Canadian Cap By Gene Hickman

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Canadian Cap

By Gene Hickman

Joseph Ruckman (2000), in Recreating the American Longhunter, says …in the 18th and well into the 20th Century, a man without a hat was presumed to have lost either his hat or his mind. Keeping your head covered in cold weather is important, as the amount of heat that can escape from your head, on a cold or windy day, can be up to 40% of your body heat.

The Canadian Cap may well be what your are looking for. The Canada Cap is well documented for use in the 18th and into the 19th century. The artist F. VonGermann depicts the cap being worn circa 1766 by a British soldier at Michilimackinac. Two decades earlier, celebrated English artist William Hogarth, wearing a Canada cap, captures himself in a self-portrait. From before the French and Indian War through to well after the Revolutionary War, the Canada cap is evident. It is said Benjamin Franklin himself donned one and wore it when he lived in Paris. Another example can be seen in the Eastman Johnson painting Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851). Later, in the 1860s another celebrated artist, cartoonist Thomas Nast, established the look of “Santa Claus”. Santa may be the most popular wearer of the Canada cap (Koster 2002).

Wool Canadian Caps are nice looking warm hats and they are easily constructed. The cap is made from four or more wedge shaped pieces of wool or blanket material sewn into a beanie. You can take your measurements from the segments of a favorite baseball cap. Either a separate band about 3” wide can be sewn around the bottom of the hat, or your “football” sections can be lengthened and then turned up on the sides about 3”. Fur is sewed on this rim and it forms a large fur band around the cap.
When the bottom fur band is pulled down the band forms earflaps with the fur next to the skin. Fox or raccoon were the most common, but coyote also makes a good fur band. I have also seen one of muskrat and it looked good. When a fine fur, like coyote or fox, gets wet you’ll have wet hair hanging down in your face. Check the thrift stores, sometimes you can get an old coat with a fur (Raccoon, fox, coyote, etc.) collar or just the collar very cheap. Remember that raccoons are not native to the Rocky Mountains so any “coon” would have had to come from the east. Furs such as chinchilla, dyed fur or faux fur are not appropriate either. Many times the cap had a fur “pom,” tassel, wool pompom, feather(s) or tail on top in the center. These are easy simple caps to make and The Book of Buckskinning II, has an article by Beth Gilgun that shows one way to make the cap.
Karl Koster published a neat pattern and instructions for making a Canadian cap several years ago in an issue of the Coalition of Historical Trekkers IA/MN Almanac.  However, I can not find the exact article, but I talked with Karl, took notes, and received the drawing below with notes from Karl. I have made several of these hats using Karl’s information. Karl also allowed me to use this information and his drawings of the Canadian cap for my book, Manual for Interpreting Lewis & Clark.

This pattern permits the furred rim to be folded down over the ears in cold weather. This is a very warm hat and I have rarely had to roll down the rim, although I do this when I sleep in this cap.

Many ways of producing this cap exists; below is mine (Karl Koster 2002).  This style creates a classic look with added benefits.

1.) Choose some blanket weight wool and "full it down" with a warm wash. Red, blue, and sometimes green are common colors of 18th and 19th century Canada caps.

2.) Measure around your head where the hat shall rest, divide this number by 4. Then measure from the top of your head down to the bottom of your ear lobe, double this number. Draw 4 elongated "footballs" on the wool using these numbers. The middle of your footballs should be that ¼ of your head diameter. The length of your football should be the top of head to ear lobe dimension. [If you don’t want a heavy hat, either use lighter weight wool or don’t double the length of the footballs. Only make your wedges down to just below your ear lobe].

3.) Cut out the 4 footballs [leave a ¼” allowance to sew each seam, otherwise your hat will be too tight].

4.) Fold the footballs in half top to bottom [if you are making the double wool version] so that they resemble the face of a clothing iron.  Select 2 of the pieces and stitch together from fold to point. Repeat this with the remaining pieces until all 4 are sewn into a cap. When stitching you will be going through 2 pieces or 4 layers of wool at the same time. This creates a double layer that insulates.
[If you are using the single wool layer you may also line it with linen, cotton or gabardine by sewing in the appropriate other half of the “football. You may want to first cut out and sew a hat out of cotton or other cheap material to insure a proper fit. If footballs are too long you’ll have a pointed cap, if too narrow around the base it’ll be too tight or ride too high on the head].

5.) Your hat is now made!  Fold up the brim 2 or 3 inches or so.

6.) Select some fur and cut into a strip to attach to the folded up brim. Any fur is fine to use; valuable fur such as beaver and otter were not used as often as lesser furs, by the mountain men.

7.) Stitch the fur band only to the outside of the folded brim.  Leaving the brim with the option of folding down towards your face provides additional warmth for the ears and neck if needed.

8.) Take a remaining scrap and stitch on your top tuft.

9.) For an added bonus, cut one more football from the wool.  Cut in half across the middle. Stitch the flat edges of these pieces to the back 2 panels of your cap to create a neck flap.  Leave the curved edges free, this creates a swallowtail that easily folds back into the cap with normal wear and can be dropped out when needed.

Literature Cited
Ruckman, J. 2000. Recreating the American Longhunter: 1740-1790. Graphics/Fine

Arts Press. Excelsior Springs, MO 63 pp.

Koster, K.A. 2002. Personal Communications. Grand Portage National

Monument/NPS Grand Marais, Minnesota, 55604

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