The Creative Corner · Vintage Sewing

Make a Simple Vintage Sunbonnet

Mannequin head wearing a purple sunbonnet. Sits on a wooden table.
Keep those rays out of your face and the insects out of your hair.

This project started out so easy. I wanted a simple vintage sunbonnet or sun hat to wear outside while I do needlework. I often sit outside under a tree on nice days and tat. Sometimes I knit. Other times I sew by hand. It gets me out into the air and into the sunshine.

However, I sit under a tree outdoors. And I might be there for a few hours. Trees have birds in them. And insects. I found the idea of things falling into my hair while I bent over a needle and thread less than thrilling. Better to fall onto a washable hat. That’s what I need! A simple sunhat of vintage or antique history, but modern materials, would do nicely.

Simple, right? Not so fast. I found my fabric, that great purple that you see above, followed the 1940s instructions, put it together, and it Did. Not. Fit. Nope. That hat you see there would fit a ten year old, which I am not. The back curve needed three more inches to go over a modern medium-sized head.

This is why I test almost all the patterns that I present. Even taking into account the change in fashion and how things fit differently now than they did, this hat was far too small. It was uncomfortable. The ties wouldn’t tie under my chin. They were too short. If you try a craft for the first time, I want it to work. This should be a pleasant experience. Thankfully, this is a very simple pattern so when I realized this didn’t work I removed almost all the stitching and returned the large, now completely hemmed rectangle to my scrap bag for another project. You may see it later as part of a small quilting project.

Although I show putting this together on the sewing machine for speed’s sake, you can absolutely do this completely by hand. In fact, it’s a good handwork project because the seams are simple and all straight.

You will need

In order to make your simple vintage sunbonnet, you will need:

  • Piece of fabric measuring 21 x 36 inches. The original pattern squeezed it out of half a yard of fabric and that’s where this doesn’t work. For comfort it really needs to be about 21 inches wide. I made my samples from cotton, but you can use anything that will gather well. Lace yardage might be really cute if you have some left from another project.
  • Ribbon, 1.5 inches wide, 2 yard to 2 1/4 yards. Cut one piece 28 inches long and use the rest in one long piece of 44 – 48 inches. The longer you cut this, the longer and more luxurious your hat ties will be. If you don’t have ribbon, but you have fabric, you can make two long hemmed pieces measuring about 1.5 inches wide and use those instead.
  • Thread and needle or sewing machine for assembly
  • Large safety pin or bodkin to pull ribbon or ties through completed hat channels.
  • Iron to press your seams. This does make the whole process a lot easier.

Putting it together

  1. First, hem the two short ends with 1/4-inch hems. Turn the fabric edges up 1/2 inch and press.
  2. Then turn half that 1/2 inch allowance under and hem, like the photo below.

3. Now you have both short sides hemmed. Great! Turn the fabric so the long side is facing you, and turn up 1/2 inch like you did before. Press. Do this with both sides.

4. On one end, bring up a 1-inch hem. Press.

This hem forms the back of the hat.

5. Sew this into place close to the top of the hem, using a 1/8 inch seam or less. Do not close the ends, because you will be threading a ribbon through there.

6. On the other long end, fold the edge up 5 1/4 inches and press. This makes the brim of your hat.

This hem forms the front of the hat.

7. Sew this in place, sewing close to the edge of the hem. Use a 1/8 inch seam or less.

8. Sew again, one inch below the first seam. You should be sewing through the outside fabric and the hem at the same time. This makes the channel for the under the chin tie.

9. This is what it should look like after all your seams are finished. This image is folded to show you both the top side and the lower side. Your simple vintage sunbonnet is almost complete!

All sewn and ready to assemble

10. Next we’re going to insert the short ribbon or tie, your 28-inch length. Using a large safety pin or bodkin attached to one end of the ribbon or tie, work it through the smaller of the two hems. Once you get it through, pull tight and tie it in a bow. If you don’t want to remove the tie for cleaning, you can use your needle and thread to tack the bow in a couple places so it doesn’t come apart.

Back all finished, with bow in place.

11. Now, taking your longer piece of ribbon or tie, thread it through the 1-inch channel at the top of the larger hem. Pull it up a bit, adjust the gathers so they will fall softly around your face, and try it on.

This is the one that actually fits, and more like what yours will look like.

12. The strings should tie comfortably under your chin, and the brim should fall far enough in front of your face that it gives you some shade.

You did it!

Congratulations on your new simple vintage sunbonnet. This pattern appeared during the 1940s as a simple hat to make with very few supplies.

Most sunbonnets also offer a neck guard to keep the sun off the back of your neck, which this simple vintage sunbonnet does not. This is more of a sun hat or a costume hat than it is a traditional sunbonnet.

If you want to decorate your sunbonnet brim, here are some Outline Stitches that would look lovely.