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Support System for Feathered Headdresses and other Soft-sided Hats and Caps


This system was designed to safely store feathered bonnets manufactured and worn by North American Indians. These bonnets vary in stylistic details and component decorative parts.

The basic construction usually is a soft leather or wool cap with long feathers attached to it around the rim.

The mount described here also is suitable for the storage of other soft-sided hats and caps.



Brigid Sullivan
Collections Conservation Division
Cultural Resources Center
National Park Service
Bldg. 28, Charlestown Navy Yard
Charlestown, MA 02129 USA
Tel (617) 242-1979
Fax (617) 565-6859

Illustrations: Brigid Sullivan

Publication: 1992


This support system relies on mechanical fastenings and is made without adhesives. It consists of a polyethylene foam support covered with polyester batting and 100% cotton muslin for the cap. The cap is attached to a tray to support the pendant ornaments. The long feathers, that are attached to the rim, may be supported by a flexible cylinder made of neutral pH card stock or thin polyethylene foam that is wrapped around them (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Bonnet on support on tray wrapped with pH neutral tissue paper.


Materials Tools Supplies

  • 100% cotton muslin, washed
  • 100% cotton twill tape
  • Closed-cell polyethylene foam sheeting
  • Flexible ruler
  • Hole puncher
  • Pencil
  • pH neutral museum specimen tray or pH neutral corrugated paperboard single or double wall
  • Polyester needle punch batting
  • Rigid polyethylene foam plank, 3/8 – 1/2in
  • Rigid ruler
  • Tissue paper, non-buffered, pH neutral or cotton knit fabric
  • Utility knife


Evaluate the structure of the bonnet

  1. Place the bonnet on a clean padded surface. Carefully inspect the bonnet, paying close attention to how the parts are attached and the structural security of those attachments.
  2. If any feathers are detached, or the points of attachment are weak, it is best to store the bonnet flat with several layers of folded (not crumpled) non-buffered ph neutral tissue between the layers of long feathers so that the feather barbules will not become entangled as they rest on each other. Slip a strip of polyethylene foam shelf liner into the cap to slightly open it avoiding a sharp crease at the flattened edges.
  3. If the bonnet is structurally sound, continue the procedure outlined below.

Measure interior dimensions of the cap

There are several ways to measure the interior size of soft-sided hats and caps. For maximum efficiency and safety of the bonnet during handling and measuring, two people should participate in this procedure.

  1. One person holds the bonnet upside down gently by the rim, so that the cap is open as it would be when worn (Fig. 2).

    Figure 2. The bonnet is positioned for access to the interior of the cap.

  2. The other person measures the circumference of the cap by bending the flexible ruler to conform to the inside of the cap’s rim. Leave the ruler in this configuration (Fig. 3).

    Figure 3. The inner dimensions of the cap are measured with a flexible ruler.

  3. Measure the length and width of the circular shape of the flexible ruler. Think of the length as extending from the center of the forehead to the back of head, and the width from ear to ear.
  4. Measure the height of the cap from the center of the rim when flat to the apex of the crown (Fig. 4).

    Figure 4. The height of the cap is measured with the bonnet in a flat position.

Make the cap support

The cap support will be made of two pieces of thick rigid foam set at right angles and connected by interlocking notches.

  1. Mark the measurement of the length on a plank of polyethylene foam and the width on another piece of foam (Fig. 5). Mark the foam by punching it with a pencil and turning the pencil to leave a dark point.

    Figure 5. The polyethylene foam support for the cap is measured and cut.

  2. Trim both sheets to these dimensions with a knife.
  3. Mark the height of the cap at the center of both sheets, starting about 2in above the bottom edge. The additional 2in will be needed to curve the side ornaments gently onto the tray (Fig. 6).
  4. Mark a curved line on both sheets between the crown and the end of the horizontal line to approximate the semi-circular profile of the top of the head. Repeat the profile exactly on the other side. Make these profiles slightly smaller than the actual interior dimensions to allow for padding.
  5. Cut the foam along the punched markings with a knife to produce two hemispherical pieces of foam (Fig. 6).

    Figure 6. Two hemispherical pieces of foam are cut and notched.

  6. Cut a long notch, the exact width of the thickness of the foam, in the center of the base of one sheet, and in the top of the crown of the other as illustrated in Figure 6, to form interlocking notches. Each notch should extend to one-half the height of the hemispherical piece of foam.
  7. Assemble the two hemispheres and gently test the fit to the cap interior.
  8. Pare down the foam sheets if necessary to allow space for about 1/4in of padding.


Mounting the cap support to a tray

An 11in x 14in pH neutral museum specimen tray works quite well as a support tray for most mounted bonnets. Alternatively, pH neutral, single or double wall corrugated sheets can be used as support trays.

Make sure the tray is large enough to support a tall standing structure without tipping, and is sufficiently sturdy that it does not bend when lifted.

  1. To mount the cap support, cut a small slit or hole in the corner ends of both pieces of foam (Fig. 7).
  2. Place the interlocked cap mount in the center of the tray, and with a pencil, mark points on both sides of the four ends of the interlocked construction (Fig.7).

    Figure 7. The interlocking cap support is attached to the tray with twill tape.

  3. Cut slits or holes at these points in the bottom of the tray.
  4. Thread cotton twill tape through these holes and the holes in the ends of the cap mount to tie the cap mount to the tray. Tie the tape in tight bows so that the method of attachment is apparent.

Pad the cap mount

  1. Place wads of polyester batting between the ‘ribs’ of the cap mount to round the mount shape.
  2. Wrap the padded construction with a layer of thin polyester needle punch batting.

Cover the mount with a layer of washed 100% cotton muslin or stitched cotton knit fabric (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. The cap mount is covered with padding.

Wrap the bonnet in tissue paper

  1. One person should hold the bonnet upside down, while the other person inspects and adjusts the bonnet’s feathers to ensure that all feathers have fallen naturally into a compact shape and are not tangled or snagged by any other element.
  2. Wrap the bonnet in a cylinder of non-buffered pH neutral paper, closed with a French fold as shown in figure 9.

    Figure 9. The bonnet is wrapped with non-buffered, pH neutral tissue paper.

  3. Tie cotton twill tape around the brow band and beyond the end of the feathers. Take care not to constrict the feathers tops or the brow band.

Mount the bonnet

  1. Place the wrapped bonnet on the padded cap mount.
  2. Place the side pendant ornaments flat on the support tray, gently curving or looping them around the front (or back) of the bonnet, following their natural conformation (Fig. 1).
  3. In pencil, note on the tray that the bonnet itself is not attached to the tray to avoid future mishandling.

Make a protective outer case for the bonnet

If well wrapped in tissue with a tight French fold, an outer case is optional. However, this additional envelope provides more physical security and possibly more protection in storage areas with excessive dust or poor climate control. Construct the outer case as follows:

  1. Cut a pH neutral (unbuffered) flexible cardboard or polyethylene foam shelf liner sheet for an outer protective cover (Fig. 10).
  2. Punch holes five inches from the ends of the sheet on both sides to accommodate twill tape ties (Fig. 10).

    Figure 10. The bonnet is protected with a foam wrapper.

  3. a)    Place the fastening ties about 3 to 4in from the top and bottom of the cylinder, depending on the overall cylinder height. Knot the tape and pass it through the hole like thread (Fig. 10).
    b)    Alternatively, cut two holes close together, and tie the tape around them with one long end to serve as a fastener for the outer cover.
  4. Position the outer case to enclose the tissue-wrapped bonnet, and tie so as to support but not constrict the contents.


The storage technique suggested in this article is appropriate only for structurally sound bonnets without trailers. Consult a conservator for advice on storing bonnets with trailers, and make no attempt to detach the trailers for storage.

Adapted From

Sullivan, B. 1990. Conserve O Gram No. 5/6, National Park Service, Harpers Ferry, WV.

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