Victorian Parasol Restoration: The Beginning and Prep

Project 10, part 1 – Contracting in a Field


Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! I am beyond excited to share this new project with you. Of course, the Victorian Era (or late Edo/Meiji periods, in Japan) is my absolute favorite, and it’s becoming something of a specialty here on the blog. I mentioned in my Virtual Costume College review that the class I most enjoyed attending was Maegen Hensley’s lecture on trimming Victorian parasols, and that she was planning to do a full intensive masterclass on the subject at a later date. Well, my very excellent husband purchased the class for me as a birthday present, and I was able to spend a weekend restoring a parasol from around 1870!

Some of the parasols that were restored during the class. My Bonnie is fifth from the left. Photo credit Maegen Hensley.

The class was through Black Orchid Atelier, and I cannot encourage you enough to take one of the courses that Kristen hosts through her site. Everything from purchasing the class to the pre-course info to how smoothly it ran was phenomenal. Maegen of course is an excellent lecturer, and I still can’t believe how cheerful she was at the end of 16 hours of talking and sewing! We had only one minor Zoom issue and it was resolved in under 5 minutes, which is pretty impressive considering how long the class ran and how many people were attending. Enough gushing though – let’s talk parasols!

The point of the class was restoration, but Bonnie was in exceptional shape from the jump.

My ticket to the class included an antique parasol from Maegen’s collection, and I selected Bonnie, a smaller parasol from around 1870. I picked her for a few reasons – one is that I have a lot of larger modern parasols already, so I thought it would be nice to have something unique. Another was her era – I knew I only wanted something from the 1870s or 1880s since those are the eras of Victorian dress that I’m drawn to, and I wanted my parasol to match. Finally, I was smitten with her carved wooden handle! 😀

It’s subtle from a distance, but up close it has so many lovely little details! And it’s so smooth.

Parasols were one of the Victorian accessories. Emily Dickinson compared women with their parasols to butterflies –
From Cocoon forth a Butterfly
As Lady from her Door
Emerged—a Summer Afternoon—
… Her pretty Parasol be seen
Contracting in a Field

There’s evidence of parasols in ancient Persia – there are some cool carvings of kings from around 485 BCE being shaded by them – but after the fall of the Roman Empire they mostly disappeared from Europe until the 1600s. (They never disappeared from China or Japan; there they were typically made of paper for commoners or silk for the upper classes, and from about the 1300s in Japan there were oiled paper umbrellas as well!)

Look! Sakura! Another reason to love Bonnie – she’s got a little link to Japan. 🙂

Like my Bonnie, early to mid-Victorian parasols were often smaller – more face-shades than full-body-shades. If you see parasols listed online as a “child’s parasol,” you might actually be looking at a carriage parasol or other similar adult parasol that just happens to be smaller than what we consider proper size today! Handles ran the gamut from wood to ivory to metal, and could be plain or carved, and the canopies likewise might be anything from plain silk taffeta to an explosion of lace and fringe. They could even have a stiletto hidden in the handle, per a patent from 1851! If only I could find one of those… 😀

Bonnie’s original canopy was a thick black cotton, which is probably why it was in such good shape still.

In order to prepare for the class, I had to remove my parasol’s original canopy. It was fairly easy – I just had to snip the threads securing it to the ribs, and then slip it over the ferrule at the top. When I’d finished the disrobing, so to speak, I noticed that the ribs were a little on the rusty side, so I also pulled out the super fine grit sandpaper I use for refinishing wooden weapons and gently buffed out the rust so it wouldn’t spread (or stain the new canopy).

I’ve kept the old canopy intact – I’m not sure I could use it on another parasol, but I’ve been considering refashioning it into a reticule!

This left Bonnie all cleaned up, and ready for her makeover! So join me in the next installment, when I learn how to create canopy patterns and also why you don’t cut toward yourself with a rotary cutter. 😀

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6 thoughts on “Victorian Parasol Restoration: The Beginning and Prep

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