Monday, November 5, 2012

Threaded Bliss

Blue and White Cotton Print Bedgown,


I've been meaning to make a bedgown for quite some time, for use at workshops and informal gatherings, but kept putting it off in favor of more "flashy" projects.  Last month, I just got one of those curious and pressing "must do it now before you lose the motivation" sewing project urges, so I went to the stash and rummaged around and pulled out one of last year's Colonial Williamsburg cotton prints and set to cutting.  It only took a couple of evenings to complete, and I love it!  I wore it for the first time the weekend before last for our Distaff Day and then again this past weekend at the Burnley and Trowbridge gown workshop, and it's so comfy!


The pattern: Sketched and cut directly onto the fabric, based on the ubiquitous 1769 Garsault pattern, which is all over the internet, but also featured in Norah Waugh's Cut of Women's Clothes, 1600-1930, pgs. 108-9.

M. Garsault, Description des Arts et Metiers, 1769.
Waugh translates Garsault's written instructions as follows:
"The bed-gown (manteau-de-lit).  This is cut from two or four lengths of material according to the width.  The sleeves are cut en chemise, that is, in one with the body; the squares cut from the sides of the gown are added to the sleeves to give extra length.  Figs. 8, 9, the back, is cut straight across the top and has an inverted pleat centre back.  The front, Figs. 7, 10, 11, has an extra piece on top, a, which is formed into a pleat and folded to fit the neck, c, Fig. 11.  An inverted pleat is set each side the waist, d, Fig. 10."
The only alterations I made to this description was to cut the bedgown from one length of cloth, so that there is no shoulder seam, as I did with my pink shortgown.  This necessitated the insertion of an extra rectangular piece into the neck to create the shawl collar.

Inspirations: The color choice for my cotton was selected based on this original blue block-printed cotton bedgown in the collection of the Manchester Gallery, dated 1760-1780.

Blue block-printed cotton bedgown, 1760-1780 (acc. no. 1972.110).
Image linked from the Manchester Art Gallery.

I also referred to some of the images catalogued on Karen's 18th Century Notebook page on bedgowns.

Construction details: This is an amazingly simple project.  Because it is made of a single length of cloth folded to create the shoulders, the only seams that require sewing are those that run the length of the arms and down the sides.  These are flat-felled.  I added pocket slits, which are partially concealed by the inverted box pleats at the hips.  Garsault does not specify whether or not his pattern includes them, but I almost think they have to be a given in a garment like this, whose shape and length really impede pocket access through anything but side slits.

Interior of the bedgown.

The center back of the bedgown has an inverted box pleat (similar to the one on the pink shortgown) sewn from the neckline to the waist to help control the fit of the upper part of the garment, while releasing excess fabric to fall over the petticoats.


A small rectangular piece of fabric is added to create the shawl collar, and all of the bedgown's edges are simply folded and finished with a standard hem stitch.

The rectangular piece added to the neckline to create the shawl collar.

Finally, two large rectangles of fabric are added to the ends of each of the sleeves to extend their length.  The seams are flat-felled to help protect from raveling, as I opted not to line or face the bedgown.  From images and extant examples, it appears that many bedgowns were either fully lined (some, it has been argued, might have even been reversible) or faced down the front and in the sleeves where these areas were frequently turned back to be exposed to view.

The sleeve extension.

The fabric: White cotton printed in blue in a scrolling floral striped sort of design, in simulation of a block-printed or early roller-printed fabric.  This is part of last year's collection of prints released by Colonial Williamsburg.

Finishing the look: Although a bedgown is an informal garment, it should always be worn over all of the proper 18th century undergarments (shift and stays and a couple of petticoats).  For Distaff Day and during the first day of the workshop, I paired it with a blue stuff petticoat that Ashley made a couple of years ago, which had, for whatever reason, gotten buried in the closet and never worn.  That makes me quite sad, since I think it's one of my new favorites now!  I love the way the fabric drapes and moves, and I am really kicking myself now for not buying enough to do an entire gown out of it.  That ought to teach me never to let the size of the stash (er..."fabric collection"...) frighten me off of buying something new to add to it!

To keep the bedgown closed, I tied a semi-sheer corded cotton apron over it.  Of course, this being attire for the workshop, I accessorized with my ever-handy and always trusty, friendly sidekicks, my pinball and reproduction scissors.

Additional photos can be found in this project's flickr set.


Fanny said...

Beautiful! And I must say I ADORE the fabric...

Nancy-Raven Hellfire said...

It looks very comfy and easy to do.Good choice of fabric.

Melissa said...

It's lovely! I think I'll have to add this to my growing list of things I want to make!

Samantha said...

lovely! and so comfortable :) i have some printed linen in my stash waiting to become a bedgown! this post is very helpful!

Betsy B said...

Loved this bed gown, and I got to see it for real 'cause I was at the workshop, too!

So nice to meet you two this weekend, ive been following your blog for a while, but didn't realize until I read the most recent post that I had just met you!

Rebecca said...

Thanks, ladies! It really was a surprisingly easy and quick project, and I highly recommend it for its comfort and ease of wear. I'm already planning another one...:-)

Hi Samantha! By all means put that linen to use directly! :-) We stopped by the shop on Sunday afternoon and got a preview of Mike's new striped "jockey" waistcoat. What a cool project. Can't wait to see the entire outfit all put together!

Hi Betsy! It was lovely meeting you at the workshop, too! Ashley and I both commented on Sunday night that we were kept so busy all weekend, that we hardly had a chance to get to talk to anyone! Have you worked any more on your gown this week?

M'lady said...

I've just tried to make one of these. I'm wondering if I got the collar wrong? Have you got more detailed instructions of how you did it?
I also found even with the back pleat I had a lot of excess around the back...where as yours looks more snug?
I haven't found a step by step with actual pictures yet only the original B/w sketches and incomprehensible text.

Unknown said...

Your gown is beautiful and you make it look so easy! I am going to the same B&T workshop in February and want to make a bedgown for it. Would like to try my hand at not using a pattern but may break down and buy Larkin and Smith's. Some versions have gussets under the sleeve. Does yours? (It doesn't look like it)