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Uh-oh…You just found out that your child needs a pioneer outfit…Most of us are going to face this conundrum at some point in our children’s school careers.
Some pieces are relatively easy to find. Dress? Check! Boots? Check! Bonnet and Apron??? Sometimes the accessories are the hardest to find. And YET, these pesky little costume pieces are usually the very ones that you really need to create that iconic “look”. Well, have no fear! After reading this post, (and my next one on aprons) you will be just one pillowcase away from making your very own matching bonnet and apron for your little pioneer!
- Fabric (1/2 yard, or a pillowcase)
- 3/4 inch-wide elastic, about 7 inches long
- Stiff, sew-in stabilizer (optional, but it stiffens the brim)
- Safety pins (2)
- Ruler and rounded shape for making lines and curves
- Sewing machine (I mean, I guess you could sew the whole thing by hand!)
- Sewing needle
What is my deal with pillowcases? Well, of course I could select a few yards of any fabric I want! However, I am really drawn to pillowcases for four reasons:
- They’re cheap! I can usually find them at thrift stores for a dollar, fifty cents, or even less!
- Some of them already have interesting trim, i.e. lace, ric rac, piping, etc.
- They take the guesswork out of planning how much material I need.
- There’s something freeing about working within limitations. (This is all the fabric I have!)
That being said, it can take a while to come across pillowcases with cute prints. Solid ones exist in abundance. Ones that look like gingham and calico? Not so much. However, I eventually found two, plaid pillowcases; one for Emma and one for Eliza. I liked the contrast in prints between the geometric lines and their floral dresses.
I used this vintage bonnet from my collection as the basis for the pattern. While it is darling, the colors and print of this bonnet are too 1970s for pioneer times. (I’m persnickety.) As you can see, the trimmed hems of the pillowcases were almost exactly the same length and width of this bonnet brim! This really got my wheels turning.
Next, I measured the different parts of the bonnet to come up with the basis for my own pattern. It’s a little tricky to measure a 3D object to render a 2D paper pattern.
Are you ready to see my super fancy pattern-making tools and methods? (I’m joking!) First, I taped two pieces of printer paper together.
Using my bonnet measurements as a reference, I made marks to create the pattern piece for the crown (poofy, back bonnet pattern piece). Yes, that is Oliver’s foot, and yes, that is the splatter cover from our microwave. (I like using random, rounded objects in our kitchen as my tools for grading curves. The long, vertical edge of the paper is the center back of the pattern piece, designed to be placed on a fold of fabric.
I re-examined the vintage bonnet and realized that the side of my crown pattern needed to swoop outward a bit more. So, I marked additional measurements, graded a new curve, and drew a connecting line to join the new curve down to the base of the crown. To do so, I used this metal t-square. It was a required purchase for my scenic design class, in college. (We learned to draft theatre sets the old-school way!) My dad absolutely loves this t-square. He covets it every time he visits. Sorry, Dad. You still can’t have it! (I guess I inherited some of the family engineering genes, after all.)
After marking the bonnet crown pattern piece with fold lines, etc, I began to make the pattern for the brim. I started by tracing the curve of the original bonnet brim and drew a straight line for the side.
With pattern pieces drafted, I snipped open the side and top seams of my washed and dried pillowcase.
Next, I played with the layout of my pattern pieces to get the most use out of the fabric. (I was also going to eke an apron out of the remnants.) The brim piece was placed along the bottom edge of the pillowcase so that I could take advantage of the double-layer of fabric and ric rac trim that was already there! Extra stiffness and prettiness in one step? Yes, please!
After cutting these pieces out of the material, I moved the brim pattern piece up to cut another piece of fabric for the brim lining. I also measured and cut two strips of fabric, 19 1/2 inches by 2 1/2 inches for the bonnet ties.
This next part is optional, but I wanted the bonnet brim to be stiff. I have had lots of bad experiences with fusible interfacing, so I prefer to use sew-in varieties.
I stocked up on my favorite kinds of interfacing when Jo-Ann had a 50% off sale! You can also find them on Amazon. I especially like Pellon’s 50 Heavyweight Stabilizer.
Once I had all my fabric pieces cut out, I serged along the straight edge of the brim lining. I did the same with the main brim, but serged the interfacing piece to its wrong side, at the same time. One and done!
And here are what the brim pieces looked like from the backside. At this point, I proceeded to serge the brim, lining and interfacing, all together, along the curved sides. This turned out to be a mistake! I should have waited until I sewed on the bonnet ties, first, since they are attached to the brim.
Oops! It’s not fun to have to unpick serger stitches. Live and learn! So, before I went on, I stopped to prepare the bonnet ties. There are no pictures of these steps, but it’s quite easy! I sewed the ties into long cylinders, wrong side to wrong side. Then, I mitered and stitched the ends closed. I popped them right side out with this handy Quick Turn tool. You could use a pencil or pen to poke the ties right side out, but the tool makes it sooo much easier!
With the ties read to go, it was time to sew them to the bonnet brim. I placed the ties 3/4 inches from the corner edge, stitched them down, and then finally re-sewed the bonnet brim lining and top piece together, wrong sides together, along the curved edge. I used a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
At this point, I lay the finished brim aside and started to work on the bonnet crown. I began by serging all the way around its raw edges. Don’t worry if you don’t have a serger! The way I put this bonnet together ensures that all the raw edges are enclosed, which minimizes raveling.
I folded the serged bottom edge up along its serged line (1/4 inch) and stitched it across. Then, I folded it up another inch and stitched it at the very top of this new fold line, to make an elastic casing. I checked the back of my vintage bonnet to see how long I should cut the elastic to cinch the bonnet in at the back.
At this point, I would do things a little differently if I could do it all over again. The vintage bonnet’s elastic was only about 4 inches long, so that was the length I cut and stitched into Eliza’s new bonnet. However, this made the bonnet very snug on her, and much too tight to fit a larger child. Since it still fit Eliza, (and I didn’t want to have to rip out any more stitches) I decided to let things be. When I made Emma’s bonnet, I learned from my mistake and cut her elastic 6 1/2 inches long, which gave much more ease.
Next, I secured one end of the elastic to one end of the casing and used a second safety pin as a giant needle to scrunch the other end of the elastic through the casing. Afterward, I stitched the elastic down at each end with lots of back and forth stitches. That elastic isn’t going anywhere!
Next, I used my sewing needle to make gathering stitches along the top (curved) edge of the bonnet crown. I used red thread to make the gathering stitches easy to see. Now, I am not O.C.D. in most areas of my life, (take one look in my house, and you’ll see what I mean) but I am O.C.D. about creating nice, even gathers in my sewing projects. To achieve this, I divide the material to be gathered (the crown) and the material it will be sewn to (the brim) into even sections. Then, I pull the gathering threads to bunch the gathered crown material to fit evenly between these pinned points on the brim. From there, I often add a lot more pins to reeeaaallly finesse where each gather will land. This is probably overkill, but it’s what I do!
We’re getting sooo close! Okay, so I removed the red gathering threads, and all that was left to be done was to fold the brim over and hand-stitch the brim lining to cover our newly-sewn, gathered seam. I always find this finishing work to be so satisfying! It creates a final product that has no raw edges. All of them are safely tucked away, which makes a garment that is both beautiful and durable!
Here are some different views of the finished bonnets. First, Eliza:
These photos of the girls are teasers for a future post I’ll do on this beautiful photo shoot. We drove out to Entiat City Park and played along the Columbia River as the sun set. But before that, I will also show you how I made their matching pioneer aprons from the pillowcase remnants. Until then, have a creative day, my friends!
P.S. Someday, I hope to create a downloadable PDF of this bonnet pattern. Email me at email@example.com if you’d like me to pursue this. I need some motivation to venture into learning how to create printables!