Monday, September 17, 2012

Regency Poke Bonnet, Step by Step

Mr J and I attended a Regency-themed event at the Abbey Museum this past weekend, the Picnic at Pemberley. For the uninitiated, Pemberley is the impressive home of Mr Darcy in the novel Pride & Prejudice. Author Jane Austen lived in the Georgian era (1740-1830), which included the short but influential Regency period (1812-1820).

Depending on who you ask, the Regency period may have lasted longer. Essentially, though, imagine English lords and ladies, tea, balls, rides in Hyde Park, tea, shiny Hessian boots and tight pants for the gentlemen, gambling, military men, duels, untitled ladies trying to land a Duke, tea, hand-delivered correspondence, chaperones, empire waisted gowns, gloves and hats for every occasion, and more tea.

To look the part of a genteel young lady (though at my age, were I not married, I would be considered a spinster!) I knew I would need gloves, a hat, and a simple gown. It's been years since I've sewn anything, so I ordered a handmade dress from Etsy. A vintage shop around the corner had a lovely selection of gloves that fit, and I chose a bone-coloured pair with a little embroidery and a scalloped edge.

The hat was a good deal more trouble. I couldn't find anything that was the shape I wanted, and there wasn't time to ship another international order. I found some tutorials online but they weren't quite what I wanted. And so, dear Reader, I shopped for a straw hat I could alter into a poke bonnet. Here is the $15 sun hat I purchased from Big W (similar to Kmart or Target) - it's a braided straw number, with a lot of material to work with, and quite flexible.

The crown was the right size to sit far back on my head, touching the nape of my neck comfortably, so I just had to alter the brim. At first, I thought about cutting the back out and sewing the braided straw, but I was afraid it would unravel. I unpicked the raffia-like straw "thread" until I had a long rope, which took about an hour in total.

I had planned to use the straw to put the hat back together, but I didn't have a suitable needle, so I went with a pale yellow thread I'd purchased to do some mending. I began to put the brim back together, but in a different shape. The back of the hat, between my ears, had just one row of braid. This would exaggerate the wide, high front brim.

I sewed. I shaped. I stitched. I followed the angle of the braid where possible, and tried not to break the straw by shoving my needle through. There was a lot of eyeballing and checking how it looked on my head as I figured out how to shape the brim.

I ducked the braid over or under the original back brim, stacking it on top of itself, with a gradual curve towards and away from the back.  Sometimes the braids were half on top of each other, and sometimes they were side by side.

The shape was starting to come together, and I had four lines of braid in the front of the bonnet. I added  trim for effect. But... it wasn't quite big enough. I went around one more time.

I had about two feet of braid left over when I was done, so I bravely snipped the rope on an angle, and sewed the braid against the inside of the hat. Then it was time for the fun part - ribbon and flowers!

To save myself worrying that a breeze or a dance would knock the ribbon askew, I made a few running stitches in matching thread to hold it down. The flowers are just fabric ones on green wire, which I poked through holes in the straw, being lazy and folding the ends under the hatband. And it was complete!

Mr J and I had been watching the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, and he was helpfully hemming my dress. Judging by the running time of the movie, plus time spent earlier in the week, my hat took about eight hours to make. Trim cost $4 for ribbon and another $4 for flowers, so it was a lot cheaper than purchasing a ready-made one, and I am very happy with the end result.

Here I am, enjoying my bonnet at the picnic! It was fabulous. Regency-attired folk everywhere, tea, lawn games, country dancing, a five-gun salute, a duel, music, a Language of the Fan class, Maypole dancing, and mingling with our hosts, Mr Darcy and Mr Bennet.


  1. Your outfit looks perfect, must have been a great day. Sigh, love pride and prejudice ( and Mr Darcy)

  2. I love it! You did a great job and you look exceptionally pretty dressed in that attire. :) Well done.

  3. Thank you kindly. It took longer to put together than the hours I was able to enjoy it, so I hope I'll get to wear the outfit again. Mr J wore his own vintage glasses, white collared shirt, cravat, and pinstriped pants, and we rented a waistcoat, tailcoat, and top hat. It was a very elegant afternoon. The museum might be persuaded to put on a Regency ball! Anna, let me know if you want to attend, if they do.