Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Dormeuse Cap, Part 2: Band and Caul Construction

Caul and band sewn and worn inside out.
Last time, I had showed you the toile of a dormeuse cap I am making up, sans any sort of gathering or pleating on the "wings". This post will lead you through the first part of cutting out and constructing the cap. My actual dormeuse design is more complex than the toile: it's a silk gauze version of the extant linen cap we saw in the last post. I will certainly add a ribbon around it to decorate it.

I have read available accounts of cap-making online. Most useful so far have been "How to Make a Cap", by Sue Felshin, on the 18thCNewEnglandLife site, and The Mantua Maker's "Cap Research". The Felshin article dates to the early 2000s, but is thorough and acknowledges when it departs in construction methods from extant caps. It also helps that I have an antique lace cap in my collection. To all appearances it dates to the early 19th century, but the methods used to make it are nonetheless good to know.


I am sewing the cap using part of the arsenal of 18th century stitches: backstitch, fell stitch, whipstitch, stroked gathering. I am using whichever stitch seems to make most sense for the seam/hem, rather than following a given pattern.

The fabric for this cap is Indian silk gauze from It's lovely stuff. It is sewn with Gutermann cotton thread. I should probably use silk filament thread for this but did not want to separate threads from my silk DeVere Silks filament floss; that's not much fun to do.

Cutting Out the Cap Pieces

Here are the basic pattern pieces. The wings, top, are in plain form, without extra fabric for gathers or pleating. A quarter of an inch of allowance is accounted for, though.

It was a pretty, sunny morning when I cut out the silk gauze for the cap. Miss Blueberry Muffin agrees. The gauze had been heavily starched and pressed before cutting, which made cutting easier and has prevented any fraying.

Muffin really is a muffin, isn't she? She spilleth over, despite being on a strict diet. Of course, she is stockily built; her legs are short and paws are broad. She is built for snow and cold: wait until you see her winter coat!

Okay, back to the cap. Here below are the pattern pieces, cut into silk gauze. The four long narrow pieces are the wings. They have not been shaped yet. One long side is the selvage. It appears a little wavy due to the starching, but has been straightened pretty well. You can see how sheer the gauze is. for the carpet pattern shows right through. It's a knitted wool carpet, by the way. Neat!

Constructing the Caul and Band

The image below shows the band, top, and the caul, bottom. You will notice that the caul as cut out is wider than the pattern. I cut it wider so as to have more to gather into the band, for a more capacious fit.

First, I found the center of the band, and marked it with the pin, for later reference.

Second, I turned up a 1/4" channel on the straight portion of the caul by folding over the bottom of the caul twice, and whipped it closed. Tapes will go through the channel and be pulled shut to pull the caul into a rounded shape that will fit the back of the head.

Here is a closer view of the gathering channel.

Next, I found the center of the top of the arch on the caul, measured out about 2 inches from each side, and gathered them tightly up. I held the gathers in place with a pin.

After that, I found the center of the top of the caul again and matched it to the center pin mark on the band. I pinned the two together.

Then I took one end of the band, and pinned it to one bottom end of the caul, leaving about one quarter inch sticking out beyond the end, Then I found the other end of the band, and pinned it to the other bottom end of the caul, again leaving the band sticking out a quarter of an inch.

The next step was to make as narrow a hem as possible on the ends of the band, so they would be flush with the end of the caul. Sorry that I don't have a picture of that!

Then the band and caul were eased together so that the sides of the band were smooth and all of the gathering was kept to the top center of the caul.

Using black thread, I basted the caul and band together, leaving a quarter-inch seam allowance.

You can see that I basted right over the gathered portion of the caul.

The seam was then sewn for real using a small spaced backstitch. The valley of each gather in the gathered portion was sewn down so as not to squash the gathers. I did not sew all the way to the end of the caul: I left a little room for each end of the channel. Once two tiny 1/8" wide cotton tapes are added to the inside of each end of the channel, then I'll close the space up.

Now we have the back and band for the cap. After the wings are sewn on, I will go back and grade all the allowances and then fell them carefully down.

Here is what we have so far, from the back. Remember that the tapes aren't yet in the gathering channel on the caul. When in, pulled close and tied, the caul will puff and the cap fit more closely.

Here's what we have from the side, again. I've worn it inside out to show the seam allowances. They will be graded, remember, and felled down.

Next post, we will create the wings to fit to the front of the cap, and sew them on. That's been fun to figure out, surprisingly. I did it one way, saw that the results were less refined than hoped, rethought and redid the them and had better resuts, but because I didn't write down my process carefully beforehand, forgot a key construction method, so I am on my third try. Let's hope it's the charm.

Before I leave you, some fun. School is closed for fall break, so the boys have played more or less peacefully this morning. A few minutes ago I could hear Noah's feet as he padded up the stairs. He was coming to show me his new invention: a video camera for filming horsey's football game. Horsey is cantering out of view, helped by Christopher, but here is Noah, filming.

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! It's the central project inspiration cap.

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.