Each year the Golden Scissors takes on a small number of commissions for historical garments and accessories. Some may be rather simple, like aprons or pin cushions, and some may be a bit more complex. Each project offer its own challenges and joys in creativity.
Our more recent commission, finished this past week and hand delivered on Saturday, was something entirely new and was very exciting to work on. Not only was it a project that was different from anything else we have sewn, it was for a close friend which made it even more special. Enter the mitre cap pocket!
This summer I was approached by a friend to commission a special gift for his wife's birthday. He wanted me to turn his old grenadier's mitre cap into a pocket, based on this extent example owned by the National Army Museum in London. How exciting! I don't know of anyone else who has reproduced this particular pocket, or anything close to it, so it was a challenge I looked forward to tackling.
The British grenadiers of the 18th century wore tall, triangular-shaped caps as part of their uniforms. The fronts were stiffened to help keep their shape, and the face of each cap was embroidered with the regiment's emblem and number. The mitre caps worn by the Prussian grenadiers had an impressive metal plate with a similar type of design.
The description of the original mitre cap pocket at the National Army Museum gives very little information about the pocket itsself as far as the materials that were used. I could see from zooming in on the two photos provided that the embroidered front of the cap looked to be bordered and bound in wool tape. The back of the pocket is of a brown cloth but I could not determine from the image if it is wool or linen. No ties remain on the pocket, though there is a loop sewn to the top that looks to be a later addition.
In preproducing this pocket, or at least a version of it, as this was not intended as a true one for one of the NAM pocket, I first searched my sewing stash for appropriate materials. I found a brown linen but did not have enough wool tape in the right colors or size. With a closer look at the museum's image you can see that there are two colors and sizes of wool tape used on this pocket. The red appears to be approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide, the lighter color possibly an 1 wide. I searched the web for red tape but was unable to find anything wide enough that would arrive in time. Enter Burnley and Trowbridge! I settled on two sizes of their off white wool tape, and as well some of their madder red wool tape, which in the end I think was a much better choice for this particular project.
After gathering my supplies, it was time to deconstruct the mitre cap, an interesting task on its own. The front embroidered portion was backed with a fusible interfacing to protect the embroidery and then stiffened with a heavy cardstock. The band around the bottom was also backed in interfacing. I removed these parts and separated all the pieces. Because this cap has seen a lot of use over the years I decided to give the embroidered front a quick soak to freshen it up. I'm glad I did, it still shows a lot of wear but it much cleaner in appearance.
The 27th Inniskilling grenadier mitre cap before being deconstructed.
The back of the 27th mitre, the inside and the interior parts after being deconstructed.
After studying the photos of the NAM cap some more I finally settled on my construction method. To protect the embroidery, the front was lined in linen. I laid out the fabric and placed the cap front on top. Then proceed to tack it to the linen backing. After that I added the 1 inch wide wool tape around the outside, carefully overlapping about 1/4 inch of the wool cap. A bit of steam from the iron helped the tape lay nice and flat. Two short rows of 1 inch wide tape were add across the top to even out the top edge and give a bit more depth to the pocket. Then it was time to make the scary cut!
Now, those of you who familiar with sewing and working with costly materials know how scary it can be to make that first cut. Slicing through that gorgeous embroidery was no different! (Thank goodness this was a machine embroidered design and not the hand embroidered version by Chris Cook!) I measured and re-measured to decide how deep to make the opening of the pocket. On the original NAM pocket, the opening is a few inches down from the top, almost in the middle of the pocket. I opted not to copy that detail as it meant cutting through more of the embroidery and I wanted to preserve as much of the Inniskillen castle as possible. After the cut was made I whipped around the opening, catching both the embroidered front and the linen backing. Then wool tape was used to bind the opening.
The extra linen was cut away and the front was used as a guide to cut the linen backing. The two pieces were then stitched around the outside and a contrasting red wool tape was used to bind the outside edge of the pocket. The last step was adding the linen tape to tie the pocket around the waist.
As a special surprise, I used the back of the grenadiers cap to make a second pocket for the friends' daughter. I used the same method as the first pocket. And in order not to waste any materials, added the pompom that used to sit on the very top of the cap to the bottom of the second pocket. It's a fun little addition and reminds me of the wool tassels that trim the bottom of some late 17th/early 18th century embroidered work bags. (Like this one in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg.)
Overall I really enjoyed this commission. It was a fun process to puzzle out the construction details of the original NAM pocket while combining them with what I know of construction techniques used on more common 18th century women's pockets.
Commissions for 2023 have closed, however, if you have something in mind please reach out to reserve you spot for 2024. More information on commissions can be found here.