How to Make a Bonnet Hat From the 1800s

In the 1800s, American pioneer women wore fashionable bonnet hats. These were fitted around the back of the head with a large brim that wrapped around the face and tied under the chin. The women decorated their bonnet hats with flowers, lace, ribbons and bows. The easiest way to make one of these bonnets today is to use a straw garden hat as a skeletal frame and then cover and decorate it to express your own unique style.

Measure around the cap part of the straw hat. Add at least 2 inches to that number.

Draw a circle on the back side of your fabric the same size as the measurement in step one. Make sure you draw the circle in the corner of the fabric so you have fabric left over to use to cover the brim of the hat.

Cut out the circle about 1/4 inch outside your line.

Stitch two rows of basting stitches around the outer edge of your fabric circle. Follow your tracing marks for one line of basting stitch. Make the other line about 1/4 inch inside that one. Do not back stitch or tie a knot at the beginning or end of your stitching lines.

Pull the threads of your basting stitches to gather the circle. Gather it only enough to fit around the cap part of the straw hat.

Heat up the glue gun. Spread a line of glue over your gathers on the underside of the fabric.

Lay the fabric circle over the cap part of the hat and press the edges into place. Hold it long enough for the bonding to set.

Place the straw hat on the back part of your head. Determine where you want the sides of the brim to end: at the top, middle or bottom of your ears. Make a mark with your pen on the edge of the brim where you want it to end.

Take off the hat and cut the brim from your marked points toward the hat. Angle your cut slightly backward toward the cap part of the hat. Cut around the back of the hat to remove the bottom back part of the brim.

Fold the rest of your fabric down the centre with the right sides together. Lay it out on a flat surface.

Trace around the brim on the underside of the fabric. Make a dotted line around the outer edge of the brim and put solid lines around the cap edge and the cut sides of the brim.

Cut the fabric 1/2 inch outside your solid lines.

Machine stitch along the two solid lines of the side of the brim fabric.

Turn the brim covering right side out and fit it over the straw hat brim.

Spread a thin line of glue along the line of the straw hat where the brim and cap part meet on both the inside and outside of the hat brim.

Fold under the extra fabric at the raw edges and press them in place over the glue. Do this for both the top and underside of the brim.

Spread glue over the front edge of the covered cap part of the hat. Lay the ribbon over the glue and press into place. As you do this, corner the points where the brim has been cut so the ribbon will fall naturally along the jaw line.

Decorate the hat as desired by gluing silk flowers or lace trim in place.

Things You'll Need

  • Straw garden hat
  • 1 yard fabric, cotton or gauze
  • Cloth measuring tape
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • Ribbon, 1-1/2 yards by 2 inches wide
  • Glue gun with glue sticks
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About the Author

River Lin is an independent writer and consultant. With a Master's degree in teaching English as a second language from Ball State University. She lived in Japan for 15 years teaching and editing. Now based in the US, she works for a variety of clients. Published work can be found in print and online at various websites and