where the frill wraps around.

A detail of the back of the cap.

The inside of the cap. Note the hem finish, and that the drawnwork was made before the cap was cut, for the drawnwork is included right in the hem.

The inside of the cap, from a front edge to part of the back. There are three remnants of tapes, one each at the front corners, and the other protruding from what may be a tiny eyelet hole in the back, perhaps to shape the back to the back of the head. I have not pulled on it, obviously.

The brim of the cap is composed of two pieces, seamed at the top. Here is an inside view of that brim seam.

Second, the Measurements
  • Top to bottom: 8 1/2"
  • Right brim panel:
    • width at bottom = 4"
    • width at narrowest point = 3 3/4"
    • width at top = approx 5 1/4"
    • length from bottom hem to top center seam = approx. 6"
  • Vertical insertion edging the brim and shaped to the right side back piece (it's of one contiuous length all the way from the hem of the right side back piece to the hem of the left side back piece)
    • width most of the way from top to bottom = 5/8" wide
    • width at the bottom  = 1/2"
  • Right side back piece, of a leaf shape:
    • width at bottom  = 1 1/4"
    • width at widest point = approx 3/14" 
    • width at top = pointed
    • height = approx. 8"
  • Insertion between back right piece and back piece,
    • width at bottom = 1/2"
    • length on its longest side is as long as the back piece; the other side is trimmed away to fit the curve of the side back piece
  • Back piece, of a curvy spearhead shape:
    • width at bottom = 1 5/8"
    • width at widest point = approx. 3 1/2"
    • width at top = pointed
    • height = approx. 8" 
  • Insertion between back piece and left side back piece
    • width at bottom = 1/2"
    • length on its longest side is as long as the back piece; the other side is trimmed away to fit the curve of the side back piece
  • Left side back piece, of a leaf shape:
    • measurements match those for right back piece
  • Left brim panel
    • measurements the same as for right brim panel
  • Gauze frill
    • width to edge = 1"
    • Frill is continuous around cap, but is made of two lengths. The second length is felled with a 1/16" felled seam 1/4" from the insertion between the right side back piece and the back piece, in a spot where it would rarely be noticed.
    • Attachment to cap: appears to be barely turned in towards the inside of the cap-- rolled, almost, and then whipped on. It does not appear to have a hem of its own. On the outside of the cap the frill is flush with the cap hem; it's only on the inside that the minute ridge is visible.
    • Hem on outer edge = 1/8" wide. Construction: turned in and hemmed down flat.
    • Needlelace on the frill: help! Unfamiliar. Because the color and weight of the threads so closely match those used on the cap, I hypothesize it was made by the cap maker as part of the project, and it was not purchased. It is NOT the mid-to-late nineteenth century, or 20th century lace I am familiar with, by any stretch.
  • Hem width around bottom of cap = approx. 1/4", with small variations. This is the only hem that is not a tour de force. the variations may be due to the fact that the insertion and the drawnwork go right to the bottom and are turned up with the hem, and also perhaps because there is a channel for strings in there in the back.
  • Hem width around brim = 3/8". Construction: hem is turned in towards cap, so outer edge is neat.
  • Seams between insertion and panels = 1/8" wide. Construction: the insertion is hemmed. The piece is hemmed. The two hems are butted and overcast to create a flat seam with utterly no space nor any ridge at all: perfectly flat. The thread used is so fine the eye can barely make it out. The combination of butted hems and handsewing produces shadowing and fine waves in the fabric that catch the light and become decorative in themselves.
  • Ties:
    • Tie at right edge = 1/16" wide, 4" long, ripped at end. Construction: sewn down inside the cap right at the corner between the front brim and bottom of cap. No evidence of stitches on outside of cap.
    • Tie at left edge. Ditto, but it's just a fragment less than  1/2" long.
    • Tie at bottom of hem in back panel, near join between back and back side piece. 2 1/8" long, ripped at end. Cannot tell if it issues from eyelet or not. No evidence of other eyelet.
Nicole, if you need more information, please let me know. I am a poor illustrator, but could attempt to draw a pattern of the pieces for you.


I bought this cap locally for about a dollar some years ago. It was sold as a baby's cap, sans provenance, in a clear plastic bag jumbled with plastic grab bags of vintage lace, costume jewelry, and so on. Noting the fine handwork and materials, I purchased it. Looking at it some time later, I thought, surely few babies ever had heads that big, and realized that it must be for an adult woman. It's only on close inspection these years later and after a lot of reading that I realize that it really is a nice little piece.

I have utterly no idea how to what period it might date, and leave that to your judgement.
Hope you have enjoyed this little adventure!


lahbluebonnet said...

That is beautiful handwork! Does it look old at all? I'm looking for signs of aging but it looks newish to me. Perhaps it was made more recently. Perhaps I missed the detail on how aged it looks. Either way it's a beautiful piece of work!

ZipZipInkspot said...

Dear Laurie,

You ask about signs of age. There are plenty. The fabric is very fragile, so that I don't like to handle it much, though it is still faily white, there are minute tears in the frill in one or two places, the ties have partly rotted or torn away, The drawnwork is wearing where threads have broken. The thread is cotton and is so fine that one would have to split a Gutermann or Italian superfine thread into a single strand to get something as fine as that used.
Finally there is the method of working.

None of my Victorian or Edwardian garments feature the level of fineness, and the Edwardian ones are often beautifully made. No twentieth century sewing I am familiar with would include one-sixteenth inch wide drawnwork producing holes the diameter of a silk pin, butted seams, or one-sixteenth inch wide felled seams. Nor would their stitches measure one thirty-second of an inch apart, which is the distance between stitches on the frill whipping.

This cap is in another league altogether.

Hope this helps :)

Very best,


Kleidung um 1800 said...

This is beautifully made and such fine stitching.
Kudos to the craftmanship and patience of the women back then!

lahbluebonnet said...

It reminds me a lot of French Heirloom sewing. You definitely found a treasure at a lovely price. =)

ZipZipInkspot said...

I sure did. It's still rather a shock. I have some fun pieces, but this is a favorite.

Very best,