Friday, September 21, 2012

Of Snoods and Hairnets and Reenacting

Much has been written on the subject of snoods and hairnets. Which is correct for your reenactment? And what’s the difference anyway? Oh, and where do you get one?

Now I’m not an authority by any stretch of the imagination. But I do read an awful lot of old pattern books and period magazines. My crocheted snoods are based on vintage patterns and happen to fit the general public’s idea of what is acceptable for Renaissance Faires and Civil War reenactments. Trust me, if you are attending a function that requires absolute historical authenticity they’ll make sure you know. I use the tags because I want my wares to be found and those words are what all my esteemed competitors use. It did start me thinking though...

and researching....

and more thinking....

and buying netting tools to make yet another stab at that confounded knot. I’m left-handed and I just can’t seem to get it. Although I have high hopes this time after a brief foray into Teneriffe lace and major web-surfing on net making in the fishing universe.

Back to the point. Look at this nice lady. Looks awfully similar to a crocheted thread snood doesn’t it?

Notice the word “thread” in the last sentence. I heartily agree that the modern ones made of thick yarn just don’t look right. Most of the pre 1920 patterns I see call for much smaller hooks and needles and much finer yarn/thread than is commonly used today.

This picture is on While you’re there take a moment to read the entire page - the man makes sense! I wear my snoods for house work, yard work and for keeping my hair from becoming a total rat’s nest when I’m riding on a motorcycle. For me it’s a practical item. The fact that a snood can be pretty too, well, that’s just icing.

Near as I can tell, the basic difference between a snood and a hair net is the size of the thread and the technique used to make it. Most of the Civil War clothing authorities on the web seem to insist that hair nets are netted, like fishing nets, not crocheted. I’d like to offer this quote from Godey’s in 1861:

This net, which has a very beautiful effect on the head (because the hair is shown to much greater advantage through the large square holes than in the ordinary style of net, whether done in crochet or netting), is made of bands of diamond open-hem, crossing each other, and edged on each side with a border of beads.

I’ve added the bold type of course, but you see my point?

There was plenty of crocheted headgear during the Civil War. Godey’s is full of patterns for various crocheted “headdresses”. Some of them bear a strong resemblance to a modern snood, just more finely done. Our lady above is wearing a headdress/hairnet. The back is probably a simple net design and possibly could have included beads or other ornamentation. Why else wear it for a portrait? Showing off one’s skill in fancywork was common practice back then just as it is today.

It seems that for serious Civil War re-enactors the acceptable modern equivalent to a historical hairnet is something called a Wave-O-Net. It’s available at beauty supply stores for about $1.50. It really does look like the ones the cafeteria ladies wore when I was a kid. I’ve got two problems with them; it’s machine made so looks like very fine crochet (not netting) and it starts life as a rectangle or square so has these cumbersome, unadjustable gathers at two ends. And, for the record, the mesh size isn’t that much smaller than the 1940 style snoods I currently crochet. If I were to decrease the mesh size and work in sewing thread instead of crochet cotton I bet I could get a pretty close copy. Without those funky gathers.

According to Wikipedia the first published crochet pattern appeared in 1824 in a Dutch magazine. Civil War Ladies were probably fairly comfortable with it. Human nature being what it is I’m sure that they started experimenting. Or even goofed up entirely but like the result so kept it. I meet very, very few fellow needleworkers who don’t “tweak” patterns to suit their own tastes. I can’t imagine that our ancestors were less likely to do the same.

I tend to agree with the people at Blockade Runner - a hairnet or snood is a practical item while doing physical activity. Something to allow you to move about without destroying your hairstyle. But not necessarily my first choice for a portrait sitting unless it was an exceptionally pretty one involving beads and fancy stitches. Or even a bold color...

Which brings me to another point of debate. While I agree that every day hairnets were most likely made in color to match the wearer’s hair as closely as possible, I tend to grab the brown one because it matches my hair, not all of them were.  The pattern quoted above states that the thread is to be scarlet, blue or crimson. Definitely not natural hair colors! And while women saved their hair to have it made into nets that were almost invisible they also took hook and silk in hand to make exquisite nets for dressing up in as well.

So whether you call it a snood or a hairnet, it existed in the past. So little needlework that we call new actually is. The names and materials change, the techniques become refined or modified, but the basic item remains the same.
These three girls could have used the same crochet pattern with small variations.

While obviously colorized, this chenille snood was just as obviously not invisible or made with fine silk. I believe it was made with the Godey’s pattern, shown on the right.

 Shortly after finishing this article I was browsing through the Metropolitan Museum Of Art collections online. I was using the search term "hairnet" and guess what showed up? Several Civil War era netted hairnets entitled "Snood". I don't think I'll argue with the Met....I'll just conclude it's a case of semantics and let it go:)