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More Information about Making and Wearing Bonnets

Q: I am looking for Amish "bonnet board", can you help?

A: To the best of my knowledge, the Amish are now mostly using a plastic sheeting type bonnet board. I did not find that it was firm enough for 18th century style bonnets. The shops and people I checked with who supply bonnet board to the Amish in our area (Amish themselves), can not get the former paper kind, and I think it is no longer made. It has been quite a few years since I searched for it, so things may have changed, or you may find another source. However, I would suggest that you make your own, it is quite easy and inexpensive!

Get what is called "single thickness chipboard", which is the gray cardboard, uncoated, that is sold by picture framing stores, art stores, craft stores, etc. Do not get double thickness. Call ahead to see if the store carries it, or knows what it is! Our local (Springfield, Ohio) Hobby Lobby store stocks it, and it is with the mat boards. Do NOT use laminated board, i.e. cardboard with a sheet of paper glued to it, as it prevents the cardboard from bending and will fracture the board when bending it to the bonnet shape.

Note that the 18th century name of this is "pasteboard", the term I use when discussing the construction of the bonnets, to keep it period.

Get a quart of real Shellac (I prefer clear, but it doesn't matter). Be sure to check the DATE on the can. Shellac only has a shelf life of three years, or it may never dry!!! Also be sure to get a bottle/can of denatured alcohol (thinner for shellac),  to clean up with!

You can use some disposable sponge brushes, or you can use good 1-2" wide paint brushes (avoid brushes that drop their bristles). Cut out the shape of the bonnet front that you are making from the pasteboard. Use a heavy thread on a strong needle and run the thread through a corner of the front piece and tie it in a long loop. This is to hang it while it dries. Find a good place where you feel it will dry well and be out of the way, so no one gets stuck on it!

Now, open the shellac (over some newspaper), stir it gently with a stir stick, and then brush on the shellac on both sides of the bonnet front. Hold it in your hands and be sure to get the edges. You will get sticky fingers, but they clean off quite easily if you have the right thinner!!! Hang it up and let it dry for a day. Be sure to close the shellac can well. Hang the rags or paper towels you use to clean up with in a safe, well ventilated place, and do not leave them bunched up - it could be a fire hazard, as with any thinner.

The next day, coat it again. Let it dry again for at least a day. Do not stack multiple bonnet fronts together, even if they feel dry (voice of experience.....). If you are making more than one, leave them hanging to dry as long as possible, then use some wax paper or something to separate them!!!

This makes a wonderful bonnet front when covered! If it should get really wet, it can be gently reshaped and dried, and it regains a good deal of its firmness. If, however, you are in the rain, you should cover your bonnet with the hood of your cloak, if at all possible. Store your bonnets carefully, and they will last a long time.


For more information on making and wearing bonnets go to www.kannikskorner.com/infobonnets.htm