1830s Night Gown

And a most desirable night-gown at that! I’m working with one of my favorite books again, The workwoman’s guide, and although I’m referring to the 1840 imprint, it had been available for several years prior and these are generally not the most up-to-date high-fashion styles being illustrated. Therefore I’m tagging this one with a general 1830s timeframe!

Here’s the full description from the book:

NIGHT-GOWN.
PLATE 8. FIG. 5.

1830s Nightgown

This shape is not so much worn as that of Fig. 4, nor perhaps has it so neat and finished an appearance, but on many accounts it is the most desirable, being in the first place, more economical ; it also washes more easily, and above all, is particularly convenient in time of sickness, when it is very essential to a weak or suffering person to be able to draw open the gown at the neck and wrists, so as to have full play for the arms in changing her linen, or having blisters, leeches, &c. applied; whereas those night dresses confined at the neck in collars are very irksome, and cause much unnecessary suffering in being removed. The scale and plans so clearly explain the size, shape, &c. that nothing remains to be said, except that a band is sometimes worn round the waist, with a narrow frill sewn round the ends, which are sloped off, according to fancy.

It is better economy to cut three or six gowns together, as the gussets, binders, &c. take about the third of a breadth, so that in cutting out one, there in an unavoidable waster of the other two-thirds of a breadth. The two sleeves cut in the width, and are, for the largest size, 9 nails (20.25”) long.

While I’m neither weak nor suffering, I do appreciate having my neck free and the illustration was a bit more delicate looking than the other options.

For measuring and cutting, I re-calculated the table printed in the book to equal inches.  To doublecheck my math (or try other patterns from this book), a nail = 2.25.” Here’s the original:

1830s nightgown, measurement chart

And here’s my updated table:

Woman Girl of 18 yrs. Girl of 14 yrs.
Width of material, if gored 33.75″ 14 12
Width of gore to be cut off each side at the top  3.9375″  3.9375″  4.5″
Width of the bottom will be 41.625″ 39.375″ 36
Width across the top will be 25.875″ 23.625″ 18″
Quantity required for one 4 yds 2.25″ 3 yds 18″ 3 yds
Quantity required for two 7 yds 29.25″ 6 yds 18″ 5 yds 24.75″
Length of skirt 1½ yds 1 yard 1 yard
Depth of slit in front 13.5″ 13.5″ 11.25″
Space to leave for shoulders 5.625″ 5.625″ 4.5″
Slope of shoulders 2.25″ 2.25″ 1.6875″
Width of binders 4.5″ 3.375″ 3.375″
Length of ditto down selvage 18” 18″ 18″
Width of sleeves or two in the breadth 16.875” 15.75″ 13.5″
Width of wristband (if required) 4.5” 4.5″ 4.5″
Length of wristband down the selvage 9” 7.875″ 6.75″
Size of sleeve gusset 6.75” 6.75″ 6.75″
Depth of frill 2.8125” 2.25″ 1.6875″

I used the ‘woman’ scale and cut my pieces as follows from 45″ wide fabric:

  • Cut 2 body/skirt, 54″ x 45″
  • Cut 2 binders: 4.5″ x 18″
  • Cut 2 sleeves: 16.875″ x 20.5″
  • Cut 2 wristbands: 4.5″ x 9″
  • Cut 2 sleeve gussets: 6.75″ x 6.75″

1830s nightgown - cutting the gored bodyAfter cutting those pieces, I shaped the body/skirt pieces by folding both pieces in half, lengthwise, and marking half of the top width (25.875/2=12.9735) and half of the bottom width (41.625/2=20.8125). I used a piece of painters tape to connect the markings and give me a line to cut along. This step saved me from piecing my gores – a major bonus since my fabric was wider than needed anyway!

Next I marked the shoulder area with a pin, measuring 5.625″ along the top of the body from the gored/side edge. To give the shoulder seam the recommended slope, I measured down the side gore 2.25″ from the top and marked the location with a pin. Then a cut a straight line from pin to pin – this creates the shoulder seam.

This was one of the steps and measurements I fussed over a few times – mostly because I’m not accustomed to having shoulder seams on most early 19th and 18th century garments. Earlier garments are often cut with the body as one piece over the shoulder but this book is written just as that’s beginning to change. In the end, it was what the directions and illustration indicated so that’s what I went with!

The final shaping for the body/skirt piece is the neckline. I picked one of the pieces and cut down the center front 13.5″ to create the neck slit. And I must say, that’s a mighty long slit.. perfect for getting to the chest and for applying leeches and blisters to invalids. For us non-invalids – it could probably be shortened to 8-10″ and still allow for easy dressing.

I scooped the back neckline about 1″ deep and scooped the front neckline about 3″ deep. This was a random guess on my part, based on the sole illustration from Plate 8. That said, it worked out pretty well and came out looking similar enough that I’d use the same measurement in the future. Once I had the neckline shaping in place, I measured the distance around so that I would know how long to cut the fabric for the frill or neck ruffle. In this example, my neckline measured roughly 31″ and I wanted a frill that was roughly double that width. I was able to cut my frill/ruffle piece from the extra material left over from cutting the side gores – this meant the ruffle could be one long piece. Mine was cut 2.8125″ x 68.”

Hemming the frill was the first actual sewing I completed, and that was done with an itty bitty whipstitch to create a 1/8″ hem. Ah – the joys of working with tightly woven fabric! I think I almost could have managed a 1/16″ hem – it was great fabric to work with!

Next up was seaming the shoulder. In most cases, the interior seams were stitched by machine with 1/4″ seam allowances and 12 stitches per inch. The gussets (we’ll get there soon) and all of the felled edges and hems were sewn by hand, also with 1/4″ seam allowance although I usually only manage about 10 stitches per inch by hand. Although this won’t ever be worn for display or museum or other educational purposes, so I didn’t really have to hand-sew, but it does turn out so much better that way – plus I was doing some typical late night sewing and didn’t want the noisy machine to wake anyone up!

So, back to sewing… Shoulder seams – stitched and felled. The neckline slit was hemmed and reinforced with extra whipstitches at the bottom of the slit. The unhemmed edge of the neck frill was gathered by machine and pinned in place to the neckline, right sides together. The gathering strings were pulled up to match the edges and then very slowly stitched in place by machine. I did not want to have to do this part again! You can see my gathering stitches in the photo below – I stitched them in black to make it easy to remove them after I finished assembling the night-gown.

White on white stitching… not so excellent photo – but the ruffle did turn out well. The felling was easier to do with the black gathering stitches in place. They were removed after it was finished.

As with all the other seams, the ruffle seam was felled down to the night-gown. Having the gathering stitches in place helped keep the bulk of the ruffle together while I was doing the felling. The black thread was only caught in the felling in two or three places, otherwise it pulled right out when I was done.

Most of the rest of the night-gown went together similar to a shift or shirt construction – pleating the sleeve to fit the shoulder, adding sleeve gussets to the sleeve, and attaching the sleeve to the body. I will say the sleeve pleating was probably the only place where I’m questioning my steps. Without a reference to  how narrow to pleat the sleeve, I had to guess based on the illustration and its markings. The sleeve looks right, but fits a bit more narrow than I would like under the arm. I pleated the top of the sleeve to measure 6.5.”

1830s nightgown - sleeve pleating

That’s the interior with the ruffle and shoulder seam in the upper left corner. I would definitely use fewer or smaller pleats in the shoulder in version two.

Next time around… I’d probably increase that to 10.” The pleating wouldn’t be as pretty, but I think the fit would be more comfortable. (A key feature for something you’re sleeping in!)

1830s nightgown - shoulder binders

Interior of shoulder & binder on left and the finished area as seen from the outside on the right.

With the sleeves and gussets sewn in place, the rest of my weekend sewing was taken up with felling all those seams and hemming the bottom. This nightgown also specified binders, which are rectangular pieces sewn in place to reinforce the shoulders – and save them from wear & tear.

Because of the shaped shoulder seam, this was trickier than usual. I ultimately ended up just adding a dart at the shoulder to compensate for the odd shaping. The rest of the binder was turned under 1/4″ around all edges and pinned to the inside of the night-gown. The sewing was done as a teeny running stitch from the right side. The idea is that as the binders wear out, they can be replaced so it doesn’t make sense to sew them in as securely as the other parts of the garment.

I saved the wristband for last. Had I read the instructions more closely, I might have skipped the wristbands entirely, but since I already had them cut out, I did go ahead and add them. (I still haven’t added the buttons or buttonholes though…. shhh!)

The wristbands are basic shirt-making 101 – sleeves pleated to fit, band stitched to sleeve, folded in half towards the inside and all edges whipped together and/or to the shirt to create a wristband or cuff. (And then you’re supposed to add buttons and buttonholes but umm, yeah… I’ll get to that later!) I did find it surprising that wristbands were optional – but then again, considering this was ideal clothing for invalids, it makes sense not have any constricting closures.  I’m also considering adding some silk ribbons to the neckline, just to keep it close if I so choose. It actually stays pretty well without any closure but could be a bit more exposing than I would prefer over morning coffee.

1830s nightgown

Not the best photo, but still my favorite! The night-gown looks both like it’s trying to photobomb by Christmas tree and like it’s about to catch on fire at the same time. Couldn’t have planned that if I tried…

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One thought on “1830s Night Gown

  1. Pingback: Sew Comfortable December 7: Night-Gown | carrie + fitz

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