How to Make a Sunbonnet

Use this pattern and these easy instructions to make a sunbonnet in less than two hours.


Our sunbonnet is both practical and easy to make.


Content Tools

Summer sunbonnets have been worn by the ladies in our family for the past six or seven generations. My 84-year-old grandmother — who taught me how to make the sunbonnets — used to handstitch hers up out of turkey-feed sacks back in the days when bulk grain came in fancyprint cotton bags instead of today's "modern" paper containers. And she worked from a pattern — the very one I'm going to pass along to you now that was handed down to her ages ago by her mother-in-law.

I suppose I'm about the first member of our family to make a sunbonnet with the help of a sewing machine. You may use one too if you wish, but it's certainly not necessary. And I'm sure you'll have no trouble following my simple instructions on how to make a sunbonnet, even if you've never sewn before! Anyone can make a sunbonnet!

Washable Cloth Is Best for Sunbonnets

A sunbonnet may be made of most any washable cloth you prefer ... such as common cotton, muslin, or even lightweight denim. The main requirement for sunbonnet material is the ability to withstand many washings and considerable exposure to the sun without becoming too limp or faded. Then too, since it's difficult to iron a sunbonnet, the fabric used in one of these ruffled head coverings should also be fairly wrinkle resistant.

You'll need 1 1/2 yards of a 36-inch-wide, brightly flowered print in your favorite colors plus a 36-by-18-inch piece of heavy muslin (or any other stiff, washable cloth that can be used as padding) to make a sunbonnet.

The Pattern for Making a Sunbonnet

Copy my grandmother's original pattern to size by following the measurements shown in the illustration (in the Image Gallery) and drawing them onto brown grocery bag or heavy wrapping paper.

The large semi-oval piece will become a fluffy CROWN that fits over the back of your head ... while the long flap across its end forms a DUCK TAIL which hangs down to protect the nap of your neck. The bonnet's BRIM, or sunshade, will be made from the smaller half-oval  ... while the four strips are destined to become a DRAW, DRAWSTRING, and two chin-strap TIES. (Eventually the DRAW will be sewn right across the back of the DUCK TAIL to make a hollow "tube" for the DRAWSTRING to fit through. This positioning of the DRAW is indicated in the illustration by dotted lines.)

After you've drawn all six pieces of your bonnet pattern to size on paper, cut them out, lay 'em on your cloth, and pin them in place. As you arrange the paper templates on the fabric, remember that you'll need one CROWN, two BRIMS, one DRAW, one DRAWSTRING, and two TIES cut from the good material, and three additional BRIMS scissored out of the muslin. (You will, of course, need only one each of the paper patterns — some of which will be used more than once — to make all of these cuts.)

When you scissor out the pieces of fabric, leave about 1/4-inch of extra material on every side of each part so you'll have something to fold over later into a neat hem. And do bear in mind — since hems on a sunbonnet are used simply to cover up rough-cut or frayed cloth edges — you may incorporate some of those hems into various rows of stitching (seams) as the pieces are sewed together.

Step-By-Step Instructions for How to Make a Sunbonnet

[1] Make a sandwich of the five BRIM pieces (stack the three muslin BRIMS together and top 'em first with one of the fancy-cloth pieces facing right side up and then with the other print fabric section turned right side down) and stitch through all layers along the BRIM's curved edge ... trim away any excess fabric on the outside edge of the stitching ... and turn the creation "inside out" (which will be, in fact, right side out) so that the "pretty" sides of the two fancy fabric sections are exposed. Now make several parallel rows of stitches front to back at 1-inch intervals all the way across the stacked material. This quilting stitch will not only hold the muslin padding in place when the cap is washed ... it will also give the BRIM enough body to make it stand out over your forehead when the finished bonnet is worn.

In the old days Grandma used to further stiffen the front of her sunbonnets by inserting some hand-cut cardboard "ribs" in between the rows of stitching on her head covering's BRIM. The idea was a good one . . . except that she then had to laboriously remove and reinsert the stiffeners each washday to keep them from getting soggy.

Thanks to modern technology, however, you can now go Grandma's original idea one better and do a little recycling at the same time. Now? Just cut some strips about 1/2-inch wide or a little wider and long enough to reach all the way from the front of your sunbonnet's BRIM to its rear ... from a plastic one-gallon milk or bleach jug. Once they're inserted and sewn in place, you can leave the plastic stiffeners there forever.

[2] Stitch the edges of the DRAW, lengthwise, to the underside of the DUCK TAIL to form a tube for the DRAWSTRING. (Turn the raw edges of the fabric under before sewing to give the casing a finished look.) The DRAW should be lined up so that its center is just even with the imaginary line that joins the DUCK TAIL to the CROWN. And don't stitch the two ends of the DRAW at this time ... just leave them open. (You might also wish to hem the rough edges of the DUCK TAIL at this point.)

Next take the DRAWSTRING material ... fold its long edges in so that they meet in the center, and then fold the piece again in half lengthwise so it will be about 1/4-inch wide ... and run a long stitch all the way down the length of the material to turn it into a thick "string". Stuff this string through the hollow space that was formed when you sewed the DRAW to the DUCK TAIL ... and temporarily pin the DRAWSTRING in place.

[3] Now you're ready to sew the flat edge of the BRIM to the round edge of the CROWN. And if you haven't done a lot of sewing, you're in for a surprise here: It's impossible to make the two pieces fit together (since the curved edge of the CROWN is so long) . . . unless you "gather" the CROWN's cloth as you go. This means that you will sew about three times as much CROWN material as you do BRIM material . . . but if you do the job properly (bunch the excess CROWN fabric evenly along the BRIM's edge) your finished bonnet will have a nice "baggy" look. You'll find it much easier to bunch the "gathers" evenly, by the way, if you first sew a wide running stitch along the rounded edge of the CROWN material, pull up the gathers along this thread till the fabric fits the BRIM, adjust the folds evenly, and pin the two fabric pieces together just as you want them before machine stitching your seam.

[4] Scrunch up the DUCK TAIL by pushing both ends toward the center as you pull out on each end of the DRAWSTRING. This (a) will create decorative folds of cloth that will hang down around the nape of your neck and (b) will allow you to adjust the bonnet to ride either high or low on your head, as you desire. Try the cap on while holding the ends of the DRAWSTRING ... then loosen or tighten the folds for a comfortable fit. Finally, pin — and then stitch — the edges of the DUCK TAIL to the DRAWSTRING ... then tie the "leftover" ends of the DRAWSTRING off into little bows.

[5] The last items you should add to your new sunbonnet will be the two chin-strap TIES. First, fold each one lengthwise twice and stitch it exactly as you folded and stitched the DRAWSTRING. Then sew the two straps — one on each side — to the BRIM's rear edge, very close to where it joins the CROWN. You may wish to safety-pin the TIES into place first, try on the bonnet again, then check the chin straps for position before you sew them to the BRIM.

A Job Well Done

That's it! You've now got a beautiful sunbonnet, and you made it all by yourself, with just a little help from my grandma! And, if you're really excited by what you've accomplished, I have two suggestions for your next project: You may "gussie up" the BRIM by adding lace ruffles, bows, embroidery, or any type of fancy decoration you choose. Or, why not buy more material and put together two or three bonnets for friends? (This pattern will make an adorable little sun cap for a baby if you cut all the measurements in half.)

Finally, once you've become familiar with the basic design (and the function of all the parts) of this oldtimey head covering, experiment with slight measurement variations to make truly unique gifts and presents for birthdays and holidays!

1/18/2014 12:07:15 PM

To find the pattern, click on the slideshow button. It's image #3.

maureen mills
1/11/2012 1:11:56 PM

Well everyone go to the image gallery and page down at the bottom of the page right side you will see page 1 -5 I don't understand why someone did not answer the post Have a happy day and fun making this item I am grateful to share with everyone and grateful for this item

maureen mills
1/11/2012 1:04:31 PM

Why is the question where is the pattern not being answered? Why make a comment if no one is replying is this a joke to you? I was so happy to find a pattern but not happy it was not there.

susan childers_1
5/20/2010 4:59:55 PM

Thank you so much for the bonnet pattern. I've searched the internet for hours looking for a pattern and finally came across yours. Thank you again for sharing your Grandmother's pattern.

8/26/2009 11:48:01 AM

There is no pattern that I could find for the "Sunbonnet"

ida jo duncan
6/23/2009 11:09:11 AM

I would like to print off the sunbonnet pattern, but there was no pattern, only instructions. Do I need to go to another site for the pattern? Ida Jo Duncan

nancy saucier
4/4/2009 11:04:25 PM

Where's the illustration? When I click image gallery, all I get is the photo of the lady with the cow. No pattern.

10/27/2008 5:52:10 PM

good article

10/23/2008 4:31:46 AM

Just made this bonnet for my daughters colonial day at school and it was very easy and turned out beautiful... Instead of having separate neck straps to tie under her chin I made the drawstring at the nape of the neck long and this was used to tie under her chin. I adjusted the pattern about 2 inches smaller to fit my 8 year old. Took me about 45 minutes all up. Thanks heaps for the pattern and photos

brenda kincaid
10/20/2008 5:51:23 PM

I would like to make the sunbonnet for my granddaughter, but I'm not seeing the pattern with the measurements. How do I access the pattern? I would like to make this bonnet for Halloween. Thanks.

9/20/2008 11:56:20 PM

Thank you so much for this free and hard-to-find pattern! It's all the more special knowing it was a pattern passed down through the generations. After making my own, I had several thoughts for others who wish to use the pattern: 1) Reproduction fabric is readily available in specialty fabric stores or online, and lends an old-time feel to the pattern. 2) The ducktail is *a part of* the crown (one piece). Be careful! I accidentally originally cut these as two separate pieces, but thankfully had enough fabric to re-cut them the correct way--as one piece. 3) I found that the ties' length wasn't nearly long enough for ease of use/tying, and increased the original 12" cut to 22". You may want to try different lengths to see what looks and works best for you. They're easy to remove/redo if needed. 4) If you're very familiar with sewing, you can hide the thick and unsightly crown-to-brim seam by leaving free one "right side" inside edge of the brim from the crown as you sew; then flip it to the inside of the bonnet and ladder (hidden) stitch it to the inside, turning in the raw edge. If you do this, you'll need to do the recommended brim reinforcement stitches *after* sewing the sunbonnet. I did not add the milk bottles--the brim on mine is several layers of stiff cotton fabric. 5) If you have a sewing machine, check your manual for decorative stitches. Some have a faux "backstitch" made to look like hand-stitching. Sure it's cheating, but it helps make the bonnet look like an heirloom without all the work. 6) For those wondering where the pattern is, you have to make it yourself (the author recommends using paper bags) using this as a guide: It's easy to do by hand with the help of a yardstick. Some measurements (of curves) need to be guessed on, but that will just make yours a true original! 7) I didn'

9/10/2008 8:47:40 PM

Hi! Could anyone tell me to what size did you enlarge the patterns? 200%, 150%... ? Please, let me know. Thank you!

7/7/2008 8:20:44 PM

I found the pictures under "Image Gallery". Then look at the page carefully. If you find the words "next" and click on that, it takes you through to the next pic, showing a closeup of the hat. Keep clicking on next and it will take you to the pattern pieces and construction details. HTH.

7/7/2008 1:09:30 PM

I found the pictures under "Image Gallery". Then look at the page carefully. If you find the words "next" and click on that, it takes you through to the next pic, showing a closeup of the hat. Keep clicking on next and it will take you to the pattern pieces and construction details. HTH.

7/5/2008 8:52:53 PM

This looks like a wonderful pattern for a pioneer sun bonnet. I have searched all over the internet. Thank you so much. Can you please tell me how to adjust for a child of 3 years old. You have a baby at 1/2 the measurements, but what about a child? Thanks again.

char tate
6/29/2008 11:08:26 AM

You will find the pattern in the "image gallery"

2/5/2008 6:50:05 PM

Is the pattern for this available on the website? I couldn't find it. Even if it was scaled down, it would be extrememly helpful.

12/23/2007 5:00:41 AM

THANKS for sharing ! My daughter (4) is crazy about the Little House. She asks me for ages to get a hat like Laura's. I spent one hour to find your page, no free patterns about this sunbonnet are available throughout internet ! You are probably the only page where a free pattern is available ! Great pattern and great explanations. What is the name of your grandmother ? So I can call the pattern "the sunbonnet of Maria (or ?)"

12/3/2007 12:13:54 PM

Love the bonnet and so happy to find the pattern. Thanks you for sharing!

12/3/2007 12:13:47 PM

Love the bonnet and so happy to find the pattern. Thanks you for sharing!

11/7/2007 8:14:04 PM

Thank you so much! My great-grandmother put a sunbonnet on me when I was three years old. Now I can make matching ones for my mom, me and my 3 1/2 year old daughter

11/1/2007 9:23:43 PM

Hi, I got this website after I did a search on bonnets. My daughter Esther was having her 150th anniversary school parade and needed to look the part. I am not a sewer at all! and decided to give this a shot. It did not take me long and it looks fantastic. I have kept the pattern and will definately keep it for my younger daughter as well. THANK YOU SO MUCH GRANDMA!!!

9/15/2007 11:16:11 PM

I cannot find the pattern. Only two pictures, which repeat. No fifth picture. I have an iMac. No right click. Nothing to click on. Help. Need info quickly to make a bonnet in a week. Thanks, NW

7/27/2007 11:11:41 PM

where is the pattern?

6/1/2007 5:53:13 PM

Oops, thanks I found it. Was anyone able to print it?   Mother Responds: If you right click on the image to be printed, you can print from there.

6/1/2007 5:49:42 PM

HELLO? Is anybody there? Where is the pattern? Great article with instructions, but NO pattern

4/25/2007 12:06:21 PM

Looking for bonnet pattern also????? Thanx Elizabeth Mother Responds: The pattern is in the Image Gallery, to the top right of the article, under "Related."

4/25/2007 12:06:13 PM

Looking for bonnet pattern also????? Thanx Elizabeth

3/29/2007 10:54:38 AM

Where is the bonnet pattern? Instructions are there, but no pattern. HELP