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Emma Woodhouse of Jane Austen’s Emma was born to a life of wealth and privilege, a fortunate child indulged by an affectionate father. Emma’s mother may have knitted such finery as this white baby bonnet for her precious infant. Her baby’s lovely and happy little face shone from the delicate lace pattern handknitted using fine steel needles and laceweight yarn, perhaps in cotton as a christening cap. When Emma grew to young womanhood, she had no need or desire to marry, and she did not anticipate babes of her own. Instead, she saved the delicate bonnet for her niece and namesake, baby Emma.
The knitted white openwork baby bonnet with the star-pattern crown dates, at least, to the early nineteenth century. The shape of the baby bonnet resembles the medieval coif, a modest cap with ties that made a practical and versatile head covering often worn beneath a soldier’s military helmet or lady’s mop cap. The coif was made from woven cloth, but knitting became widespread in Britain during the late Middle Ages and proved well-suited for better fit and comfort in stockings and caps. A passion for white work appeared after the French Revolution and continued throughout the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian eras.