Reproduction Cotton Print Shortgown
from the collection of the Chester County Historical Society,
The pattern: This shorgown is reproduced almost exactly from an extant garment in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society. A scaled pattern and several photos are included on pages 23-25 of Sharon Burnston's Fitting and Proper. Another photo can be seen on page 142 in Cloth and Costume 1750-1800. Unfortunately, I can't find any pictures of it online, so you'll have to refer to these printed sources to compare mine to the original!
I made only two changes when reproducing the original. The body of the original shortgown is fully lined in an off-white linen, with the ends of the sleeves lined in a linen printed with brown flowers. I elected not to fully line the body of mine because the fabric is a little bit heavier than usual, and I plan to use this primarily for summer camp wear, when the least amount of fabric layers one has on, the better! I did line/face the ends of the sleeves in a reproduction printed cotton, however.
The only other change I made was to eliminate the two sets of pleats on either side of the front of the shortgown, which were used to help tailor the shape a bit in front. This is a feature that you don't normally see on shortgowns, so I felt completely justified in omitting it. Because of the weight of the fabric, I found that these pleats just added some awkward-looking, unnecessary bulk to my stomach area just below the waistline where they flared out. This being hardly desirable, and since such pleats aren't at all necessary to shaping the garment, and especially considering that it will always be worn under an apron to hold it in place, I instead simply followed the curve of the neckline of the original and the fit worked out beautifully.
Construction details: I started out by scaling up the pattern of the original and cutting out the basic outline. Because the shortgown is cut from a single piece of fabric, and because the pattern of this fabric has a defined direction, I followed the original in choosing to have the design "upside down" in the front and "rightside up" in the back.
Cutting out the basic outline from a single piece of fabric folded into quarters.
I then double-checked that the original neckline shape would work on my body and, once concluding that it would, I carefully cut it out in both the front and back. The sleeve facings were then pieced on, as per the original.
The turned-back sleeve facings in a contrasting fabric,
a feature copied directly from the original.
Because I elected not to line my shortgown, the two side seams are finished with tiny flat-felled seams, a feature I copied from an unlined extant shortgown from the same collection, found on pages 20-22 in Fitting and Proper.
Matched stripes in the side seams!
The interior side seam, flat-felled to protect it from wear.
Next, the back pleats were set in and top-stitched, just as in the original, and the sleeve facings folded under and slipstitched down into place inside.
Back of the shortgown...
...with two sets of pleats top-stitched into place.
Back pleating detail.
Finally, the neckline, center front, and hem edges were finished with a narrow hem. A facing strip covers the raw edge of the center-back where the pleats are turned in, another detail copied from the unlined shortgown.
A facing strip covers the interior back neckline and helps secure the back pleats.
The interior of the unlined shortgown.
Further construction details on this shortgown can be found in Claudia Kidwell's article, "Short Gowns," which appeared in Dress: The Journal of the Costume Society of America, volume 4 (1978), pp. 30-65.
The fabric: Duran Textiles reproduced the original textile in the document size and colorway (they call it "Daisy"), and when I discovered that Wm Booth, Draper was adding it to their stock, of course I just had to take advantage of the opportunity and use it to do a true reproduction piece. The print itself is lovely and I always appreciate access to true reproduction textiles. It is a little pricey, but since I only needed a 1.25 yards, it ended up being quite reasonable.
The sleeves of the original shortgown were lined in linen printed with a simple, stylized pattern of brown flowers. Luckily, I had a small piece of a reproduction brown print (on cotton) done by Windham several years ago, which was a perfect approximation for this project. I love the way it looks against the stripes of the primary textile.
Finishing the look: I apologize that the "model" pictures for this project aren't very interesting! I wore this for the first time a couple of days ago when doing a cooking demonstration at a local state park, and we were so busy talking and working all day long that I didn't have a chance to get any pictures taken until the very end of the day. As soon as I get some more exciting "pretty" shots, I'll be sure to add them!
For the school program, I paired the shortgown with a brown linen petticoat and a blue/yellow/natural cross-barred linen apron - the perfect outfit to wear while working around fire, soot, grease, and dirt all day long in the heat of a sunny late-spring day! It's worn, as always, over my fully-boned stays, a shift, and a linen underpetticoat. Forgive all the wrinkles - that's what happens after 6 hours of hard work bending and lifting and working over a fire! :-)
If you'd like to see larger versions of any of the pictures, just click on them to access the full size. Additional photos can be found in this project's flickr set.