The 18th Century Short Gown

The 18th century short gown got off to a bit of a rocky start…all because 1) I didn’t trust myself to draft a me-sized pattern from a small image, and 2) I changed my mind about the fabric. As a result, I was up late the other night trying to figure things out and finally just dove in.

The Fabric:

Having decided on the green and brown for the petticoat and apron, the bright white of the blue patterned fabric looked out-of-place…too stark against the other colors. Hmmm. A trip to The Big Fabric Store scored a great find on the clearance table: a somewhat coarsely woven cotton in green, and tan with an ivory-ish white ground. (The colorway is “Coconut.”) Technically it’s a plaid, but it reads like a stripe.

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I bought the bolt-end, which was 1 7/8 yards. I was, however, supposed to have 2 7/8 yards. Oh, well. I felt it was a better choice and I’d figure it out one way or another. It washed up like a dream, didn’t shrink, and softened up quite a bit.

The Pattern:

18th century short gown pattern. Found on

18th century short gown pattern. Found on

I had the pattern image above to work with, but I’ve never drafted a pattern from a small image and decided this wasn’t the time to start experimenting. So I purchased a J.P. Ryan pattern for a basic 18th century wardrobe to use as a starting point. Crazy to spend the money on something so simple, but I’ve still got my training wheels on and wanted the safety net.

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The image I was working from was basically a single piece of fabric in a big flat “T” shape. The pattern, however, has sewn-on sleeves that result in dropped shoulders. It also has three long pleats down the back for shaping. What to do, what to do.

In the end my usual “Well, just how hard can it be?” attitude won out – I’d use the pattern pieces but arrange them so I could cut the short gown as a single piece, like the image.

I folded the fabric in half, width-wise, with the selvage edges at the sides, then centered and pinned the main body piece. I trimmed the sleeve piece to the 3/4 length, since long sleeves always bug me. Since I only needed half of the sleeve pattern, I placed it accordingly making sure to overlap the seam allowances. Finally, I placed the little hip-flare wedge (which the pattern has as a separate piece), again overlapping the seam allowances. This is how it looked after I’d cut the left side:

FrankenGown - Sorry it's so blurry, I had to balance on the sofa.

FrankenGown – Sorry it’s so blurry, I had to balance on the sofa.

As you can see, I’m short a bit at the bottom. Sigh. Fortunately, it appears that short gowns weren’t exactly “cookie-cutter” garments, so hopefully it’s not a critical error. I cut the right side, adjusting the hemline to accommodate the fabric, and cut the back neckline.

Back half of short gown

Back half of short gown

Then opened it out and cut the front neckline. I do wish it was longer. The pattern’s front neckline looks pretty low, so I started off with a more conservative cut…I can easily deepen it if needed. In the end I had one big “T” shaped piece of fabric:

The flat short gown.

The flat short gown.

It looks workable to me. The pattern doesn’t mention a lining, but I’ve seen extant garments that were lined and I think a plain muslin lining would be nice in the chilly weather. And I can use the lining piece to test and adjust the fit.

I was going to ignore the back pleats, then I stumbled upon a post by A Fashionable Frolic  showing her reproduction short gown. She made the pattern using an extant garment. I really like the look, so I may pin in the pleats to see what they look like.

So, as my father always said, “We’re off like a herd of turtles!”

Sleepy Sophie

By the time I was done, Sophie was giving me that “Please, mom – can we go to bed now?” look and I was happy to oblige.