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A Bit About Sunbonnets

August 1, 2008
My first encounter with a sunbonnet came in the early summer of 1983 when I worked at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life.  I’d arrived wearing an Edwardian-style blouse…Lesley told me to follow her out to the quad, where she handed me a long black skirt and plonked a sunbonnet on my head.  Next, a big basket was thrust into my arms…pose!  Wha…?  A photographer from the Lincolnshire Echo had come to get some pics for the 100th Lincolnshire Show supplement…and I ended up on the cover of it!!  So began my fascination with sunbonnets.
There were several beautiful examples in the store-rooms, which I had ample time to study…then I went home and made one!  This led to me making them for sale in the museum shop, and demonstrating them at craft week and other craft days…some of my bonnets have gone to America, Canada and Australia…and appeared on television!
I was told about the Staiths bonnets from North Yorkshire, so I started to study regional differences….
The Skegness bonnet was from the collection at Church Farm Museum, and has a pretty turned-back brim.  Some have a strip of lace sewn over this turn-back.
A trip to Strangers Hall Museum turned up a selection of styles, but, unfortunately, there was no provenance to say where they actually originated.  It was these bonnets that I based my designs on for Thames Television’s ‘Hannay’.  One large bonnet even had wooden slats sewn into the brim…
Which takes me back to Church Farm.  A large grey bonnet, similar to the one at Strangers Hall was donated, even though it was provenanced to Herefordshire…where, I think, it was later sent.
North Yorkshire have some very simple bonnets that look like aprons when laid out flat.  Commonly known as Staiths bonnets, where they are sometimes still worn, they would have been padded, on the crown, for the carrying of baskets on the head.  Some have a drawstring inside, while others have ribbons to tie behind.  Simple, but beautiful.
The boatwomen’s bonnets were by far the more elaborate, due to the cramped conditions that the people who worked the cut had to endure.  Everything that could be decorated usually was, from beautiful paintwork on everything to embroidery and…the bonnets.  Normal bonnets were also worn, and as the canal networks covered most of England at that time, styles were adopted from all over.  The last four bonnets came from The Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne.
I have yet to get my own creations photographed…but watch this space…as they say…!!
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cornish permalink
    August 1, 2008 3:04 pm

    I never knew there was so much variety in them. Thanks for the lesson. They are all beautiful but I think my favourite so far has to be the boat womans one. It\’s amazing the work that goes into making them. Can\’t wait to see yours. Have a good weekend. I\’ll be watching!

  2. Sandi permalink
    August 1, 2008 3:20 pm

    …And that is just a handful of styles…who knows what weird and wonderful creations are out there…!

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