Oh, Those Enchanting Spring Bonnets!


Miss Ruby finally gets to go out barefooted in the sunshine! The ground is wet, so she dances on her antique quilt today.

Miss Ruby has her new white dress in time for warmer weather, if we ever get any! We had pouring rain this morning, and it stopped in time for us to go out among the almost blooming tulips for a chilly photo shoot in a little bit of sunshine. Lacey white cotton dresses with snowy white bonnets are just the thing for little girls to wear when the sun shines bright. Little pink toes love to get tickled by cool new-grown grass.


Ruby likes to feel the breeze around her ears with her bonnet hanging down her back by the bonnet strings, just like Laura Ingalls!

Ruby’s springtime dress was made from Paula Walton’s dress instructions. It is made from a vintage cotton eyelet skirt and has a bell sleeve variation. In the mid 19th century, when little girls wore dresses like these, mothers and grandmothers seldom used patterns to cut out the clothing. Learning how to cut and sew garments was part of a girl’s education on housekeeping. This dress is made entirely from strips of fabric with no pattern. It was typical for the skirt to have one or two growth tucks sewn in, to be let out for length as the girl grew. Because of the position of the lace panel in this skirt, I did not add growth tucks to Ruby’s white dress. I don’t think she will have a growth spurt soon. 🙂


Notice the similarities and differences between my white bonnet and Paula Walton’s calico one.


Bonnets for girls and women can be found with many subtle variations, as well, and my guess is that they were also usually made without  patterns. I “made up” Ruby’s little white bonnet as I went. I measured the eyelet fabric across her little head for the right fit, then layered it with more fabric and quilted it. I wanted more fullness at the top of the crown, so I measured and cut a balloon shape accordingly. Then I added the ruffle all around, bound the seams, and added ties. The full crown and narrow back give my bonnet a kind of a Dutch silhouette. I think it is charming! And I am so satisfied with the results of “just making it up!”


This antique child’s bonnet from my collection has rows of tiny tucks to stiffen the brim. The crown is not gathered very full. It has ties to gather in the fullness in the back, and another set of ties inside the brim for under the chin. It also has a long shawl edging to keep the sun off of shoulders.

Actually, having the opportunity to handle and inspect antique bonnets, or doll bonnets, is helpful, if not downright necessary to the “making it up” process. I could see how Paula attached the crown to the brim on the little antique calico bonnet that she made for Ruby, even though I made my crown quite different from hers.

Folkwear patterns made a useful one-piece pattern for a slat brim prairie sunbonnet that comes with the girl’s prairie dress pattern. I reduced this pattern to make a bonnet for a prairie dress outfit for a My Twinn doll.


This informational handout came from the End of the Oregon Trail museum in Oregon City.


One year old Brighde wears a prairie style white bonnet with the brim folded back. South Dakota, 1999

Viewing old photos is useful for learning what styles were worn when. As you can see, even turn-of-the-twenty-first century little girls wore sunbonnets. Well, at least in MY family, they did! I have two cherished antique family photos with white bonnets in my collection as well:


This circa 1928 photo is of my dad, Quinton, in a straw hat, and his cousin, Margaret, in a white bonnet, near Little Rock, Arkansas. Notice the shadow silhouette of the brimmed head of the photographer in the foreground!

The bonnet in this circa 1928 photo, above, has a short double or triple ruffled brim with the crown gathered into the center back of the bonnet. It reminds me of Kate Greenway style.


This circa 1933 photo is of my Aunt Darlene and Aunt Lila on my Grandpa Carl’s farm in Nebraska.

Above, the toddler, Darlene’s, bonnet has a tall upright ruffle, while the baby, Lila’s, bonnet fits her head closely with a narrow ruffle.

So now you know–you CAN sew a sunbonnet without a pattern. Just make it up! Try it with some fabric that is not too valuable, and that you have plenty of to cut new pieces if something doesn’t work quite right. Then, take pride in your creative efforts, and enjoy the sunshine with your new “old” bonnet!



2 thoughts on “Oh, Those Enchanting Spring Bonnets!

  1. Ruby’s new white dress and bonnet look lovely on her, I am quite smitten by the photo of your antique bonnet. I love the cording on the brim, at least I’m assuming that’s cording 🙂

    • Hi Paula!

      I was hoping you would comment on Miss Ruby’s new ensemble. I called the antique bonnet brim finish “tucks” in the blog description, but you are right! On closer inspection, it is tiny cording–seven groups of five cords sewn close together. There is one layer of facing on the back, and no other interfacing. On the brim-crown seam, the crown seam fabric is carried over the seam and machine sewn down to cover the seam. It looks like it did have a 1/4 ” turn down, but most of the raw edge has worked out. I love the lace around the crown and the back tied on this bonnet. It was a great find at the Oregon City Outdoor Antique Fair last summer!


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