Friday, September 19, 2014


Slaves to the latest European military fashion, New England's volunteer militia wore the "bell crown cap" starting in 1820. Eastern European  martial influence spread gradually west at the end of the 18th century.

Harness and saddle makers added these to their lines of military accoutrements as they are entirely made of leather. Dyed black, they were coated with gloss varnish, and hung with all manner of metal decorations. The shako is surprisingly light and impractical.

The convex top is wet formed over a wooden mold and cut to the exact shape and size of the body. Stitch holes are marked and punched with an awl.

The body is edge stitched together from the inside and formed over the same mold as the top. After drying, the bottom is cut in graceful curve with a point in the back.  A trim piece is glued on, ending just in front of the ears. Strangely, the body seam is on the front, but none of the stitches are visible and eagles and chain &c. will hide the faint joint.

Matching stitch holes are made at the apex and emerge along the top edge. Careful pressure with the awl prevents (much) finger stabbing.

Before adding the top, a small tab sewn to the front will hold the RIDICULOUS plume (like it needs more decoration.) The distinctive bell shape is apparent.

Nineteenth-century leather workers plied their trade with special wax and flexible hog whisker needles. Drunk tailors use surgical needles, pliers and stab themselves repeatedly.


  1. Very nice. Is the bell shape achieved by the shape of the piece cut from the side or by wet stretching on a form?

  2. A little bit of both, it's a tight fit and I had the good fortune to have Matt Brenckle do that part for me. He is a spectacular hat maker.