Friday, June 26, 2020

Roll Hemming, Roll Hemming, and Roll Hemming Some More - 1780's Millinery

I was in no hurry to make another 18th century cap after the one I made last year. So. Much. Tiny. Hemming. Not the most exciting sewing and it takes nearly for-ev-er to make what amounts to a very small garment. An important little garment when it comes to getting a historically accurate look, but a very small, unexciting, one for all that.

All that to say, I probably would not have wound up making a fun, floofy, ruffley 1780’s cap this year if the Saint Louis Historical Sewing Society (formerly the Saint Louis Georgians) had not had a 1780’s cap making workshop at the end of February. Always eager to socialize with fellow historical sewists (assuring myself I’m not the only one with this crazy hobby. . .), and happy to expand my 18th century wardrobe a bit, I decided to take part!

At our cap making day we all cut out our caps from silk organza according to the 1780’s cap pattern in The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. I then succeeded in getting the caul of my cap completely hemmed and gathered to the correct length to fit the brim. Christine gave everybody a length of vintage rayon ribbon to trim our caps with. So I went home with a hemmed caul, 2 yards of ribbon, a spool of silk thread (also given to me by Christine), and a brim and 4 ruffles all cut out and ready to be hemmed.

Hemming that caul had been as tedious and tricky as I remembered roll hemming to be. Miserable, with not great results. I was dreading finishing the rest of the cap. Yet, I’d started it, and I really did want the end result, so finish the cap I would. Very Slowly. 

It took me nearly 2 months to finish hemming the brim and ruffle pieces. I worked on them a little bit at a time between other projects. In the beginning I hated every minute of roll hemming that silk organza and was less than thrilled with the results. My hems looked messy. But slowly, as I hemmed piece after piece, inch after inch, I began to get the hang if it. 

My hems started to look better. The sewing got easier. I finally figured out the trick to roll hemming that I read about in the past but had never managed to make my hands do before. And by the time I finished hemming that brim and ruffles, I decided I actually liked roll hemming!

I whip gathered and whip stitched my cap together, using more silk thread, then trimmed it with the ribbon from Christine. (I picked a blue-green ribbon to match my Caraco, which had been in the planning stages when I began my cap, and was nearly done by the time I finished my cap.)

Once the cap was done, I strangely decided I wouldn’t mind more roll hemming, so I decided to make a kerchief to fill in the neckline of my caraco. Another one of those small things that really does improve the overall finished look of a costume.

I cut it according to the directions in the American Duchess book from some handkerchief linen I had left over from the cap I made last year. 

Then I began roll hemming again, and somehow finished this thing in about a week!

It's a very simple kerchief, no ruffles, or embroidery, or anything. Just a triangle, hemmed on all edges, which will work to accessorize a variety of looks throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Once that was done, I was apparently on a roll with roll hemming, so why not keep it up? 

My caraco clearly needed sleeve ruffles, so I cut a pair from the linen scraps left over from the kerchief. The ruffles got roll hemmed, whip gathered, then whip stitched to a pair of linen tapes cut to fit inside my caraco sleeves.

The sleeve ruffles then got basted into my sleeves, easy to remove if I want to wear them with another garment in the future.

The ruffles are the perfect finishing touch on my sleeves, just peaking out at the cuff.

And so, that is how my caraco got accessorized. I decided I actually liked roll hemming, and this ensemble benefited greatly from it!

The outfit just wouldn’t look complete without all the roll hemmed millinery.

The sleeves would be too plain without ruffles finishing them off.

The neckline would be too open without the kerchief tucked in.

And the cap? Well it just might be the crowning glory of this ensemble.

Ruffle-y and be-ribboned.

Very helpful in hiding a multitude of sins when it comes to the whole 18th century hair styling thing.

Last time I attempted 18th century hair, I was going for 1760's and followed the directions from The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Beauty, greasing, starching, and rolling my hair to (not quite, but close enough) perfection. This time I decided to attempt a different method. Fashionable 1780's hair appears to be a mass of curls piled on top of the head. So that's what I went for.

I put foam rollers in my damp hair the night before my intended photo shoot, and slept in them.

The next morning I removed the foam rollers and had a mass of curls.

Perfect! I pinned a couple slightly deconstructed hair donuts to the top of my head, piled the curls over top of the donuts, threw on my cap and ta-dah!

Hair done!

The cap hides all the bobby pins on the back of my head holding the curls in place.

Really, this hairstyle didn't take that much time and energy to do. Just a little forethought since I had to put my hair in rollers the night before.

I kept my hair up like this all day long, it was really quite comfortable.

My family did a double take almost every time I entered a room that day, however. So that was rather amusing.

Hair, cap, kerchief, and sleeve ruffles. The perfect finishing touches for a 1780's ensemble.

Without all these little things, the overall look just wouldn't be quite right.


  1. Gorgeous!!!! And so many little, useful tips. Thank you!

  2. so glad I found you on the Facebook Group! i am also a costume designer, but for children...I've only made myself one costume! because i am so busy sewing for my costume rental business and now, because of CV19, i am doing a ton of upcycling for myself and am starting a new website... please check out i make a ton of American Colonial costumes and have made the same sleeve trim as you did for one of my girl costumes....not all my costumes are on my gallery.... xo eva

  3. All of your accessories look great! I particularly enjoy the organza cap. It's awesome that you've found the joy in roll hemming.

    The curls are great, too! :)