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The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Filigree

Please click on each detail of The Filigree Bonnet to see it enlarged.


Collection: The Regency Wardrobe

Garment: Woman’s bonnet

Materials: quilling paper strips, tissue paper, card

In La Belle Assemblée in 1806 a contributor wrote: “It is utterly impossible to describe what is most fashionable...a lady is not considered fashionable if she appears in public for two successive days in the same bonnet.” She was describing the fact that by the middle of that decade a bewildering variety of styles of hat and bonnet were available. By the 1830s brims had grown to such enormous proportions that satirists had started to take delight in poking fun at the fashion.

Filigree is inspired by two materials commonly used in constructing accessories during the Regency:

In the 1810s brimmed bonnets made of woven straw were still de rigueur. The material ‘bonnet board’ became an alternative and cheaper material, created in part because of troublesome trade routes with Napoleon’s Italy. Cardboard was pressed in a roller machine to form a design.

Metal is thought of as a heavy material but the fine metal filigree that was popular and widely used by those creating garments and accessories during the Regency era appears very light.

This piece seeks to play with the notion that a good bonnet ought to shade a lady’s face from the sun but the tan achieved by such a piece as this would be patterned like filigree.

Nb. La Belle Assemblée, otherwise known as Bell’s Court, was a fashionable ladies magazine from 1806-1832. It is now best known for its fashion plates showing Regency era styles, but until the 1820s it also published original poetry and fiction, non-fiction.


I've quoted from Wikipedia's page about quilling elsewhere in my posts but I believe it's worth doing so again here. This technique is becoming only ever more fundamental to the work of The House of Embroidered Paper (HoEP) and it is what The Regency Bonnet is made from.

"Quilling or paper filigree is an art form that involves the use of strips of paper that are rolled, shaped, and glued together to create decorative designs... Although its exact origins are a mystery...quilling has been practiced as an art form in Renaissance France/Italy as well as in 18th century England...nuns and monks used quilling to decorate book covers and religious items. The paper most commonly used was strips of paper trimmed from the gilded edges of books. These gilded paper strips were then rolled to create the quilled shapes. Quilling often imitated the original ironwork of the day. In the 18th century, quilling became popular in Europe where gentle ladies of quality ("ladies of leisure") practiced the art. It was one of the few things ladies could do that was thought not too taxing for their minds or gentle dispositions. Quilling also spread to the Americas...quilled art can be found on cabinets and stands...ladies' purses...frames, work baskets, tea caddies..."


- bonnets between 1800-1810

Looking at hats worn by women between 1800-1810 I was struck by the huge variation of styles that were in vogue all at the same time. In La Belle Assemblée in 1806 a contributor wrote: “It is utterly impossible to describe what is most fashionable...a lady is not considered fashionable if she appears in public for two successive days in the same bonnet.”

as a quick aside: "La Belle Assemblée or Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine (London) was one of the most important women's magazines of its time. It was founded by John Bell (1745-1831), a major figure in the London printing and book trade who was also founder or

part-proprietor of several other periodicals including The Morning Post, The World of Fashion and Bell's Weekly Messenger. La Belle Assemblée was aimed at fashionable society though only a small part was devoted to fashion. Its first fashion plates from February 1806 were not coloured, but from November 1806 it came out in two forms, uncoloured at 2s 6d or hand-coloured at 3s 6d, illustrating outfits worn by ladies of rank as well as the latest styles. It employed the best fashion artists in England including the portrait painter, Arthur William Devis and John and William Hopwood, but many of the plates were anonymous and many were copies of French ones. From 1810-1820 the fashion section was edited by Mrs Mary Ann Bell (probably a relation of John Bell),a leading dressmaker with several successful shops who introduced plates advertising her own costumes. The magazine went through various owners before merging with The Lady's Magazine and Museum of Belles Lettres in 1837 to become The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic and Lady's Magazine and Museum of the Belles Lettres, music, fine arts, drama, fashions, &c (1838-1847), which

appended French editions of Le Follet with its fashion plates."

Fashion Plate, 'Walking Dress' for 'La Belle Assemblée'

England, London, December 1, 1819

Hand-colored engraving on paper

8 3/4 x 4 3/4 in. (22.23 x 12.07 cm) -

Women wore turbans, bonnets, straw hats and veils. In her book Women's Headdress and Hairstyles Georgine de Courtais sums it up well: "...By the middle of the decade a bewildering variety of hats and bonnets was available to adorn the heads of the fashion conscious...Every style and variation had a name, either topical or fanciful. The Trafalgar and military bonnets vied for favour with the Nelson, conversation and mistake hats. A lingering yearning for the simple country life was suggested by such names as the yeoman and the woodland hat or the mountain or the cottage bonnet. A distinction was now becoming apparent between hats and bonnets, the latter being brimless or having a brim only around the front. They were not as yet always tied with ribbons under the chin." She includes an image of "...a jockey bonnet which was made of lilac-coloured silk with a long lace veil hanging almost to the knees. Large veils of lace-edged net were becoming particularly fashionable. They were carelessly thrown over the hat either to cover the face or to form drapery round the neck...Modified versions of the popular country straw tied round with a ribbon, kerchief or scarf still appeared frequently, and were known by a variety of names". One style "...was known as the gypsy and another version of this style known as the Village hat had the brim turned up sharply at the front and back echoing the style of the 1750’s. The Lavinia or Witch’s hat in which the brim and crown were formed in a similar way to the Chinese coolie hat was also fashionable. Larger brims were beginning to appear by 1806. Trimmings were generally fairly restrained and consisted mainly of ribbons, feathers or artificial flowers, straw being sometimes used for the latter.".

So it seemed that whilst I was looking to make a hat/bonnet inspired by this period I had a raft of possibilities of style and texture, design and pattern to choose from. I began with a simple sketch of a bonnet of the sort we've all seen in Austen era historical period dramas on TV, a cloth-straw combination and really I would end up back there making one of a similar design. But in between I got to explore some extreme versions and interesting variants.

These days we tend to separate out references to accessories and garments. When someone says the word fashion probably you think most immediately of clothes not of hats or bags or even shoes. But as is made evident by the quote I've used in my post about the "walking dress" that terms that seem to imply today a singular type of item might not always have done so. Experts in the field of historical dress therefore are careful in their use of terminology:

“The term “dress” is used in this book in reference to all clothing and accessories that exist in material form, including hats, footwear, jewellery, hairstyles, tattoos, and other material forms of body adornment. The term “fashion” is used to describe garments and accessories that adorn the body in a manner that reflects “the cultural construction of embodied identity,” as it is defined in the journal Fashion Theory.”

- p18 The Dress Detective by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim

So if the hat I was going to make was going to be such an integral a part of the collection, an accessory still but not merely that, I knew it would have to make an impact.

One of the first fabric-straw combinations I came across, and the one that would quickly become my favourite, is held in the V&A collection. So with the group of the volunteers with whom I was working while making collection I went to see it, out of the cabinet, laid on a table for us, at The V&A's storage centre, known as the Clothworker's centre.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Please see:

I made a sketch:

I also went to view this beautiful satin example, a very similar shape but with a cross hatching effect that's transparent and formed of thread not of straw, held in store in the National Trust's Killerton House fashion collection in Devon.

For more images from the visit I made to Killerton please see: The Hidden Wardrobe

There were others there of a similar design but it was the element of transparency that had caught my attention.

I wanted to create something open, through which light could pass to some extent even as the hat was meant to offer shade. I liked the half hide-half reveal aspect of that effect.

I found this one, known as a capote, but it's a little early, more of the 1790's (and modelled here by Kate Winslet of course) with a semi open weave and a more open brim.

Then I came across this, known as a poke bonnet, made of straw and horsehair. I thought it interesting that brims became so much longer; finding not for the first time that our Regency ancestors could be quick to poke fun.

In Women's Headdress and Hairstyles it states that brim size: "...appears to be a marker of the decade a bonnet stems from for whilst by 1830 they'd grown to huge proportions, framing the face, hiding the profile and often involving a veil they decreased dramatically in the 1840’s (still covering most of the wearer’s hair and much of her face) and still further from the mid 1850’s (beginning to expose more of the face and hair)..."

At Bath Fashion Museum I saw a splendid example of a Brim gone mad, but this time upwards and outwards, instead of forwards. This one surely risked becoming the subject of a satirist for its excessive size; it is yet wonderful for all that:

And I found photos of pieces that confirmed the idea of covering all of a woman's hair, such as this silk moire bonnet, c. 1845.

But it seems there had been examples of that style around from long before the 1840's.

This is my sketch of one from 1815-1820 from the National Trust Snowshill Wade Costume Collection.

I wanted the bonnet I made to be seen to play with the idea of hiding and of reveling, to play with the idea of protecting oneself from the sun, whilst yet also reflecting the silliness of extreme fashion. I wanted to make my bonnet entirely from one technique with a nod toward the open, semi-translucent possibilities of designs that used materials such as straw.

Georgine de Courtais tells us that while "Hats made of satin were fashionable for full dress...In 1800 small or oval hats were almost universally worn, the former being suitable for the short hairstyles whilst the latter fitted comfortably over the Grecian coiffures. Both these hats were made with straw which, regardless of the season, was now immensely popular for hats worn with morning dress. Openwork and “patent perforated” Leghorn and Chip hats, striped straw and coloured chip, especially yellow, were popular, in the first three years of the century. "

And another detail that fascinated me is to be found in Women's Headdress and Hairstyles which links some very interesting and specific attributes of the Regency milliner's art to a particular decade in which cardboard was used to mimic straw: "1810s - It seems straw bonnets were still de rigueur but with the aim of achieving the same look alternative less expensive materials were often used. ‘Bonnet board’ for example was cardboard pressed in a roller machine to create a design. It was created in part in response to the lack of trade goods available from Napoleon’s Italy, the traditional source for quality straw bonnets."

Bonnet architecture

So I was able to justify my use of paper and card whlst still remaining authentic and by using quilling I knew I could create a look that was perforated likewise. But to form that open pattern I needed some decorative detailing from the period that I could reproduce.

Just as I had been inspired by the idea of architectural tailoring when looking to make Linked to History so I looked to combine architectural detailing with fashion again now.

I already had a particular feature, seen inside many grand buildings from that time, in mind. Instead of placing roses on the brim of a hat why not make a bonnet inspired by a stunning ceiling rose, I thought:

Typical plaster detailing of the Regency period, drawing both on the most recent Regency motifs and on traditional Palladian forms

Women wore bonnets outside so I chose an internal feature, perhaps just to be pedantic but I like to think it was a twist. The idea of the interior space, whether grand and inviting of crowds, such as inside a building, or private and intimate, such as under the brim of a hat, seemed to allow me to relate place with pattern. I was now looking to cover the head with that combination.

I drew the pattern of the ceiling rose in such a way as to be formed of shapes I could quill from paper and the filigree effect began to form as I placed the quilled shapes together. This was my nod toward silliness. For mine is a sun bonnet but I was imagining a Regency lady wearing it and ending up, not only with a degree of a suntan, but a suntan in the pattern of a wrought iron open filigree design effect. What joy for a satirist! I could see the chariacture in my mind, a Regency woman, smartly/prettily dressed taking off her beautiful bonnet and finding she has the pattern of a ceiling rose browned onto the skin of her face.

Drawing of the filigree effect design for the back of the bonnet inspired by the ceiling rose

As I've said the style of the bonnet I was to make had seemed to leave all to play for but I'd ruled out the long Poke bonnet, the short capote and the coal scuttle shape (as the V&A describes the satin and straw variety shown above). I wanted mine to have a flat back and an open rim, to look in effect a lot like that first one I drew, something close to a classic TV adaptation shape.

So in mid-winter (hence the big jumper) I began the making process of my open summer bonnet by producing a cardboard maquette using my own head for the purposes of sizing.

I quilled all the individual shapes using white quilling paper, including a shade variant called Ultrawhite, which looks to my eye like a gentle lilac colour

please click the right arrow to see more close up images of The Regency Bonnet as a work in progress

By sticking the quilled shapes to each other rather than to a backing board as is more usual I was able to make a flat circular section (the back of the bonnet), a long thin rectangle (the brim) and a half moon shape (the peak). I then stuck these three to each other to produce a three-dimensional form. The bonnet's ribbons are simple strips of lilac tissue paper.

As regards the tradition of ribbons at the neck they weren't just a practical and pretty means of keeping the bonnet aloft ones head: "..the neck was considered an erogenous zone in the mid 19th century so many bonnet displayed examples of the ‘Bavolette’, a ribbon frill, at the back for the purpose of covering Necks were only to be seen with evening dress."


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