18th Century Undergarments: pt III

Wednesday’s Project
18th Century Undergarments: pt III

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at the set of undergarments I made to go with my Robe à l’Anglaise: a shift, a pair of stays, pocket hoops, and petticoat. Today we’re going to look at two pieces that aren’t technically undergarments, but which are essential accessories for the stylish woman of the mid to late 1700s: the cap and the handkerchief.

First, a well-dressed lady of the 18th century rarely ventured anywhere without her cap. For formal occasions, this might be nothing more than a scrap of lace pinned to her hair, but for casual wear, the cap was intended to cover the hair and keep it looking neat. They came in a wide variety of shapes and designs, but basic caps were white and generally made of linen.

I wanted something simple, yet flattering to the shape of my face. I had no pattern or any idea how to go about making a cap, so I took a sketch from the book Whatever Shall I Wear? A Guide to Assembling a Woman’s Basic 18th Century Wardrobe by Mara Riley and used that as my guide.

Sketch of Cap

Sketch of Cap ~ After Riley

Basically, I cut a circle with a curved notch taken out of the bottom (to accommodate a bun or other updo). I gathered the edges of the circle to the “wings”, which were crescent shaped. Then, I added a narrow ruffle to the edge. Much to my surprise, it ended up looking very similar to the cap in the drawing. Better yet, it fits well, and it certainly does a good job of hiding the fact that my hair is short and layered in a modern style!

Finished Cap

Finished Cap, Side View

Finished Cap

Finished Cap, Front View

The handkerchief was even simpler. Sources told me that these kerchiefs could be shaped so as to lie flat around the neck and shoulders, but I couldn’t find a pattern for one that I liked. I chose instead to make a very basic triangle-shaped kerchief. To make this, I folded my fabric selvedge to selvedge and cut a perfect square. I then cut the square in half diagonal-wise, creating two triangles. I took one and hemmed the edges with an almost invisible hand stitch, mitering the corners, and then embroidered a Celtic knot motif onto one corner.


Handkerchief ~ Closeup of Embroidery


Have you made any 18th century accessories? Did you use a pattern or improvise? How did they turn out?

About Lisha Vidler

I am a sewing instructor living near Memphis, Tennessee.
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