Sunday, October 06, 2013

Je Dors, Tu Dors, Elle Dort...Dormeuse! A Dormeuse Cap, Part 1

You just might be able to tell from this post that there's another project from another century in the offing, although its progress will depend on health. For the last month or so I've been having stomach woes and have been in and out of the hospital twice. More tests loom and I sure hope afterwards the dinner plate will contain more than the beige mush I've been downing recently, when eating at all, for I am really craving asparagus, Bosc pears, and a good burger, or something that tastes like one!

Used as I am to chronic health issues, this year 2013 has been a whopper, with major surgery for a stomach issue, followed up by an appallingly painful bout with an healthcare-related infection, then blood pressure woes, and now recalcitrancy in another region of the tummy. Pppfffff. 

So if this summer and fall are slow on the costuming front, just think of me as conserving energy for things of obsessive immediate importance, besides family and work, of course -- namely, tucking into an ueber-large salad and a burger with swiss cheese, followed by cake.

Now, Let's Talk Caps, Not Tummies

Several Saturdays ago I visited Jenni and sat on a colorful hassock, splat in a warm, bright pool of sunshine brought in through one of her enormously tall -- 10 feet? -- windows. We examined dormeuse caps worn by the talented mantua makers of the Margaret Hunter Millinery shop, as shown on their Facebook page. Cap-wearing specialists, the women sport a broad of headwear, and over time their needles have played lots of handsome variations on the dormeuse.

[Blast: If Blogger insists on writing "dormouse" for "dormeuse" one more time I am going to howl and scare the cats and the neighbors.]

After looking closely at a favorite cap, Jenni penciled out the basic pattern pieces for a large dormeuse cap on scraps of cotton, and I cut them out and basted them up. It's so neat to watch Jenni at work: she gets proportions right on the mark, something I do not do without a lot of trouble.

Before refining the toile, it seemed prudent to examine drawings, paintings, and prints of the second and third quarters of the 18th century, plus the few photos of extant caps I've been able to locate. After all, a cap sits up next to your face, and may one of the first things that a person looking at you notices -- other than spinach in the teeth, perhaps -- so your choice of cap had better suit you.

Considering these images carefully
  • what year they date to
  • how they are worn
  • by whom they are worn
  • and for what situation
the cap silhouette has been trimmed and rethought until I am happy with it, the embellishments are in the planning, and the cap itself is in progress.

Okay, yes, there's a late 1760s-early 1770s ensemble coming up. I've been wanting to tackle a period pre-1790s for years now. So why not go top to bottom, and start with a cap?

Herewith, the dormeuse-y imagery and commentary.
What's a Dormeuse?

Neither dormouse, nor sleeping woman. No, a cap with a specific frontal silhouette: two curved flaps or ruffles, like the waxing moon not yet grown to the half, framed the face to either side. The cap tended to be worn with its top set back quite far on the head. If it were worn forward, the flaps would operate like blinkers on a horse and cut off peripheral vision. Not a helpful style at home.

The cap usually had three parts: the wings -- those flaps -- the "band", for lack of a better term, in the middle of the head, and at the back, the "caul", which was usually shaped like an arch, and was gathered at the bottom. The flaps were usually gathered or pleated into the band, and the caul gathered or pleated, sometimes just at the top, into the band too. The caul could be big and puffy or close and tight.

Here, a plain European dormeuse, this one with two ruffles making up each wing. This example clearly shows the main design and construction features of this style of cap. Fetching!

The Dormeuse and Its Nature, as Worn by Women, Not Dormice

Wouldn't a dormeuse look apt on a napping dormouse? Mouseborg, would you care to draw one?

I am not entirely clear on when dormeuse caps first made their appearance, but the images I have found include some from the 1750s. They are quite a popular style of cap, and were worn by persons of all states and stations of life. As the years passed, they tended to grow larger in size so as to enfold the increasingly tall, and later, wide, hairstyles. Sometimes they were as plain as plain, but in pictures they tend to be embellished, even those worn by domestic help. Whether that 's due to artists' fancies or reflects the truth, I am certainly not one to know. I collected images no later than 1780, but understand that the style continued for some time in favor.

Here are a few, gathered mostly from the British Museum, which is rich in drawings and prints. Interestingly, many times drawings later became prints...but that's another story.

Caps Worn by Women at Work

Peasant Scours a Cauldron. 1780. British Museum, 1877 1013 519
This dormeuse has wings edged with lace. The caul is gathered on top, and the cap does not stand out on the head, but falls backward and down, a little limply. The wings are wide and cover half the ear. There appears to be a band between wings and caul.

The Laundry Maid. 1770s. British Museum 1867-0112-156
This dormeuse has two pairs of wings pleated into the band, and the caul is gathered at the top, creating a high puff in back, perhaps to make room for a tallish hairdo. The cap is modest though, since it covers almost all of the young woman's hair; can't tell about her ears. It's decorated with a wide ribbon brought round from the bottom, tied in a bow on top, and the ends left sticking up towards the caul. The relative stiffness of both cap and ribbon lead me to believe that the cap is starched and the ribbon thick, or starched too. It looks fresh and crisp and new put on, and perhaps it smelled like lavender. Very nice.

Head of a Maid. British Museum, 1838-0509-53
Here is a plain cap indeed, very covering...the ears are competely hidden. The wings are barely gathered, the caul apparently barely so, yet it's loose enough in back to droop. Whether it's the darkness of the print or the intent of the artist, but this cap feels like it could do with good starch.

Caps Worn By Women of Undetermined Station/Situation

Lady Knitting, 1776, by Ozias Humphrey. British Museum, 1856-0712-932 
The older women in this sketch is wearing a dormeuse with pleated or frilled wings. It is fairly close to her head: no floppiness, little excess fabric, and her hairdo is not large or tall. She wears a handkerchief over the cap.

Departure of La Fleur. 1770s. British Museum 1890-0512-7. 
A bevy of young women bewails the departure of a young soldier, from the front of what appears to an inn; note the hanging sign with three fleur de lis...the flower of France off to war? This drawing is an illustration for a book. We should find out who La Fleur is! In any case, the stylish countrywomen wear very large dormeuse caps, and their hair appears to fill them well; note their chignons sticking out of the backs of the caps. The puffiness of some of the fabric makes me think it's starched.

Caps Worn by Ladies or Fashionables

Ann Darlow Smith and Mrs. Prothero, by John Raphael Smith. British Museum,1876-0708-6
J'adore this drawing, filled in with watercolor. It was later turned into a series of prints titled Les Deux Amis, or The Two Friends, all of which lack the delicacy of the original. Mrs. Prothero wears indoor wear, a definitely undressy morning jacket, handkerchief tied in a bow in the front, and a very large, very frilly dormeuse. Puffy up and towards the top and back, it's embellished on the gathered wings with what I take to be lace, and adorned with pink ribbon puffed and finished into a bow or decorative knot. Mrs. Prothero numbers definitely among fashionable women.

Not that personally I could or would want to pull off something like this. Mrs. Prothero's hair is too big, and her trimmings too ruffly; she's altogether too fluffy and youthful for me.

Miss Croney of Killarney, by William Parr. 1770s. British Museum 1870-0514-1215
Our young Miss Croney of Ireland wears a hard-to-see dormeuse, but it appears to be rather plain. It does have a bow on top, though.

These are friends of the artist. British Museum 1879-0510-378
The lady at lower left in this set of sketches wears a tightly pleated or frilled dormeuse, possibly with a dark-colored ribbon embellishing it. The caul is large and rounded, filled with her hair, I suppose, and not floppy. It appears to be trimmed with lace or something, and there appear to be ribbons or lappets on the back.

Mrs. Worlidge, 1775. British Museum, 1838-0509-53
Mrs. Worlidge wears a very close-fitting, very close-covering, very modest dormeuse, which may possibly be largely of lace. Portions of it appear to be frilled, and it is trimmed with at least two rows of very narrow ribbon, set in puffs. Her hairdo is not particularly high for the year 1775.

This cap unavoidably reminds me of 1960s bathing caps covered with 3-d applied flowers and frills, which yes, I did wear when swimming with my grandmother and Great Aunts in Philadelphia as a child. I felt silly in them, and the rubber caps, which covered most of my ears, made it hard to hear.

Mrs. Izard, by Copley, MFA.
Mrs. Izard, an American dressed fashionably, if soberly, is most decked out in her cap. Her handkerchief is striped silk, her sleeve ruffles probably silk gauze, unadorned, although high quality, but her cap? Wow. The wings are tightly box pleated, there appearing to be several rows of pleats. Next follows white ribbon, which appears to be set into shaped puffs. There appears to be at least one row of what looks like silk ruching, and the band or caul is circumnavigated with a gorgeous sheer silk striped ribbon, the ends of which hang down the cap's sides a bit. The cap fits closely, nonetheless, to her high puffed hair, there is little loose fabric and no apparent floppiness behind. The cap is not overlarge: it shows half of her ears.

Detail of Mrs. Izard's cap

Portrait of 'Miss Smith' as Grisette, from Sterne's 'A Sentimental Journey', from a drawing
by John Raphael Smith. 1776. British Museum, 1902,1011.5051
Here, Miss Smith, an actress and therefore more likely to be of the demimonde than polite society, plays a grisette, that is to say, a young French woman of the working class. Her cap is trimmed with no fewer than four rows of tight pleats, followed by puffs. The upper part of the cap is obscured by what I am fairly sure separate gauzy printed fabric, which has been wound around the cap, and a tail left to that tail closed with a buckle or something?

Woman sewing, by Nicolas Bernard Lépicié.
British Museum
This last drawing is particularly evocative, not so much for the cap, as for the entire moment it memorializes. A woman sits sewing in a ladderback chair, legs crossed, work bag slung over a knob at the top of the chair back. More work is spread on a handsome curvilinear table beside her. A dog with the narrow, intelligent head of a grayhound sits beside her. Her handkerchief is capacious, drawn all the way to her neck, and her dress rather plain -- notice the long sleeves and plain cuffs. Is this a redingote? Anyhow, her cap covers relatively little hair, has frilled wings, is drawn way back on her head, is trimmed with a colored ribbon, and may have lappets in back. Her hair is not dressed high, is pulled plainly back on the sides, and her chignon appears to be curled towards her neck and pinned there. Oh, to know more about her!

Toile-ing a Dormeuse Cap: 

Hair to go under the cap...barely put up.
From Jenni's I took home the pieced-together cap and proceeded to refine it. It felt too big to me, and since I want to create an ensemble dating to the very late 1760s or early 1770s, the cap should be relatively small, compared to the full and rounded perched caps atop late '70s high hair dos or the generous cream puffs of the 1780s.

Further, I plan to make the outfit of a middle-aged member of the minor gentry or merchant class, so an all-covering cap might be too modest. Something pretty but leaving lots of hair to shine seems best, like the cap of the "woman sewing", or of Mrs. Izard, would be ideal.

The Second Toile

I lack pictures of the very first toile, but here are some from the second toile. I used scissors to cut away portions of the wings and to make the caul shorter.

First, I put my hair up. In a real event, the front would be heightened with a hair rat into small pouf, and a chignon turned at the nape of the neck.

As you can see, the side view of the cap shows it totally covering the ears, and ending further down on the neck than the caps of any of the women pictured in the first part of the post. A side note: gee, I'd never seen how my aging neck looks. No wonder women like to cover them up.

The back of the cap. The band, which you can barely see sewn to the wings, is too long for the caul. On some caps the wings overhang a little, but this is too much. Both band and wings are too long for my taste.

The Third Toile

Out came the scissors again.  I cut the wings back far more, and shortened wings, band, and caul.

From the front, you can see the cap a little, and because the pieces are smaller, it doesn't just hang on the head like a hat on a hatrack, but hugs it a bit, the effect I was looking for.

The side view. Ah! The cap hugs the hair, even perches a little, and the wings are far curvier. They curve up noticeably towards the back, an effect I really like. The "chignon" appears at the back of my head, which is more attractive in my eyes. The front poof of hair will show more, too. A much better size and shape.

The back view is also nice. No longer do the wings hang down.

Note for the future. In the final pattern I will have widened the caul on both long sides so that it will form more of a poufed shape; like many of the caps worn by women in the pictures in the first part of the post, I will gather the center top of the caul into the band, to help raise and hold the pouf tall.

Next time, making the real cap.

Before I leave you, here's early fall at our house. The boys are farming, they say, and they want to pick crabapples. Nota bene: I moved those rakes before they climbed down, so they wouldn't step on one and have an accident.


MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Oh my goodness! I have never noticed these caps before yet they are so very memorable. SO much more authentic than those ruddy mop caps that turn up in every badly costumed event, production or programme!
So pretty, are you going to gather your wings? I love the extant example a lot. But then I like a few frills - not as many as Mrs Prothero perhaps, mind you!

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Oh, and big hug for feeling bleah.

Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Maryanne,

Yes, a dormouse is so very memorable, a shapely, fluttery garment that yet doesn't have to descend to the level of fluff and bon bons.

Thank you for the hug! Tried real food last night. Mistake. Now back to beige mush, and ya know, it tastes pretty good. :}

Hugs back at you and your faboo new capelet!


lahbluebonnet said...

Oh, I made one of those caps! I do hope you are feeling better soon!

Time Traveling in Costume said...

I'm glad you have something to focus on rather than on tummie issues. And little things like this are so satisfying when they can be done much quicker than a whole gown. Keep up the good work, and I hope you get better soon.

Natalie Ferguson said...

Thank you both! A cap really is perfect. If the fingers tire at a single seam, no big deal, since none are more than maybe 12 inches long anyhow.

Hugs to you both,


Kleidung um 1800 said...

Thanks a lot for your detailed research on this fascinating topic!
Amazing how many varieties there have been - I especially love the ones with the huge starched cauls.
Indeed I've recently ran into a picture from the very late 1790s, where a lady is wearing one with such a huge caul.
Can't wait to see your final cap. This truly is a lovely little project on the sewing table, yet it's the details that make a proper and perfect ensemble.

Isis said...

I'm very sorry to hear thatyou have been so un-well! I really hiope thatyou will feel better soon! Having recurring problems with my lungs I can relate to how much ill health takes out of your life. *hugs*

What an excellent post! And well-times- I'm in need of a 1770's cap as well! Thank you!

Natalie Ferguson said...

Thank you both! Oh Isis, having lung troubles must be the worst...lung pain, trouble breathing, shortness of breath. Yikes. May you be well!!

So you've seen a large dormouse from the 1790s, Sabine? Oh, I hope you make on because your caps and hats are always art.

Very best,


Rosa said...

I do so hope you are doing better, dear Natalie! *fingers crossed for you that all the tests are okay*
Btw, a little funny thing, I really like how you put it in one of your previous comments: "We soldier on!" - now I tell that to myself whenever I don't feel like making that one more move in my rehabilitation exercisesXD So, in other words, thanks for boosting my morale:-)
The dormeuse is looking like such an exciting project, I'm really curious about the finished look. Are you going to wear it around the house, or only on events?

Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Rosa,
Good morning, or, oops, is it afternoon already? Gracious. Must go feed the boys. We're all sick so the schedule is a bit off. Another heavy cold brought home from school and shared by all. :}

It's good to hear that you are soldiering on and getting exercise. That must mean that a bit of energy is back?

They haven't found the source of the problem, only evidence of damage. However, they put me on a new diet that is good at keeping stomach problems away, so that is very, very nice.

Very best, and now to feed some children. They just came in, their stomachs growling.


Rosa said...

Hello, as I am ignorant as to the time difference, may I wish you good morning, forenoon, afternoon, evening or night, so that you might pick whatever is appropriate for your location?XD
That's bad that they didn't find the source, but thank Heavens the diet is working! And it's good that you have the willpower to stick to it:-)))
Tummy problems can be nasty, so I was rather worried about you as I read your post.
As for the cold, aww, poor you and your cuties! I hope it's nothing serious?
As for the energy, the strange thing is that has not come back yet that much - but I'm about a 100% stronger and can walk for kilometres now without fainting or anything like that, so I'm pretty happy, thank you:-)
Are you sewing anything right now, or are you focusing on your health?

All the best, may you and your family get well soon,


Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Rosa,

Good afternoon! Whereas by now it's probably well into evening where you are, it's not quite one o'clock in the afternoon here. Just to give you a sense of time differences.

Thank you for your concern! On my end am happy to hear that you are walking for kilometers. Oh, that must feel so, so wonderful, even though you aren't bursting with energy. To be able to get out and about. I should be walking around, but am not. I could go a few kilometers, I think, and really need to. Okay, perhaps you will inspire me!

Indeed, I am sewing a little right now. Have redone the cap's "wings" or "ears" perhaps four time now, discarding or redoing the work when the results just didn't work. When I finally finish, will post about the process, which was a big experiment in what methods are efficient in cap-making. Turns out, my theorized efficient method was incorrect, at least for silk gauze caps, and perhaps highlights why few caps are made this way -- they do exist, but they're not common. Experimental archaeology, you could call it.

Plus, there are Christmas gifts to sew, mostly tiny sachets filled with lavender and cedar wood shavings, which deter moths. These go to friends and family as useful mementos. There might be a few ornaments of fabric that the boys and I make, too.

How about you??

Very best indeed, and be safe; I hear there is a storm on the way through Europe.


Rosa said...

I'm sorry it took me so long to reply - I had written you a rather lengthy reply quite a time ago, but it gave me an error and I was too tired to do it again immediatelly. Serves me right for not copying it:-D

As for walking, I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly enough! To be honest I think it may have saved me. When I started with walking somewhere around the beginning of summer, I could not walk for longer than five minutes without leaning on somebody for support and without fainting with exhaustion in the end; now I can make 7 km by myself (though that still pushes my strength to the limit). So if you feel you can do it without endangering your health, go for it - perhaps we could compare scores and encourage each other?XD

I like this experimental archaeology you mentioned! I like it when costumers have the guts to go a less travelled route and try out something unusual, try to guess how it could have been done. Some weeks ago I had been going through some Victorian magazine and studying hats, and I wondered: did the girls who looked at the pictures back then always know how to construct the things, did they always have the money to buy the patterns? Or did they sometimes practice guesswork and devise their own ways, based on how they thought that hat or bodice could have been made? What do you think?

Btw, what dress are you planning to wear with the cap?

Those sachets sound delicious and those cedar wood shavings sound like an intriguing idea, I never heard of that before. I have to try that out to keep the moths out of my frillsXD

As for the projects, I'm slowly gathering courage to try my hand at a sort of test 1876 petticoat and slowly gathering money to buy lace for a batiste loli dress, which has been on my sewlist for quite long - 2014's gonna be busy:-)

Thanks very much for all your kind words, all the best to the New Year, may you be happy, rich and above all, healthy all through the 2014 and the coming years!XD

With love,


Natalie Ferguson said...

Dear Rosa,

You are able to go 7 km, even though it wears you out? That's, let's see, about five miles --- wow, impressive. No wonder you are getting healthier. The doctors say that walking is some of the safest, most effective exercise that exists. So sure, I'm on board for supporting each other's walking!

Today, following your lead, I had the first walk since the latest rounds of illness, and only made it four blocks in my neighborhood -- perhaps .3 or .4 of a km, so that's not very far, but it's a start, and I know I can go a lot further.

An 1876 petticoat? Can imagine how pretty that will be, the layers of lace and frills and flounces, and probably a removable hem too, since by that point skirts were really trailing on the ground. Yum.

Oh, the cap is for an 18th century ensemble coming up in 2014. First I have to make some "Bernhardt" stays after Sabine's (Kleidung um 1800) pattern, and probably a dress, and then I can start the ensemble. It's been in planning at least 2 years.

Wishing you the very nicest of New Years, with all energy and health and sparkle for all of 2014!