Sun­bon­nets

The Community Connection - - OPINION - By Ca­role Christ­man Koch Ca­role Christ­man Koch grew up in Berks County and has been pub­lished in nu­mer­ous publi­ca­tions. She has a pas­sion for writ­ing and has many sto­ries from grow­ing up on a farm to rais­ing chil­dren to hu­mor­ous sto­ries about her and her

I didn’t know any­thing much about sun­bon­nets as a kid grow­ing up on a farm. I did see one hang­ing in the closet, near the kitchen, but I never saw any­one in the fam­ily wear­ing one, in­clud­ing mom.

Later in life, as an adult with an in­quis­i­tive mind, I made the mis­take of ask­ing the sis­ters why we had a sun­bon­net, at the farm­house, if no one wore it.

I found out. Anita was first to let me know. “You never had to wear those hideous sun­bon­nets! Jan­netta and I had to wear them to pick berries, do gar­den work, and even milk the cows. When­ever she wasn’t in sight, the bon­nets were taken off.”

Even though I didn’t have the “priv­i­lege” of wear­ing a sun­bon­net like my older sis­ters, I thought it would be fun to know more about sun­bon­nets. I still see them, be­ing sold or worn, at the Kutz­town Folk fes­ti­val and other lo­cal fes­ti­vals for young girls and women.

Sun­bon­nets had a wide brim, that framed the face, with a ruf­fle at the back to pro­tect the neck and face from the sun and wind. The crown was of­ten full to cover women’s long hair. Ties were usu­ally un­der the chin to keep in place. The brims had to be stiff so it would stay sturdy to pro­tect the face. They usu­ally were quilted on a trea­dle sewing ma­chine. Or they could be starched, laid out to dry, and ironed when al­most dry.

They were mainly for coun­try house­holds. Women and girls wore them wher­ever they went, es­pe­cially do­ing out­side chores, vis­it­ing, shop­ping and church. Some­times they matched a Sun­day dress or apron. Hats be­came in style by 1850, but coun­try women still wore their bon­nets. Even­tu­ally, sun­bon­nets faded out of pop­u­lar­ity with the younger gen­er­a­tion, who de­sired fash­ion­able hats.

Most women didn’t have bon­net pat­terns. Of­ten an old bon­net was ripped apart and used as a guide to cut out on new ma­te­rial. Pat­terns could be pur­chased from cer­tain mag­a­zines, but some­times the women just traced them. Some of the old pat­terns were as fol­lows: 1) Split bon­net, where the brim is made of stiff card­board splits, usu­ally cut from a shoe box and slid into the brim. When wash­ing the brim, the splits were re­moved. 2) Snap bon­net looked sort of like a cap with no ties. When spread out, it looks like a di­a­per where all three sides are brought to­gether. It stays to­gether with snaps. 3) But­ton bon­net is made with 18 but­ton­holes. When laun­dered, all you had to do was un­but­ton all the pieces and but­ton it back to­gether. 4) Gath­ered bon­net has a shorter tail and a more round brim and usu­ally had a full crown be­cause of women’s long hair.

Il­lus­tra­tors and artists, as early as 1800s, started de­sign­ing a girl in a bon­net, mostly with her face hid­den. She had var­i­ous names such as “Lit­tle Su­san,” “Bonny Bon­net,” “Sun Bon­net Ba­bies,” “Colo­nial Lady,” “Sun Bon­net Girl,” and the “Dutch Girl.” Even­tu­ally the name “Sun­bon­net Sue” be­came the pop­u­lar name for these de­signs and it stuck and is still used to­day on quilts, em­broi­dery, paint­ings, in books, and songs.

It was Kate Greenaway, a Bri­tish book editor, that is cred­ited to the “Sun­bon­net Sue” de­pic­tions of young girls wear­ing bon­nets that cov­ered their faces. They were in an 1878 pub­li­ca­tion of her first book, “Un­der the Win­dow.” Alas, it was pub­lished in Eng­land, and not un­der U.S. copy­right law, at that time.

An Amer­i­can il­lus­tra­tor, Bertha Cor­bett (later Melcher), is also cred­ited with the Sun­bon­net de­signs. She self-pub­lished her first book, “The Sun­bon­net Ba­bies,” in 1900. From 1902, she col­lab­o­rated with Eu­lalie Os- good Grover, a writer of chil­dren’s primers, in a se­ries called “The Sun­bon­net Ba­bies,” which be­came quite pop­u­lar. In 1905, the pair in­tro­duced “The Over­all Boys” to the mix.

This craze for sun­bon­nets also led to songs like, “Sun­bon­net Sue”, also known as “When I was a Kid so High,” writ­ten by Will Cobb and Gus Ed­wards, in 1906. It is thought this spe­cific song helped pop­u­lar­ize that spe­cific name.

In 1967, the Amer­i­can Greet­ing card com­pany pub­lished “Holly Hob­bie” a se­ries of cards with her sim­ple, patch­work Sun­bon­net style. She was named af­ter the artist who cre­ated her.

And just when I thought I did enough re­search, I had a sur­prise visit from a sun bon­net girl. When I reached into my kitchen cup­board, to get the Sun-Maid raisins to put on my ce­real, I no­ticed the paint­ing of the girl, on the con­tainer, was clad in a sun­bon­net. It turns out, the first “Sun-Maid girl” on the pack­age, of the newly formed raisin com­pany, was Lorraine Col­lett Petersen, from Cal­i­for­nia. She was seen, by some­one from the com­pany, in her backyard dry­ing her curly black hair. She first ap­peared on the Sun-Maid raisins in 1916. Over the years, the orig­i­nal paint­ing was mod­i­fied, but al­ways kept the orig­i­nal pose. In 1960, a new girl, Delia von Meyer (Pacheco) posed for the com­pany and is still on to­day’s con­tain­ers.

A few years ago, I started a Red Hat group, called Red Hat Dutchies, from Kutz­town and sur­round­ing ar­eas. Most of us have a hand sewn red sun­bon­net and wear it on oc­ca­sion. I now have more ap­pre­ci­a­tion for sun­bon­nets, es­pe­cially since I don’t have to do chores in them, like my sis­ters did!

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