16 June 2018

HSM 2018 #3: A frumpy Swedish bedgown

My bedgown, folded in half along the center back.
There are several scaled-down patterns based on extant Swedish bedgowns. Some of them are in the popular book "Kvinnligt mode under två sekel" which can be found in many Swedish libraries, and there are a couple of free patterns online in Duran Textiles' newsletters (here and here).

In spite of this, I chose to spend $30 on a full-scale pattern, that is 15 years old to boot…

The pattern

There are two main reasons why I chose to buy this pattern.
  • It's the only Swedish cotton (cotton/linen, to be precise) bedgown pattern with full sewing instructions. In contrast, the extants in "Kvinnligt mode under två sekel" do have their sewing techniques analyzed, but they're all made from silk (like most extant bedgowns in Sweden). The Duran patterns are for cotton bedgowns but don't have detailed instructions.
  • The pattern has detailed instructions for the extant petticoat as well, which I haven't found elsewhere either (and the petticoat pattern turned out to be very interesting, well worth a post of its own in the future).
So, I see this pattern as an investment in learning more about period cutting and sewing. The bedgown has a very simple construction, with a single pattern piece, and seams only at the sides and center back. BTW, the pattern has Swedish text only.

Neck detail, showing the gathered trim.
The sewing instructions are written by a tailor, and largely match the bedgown in "Costume Close-up", except that they go into much more detail—especially on basting, which made all the sewing very easy. I love basting in general, because it makes hand sewing much more comfortable. I never risk losing a pin, or pricking myself on them, and everything stays neatly lined up.

I was a little disappointed to see that the pattern instructions only have line drawings. There are no photos of the original bedgown and petticoat set, nor of a reconstruction, or of the fabric (the cotton/linen print was recreated along with the pattern, but is no longer available).

The trim is very simple—self-fabric folded cuffs, and a lightly gathered self-fabric strip around the neck (all edges are folded under). While the pattern suggests adding ribbon ties based on other bedgowns, the original bedgown has no traces of closures and was probably pinned closed.

My bedgown

While the pattern instructions mention that the fabric was joined in some places due to the width of the fabric, there are no indications on the pattern of where this was done. The fabric width is mentioned though, so it can be figured out. I chose to cut my printed cotton about 100 cm (40") wide to simulate a period width, then joined on spare bits at the sides where needed, and finally used the pattern again to cut these additions to shape. I did the same with the lining, except that period linen came in other widths than printed cotton, so I cut the linen to match one of them (can't recall how wide—but IIRC Sweden seems to have used different widths than England). These joins across the sleeves and near the bottom of the side seams are typical of extant garments of this cut.

Front, shown with the front edges overlapping because the back lays flat.

Back view. Note the shaped back seam which flares out to form a peplum below the high waistline.
Now, chronic fatigue is a major annoyance—sewing a bit now and then is doable, but arranging a basic photo shoot requires a larger effort and I keep postponing it in hopes that I'll have more energy some other time. The same goes for blogging. So my finished bedgown has been sitting here since April, unphotographed and unblogged. The only reason I'm getting this post done, is that I finally decided to just lay the bedgown out on the floor for the photos. Which was probably a good idea, really, as it shows the characteristic shaped back seam fairly well.


The pattern mentions that bedgowns were used by all classes in Sweden, and as informal wear even by upper-class women, so my bedgown ties in nicely with the March challenge of the Historical Sew Monthly.

When I tried it on, it didn't just look informal, but very frumpy. While the back is shaped, the A-line sides provide ample width that allows the center front to be raised to an almost horizontal position. This cut can clearly be worn throughout pregnancy, even if you're overdue with twins. And I think that explains why there are so many well-preserved bedgowns of this cut in Swedish museum collections—women were probably very happy to put them away when they were no longer needed, and switch to a more fitted bedgown…

The facts

The Challenge: #3 Comfort at Home: Make something to wear around the (historical) house.

My submission: A frumpy Swedish bedgown.

Material: Ikea's "Ljusöga" duvet cover (thrifted), and linen for the lining (new, circa 20x20 threads/cm or 50x50 threads/inch).

Pattern: A bought pattern based on an extant printed cotton/linen bedgown and matching petticoat in a Swedish museum. The pattern was printed by the Skansen museum in Stockholm around 2003, and they still carry it.

Year: Around 1780, given the printed fabric I used. The pattern just says "18th century".

Notions: Just linen thread and beeswax.

How historically accurate is it? I used a period pattern, period fibers, reasonable thread counts, and period methods. Unfortunately the colors differ a bit from period prints, which is why I give it 75 % on the Peacock scale.

Hours to complete: No idea—a little while now and then over about two months.

First worn: I tried it on as soon as it was finished, that's all.

Total cost: About $44 (pattern $30, fashion fabric $2, lining $12; thread from my stash).

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