Saturday, 13 June 2015

Regency Bonnet - Repurposing a Vintage Pillbox Hat

As I have stated many times, when it comes to historical accuracy my only concern is the look of the finished product. It must LOOK authentic. It does not need to be BE authentic (You don't want to know the ways I have jerry-rigged a bustle from household crap). Following that notion, I don't blink at the idea of turning modern stuff into "old" stuff. So, here we have a...

Regency Era Winter Hat, 
featuring a Repurposed 1960s Pillbox Hat

I am guessing at the age of the hat, which I got at a flea market for $6. The body of the hat is covered in a velvety material that is most definitely artificial. The fur is certainly real (I did the burn test), but I have no idea what the fur is. I am terrible at identifying furs and hides. If I find out what it is, I will update this post. [UPDATE] So, it would seem the fur is mink. My many fellow costumers agree, and now I feel silly for not recognizing the fur of furs.

Currently on ebay HERE

The first thing I did with the pillbox was to cut crescent shapes from the center front and center back. I did this for two reasons.
First, the eventual brim shape I wanted requires that the sides of the hat sit lower than the back and front. Second, the hat was VERY small, and cutting out the shapes effectively took the hat from a 21" to a 23". Pillbox hats perch on the head, and I wanted the eventual sunbonnet to be more fitted than that.

 Now, I could have snipped open the outer fabric and cut just the buckram inside, then wrapped the outer fabric back down. I didn't bother, though, because I planned to bind the edges of the hat anyway. The velvety material of the hat was simply too obviously artificial, so I eventually wanted to cover as much of it as possible.

Below here, you see the edges bound in silk after I have cut out the crescents.

The next step I, unfortunately, neglected to photograph. I cut a large circle in the top of the pillbox, about 1/2" in from where the fur stopped. I then planned to gather a large circle of silk over the hole, creating the "muffin top" shape that would eventually comprise the hat (Look further down to see what I'm talking about)

Below is an inside view after I cut the top of the pillbox and already pinned on the gathered circle of silk. I then had to hand stitch it in, which was a real contortion of the wrist in that small space.

Here we have the body of the hat essentially finished before I then started on the brim. At this point, the hat looks like one of those strange early Renaissance concoctions, LOL. Especially with the coif underneath (the coif, by the way, is on the hat form just to add size because the hat form head was so small).

The Brim
There isn't much special about the brim shape. Cut as a large oval with the sides wider than the center front and back, It is designed to be pulled down low at the sides, even all the way against the cheeks if the wearer would like. I took the brim shape from the 1815 Hat featured in the Margot Hill book The Evolution of Fashion.

The brim base is double layer buckram, reinforced on the outer edge with two lines of 20 gauge wire. I wrapped the inside and outside in cotton flannel as the mull.

If you are familiar with hat making, you know there is nothing really special at this stage. Simply covering the buckram brim (with mull) with the inner and outer fabric, then binding the edge all around. 

For the inside fabric, I chose to make the fabric gathered in order to create a little texture and to "fill in" all that flat space that would have been under the brim. I didn't have a pattern piece for doing this, so I sort of dug up my old geometry skills and just made it happen by doubling the inner circumference, then drawing out the brim with the same width, plus an inch. 

 The picture below shows the brim with edges bound (hand stitching), and attached to the main body of the hat (also hand stitched). This is the inside before the lining is put. You can see the hole I cut earlier when I added the puff of silk on top.

And with the lining put in:

You can still see the gathering stitch there. I took the picture before removing it. The lining is in two pieces.

Finally, I had to attached the ribbon ties. I used a pin stripe satin ribbon (yet another strange item from my stash of which I can't remember where I got it or when). I stitched the ribbons on, then covered the stitching with a silk round flower and decorative gold metal button. 

All Finished!!! 
I took many pictures with different camera settings to give an idea of the color and detail. 


  1. Gorgeous and brilliant! Thank you for sharing :)

  2. Wow, this is super clever, and I love the finished piece! I see tons of mink circlets and pillboxes in thrift shops, and will have to look at them with a new eye now :-)