Historical Costume Regency Bonnet
Costume,  Historical Costuming

I Made a … Regency Bonnet for 1820s Little Dorrit

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There’s something about a Regency bonnet that is just so cute! But making something so 3D and involving such unusual materials as straw and buckram can be really daunting.

But working with straw is actually a lot easier than you think and making a bonnet pattern is quite simple.

Regency Bonnet Video:

The Crown

I made my bonnet using these synthetic straw discs from Parkin Fabrics. They’re a specialist millinery supplier but you could always unwind the straw from an old straw hat. Just make sure it’s a hat made from coiled braid and not woven straw.

Braided synthetic stray disc in an off white colour

I didn’t unwind my disc all the way but left a small circle for the tip of the bonnet.

Measuring the uncoiled straw disc to check if its the right size for the tip of the Regency bonnet

I then coiled the straw around the edge of the tip at right angles and whip stitched the edges together.

Sewing the straw braid onto the tip with a whip stitch

Then carry on coiling and overlapping the braid slightly and whip in place. Keep going until your bonnet crown is the desired height. Regency bonnets have quite tall and sometimes tapered crowns. Take a look at some historical examples or fashion plates for inspiration.

sewing the overlapping layer of straw braid with a whip stitch for the crown

The Brim

You will need a pattern piece to make the brim of your bonnet. The easiest way to do this is to draw around the crown you have just made. That way it is guaranteed to be the right size!

Drawing around the crown of the bonnet to make the brim pattern piece

Then fold the paper in half and sketch out a rough shape of the brim. It’s best to start too big and then trim it down until you are happy with it.

Sketching out various sizes for the bonnet crown before deciding on the largest size

It helps to pin the pattern piece to the crown and try the bonnet on so you can better judge the proportions.

trying on the bonnet with the paper pattern piece for the brim to check the size

Once you have your pattern piece, you need to coil the braid into the shape of the pattern piece. I started in the middle and then spiraled out for a few rows. How far you go with this depends on the size and shape of the bonnet.

Coiling the straw braid to match the shape of the paper pattern piece, starting in the middle with a circle

Eventually you will need to start working in semi circle shapes, changing direction by folding the braid back on itself. I made sure to position my folds off the edge of the pattern piece so I could trim down the bulk later.

The brim piece once all the braid is pinned into position

Once your bonnet brim is the right size, don’t cut off the excess braid. We’re going to use it to neaten the edge later.

Once everything is pinned in place we can zigzag stitch all those layers of braid together on the sewing machine. You can also sew it by hand of course but it’s much faster by machine!

sewing the layers of braid together on the sewing machine

Then neaten the back edge where you kept changing direction but putting the paper pattern piece back on the brim and trimming it to size. You may find it easier to pencil in this curve then cut it.

Trimming down the uneven back edge of the brim

Then I neatened the back edge by taking the excess braid that I had left earlier and cover the cut edge with it.

stitching the braid over the back edge of the bonnet to neaten the cut edge using the sewing machine I had enough braid left that I could add an extra layer around the edge of the brim for stability and as a nice decoration.

sewing an extra layer of the braid to the outer edge of the brim using a sewing machine

I then trimmed off the excess braid and turned under the excess edge to neaten it.

neatening the edge of the braid having cut off the excess

Joining the Crown to the Brim

To join the crown of the bonnet to the brim I simply pinned the brim to the crown and whipstitched the two parts together. I first did this from the inside and then repeated for the outside. This kept all the layers flat and was nice and secure.

sewing the crown to the brim from the inside using a whipstitch

sewing the crown to the brim with a whip stitch from the outside

At this point the Regency bonnet itself is complete! and now we get on to the fun part, the decoration.

Trying on the regency bonnet but with no decoration

The Trim

I based my decoration on this fashion plate.

1820s fashion plate

It just looks like a gathered tube of fabric. So I took some off cuts from my Little Dorrit dress and stitched them into a tube before turning it right side out. I then threaded a ribbon through this tube to gather it up and stitched the ribbon in place to the bonnet.

The gathered tube of purple fabric pinned in place on the finished bonnet

I also added lengths of ribbon to tie the bonnet on. And that’s it! A Regency bonnet

You can trim your Regency bonnet any way you like. Feathers and lace were a very popular combination and this is a period with some really wacky hat designs so feel free to go to town!

The Finished Regency Bonnet

I really hope you like my finished Regency bonnet! I’m so pleased with how it turned out and I think it’s the perfect addition to my Little Dorrit costume.

The finished regency bonnet from the back

The finished regency bonnet from the front

I’m hoping to do some more historical costume projects in the future so let me know what you would like to see,


Claude x