May 29, 2015

Short Gown Studies I

This summer, in addition to working as a full-time historical interpreter at the Genesee Country Museum, I will be sewing as much as possible and documenting my progress before joining the conservatory program in the spring.  I plan to make the most of this unique opportunity and to continue practicing the skills that I learned through my internship, while adding to my historical wardrobe.  The first project I plan to take on is a short gown study!  Throughout the past year, I have become increasingly interested in the working class dress of the early 19th century.  Thus, tonight I present the first of four - 1800s, 1810s & two 1830s - short gown studies!

But, first, what is a "short gown?"  

The term “short gown” refers to an informal, “T” shaped garment that was popular from the third quarter of the 18th century until well into the early 19th century.  Commonly worn by every-day, working women, but also described in runaway indentured servant and slave advertisements, these garments were designed to be simple and utilitarian in purpose.  

Made from sturdy cottons, linen, wool, and even “linsey-woolsey” or occasionally silk, they were cut from one piece of fabric, often with the long or short sleeves cut as one with the body.  Lined or unlined, piecing was common, as was plain, vertical-striped or printed fabrics.  Fitting was achieved through pleats or drawstrings, leaving ample space for the more strenuous labor, as well as fashion.

In fact, despite the relatively simple and common construction of these working class garments, a fair amount of variation existed as wearers considered and followed the fashionable trends.  Short gowns of the 18th century often lacked drawstrings, rather relying upon pleats in the back (and sometimes in the front) for better fit and straight pins along the long, front opening for closure.  Three-quarter length sleeves were also popular.  Changes to the early 19th century styles manifested most noticeably in the shorter, raised waistlines, as was fashionable throughout the Regency period.  Likewise, drawstrings, with tape ties directly under the bust and perhaps along the neckline, as well as longer sleeve lengths became more common.

Now that you've read a brief history on the short gown, let's take a look at my newly refashioned 1800s short gown.  Some of you may recognize the piece from my earlier post, and, for a long time, its period incorrectness had bothered me as it was, originally, entirely machine stitched.  It took until two weeks ago to fix, when I finally gathered up the will and courage to unpick every seam and restitch the garment completely by hand!  

However, I am so happy that I did, even though it seemed quite tedious at times (I like to take teeny-tiny stitches)!  Now, it is not only more period accurate, but, as I discovered this year, hand-stitching makes for a much nicer finish.

"T" shaped short gown.

Drawstrings at the neckline and high waist provide shaping and act as closures.

All drawn up!

To update the look, I added a 2" facing from a reproduction cotton print to the hem and sleeves.  Also, I replace the poly-cotton ties with 100% cotton twill tapes.  

Close up of the hem & sleeve facings.  To smoothly ease in the facing around the curved hem, I tucked tiny pleats as necessary.

Inside view of back drawstring & hem facing detail.

Plus, it fits in with May's challenge #5 of the Historical Sew Monthly, hosted by the Dreamstress!  (I seem to be on an every other month streak.)  Not only does it satisfy the theme of practicality as a working class garment (aka the "jeans-and-T-Shirt" of the 1800s); but, I like to think that the frugality of refashioning, much like our fashion-forward ancestors did to keep up with the current trends, is very practical. 

Front view over a linen petticoat with a patchwork pocket peeking out!

Back view with the sleeves turned up.

The Challenge:  #5 Practicality - Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.

Fabric:  Two reproduction cotton prints appropriate for 1800.  

Pattern:  GCV&M's short gown pattern with alterations.  Copied directly from an original 1800-1810 short gown (2003.188) in Susan Greene Collection, I highly recommend the pattern!

Year:  1800s.  

Notions:  Matching thread, cotton twill tape

How historically accurate is it?  Definitely plausible - the shape looks right, as do the materials.  Completely hand-stitched.  So, how about 95% accuracy? 

Take a look at this extant short gown from Augusta Auctions: 

Printed short gown c.1800
Brooklyn Museum, Augusta Auctions, lot 222

Also, my inspiration for the sleeve facings came from Whitaker Auctions:

Sleeve detail of printed cotton work dress c.1820
Whitaker Auctions, lot 694

For more extant short gowns, take a look at my pinterest board!

Hours to complete:  Didn't keep track, worked on throughout the course of the past two weeks.  

First worn:  Not yet, though, I am sure it will come in handy this season!

Total cost:  Not counting the cost of the original fabric, I would say $3 for the quarter yard of fabric used for the facing.  

Thanks for reading!

Ready for work with sleeves rolled up & half apron!

Recommended Links for Further Research:

May 18, 2015

A Week of Time Travels

May 9th, two Saturdays ago, marked the opening weekend of the 2015 season at the Genesee Country Village & Museum!  And since then, it's been busy, busy, busy for us interpreters with school groups, getting acquainted with new buildings, and the first two Hosmer dinners of the season.

One of the best perks of the job, and by far my favorite, is getting dressed up in the period appropriate clothing.  Not only does it add to the overall historical illusion and museum's authentic experience for the visitors, but for the employees as well.  In fact, donning my "costume" for the day truly allows me to place myself into the living history as a participant, and I feel an alive, living connection with those of the past.  And, let's face it, who doesn't like to play dress up?

So, where in time and fashion has the past week taken me?  For sure, since opening it has been quite the journey from the empire waists of the 1810s and 20s, to the gigot sleeves of the 30s, to the bell of starched petticoats in the pre-hoop 1850s, and then, back to the 1830s again.  And, lucky for me, the time travels will continue every week for the rest of the season!

Sunday, May 10th:  Mother's day & the second day of the opening weekend celebration.  I spent most of the day playing outdoor 19th century games (stilts, graces, hoop &stick, etc.) with children at Thomson's Tavern & was super excited to be the 1820s model for the annual mother's day fashion show!

I am obsessed & in love with this dress!!  It is just the most beautiful shade of green and the entire outfit screams spring!  Bevin, who makes most of the fashion show pretties, did a phenomenal job, as usual, on the dress!!

You may recognized the original dress inspiration as below: 

Dress c.1818
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Parading on the carriage barn walkway: 

Look at all of those ruffles!

The entire timeline of fashions from 1770 to 1910:

Accessories included a red silk belt, yellow gloves, a purple silk reticule & best of all, a fabulous 20s poke bonnet made by Anna Worden Bauersmith!  (You can read more about the bonnet here on her blog:

Tuesday, May 12th:  My first day in the little red school house with three focus field groups of 25 kindergartners each!  We had a whole lot of fun with comparing and contrasting & a dramatic retelling of "The Lion and the Mouse," as a way to demonstrate how stories were an effective way of teaching students literary and morals.

A borrowed dress with a small train, worn over a mid-century chemise and strapped petticoat that are both in need of replacing.  

Accessories include a borrowed cap, re-fashioned half apron and large silk neckerchief featuring my first attempt at teeny-tiny rolled hems!   

Wednesday, May 13th:  For the time being, I am not assigned to a building and spending Wednesdays in the costume shop - still plugging away at the fairy queen's costume...I scheduled a fitting with the fairy queen, herself, and the corset & stomacher that I was concerned about, fit perfectly!  

Later in June, I will be adding the 1830s Foster-Tufts House & 1850s George Eastman's Boyhood Home (quilting demonstration) to my list of Wednesday travels.  

Thursday, May 14th:  I returned to the 1855 Romulus Female Seminary for the first time this season!  (Unfortunately, no pictures in my 1850s "seminary" dress, same as last year's.  However, I did have the pleasure of meeting the new seminarian this weekend who said that she found my article on the seminary helpful.  Totally made the day to hear that my ramblings are actually useful! ;)

Friday, May 15th:  There were 900 students in the village today!  I spent the day helping a friend with school groups and playing games at the Thomson Activity Barn for focused field studies.

Modeling the height of the gigot sleeve.

For any 1830s building or activity thus far, I have worn a borrowed 1830s dress with very poofy sleeve puffs and belt with a mother of pearl buckle.  At some point, I would really like to make my own 1830s day dress and corded petticoat.  

Best of all are the 1830s poke bonnets we get to wear in the village!  My favorite are the "Parthenia" style stove pipe poke bonnets from Timely Tresses!  For games this week, I have borrowed both the silk and the straw bonnets below: 

Foster-Tufts' Bonnet.
(Image via:

Thomson Tavern's Bonnet.
(Image via:

Saturday, May 16th:  Served at my first Hosmer dinner, a four-course meal and first-person experience at the Inn!  This year, we are featuring a tribute to Jane Austen with a menu taken from Martha Lloyd's cookbook (relative of Jane and lived with the Austens) and described in the novels themselves.  I played Mrs. Hosmer's sister, Mrs. MacKay, for the night and gave the hour long, candlelit tour of the village.  Our very special guests for the night were part of the Janeites, Rochester chapter of The Jane Austen Society of North America, and even entertained us with a dance demonstration in the upstairs ballroom.  Clean up lasted until 11:30 p.m., but, the dinner was so much fun and I am looking forward to playing the Hostess at the next few!

We can do it!

Sunday, May 17th:  Round-robin and back at Thomson Tavern for indoor and outdoor 19th century games!  (For the season, I am scheduled for games Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays & holiday Mondays.)  I had children and adults alike competing in hoop and stick races, graces circles and challenging brain puzzles - 'twas much fun!

I will end today by saying again that I am so excited to have the chance to work another season at the Genesee Country Museum!  Hope to see you all there sometime this summer & make sure to stop by and say "hi" when you visit!

May 13, 2015

DIY Forest Tunic Tutorial

This morning I took my second and last final test for the spring semester; and, this afternoon, I had a fitting with the fairy queen.  The corset & stomacher that I was really worried about working, could not have fit more perfectly.  (Plus, I had a fitting, myself, for a new 1850s dress!  Stay tuned for more on both of these to come...) So, today, was definitely a great day, and to finish, here's part II of the fairy camp costume tutorials!

Last week, I mentioned that I've been busy designing and creating fairy costumes for the museum's newest summer camp & posted a tutorial for the little girl's fairy tutus.  Tonight, it's the boy's turn with forest tunics - the perfect costume for your little Robin Hoods, Peter Pans & woodland elves alike!

D.I.Y. Forest Tunic Directions

Sizing:  Intended for ages 4 through 6, one size fits all.


  • Cotton fabric for the tunic body (also used for facing & bias tape)
  • Contrasting fabric for the belt
  • Various felt squares for leaves
  • Narrow twill tape or shoestring for a drawstring
  • Optional: purchased 1/2” double fold, bias tape
  • Scissors and sewing supplies

Patterns:  Below are both the leaf templates and several pictures of the original tunic pattern (see step one).  On the tunic pattern, seam allowance is included, and each square of the grid equals 1" by 1".

Print me!  Scale: 8.5" by 11"

Tunic Pattern.

Constructing the Tunic:

Step one: cutting out the tunic body.  Using the tunic pattern, cut two along the fold.  You should now have two rectangles approximately 12.5” by 25.”

Designate one piece as the front and, using the pattern as a guide, cut the “front” neckline, which is slightly lower than the back.  Repeat using the other piece and the “back” neckline.

Tunic pattern: close up of neckline.

For both sides, cut along the triangle guides at the bottom.

Tunic pattern: close up of hemline.

Step two: preparing the facing.  Cut or rip two rectangles 5” in width by 50” across to be used as the facing.  Line up the bottom edge of the front tunic piece (along the triangular points) with the bottom edge of the rectangular strip, right sides together.  Pin in place.

Stitch a narrow 1/4” seam along the edges of each triangle, starting and finishing the stitches at each point.  When the entire front length is finished, clip off the extra fabric between the triangular points using the top edge as your guide.  Repeat for the back side of the tunic.

Step three: finishing the facing.  Now it is time to turn the facings right side out so that the raw edges and seams are enclosed on the inside.  You may want to use a knitting needle, chops stick or other blunt object to turn the points, but do not clip them further.

Iron the triangles flat and carefully top stitch along the edges of each triangle.  Press again and repeat for the other side.

Also, turn 1/2” under on the top (flat) edge of the facing piece and stitch along the fold to enclose the raw edges.  If you were able to use the selvage edge as I did, omit the extra turn under and simply stitch the edge to finish the facing.

Step four: seaming the shoulders.  Match the front of the tunic to the back, right sides together, and pin the shoulder seam.  Stitch the shoulders with a 1/2” seam.  I also zigzagged the edges for durability.  Press the seam to the back.

Step five: finishing the edges.  Turn the long sides under 1/4” and then 1/4” again to encase the raw edges.  Stitch along the entire length from front to back, and then repeat on the other side.  Press and set the tunic aside.

Step six: cutting out the leaves.  Gather several sheets of felt in various “leaf” colors.  Using the leaf templates, trace and cut out a variety of felt leaves.  I used around 20 leaves along the neckline.

Step seven: overlapping the leaves as desired along the neckline, pin and stitch (forward, reverse, and forward again for strength) 1/4” from the top of each leaf.


Step eight: creating bias tape for the neckline.  If using pre-purchased bias tape, skip to step nine.  Otherwise, measure and cut 2” bias strips from the leftover tunic fabric.

Fold the fabric strips in half and press.  Then, fold the sides to the center and press again to create 1/2” double fold, bias tape.

Step nine: creating the neckline casing.  Applying bias tape along the neckline will create a casing for the drawstring, which will allow for greater wearing ease and adjustability.  Match and pin the edge of the bias tape to the neckline with an inch over lap at the end.

Neckline casing close up.

For best results, baste the tape in place along the fold before stitching.  Then, afterwards, refold the tape and whip stitch shut along the inside of the neckline.

Step ten: inserting the drawstring.  Use an awl or something sharp to create two small openings about an inch apart, center front on the bias tape casing.  Then, use the button hole stitch to reinforce the edges of the eyelets (small openings) for strength when the drawstring is pulled.

Run a length of twill tape or a shoestring through the casing with a bodkin or small safety pin to serve as the drawstring.  Cut at a length long enough to tie a bow.

Step eleven:  adding the belt.  For a 1.5” belt, cut or rip a rectangle 4” wide by 50” long.  Fold the rectangle in half and seam 1/2” along the top and entire 50” side.  You should now have a tube.

Flip the tube right side out and press flat.  Turn 1/2” inside at the open end of the tube and whip stitch shut.

Find the center of the belt and the center of the back side of the tunic.  Match the two centers and pin 11.5” down from the neckline.  Stitch several times back and forth to secure the belt.

Step twelve: finally finished.  Enjoy your newest creation!

To wear: slip tunic over the head and adjust the neckline as necessary.  Tie the belt in a square knot or bow in the front and adventure awaits!

Forest Tunic Front.

Forest Tunic Back.

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