The deconstructed gown

There were several gowns of this type in the collection of Margaret Evan’s of Aberystwyth, which was bequeathed to Ceredigion Museum but was not required because it was the same as many already in the collection. Many of the unwanted items in the collection were offered to various organisations for educational and research purposes and it was agreed that one of the gowns could be deconstructed in order to establish exactly how the various pieces were cut and sewn together. It was also hoped that in doing this, it might be possible to calculate how much fabric was originally used, but this proved to be uncertain.

Detailed description of the construction. (Left and right apply as if it was being worn)

This gown is slightly smaller than most of the other surviving examples, and the fabric and structure of the end of the ‘flap’ is unusual in being of a different fabric, and is of a simple rectangle. There is one badly executed repair on the tail of the gown: repairs to gowns are rarely found. There were several moth holes on the wool, which are commonly found in bedgowns. Each piece was an exact mirror image of the equivalent one on the other side.




Length from the top of ‘collar’ at the back to the bottom of tail 104 cms (41 ins)

Length of the tail 75.5 cms (29½ ins)


There was no intention of the bed gown fitting tightly around a waist but the maximum circumference of this gown was 71 cms (28 ins)


Circumference around the back and flaps (with outer edges of flaps touching) 87 cms (34 inches). It is possible that the additional material for the flaps, with the blue thread, was added to fit someone with a larger bust.


The sleeves had a circumference of between 25.5 and 33 cms (10 – 13 ins)


The quality of the sewing varied, and was almost all of light khaki cotton. From the outside, the threads were invisible, because the pieces were tightly sewn together through both pieces with the edges turned in.





This consisted of 5 pieces of white calico: a central back piece; two side pieces; two upper sleeves

The pieces were joined by a light green thread. The folds on the edges were not sewn down and were roughly cut




The main fabric was like that found an almost all bedgowns. It consisted of striped flannel with the stripes running vertically (including the sleeves when the arms are outstretched) but no attempt was made to make the pattern continue from one piece of fabric to the next. The fabric had a warp of black threads. The stripes consisted of a 9mm band of black, a 4 mm band of red (5 threads), a 2 mm band of black (2 threads), a 4 mm band of red (5 threads), a 9 mm band of black, a 7 mm band of red (8 threads). The number of threads on the wider black stripes was difficult to count.

No original edges of the woven cloth were found.



The fabric varied in its state of flannelling (or perhaps brushing) – in a few places all the threads were clear; on others, they were indistinct because the surface fibres had been lifted.





For example, the threads of the fabric under the silk at the ends of the sleeves were visible and the panels under the arms (Back left 2 and back right 2) had a semi-circular area where the threads were visible on the outer surface only. The fibres on the fabric on the inner face and in the folds at places where the pieces were joined were not clear. Perhaps the surface fibres, brought out by the flannelling process are removed by rubbing, exposing the individual threads.


End of the sleeve showing threads of the fabric


The main structure consisted of 22 pieces of striped wool, plus two pieces of black watered silk at the end of the sleeves, plus two pieces of broad black petersham ribbon used to cover damage to the silk. There was one button still attached at the small of the back (the other was missing but the threads used to hold it in place were present).

The pieces are numbered with the following letters, followed by L or R (for left or right)
B = back               (1 central and 1 piece on each side)
F = Front              (3 pieces on each side)
S = sleeve            (2 pieces on each side plus silk and repair)
FL = flap               (2 pieces on each side)
T = Tail                 (2 pieces on each side)
C = centre           (1 piece at the small of the back)

The folds, where sewn, contained a significant amount of dirt (see photos 0965, 0966), which suggests that it was worn several times. This is confirmed by the sweat marks on the calico around the arm pits.



The grid in these photographs is in 10 cm (4 inch) squares.

This shows that the back of the bodice was made of two pieces which continued to the bottom of the tail. A triangle was cut out of the centre of the upper part and the edges were joined, once the relevant section of the tail had been folded.

The remainder of the bodice consisted of 8 pieces

Back Right 2 and Back Left 2 were connected to the main two sections of the tail. These were connected to gores (Font right 3 and Front Left 3) and parts of Front Right 2 and Front Left 2 which were attached to the sleeves. A tiny triangle of fabric (Front Right 1 and Front Left 1) appears to have been required to enable the sleeve to be attached as a cylinder





The sleve with the watered silk in place





The sleve with the end unfolded






Both sleeves were formed of two rectangular pieces, (Sleeve Right 1, Sleeve Right 2; Sleeve Left 1 and Sleeve Left 2) each sewn end to end to form a cylinder. Over the end of the outer sleeve section was a piece of black watered silk, very finely sewn on, almost invisibly.


The pieces of the flap and sleeve











These fold in front of the bedgown to cover the breasts.

These were attached to BR1 and BL2, and consisted of two rectangles. The inner one (FLR2 and FLL2), had part of the fabric folded over onto the inside face. Normally, the whole of the inside face is covered with small pieces of fabric and is the only part of the gown (other than the folded part of the end of the sleeves) that has two layers. The roughly cut edge of the inside face was covered by the lining.

The outer rectangle (FLR1 and FLL1) was of a different fabric to the rest of the gown. It was red and black striped flannel with some blue, and was folded in half to form a double layer. One of the pieces (FLL1) had a 35 mm ribbon of green-brown mercerized cotton (or possibly silk) attached along its edge, suggesting that it had been cut from the bottom edge of a skirt. The pattern of the stripes was 10 mm band of black; 3mm band of red; 10 mm band of black; 2 mm band of red; a 1 mm band of blue, a 3 mm and of black; a 1 mm band of blue; a 2 mm band of red.

There was no evidence that there were any fixings that joined the ends of the flaps together such as buttons or hooks and eyes.

mfc1495The top of the shoulder consited of three small triangles on both sides

FL1,2,3 FR1,2,3











Underneath the calico, at the small of the back was a very roughly cut small piece of the same fabric as the rest of the gown which was at the point where the bodice joined the tail pieces, and where the buttons on the back were located. It was just tacked into place.






The centre of the tail was formed by a piece of fabric which ran to the top of the back of the bodice. Below the waist this was folded almost symmetrically, enabling the side tail pieces to flair out, forming almost a semicircle. The main fold in the very centre of the tail part of the full-length piece of fabric was stitched along its length to hold the fold in place.


To increase the flair, two gores were sewn from about half way down the tail between the central and side tail pieces.








The one surviving button has khaki cotton on one face, held in place by a metal disc on the back which was stamped: ‘HATWIN   TAT [illegible letters]

Original quantity of fabric

The longest piece of fabric was the piece which ran from the ‘collar’ to the base of the tail. This would have been cut across the original piece of fabric, with the warp running across the gown, so the stripes of the weft were vertical. This would mean cutting this piece from a fabric woven on a loom of at least 104 cms (41 inches).

Attempts were made to try to fit the pieces together, to see how large a piece of fabric was required to make the gown, but this proved unsuccessful. Some of the cuts were irregular e.g. on sleeve left 1 which had a wavy edge and there is a notch in the folded part of Flap right 2.