How To Sew A 19th Century Style Sunbonnet- No Pattern Needed

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Back in the day, the women didn’t wear 50 SPF sunscreen in the garden, they wore sunbonnets. Now you can make your own 19th-century sunbonnet without a pattern. Just follow our easy step-by-step instructions. 

How To Sew A 19th Century Style Sunbonnet- No Pattern Needed

Be forewarned: this is not the modern definition of attractive!  Even during the 19th century when these were most commonly worn, they were not considered attractive but highly necessary in a time before the invention of sunscreen. The brim is great for shading your face and the long sides and back protect your neck.

 Now, with the ingredients of sunscreen found to harm the ocean and possibly you, this might be worth revisiting when working outside.  It doesn’t wear off, you don’t have to worry about smearing it into your eyes, and it makes for a hilarious conversation starter (don’t ask me how I know this).

The History Of The Sunbonnet

Just a bit of terminology before we get started:  there seems to be a lot of confusion online about the difference between a bonnet and a cap (or Kapp as some anabaptists call them).  A bonnet is an outer garment used for protection from the elements. A cap is a headcovering of a religious nature. This is a bonnet. A cap tutorial will be forthcoming in the future.

Sunbonnet Pattern Supplies

Supply list:

    • half a yard of fabric
    • matching thread
    • one cereal box for cardboard,
    • newspapers for patterns,
    • scissors and
    • a measuring tape.
    • Sewing machine 

Taking Measurements For Your Sunbonnet

Measurements you need to:

  1. loop the measuring tape over your head so that one end lays in the middle of your chest.  This is going to be how long your sides will be. Call this measurement A.
  2. Loop it over your head again and measure from the bottom of your ears this time.  Call this measurement B
  3. Now, measure from the crown of your head to three inches past the end of your forehead. Call this C
  4. measure across your back from shoulder to shoulder. Call this D
  5. We are ready to go!


Sunbonnet Pattern Instructions

  1. Make a pattern out of newspaper.  
  2. The first piece is a rectangle that is A by C.  Next is B by C.
  3. Cut out two pieces of fabric using these patterns. This is your brim.

I’m using white for the smaller piece for the sake of clarity. You can do both the same fabric or contrasting, it’s not important.
Historically bonnets were usually lined in pale fabric though because it was more flattering to the complexion.

Sewing the Sunbonnet

  1. Hem the smaller piece on the two short sides and one long side

  1. Sew the small piece to the center of the large piece with right sides together.
  2. Flip it right sides out and then press with an iron.  
  3. The big piece should now be slightly wider than the small one.
  4. This is how its supposed to be!
  5. Top stitch the brim edge.

  1. With a very light pencil, mark the center line.  
  2. Then, measuring 1 and a quarter inch, make parallel lines outward from the center line.  
  3. These are your sewing guides for the slat pockets.
  4. Sew them down, working from the center outwards.  
  5. This will form pockets.


  1. Using some scrap fabric, cut out a strip about an inch and a half wide by 20 inches.
  2. Do this twice.  
  3. Fold the edges inwards and sew in place to form ties.

  1. Now you need another piece of fabric.  
  2. This is going to be D wide by ½ A tall.  
  3. Fold it in half longwise and cut the corners off in a gentle curve.
  4. This is the back of the bonnet.

  1. Gather the top of the bonnet with a running stitch between the two curves.
  2. Pin the two Ties to the brim on either side so that they just touch the white portion.
  3. With right sides facing inwards, pin the center of the crown to the center of the brim being careful not to also pin the white portion.  Match up the ends and the flat areas first, then adjust the gathers so they fit evenly.
    HINT: use a LOT of pins to keep this mess in order.

Sew the crown to the brim, being careful NOT to sew the pockets shut.

  1. Flip it inside out and iron it.
  2. Cut pieces of cardboard to fit in the pockets and put them in.

Tie the back ties together


Put it on your new Sunbonnet and go enjoy the garden without worrying about getting too much sun on your face. 

If you would like another easy sewing project, try our Easy To Make Apron

Easy To Make Apron Without A Pattern!


  1. Stephen Ramming on July 24, 2019 at 11:31 am

    Thanks, I used to help my Grandmother make this type of bonnet when I was a child. I enjoyed it very much. Thinking about making some for my Grandaughters.

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