Sewing, Textiles & Costume
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A 1780s hat and a chemise-a-la-reine refashion

1780s hat and chemise a la reine

The Costume Construction course at Toi Whakaari gets a whole range of amazing guest teachers every year. They teach specialised classes on things like millinery, worbla and thermoplastics, dyeing, tailoring, etc. One of the perks of my job is that if I can work it around my teaching schedule, I can sit in on other classes.

It’s fun for me: I get to learn new skills, or new approaches to a skill I have. It’s also good for the course: it means I’m more familiar with all the work the students are doing, and can step in if a teacher can’t make it for a session.

My goal for 2020 was to sit in on the millinery course and make a late 18th century hat along with the students. Happily for us, the millinery class started after lockdown ended, and was able to go on as normal.

Making a 1780s hat

The guest teacher was Sarah Carswell, a former graduate of the Costume Construction course whose done a bunch of work with the Royal NZ Ballet, amongst other fabulous places. I really like Sarah’s teaching style: she covers both the ideal way to do things, and then some hacks that are necessary because of time, budget, or what’s available in New Zealand.

Making a 1780s hat

We used a standard 1780s hat pattern, and I made mine a little taller, and a little narrower, inspired by this fashion plate:

The construction is all based on modern millinery techniques: shape wire, stitch to buckram, assemble crowns and rims, cover in ice wool to smooth out the surface, cover in fabric, attach crowns and brims, bind.

Making a 1780s hat

And above all, mark and mark and mark everything as you work! Meticulous marking and cutting are the key to hatmaking. Get your centre fronts and backs off and the whole thing goes squiffy.

Making a 1780s hat

It’s mostly handsewn, but there are a few bits you can do by machine.

Making a 1780s hat
Making a 1780s hat

The handsewing is hard work, and at the end of it your brand-new-when-you-started-the-hat needle looks like this:

Making a 1780s hat
Making a 1780s hat

My hat is covered in black linen (backed in interfacing for strength and durability) and I love it. I want to make another one exactly like it so I can trim one in black and one in red and white striped ribbon inspired by this:

Making a 1780s hat

But for now, I trimmed in black, partly because I love a good classic black hat, and partly because I first wore it for Hallowe’en at our historical retreat this year:

1780s hat and chemise a la reine

Who doesn’t love a good historical witch hat for Hallowe’en?

And what to wear with a witch hat? My decade old chemise-a-la-reine, re-trimmed with black ribbons and sash!

1780s hat and chemise a la reine

I’m really enjoying wearing previously made costumes, and getting as much use out of them as time I put into them. It’s both mentally satisfying, and takes a lot of the stress and pressure off: no more feeling like you have to make something new every time.

Although the chemise is more adjustable than some other costumes, I’ve definitely gotten wider in the last 10 years, particularly in the arms, and I think it’s going to need a re-make if I’m going to wear it again.

But it was certainly fun to wear! It’s so lush and swishy.

1780s hat and chemise a la reine
1780s hat and chemise a la reine

I cast greenwitch spells (aka waving your hands artistically at the plants while your friends take lots of photos of you) to make the plants grow:

1780s hat and chemise a la reine
1780s hat and chemise a la reine

There aren’t many examples of crowned hats worn with chemise dresses, but there are a couple. In any case I was approaching this outfit as a costume, rather than as a strictly historical accurate ensemble.

1780s hat and chemise a la reine

My hair, in case you’re wondering, is 1/2 mine and 1/2 a curly wig altered to be a hairpiece. The wig was a lockdown stress-buy and slightly impulsive hack, but it turned out beautifully and I’m madly in love with it. The ‘tail’ is all my hair.

The earrings were a gift from the Toi Costume class of 2019, and the shoes are American Duchess Dunmores in black wool. My friend Armel did my makeup, and I immediately rushed out and bought every product she used on me.

1780s hat and chemise a la reine

You will be seeing more of this hat…


  1. Elise says

    What fun! You indeed to lovely and the best kind of witchy! Once again, congratulations to you and everyone else in New Zealand for the hard work you all put into mitigating the pandemic. We here in Texas really need that window of hope!

    Ok, what is “ice wool”?

  2. nofixedstars says

    that hat is all sorts of wonderful. love it, and love it with the black trimmed chemise a la reine! i like the way the curly “extra” hair is styled, too—the whole thing is so flattering and, well, just so pretty. i feel like we could stand to bring back some pretty…

    great little photo shoot–thanks for sharing.

  3. I love the hat! So beautifully finished.

    I dream of one day having a hat like the lady in red in William Dyce’s Welsh Landscape with Two Women Knitting, or even perhaps one like the lady in Mosnier’s Portrait of a Lady – in my more rambunctious moments.

    In the meantime, I am working on a plain Victorian cap, with plans for a slatted sunbonnet. After all, it’s summer now, so the sun’s got to come out soon!

  4. Lovely photos, especially the last one. How wonderful to practice your millinery skills–it certainly is a skill that requires specificity and precision! This hat turned out wonderfully. Thanks for sharing your adventure in making and wearing!


  5. Mrs Gillian Stapleton says

    This looks beautiful and so much fun. The new hat is gorgeous.

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