Millinery,  My projects,  Sewing

I made an 1890s hat

A proper 19th century lady never went out without a hat. Now that I have spend so much time making late Victorian and early Edwardian garments, I have to make some hats as well. My previous attempts here and here were fun but finally not very successful. I gifted the first one to a little girl I know and the second one has flattened over the months. I think my buckram wasn’t strong enough to keep its shape. Now I bought some proper millinery buckram and decided to try again. This time trying to make an 1890s hat in all its glory.

1890s hats

In the 1890s Victorian women abandoned bonnets that had been in fashion for decades. Instead, the women started wearing small, more modern hats with a small rim. However, Victorians still loved all kinds of embellishments, so the hats were decorated heavily with ribbons, feathers (sometimes even whole birds), artificial flowers and berries and stiffened bows so that the actual hat was almost hidden underneath. And if that wasn’t enough, there was also room underneath the rim to add a few more flowers and bows! 1890s hats were not wide but they were tall and it was estimated that millions of birds lost their lives due to the huge demand for their feathers.

These hats were held in place with long hatpins that caused a lot of complaints and discussion among folks that were afraid of being injured by the sharp ends sticking out of fashionable ladies’ hats. Another problem was the size of the hats. Many American cities issued laws that forbid women wearing their ridiculously hats in theatres where these plumaged monstrosities blocked the view to the stage from the people sitting directly behind.

Making of my hat

I didn’t use any pattern but I did get some plates from the kitchen to help me to draw even circles! I cut all the pieces, the top and the side of the crown and the rim out of both buckram and felt interfacing. Then, I placed both the buckram and the felt interfacing together and sewed around the edges with a zigzag stitch, fastening a plastic hat wire to the edge at the same time. For the side-crown, I placed the seams of the felt and the buckram at different places and also sewed about 2 cm of the wire ends together to get a really sturdy ring:

Cutting the parts out of buckram and felt.

After that I covered everything with linen so that the felt layer was pointing outwards. I mostly did this by hand.

The buckram and felt are stitched together while attaching the millinery wire.

Gathering the edge of the fabric at the top of the crown helped me to add the lining.

Covering the top of the crown.

I sewed all the pieces together and finished the rim edge with bias binding out of the same green linen fabric.

Embellishing the hat

Choosing the embellishments is hard!

The most difficult part of the millinery is choosing the right kind of embellishments. Without any, the hat looks unfinished but there really isn’t any rule on how to do this and I always have a weird fear of doing things “wrong”.

I considered adding a veil but my modern hat net was a bit too stiff for it. I also considered that weird white macrame ribbon but then ditched it. Finally, I went back to some historical examples.

I added the net for structure and bunched the extra net into two puffs of fabric. Then I took a white silk scarf (Recycling center, cost me 2 €) and twisted it around the crown tying it into a bow at the back. I fastened the scarf with a couple of stitches through the crown.

Then it was time to add that height the 1890s hats were famous for. I took a long piece of the same green linen fabric and hemmed the long edges. I then threaded a narrow metal wire through the hem I had made. Now I could make a big bow that would keep perky at the top of the crown. Then I took an ostrich feather from my old hat and curled it with my straightening iron (yes, the one I use for my hair). Finally, I added some artificial hydrangea flowers and leaves to top the hat off.

The finished 1890s hat

Here is my finished hat in all it’s glory. The lonely apple tree growing wild in the back forest was happy to be my model!

My finished 1890s hat.

Here is the hat from the back. I stuffed one partial hydrangea flower between the bows as the area felt empty.

I have yet to try to wear this with an 1890s outfit. Here is just a small and unflattering selfie of me wearing the 1890s hat with my modern clothes and no make-up.

Well, it looks ridiculous which probably means that it is historically adequate!

Thank you for reading and do subscribe to the blog if you liked this post! Happy sewing!


I am a mother of two. I sew, knit and create and blog about it.


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