18cNewEnglandLife
Clothing & Accoutrements


How to Make a Cap

by
Sue Felshin

This page tells you how to assemble a cap from any of the patterns which Rhonda made available at the Clothing Seminar in January, 2000, and after the interpreters meeting during the Buckman Tavern Muster Day on March 25, 2000.

Even if you didn't copy one of her patterns, you can probably figure out how to make a cap from these directions.

(Note: I'm not sure whether seam allowances were included in the patterns, and if so, how large they are. I'll update this page as soon as I find out.) (Er, I think Rhonda said 1/4 inch, but I wrote these instructions assuming 1/2 inch -- narrow hems are more authentic, but a 1/2" allowance is easier when sewing by machine. Eventually I'll get around to confirming the width of the allowance. -- SLF, 11 August 2000)

Last updated 28 March 2001.

Contents

The Short Version

If you are an experienced seamstress, this may be sufficient instructions: Cut one crown on fold. Cut two bands on fold (outer layer and lining (see Notes: Lined Band?), or four if your band is in two parts. Cut one ruffle, using good selvedge if available, otherwise narrow hem the ruffle. Make a casing at the bottom of the crown (omit if crown is round) and run white cloth tape ties through it. Gather the crown to the back of the band, either evenly, or with the gathers mainly toward the top, or use tiny pleats if you prefer. Gather or pleat the ruffle to either the front of the band, or the front and sides; for a lappet cap, use pleats, and go all the way around to where the band meets the crown. Sandwich all raw edges between the two layers of the band. Stitch. Voilà!

The rest of this page describes how to make a cap in gory detail.

Parts Is Parts

A cap consists of two or three parts.
  1. the crown, or caul
  2. the band, or brim
  3. the ruffle (optional)

The Crown, or Caul

The crown forms the back of the cap.

The crown is an arch shape. Sometimes the arch is bowed out; sometimes it is so bowed that it turns into a circle. The curved part of the crown is gathered or pleated, either all the way around or just at the top, to fit the band of the cap. The straight bottom of the arch is folded up and hemmed; usually it is folded up enough to make a casing for cap strings. If the crown is circular, there is no casing, and the cap must fit the head just right (you can stitch little tucks at the back to make it smaller).

Here are some possible crown shapes:
Arch Bowed arch Circle

The Band, or Brim

The band forms the front of the cap. ("Band" may not be a correct 18th century term.) It is a rectangle that goes over the top of the head and down toward the ears. Sometimes it goes down so far at each side that it forms "lappets". The band can be shaped by dipping back at the ends, at the center front, or both, and if the ends form lappets, they can be curved all around. Sometimes the band dips so far back at the center front that it breaks into two pieces.

Here are some possible band shapes:
Plain band
Shaped band #1
Shaped band #2
Shaped band #3 (two pieces)
Lappet band

The Ruffle (Optional)

The ruffle -- which can be omitted if you want a very plain cap -- is a long, narrow rectangle. Sometimes it is shaped (rather like the band can be shaped; in this case, cut the front edge straight to make it easier to hem and do the shaping at the back of the band). We don't want to say "never", but we don't know of any period examples where the band was doubled with a fold along the long edge (see Notes: No Doubled Ruffle). The ruffle can just go along the front of the band, or it can go along the front and continue around the sides to where the band meets the crown. You will generally want the ruffle to be about one-and-a-half to two times the length of the area you want to attach it to.

Possible ways to attach a ruffle:
Ruffle in front
Ruffle around front and along sides
Ruffle around lappets

Fabric

Fiber

If possible, use linen. If you can't get linen, use cotton. (See Notes: Why Use Linen?.)

Color

White, or if you can't get white, a very pale off white (not modern yellowy cotton muslin). Most caps were of plain fabric, but a few were white-on-white checks or stripes. We don't know of any non-white caps. (See Notes: Non-white caps.)

Weight

Finely woven or very finely woven. The ruffle can be more finely woven than the rest if you like.

Selvedge

If possible buy fabric with a good selvedge. (See Notes: A Good Selvedge.)

Prewashing

Prewash your fabric so it won't shrink after you make the cap. This is especially important for linen -- if it shrinks a lot the first time, you might want to wash it a second time. To prevent fraying, machine zigzag the cut ends of linen before washing.

Cutting the Fabric

If you aren't sure your cap will fit, you can check it first by making a "muslin", which is a practice version, and adjusting the pattern as necessary. See Notes: A Muslin.

First see Notes: A Good Selvedge. If you have a good selvedge, cut out your ruffle (see below) and cut off your selvedges and save them.

Assembling Your Pattern

You should have received a band pattern. Unless your crown is a circle, you should have received a crown pattern; if it is a circle, see Notes: Making a Circular Pattern. Since cap bands and crowns are symmetrical, you probably only have a half pattern piece, with a fold line marked. If the crown is an arch, the straight edge at the bottom of the arch should be marked with a line for the top of the casing. If your fold line isn't marked on your crown, mark it now -- it's the longer straight edge. One of your pattern pieces should be marked with a note telling you what size ruffle to cut.

Laying Out the Pattern Pieces

If you want to be careful with your fabric or aren't sure you have enough, lay out your pattern pieces on your fabric before you start cutting, to find the most efficient way to fit them. If you aren't worried about having enough cloth, I would skip this step to save time.

Your band and crown pieces are probably for half the piece, with a fold line marked (or for a two-piece band, to be cut out twice). The band will be a double layer (see Notes: Lined Band?). It will enclose the raw edges of the back of the ruffle and the top of the crown. A one-piece band pattern should indicate this by saying "cut two on fold" and a two-piece band pattern should say "cut four". Remember to allow for this when laying out the pieces. The crown should say "cut one on fold".

Some examples:
Shaped band
Shaped band (two pieces)
Crown

If you want, you can cut out full-size (unfolded) pattern pieces, and cut an extra band pattern (or three extra for a split band), and cut out a ruffle pattern, so that you can play with all the pieces at once.

If your pieces don't fit, see if you can piece the fabric. It's very authentic. Start with the ruffle. Can you fit part of the ruffle in one place and part in another? Remember to add extra seam allowance when cutting out pieces that will be pieced together.

Cutting the Ruffle

If you have a good selvedge, cut the ruffle first. You can cut it a 1/2" narrower than the pattern calls for, since you won't have to hem it.

If you don't have a good selvedge, and you're not sure if you have enough fabric, cut out the ruffle last, in case you have to piece it.

If you will be hand-sewing the ruffle, cut it a 1/4" or more narrower than called for if you will be using a very narrow hem (1/8" or less).

Cutting the Band

Cut two on fold, or if you have a split band, cut four. (You need to double the number of pieces in order to line the band.)

Cutting the Crown

Cut one on fold, or for a circular crown, cut out the circle. If you didn't make a circular pattern, you can cut the circle directly using the instructions for making a circular pattern or any other method you are familar with.

Sewing Your Cap

If you didn't have a good selvedge, narrow hem the ruffle. Turn 1/4" twice, press, and stitch. If hand-sewing, try to use a really narrow hem (1/8" turned twice) and sew with either whip or running stitch -- if you do this, cut your ruffle a little narrower since the hem will take up less fabric. If machine-sewing, use a plain straight stitch or your hemming attachment. Hem the ends of the ruffle, too.

Turn and press the edges on the band pieces. Turn them under 1/4" (up to 1/2" is okay but 1/4" is better).

Run two rows of gathering threads around the curved edge of the crown, or all the way around for a circular crown. Run the gathering threads as close to the edge as you can manage; 3/16" and 5/16" is ideal. If you will be pleating your crown, omit this step.

Run two rows of gathering threads along the unhemmed edge of the ruffle, as for the crown. If you will be pleating your ruffle, omit this step.

Make the casing in the crown. (If your crown is circular, omit this step.)

Casing and Ties

Casing style #1 - Eyelet at center
Make a tiny buttonhole (machine) or eyelet (hand) at the center of the casing area of the crown. Fold in the ends of the casing 1/4" and press. Turn under 1/4" along the straight edge of the crown and press. Fold this edge up to the height of the dotted line marked on your crown pattern (~1/2") and press. Stitch close to the edge of the fold with machine straight stitch or hand running and/or back stitch, or whipstich. Run ties of narrow cloth tape from each edge of the casing to the center and out the buttonhole. Stitch down the ends of the casing, catching the ends of the tapes. If you also want the cap to tie under your chin or at the back of your neck, you can either use longer ties, and have them come out the ends of the casing as well as run through the casing to the buttonhole, or you can put separate ties on the band.
Casing style #2 - Holes at ends
Turn under 1/4" at the ends of the casing area of the crown. If sewing by machine, turn another 1/4" and stitch. If sewing by hand, whip or zigzap over the hem to prevent fraying. Turn under 1/4" along the straight edge of the crown and press. Fold this edge up to the height of the dotted line marked on your crown pattern (~1/2") and press. Stitch close to the edge of the fold with machine straight stitch or hand running and/or back stitch, or whipstich. Run a single narrow cloth tape tie through the casing so that it comes out both ends. This tie serves both to gather the casing and to let you tie the cap under your chin or behind your head. You can gather the crown the desired amount and stitch the ties at each end of the casing, or leave them free so that you can change the gathers (in which case you might want to tack the tie down at the center of the casing so that it can't pull out).

Final Assembly

Pin the crown to the outer layer of the band, right sides together, pulling up the gathers, or pinning in tiny pleats. If your crown is arched, you can make the gathers even all around, or you can push them to the top; whichever you prefer. If your crown is circular, make the gathers even all around.

Pin the ruffle to the outer layer of the band, right sides together, pulling up the gathers, or pinning in small, regular pleats. Fan pleats around curves.

Sewing all by machine
You have already pinned the crown and ruffle to the band. Add in the inside piece(s) of the band, wrong sides together with the outside, seam allowances folded in, so that all the raw edges (bands, crown, ruffle) are enclosed in a "band sandwich". Topstitch with plain straight stitch.
Sewing half by machine
Stitch the outside band pieces to the crown and ruffle, using your machine's straight stitch. Press seams toward band. Pin the inside pieces of the band over the outside pieces, wrong sides together, seam allowances folded in, so that all the raw edges are enclosed in a "band sandwich", and whip the inside band on by hand, so that no stitches show on the front.
Sewing all by hand
Either (a) use the "half by machine" method, but sew everything by hand with running stitch, backstitch, or a combination (occasional backstitches amongst running stitches) in place of machine stitching; or (b) use the "all by machine" method but topstitch with running stitch, backstitch, or a combination.

Press the cap, pressing all seams neatly.

The Result

Here are some hasty drawings of finished caps. I just made them up -- they don't correspond to particular patterns.

Notes

Why Use Linen?

First, it's more authentic. Linen was cheaper than cotton in the Revolutionary era and was more common for caps. Second, any not-too-coarse white modern linen is authentic, but many modern cottons aren't -- modern "cotton broadcloth" just doesn't look right, somehow -- so you don't have to be as careful when buying linen. Third, linen makes a better looking cap because linen has more body than cotton. Fourth, linen is easier to work with, especially if you are sewing by hand. You don't need to press seams into place with an iron -- you can just use your fingers. It really is a pleasure to work with linen.

On the other hand, linen is harder to find, and more expensive. If you have to use linen-cotton blend or plain cotton, that's okay. Please make sure that cotton is 100% cotton and not poly-cotton blend. Avoid coarse or heavy fabrics.

Non-white Caps

Okay, we know of one non-white cap, but it is part of a uniform, and Swiss to boot. See La Belle Chocolatière (also known as Das Schokoladenmädchen), by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1745. And besides, it may actually be a cap cover, not a cap. (See the bit of ruffle peeking out from under at the front? Is that ruffle on the "real" cap, almost entirely hidden by the cap cover?) (Available on the Web as The Chocolate-Girl in Mark Harden's Artchive, and as Chocolate Girl at IAS International Art&Science.) The PA Gazette mentions a small proportion of checked and striped caps, which are probably white-on-white. We know of no non-white artifacts.)

Lined Band?

I don't know of any 18th century cap artifacts where the band is doubled (i.e., lined), although I have to say that I know of very few cap artifacts of any kind. These instructions call for a lined band because it's easier to make a cap that way -- less fussing with raw edges, less need for fine stitchery. I'll update these instructions when and if I learn more about this.

No Doubled Ruffle

Please don't double the ruffle to save hemming it. We've seen a lot more ruffles than cap bands (we've looked at shifts and shirts as well as caps), and none of the ruffles have been doubled, so even though we're not sure about lined cap bands, we're pretty confident about the ruffles. Many ruffles are hemmed with a very narrow (1/16") hem which is folded twice and stitched with running stitches. If we ever come across an example of a doubled ruffle, we'll update this page, but don't hold your breath.

A Good Selvedge

A good selvedge is narrow -- 1/4 inch or less -- and it looks subtle: neat and smooth and just a little more closely woven than the main fabric. Modern linen frequently has a cut selvedge which forms a narrow fringe on both sides -- awful. Sometimes it has a wide, thick selvedge (about a 1/2 inch wide), where the threads go to the edge, come back, and are cut off closely at the inner edge of the selvedge. This is good enough for the body of a garment, but not good enough for ruffles. I've never seen a good selvedge on store-bought linen, but sometimes some of the better sutlers carry it -- be sure to ask about the selvedge if you're ordering by mail.

Sometimes cotton has a good selvedge, but usually it doesn't.

If you are lucky enough to find fabric with a good selvedge, cut out your cap ruffle(s) first. Then cut off all the remaining selvedge, two inches wide, and save it for cap ruffles and ruffles for shift and shirt cuffs and necks. It's precious stuff!

Making a Circular Pattern

More detailed instructions forthcoming. For now: Tie a string to a strong pin. Tie a pencil to the other end of the string, at the length of your circle's radius (half the diameter). Put paper over a corkboard or corrugated cardboard. Stick the pin in the middle. Trace around with the pencil, keeping the pencil upright and the string taut. In lieu of a string, you can pin a cloth or plastic tape measure to the board.

A Muslin

If you tried on a cap at one of the cap try-ons and liked how it fit, there should be no need to make a muslin.

A muslin is a practice garment that you make to check that your pattern works before you cut out the real fabric. It's called a muslin because it is made out of cheap fabric, which was traditionally muslin (which used to be made of linen and is now cotton). You can use muslin or any cheap fabric -- holiday prints on post-holiday sale are usually great deals. Use a stable fabric, not a stretchy one. Poly-cotton or even 100% polyester broadcloth is fine for muslins. You needn't bother to pre-wash the fabric. Follow all the directions for cutting the regular fabric, but don't bother to hem any edges neatly. (Remember to cut off unused hem allowances if this will affect the muslin.) You can probably just cut out the outer layer of the band and skip the lining. You may want to skip the ruffle. Pin or baste pieces together and try the muslin on. Adjust the pattern if necessary.

Eyelets By Hand

Push an awl through the fabric to make a small hole (~1/4") without breaking any threads. If you don't have an awl, improvise with a knitting needle, pencil (graphite on your fabric, yuck), or something. Running stitch around the eyelet once and a bit to stay the eyelet and secure the thread -- this is what I do, but eyelets of 18th c. stays don't seem to be running-stitched around (I haven't heard about cap eyelets). Whip the eyelet with somewhere between half a dozen and two dozen stitches, depending on how fussy you are. Run the needle under some threads on the back to fasten the end of the thread and cut it close. If you're making two eyelets close together, there's no need to cut the thread; you can carry the thread across the back to the next eyelet.

Threading a Tape Through a Casing

Thread your tape through a bodkin and run it through the casing. If you don't have a bodkin, use a thick needle with an enormous eye, or use a small safety pin.

Cloth Tape

Use 1/8" - 1/4" cloth tape (linen or cotton, tabby woven or twill) for cap strings. If you can't get this, improvise with heavy string or lucet cord, or as a last resort, narrow double-fold bias tape, stitched shut along the fold.

It can be hard to find cloth tape in your local sewing store. Several sutlers carry cloth tape. Wooded Hamlet stocks the most extensive selection, but some other sutlers have excellent tapes as well. It may be too late to order tapes before Battle Road (you can call sutlers and ask) but if you want to stock up for the future, be sure to visit the sutlers attending Battle Road.


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