Thursday, September 24, 2015

Historical Sew Monthly #9: Brown Aviator Cap

After my whole rant about Asian-American history, I figured I pretty much had to make the rest of the components for my aviatrix costume. Since the current challenge for the HSM is to make something brown, I went ahead and made a leather aviator cap/helmet. And then I realized that to complete the outfit, I really need goggles, but that will have to happen at a later date. In the meantime, let's welcome a familiar friend, the Yellow Balloon Head Stand-In!

I only have yellow balloons because they make such good Eyes of Sauron. Much as I would've liked to see the Eye of Sauron wearing an aviator cap, though, I didn't have time for such a detailed Sharpie job, so have a cat face instead. 
Back view. The tabs are for holding the goggle strap in place, like in this cap.
About two thirds of the extant caps I found had their chin strap on the left side, so I went with that.
 Snaps on the other side, like this cap and this cap
Top view. I went so slowly while topstitching and was petrified of making a mistake the whole time. Worth it, though, because look how neat and professional it looks!

I didn't feel like modeling a leather cap lined in flannel while wearing a leather jacket lined in faux fur when it was 95 degrees outside, so forgive the lack of pictures of me wearing it. I'll do proper pictures once I make goggles to go with it!

If I were more patient/had more forethought, I would've gotten leather adhesive to stick the pieces together for the tabs and straps. Unfortunately, I'm not, so I left the edges raw and just stitched them together. Many extant caps have raw edges/edges that are coming apart though, so I feel okay about this. 

As always, I did lots of research via Etsy listings for vintage caps, then decided what parts I wanted to ignore and what aspects had to be kept to get the look. This being a 40s-look, it's probably the most historically accurate item I've sewn, since the materials are all pretty much the same (leather is leather, flannel is flannel, snaps are snaps, etc.) now as back then. After figuring out the pattern, the fun/tedious part was making all the little fiddly bits that make it look like a "real" aviator cap: little tabs to hold the goggle strap in place, ear flaps, and the chin strap. Since I'm not an actual aviatrix, I don't know how my version would stand up to cold winds at some-thousand feet in the air, but it certainly feels pretty warm and gives off the right impression!

Aside from the new-ness of my leather, doesn't this look like it could be an Etsy listing for a vintage WWII aviator cap?

A peek at the insides: The tabs are sewn through both the leather and the flannel lining because I wanted the lining to be held in place somewhat. The second little hole is for the eyelet under the ear flap, presumably for hearing, like in this extant cap

Pattern: I started with this pattern and shrank and modified it to fit my head.
Year: Meant to be late 1930s-WWII
Fabric: Half a leather pencil skirt, originally thrifted back in 2012 for making a leather steampunk corset, but I never got around to it. I lined it with tan-colored cotton flannel, per this description of a similar cap.
Notions: The leather binding I cut myself from the waistband of the skirt, and the snaps and grommets were just from Jo-Ann's.
How historically accurate is it? I'd say highest score ever! All the materials are pretty spot on, the pattern is comparable, and it would definitely be recognizable by people at the time. The only thing I'll fault myself on is that the leather looks too pretty. If it were a real aviatrix's cap, it'd probably be more scuffed up.
Hours to complete: Twelve? The muslining took a while, and I sewed very, very slowly and carefully since there's no seam ripping with leather! Trying to get the tabs more or less identical took a while too, as did learning to use the snap setter properly.
First worn: Not yet. I still need to make goggles.
Total cost: The skirt originally cost $8, but I only used half, and then the flannel was $2 and the snaps $6, for a total of $12.

When I said that it hadn't been worn yet, I guess technically that's not true, as SHB, Walnut, and Frodo, a lobster, and an octopus all tried it on.

The lobster looks rather dashing, don't you think?

The octopus was the only model that was able to wear it with the chin strap buttoned. It looks pretty pissed, though, probably because it doesn't actually have a chin and it's just buttoned over its tentacles. 


  1. So nice! My lobsters are all jealous of your jaunty aviator cap. They are now pointing at the brown pleather and snapping their claws in an aggressive manner.

    1. Yikes! I'm sorry if I got you in trouble with your lobsters!

  2. OMG this is so awesome! It looks spot on, and that slow topstitching is BEAUTIFUL!

    Can't wait to see it with the goggles... and can't wait to hear how you end up making those! :)

    1. I can't wait to hear how I end up making them, either! ;) I'm mulling over ideas, but haven't settled on a plan of action just yet. Must do more research!

  3. This looks amazing! And it does look super professional. I love it. Cannot wait to see the whole ensemble.

    1. Thanks! I'll be sure to take pictures once I get it all together!

  4. Blondini (freshly 16) compliments you on the aviator and politely inquired if I could make him one. About time that boy learnt him some sewing skills!
    (that is a beautiful octopus)

    1. Haha I'm sorry if I added to your to-do list! The octopus, sadly, is purchased and not made by me. It's a RTW octopus? Does that work if nobody's wearing it?

  5. Ditto! So amazing! Congrats on precision stitching,

  6. Seriously impressive, can't wait to see you in the whole outfit!
    P.s. I love your octopus, he is gorgeous!


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