A Shortgown At Last

Finally, I got to compile the long-overdue post on my beloved shortgown I finished a few months ago. To start off, here is the finished product: I took these pictures after wearing it to one of my very first costume events (a historical market) so it is not perfectly pressed. ;)

The finished shortgown.

The finished shortgown.

The back, with pleats and a little bow.

The back, with pleats and a little bow.

The fabric I used was a gift from a dear friend who is a Regency/Federal-era costumer herself. She was very, very kind to send it across the Pond after I had spent weeks not finding a suitable fabric for the gown I liked. I am so glad she could help me out. But before I got to work with this beautiful fabric, which is a light, printed quilting cotton, I delved into research to get inspired about possible patterns.

Some Research
To begin with, shortgowns were present in women’s wardrobes in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the 18th century the were also often known as bedgowns or manteaux de lit. And, while the general style of the gown stayed the same over time, some little details in the cut and shaping changed: Earlier versions of shortgowns were often cut from one piece and more or less symmetrical, with a front opening and a flared skirt section, shaped using pleating and / or tucking. Marquise wrote up some very good instructions for an 18th-century bedgown, based on Garsault’s book, here. Another example for this style, but with a more flared skirt, is the Kallfors gown from Sweden. The reproduction in the link also comes with a pattern. :)

And, while one-piece versions seemed to have been the rule, it is not uncommon to find gowns where the skirt section has been pieced on. This was done in the Kallfors shortgown, too. But it is not easy to spot from further away. Here is another Swedish example from Digitalt Museum where the piecing is more obvious in the lovely, bold stripe pattern.

A mid 18th-century Swedish bedgown from Digitalt Museum.

A mid 18th-century Swedish bedgown from Digitalt Museum.

As time went on towards the Regency era, narrower shoulders and slightly deeper necklines made an appearance as working-class women began to adapt the look that was fashionable at the time. Isabella of the Two Nerdy History Girls wrote a very nice post that sums up these developments. With the changes in shaping, neckline and waist drawstring began to be used in shortgowns. Here is a Dutch example from the very early 19th century that seems to have a neckline drawstring and sports a leaner silhouette than the more flared earlier gowns.

Early 19th-century shortgown from Friesland (Source: Memory of the Netherlands database).

Early 19th-century shortgown from Friesland (Source: Memory of the Netherlands database).

Another Dutch gown, where the drawstrings are a bit more prominent is this brown one. It has a visible join and drawstring at the waits, though the join might also be a casing sewn as a tuck. To me, this one looks super cute and very “Regency” and so it became the main inspiration for my project. Below, I will tell you how I went about making it.

Another Dutch shortgown, probably 19th century, from Amsterdam Museum.

Another Dutch shortgown, probably 19th century, from Amsterdam Museum.

The Making
To make mine, I played around with the Sense & Sensibility ELC pattern I used for my stripe dress last winter. I went with the long-sleeve version of the bodice pattern. The only difference was that I included a front opening. For this, I added an overlap of 3/4″ at the center front and cut two halves of the front piece, instead of a whole one. Here is a photo of my cutting layout and the lovely brown fabric:

The bodice pattern and layout. :)

The bodice pattern and layout. :)

To finish the front overlap, I pressed over 1/8″ and sewed a tiny hand-rolled hem on either side. I think this is how I finally fell in love with making them. They did not take long and came out looking really cute, almost like iced on. After finishing them, I sewed the rest of the bodice according to package… erm pattern instructions. ;)

The 1/8

The 1/8″ rolled hem on the bodice front.

And the finished bodice, with drawstring neckline.

And the finished bodice, with drawstring neckline.

The neckline drawstring casing I made of self-fabric bias binding, also based on the pattern. For the top closure, I sewed two small eyelets into the inside of the casing. They are set off by about 1/2″ so that they tie safely on the inside.

One of the two CF eyelets. :)

One of the two center-front eyelets. Below you also see the casing for the waist drawstring. :)

Like in some of the earlier extant gowns, I also made a separate skirt piece. I had two rectangles for the front that were 8″ long, plus 1 1/4″ for the top and bottom seams. They attach to the back piece at the bodice’s side seam. For the back piece, I played around with the pattern’s skirt piece, which has a curved top seam line. I trimmed it down to 28″ width, to accommodate one box pleat at center back and four small knife pleats on either side. At CB, the piece was about 11″ high and it went down to 8″ on either edge, to fit the front pieces. After sewing the three pieces together, I added two more tiny 1/8″ hems at center front.

The skirt piece, sewn together and hemmed.

The skirt piece, sewn together and hemmed at center front.

After attaching the skirt to the gown, I finished the skirt seam with bias binding. I then sewed it up into the bodice from CF to the side back seam line to form two drawstring casings. The strings tie up to pieces of cord near the back. To finish off, I finally added a little decorative bow to the back. It helps to cinch up the waistline and nicely brings out the pleats. :)

Another “gimmick” my shortgown has is a bodice “lining” piece that keeps everything in place. It was a feature of the S&S pattern and I decided to keep it, since it helps a lot with keeping the gown straight over the stays.

The bodice

The bodice “lining” from scrap fabric.

When I wore it to the event, the lining and outer gown were held together by a total of 30 (!) short pins. And, after spending six hours plus in costume, the whole construction had not budged an inch. I also wore the fichu on the occasion, using even more pins on it and it behaved very well, too. This taught me again that pins really are a great period closure method. And that, no, they do not prick and poke you at all. :D

So, all in all, I am very happy with my first shortgown and actually having worn it “in public” for an event. Here is hoping that I can repeat this again soon.  Until then, it is back to the thesis and more sewing (yay!). Wishing you all a relaxed remainder of the weekend.

Love, Nessa

 

 

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2 thoughts on “A Shortgown At Last

  1. Lady Smatter says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the process behind your lovely shortgown! I especially love the details on the back- those nice curved seams, the pleated skirt, and the sweet little bow. I’m adding a shortgown to my long and growing list of things to sew!

    • Nessa says:

      Thank you so much! Very glad you liked the detail. I also love the little pleats best about the gown! It has been on the sewing agenda for almost two years now. I hope you get around to making yours sooner and much looking forward to it! :)

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