By Linda LaRoque
As a girl I visited my grandmother often. She was well-loved by everyone who knew her, but especially by her granddaughters. Though Grandma was not an outwardly attractive woman, beauty radiated from her by her inner goodness, her faith in God and the love and kindness she bestowed on everyone. I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone, even Grandpa who could be a bear at times. And, she didn't gossip.
My Aunt Jewell made most of Grandma's dresses out of feed sacks, at least the ones she wore for everyday. To this day, I still love feed sacks and can remember how Grandma saved them until one of us girls could have enough for a dress. Many of those feed sacks also went into sunbonnets.
Here is my sunbonnet being modeled by friend and fellow author Lorelei Buckley.
|My grandmother 1950s.|
Back to Grandma's sunbonnet, she never went outside without it—except once that we know of. She'd told us kids not to get in the road. Of course, boy like, my brother didn't think she'd see him. Out the door she came with a flyswatter. My brother laughs in memory. "I knew when I heard the screen door slam and saw Grandma's tennis shoe coming off the porch I was in trouble." Oh, the joys of childhood.
|Old woman in sunbonnet (c. 1930). |
Photograph by Doris Ulmann.
|Man, Woman, and Map,James Tissot|
To Mary Lou Highfill, sewing, genealogy and history are fun, but she concentrates mainly on making sunbonnets. She says the bigger the bonnet, the older they usually are. Above is an example of a larger one, somewhere around 1930. The woman in the picture on the right appears to be early 1800, possibly late 1700s. Pioneer women, especially those crossing the plains, made their sunbonnets of dark colors as they often had to wash their clothes in muddy streams.
Here are pictures of my sunbonnet closed and laid flat for ironing. Note that there is a buttonhole in the very center bottom. The next button up was put through this hole, I suppose to give more shape. After close inspection, I noticed the interfacing was very heavy and it did give the bonnet plenty of body. It was machine stitched to appear similar to the slatted style. Please excuse the large stain on the fabric. I need to wash it but don't want to ruin it.
In her book The Sunbonnet: An American Icon in Texas, Paula Marks traces the history of the sunbonnet from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when bonnets were more fashionable and she included a chapter in her book on dress bonnets. The bonnets in the picture in the millenary shop below indicate just how different bonnets of fashion and those of utility were. Throughout it's history, the sunbonnet has been seen as mostly utilitarian. They were a part of Texas farm women's lives well into their adulthood and past. It blocked the sun's rays, the wind, dust and swishing cow's tails. But it also limited vision. In her research for her book, Ms Marks interviewed East Texas Farm women born between 1912 and 1921. This would be an interesting book to browse at the library.
|A millinery shop in Paris, 1822|
|A bonnet decorated with lace and tulle |
from the 1880s.
Though colors varied, the old-time sunbonnet in the less popular unstarched brown and white gingham could be found for $.25. If a woman could afford only one sunbonnet and she wanted things to match, she would have a white one that went with everything. It's unfortunate that the evolution of the sunbonnet was never recorded for us to ponder today.
Let's not forget the children. Little girls wore clothes very similar to their mother's, including the sunbonnet. I'm sure they were as good about keeping them on their heads as babies are today.
The pictures used for this post, other than the ones I took, are from Wikipedia Commons and The Portal to Texas History.
Paula Marks, The Sunbonnet: An American Icon in Texas (review), Southwestern Historical Quarterly,Vol.114, Number 2, Oct. 2010, pp. 203-204.
Mary Lou Highfill, http://newsok.com/sunbonnet-maker-blends-in-history/article/2446554.
The Vogue of the Sunbonnet, The New York Times, June 21, 1903.
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~Western Romance With a Twist in Time~