One morning, after milking and hauling water to the goats, Tasha and I lingered near the hearth, enjoying the fire’s warmth and a last cup of tea. For some reason, our conversation wandered onto the topic of women’s day caps and bonnets. Tasha recounted a tale of how one day while wearing an 1850’s bonnet and walking in New York City, women kept exclaiming over her stunning bonnet. The ladies complimented Tasha on having the courage to place such a creation on her heads and stroll through the city. Scampering off, Tasha returned with the admired bonnet, a small black style trimmed with a few silk flowers and tied with a wide black ribbon.
“We need to bring bonnets back into style,” Tasha said. “And day caps are also so feminine and practical.”
The year before my visit, Sturbridge Village had released, The Workwoman’s Guide, a collection of household and sewing information first published in 1838. Tasha found her copy, and we flipped to the day cap patterns, scanning the various styles. Because Tasha had provided me with one of her old dresses to use as a pattern, I usually wore her 1830’s style of clothing. I had also sewn a simple day cap, yet admired the frillier variations that Tasha sometimes donned.
“Would you like to sew a new cap while you’re visiting?” Tasha asked. “I could help you cut the pattern and have the perfect fabric for this style.” She pointed to the first cap in the guide. “The front of that one would look even better with a double ruffle.”
While I needed to dissect a dress in order to have a template, Tasha possessed the ability to simply look at a frock and cut a pattern that matched the original. Or she knew how to tweak the design to make her creation even lovelier. So Tasha sliced a paper bag, smoothed it out and drew me a pattern similar to the one in the book.
“Now to find some fabric,” Tasha said. From a trunk, she extracted several yards of the most delicate white lawn I had ever fingered. “I bought this years ago in Switzerland. You would have loved the shop; there were over three floors of any sort of fabric you could wish for. Wouldn’t it be fun to visit it together?” Tasha searched a sewing basket and presented to me a small wooden spool of extremely fine Styles Wax’t Thread. “Did you bring a thimble?” she asked.
Because I hadn’t, Tasha lent me one of hers. After cutting out the cap, she taught me how to roll a tiny hem on the edge of the ruffles with my left fingers while taking minute stitches with my needle. In fact, she told me to hem both sides of the ruffle and then on one side, draw the threads to gather it. Over the next few days, I sewed while Tasha drew and guided the cap’s progress. Tasha also displayed more of her caps, bonnets and pelerines so that I could marvel over the tiny stitches and embroidery. I wondered how nineteenth century women could produce such fine sewing without the benefit of electric lights.
Near the end of my visit, I finished the cap, and when my family returned for Tasha’s summer solstice party, I wore the ruffled creation along with an 1830’s gown sewn from calico that Tasha had given me, “because that looks like Joan fabric”. After that party, I donned both dress and cap for other special events. Now whenever my hands touch the delicate lawn, I can hear Tasha’s parrots chatting, inhale the scent of an blushing camellia, and most of all, relive the joy of sewing together beside her hearth on a winter afternoon.