COMPONENTS OF WELSH COSTUME

Much Welsh costume was made of locally produced flannel, woven in stripes and checks at a local mill.

The gown or bedgown

The most distinctive feature of the Welsh costume, other than the hat, is the gown, often referred to in Wales and England as a bedgown (spelt phonetically in various ways in Welsh, most commonly now as betgwn).

There were several designs based on two forms:

(1) a tailored form with a tightly fitting waist (often 24 inch), low-cut top, short sleeves and long wide tail. The flaps at the front rarely have any hooks and eyes or other sort of fixings: they were probably held together with thorns.

At least 40 are known to have survived from Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) and Carmarthenshire and possibly parts of Powys and were made of dark blue flannel with red stripes. A version with a shorter tail in plain brown or red fabric was found in Pembrokeshire. Check patterns were found in the Swansea-Neath area.

This type of gown is found in 17th and 18th century illustrations of both rural and gentry women throughout Europe. This style of gown survived in Wales for longer than elsewhere and became adopted as part of the National Costume.

(2) a loose T shaped form, rather like gowns found in other parts of the world (e.g. a kimono of Japan and the chapan of central Asia). There is some evidence that such gowns were made for the poor by benevolent gentry during the late 19th and early 20th century. (Anon, (1789), 74; Anon, (1808)) This form was found in north-west and south-east Wales and were often of printed cotton. They appear in many illustrations but few examples survive.

The skirt and underskirt (pais)

These were normally full-length, of heavy flannel with vertical or occasionally horizontal stripes in bold colours, often reds and dark blue or black and white.

The cape (or mantle)

There were long and often had large hoods (to cover the Welsh hat). Blue woollen cloaks were far more common in Wales than red ones until the end of the 19th Century when red became more common.

The shawl (siôl)

A variety of shawls were worn in Wales

(1) Square Shawl

Made of wool in natural colours with a fringe all round. This was folded to form either a triangle or a rectangle and worn over the shoulders.

(2) Whittle (no known Welsh word for this)

Large rectangular or square woollen shawls with long fringes were worn around round the waist and used to carry bread and other provisions. They were sometimes worn as a mantle over the shoulders. Many of these were plain white or cream and occasionally red. They appear to have been more common in south Wales. A small version in red wool was worn round the shoulders in north Pembrokeshire.

(3) Nursing shawl (siôl magu)

A large square shawl with long fringes on all sides, made of natural white or cream wool was worn around the shoulder and waist to hold a baby, freeing the hands to do other tasks. Although this is known as the Welsh way of carrying a baby, they seem to have been restricted to south Wales, but were occasionally found in ex-patriot Welsh communities. They were used in parts of Wales until the early 1970s.

(4) The Paisley shawl

Medium to large shawls of woven wool, silk or printed cotton in bright Paisley patterns. Many were fringed at two ends or all round. Although these are thought to have been an essential part of Welsh costume, most were expensive and probably only worn for very special occasions. Many were made in Paisley in Scotland. There is no evidence that this pattern was made in Wales.

The Handkerchief (sometimes now referred to as a fishu)

This was a square piece of fabric, normally of cotton or linen, which was worn around the neck and tucked into the top of the gown. Kerchiefs were also worn over the head like a head scarf.

The apron (fedog)

This was often of natural colours (white through cream and grey to black) in chequered patterns.

The cap (or mob cap)

This was a linen or cotton head cover with goffered folded fabrics around the face. Some had long lappets which hung down the front below shoulder level.

Stockings

Many women spent a lot of time knitting stockings and many thousands were sold for export. Before about 1850 many rural women walked barefoot to and from market, or wore footless stockings.

 

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