• gathering wool
  • spinning
  • weaving
  • woollen mills
  • dyes
  • tailors (see below)


It has been assumed that most of the 18th and 19th century traditional Welsh costume was made from home-produced, home-spun yarn which was woven on a loom in the home or small mill rather than in a factory and the resulting fabric was sold by the yard and made into clothes by the women of the household. Although this is likely, there is little evidence for it, and equally little evidence that clothes were sold ‘off the peg’.

The production of skirts and underskirts was straight forward and required little more than sewing one gathered edge to a strip of cotton fabric which went around the waist. Shawls were woven as complete items or printed on cotton or silk with the seamed edges; kerchiefs were produced in the same way.

Although most Welsh costumes were probably made at home,  the surviving examples of the Cardiganshire/Carmarthen type of gown required some very fine tailoring. The similarity of the rather complex design, while not being identical, suggests that they are the work of skilled craftspeople who might have been itinerant. There is no firm evidence that there were itinerant tailors in late 18th and early 19th century Wales, but in Ireland it is assumed that they made women’s cloaks and men’s clothes (Mahon, Brid, Irish Dress, (vol. 10 of the Irish Environmental Library Series, p. 150)

A search of trade directories for 1822 (Pigot’s, for towns only) and 1849 (Hunt’s) produced  about 225 tailors and 162 Milliners and dress makers in Wales 1849; 3 tailors who were also habit makers (in 1822); mantua makers were not listed in 1822 and 1849, but one was listed in Lampeter in 1791-1795 (British Universal Directory) [but only the Lampeter part of this directory exists in the National Library of Wales]. There were 2 stay makers in 1822 and 9 in 1849. There are many problems with analyzing data from Trade directories: most include only those who worked in towns and had paid to be listed in the directories, and their categorization may not truly represent the activities of those listed. For example, the category Milliners and Dress Makers, most of whom were women, may include those who only made hats or dresses.

The census returns list spinners, stocking knitters, weavers, tailors and dress makers and are likely to be their main occupation. Many others did such tasks part time but are listed as servant or wife of farmer.

There is no evidence that paper patterns for bedgowns were available but drawings were published. (Anon (1789) Instructions for cutting out apparel for the Poor; Principally intended for the Assistance of the Patronesses of Sunday Schools … (London), p. 74 ; Anon (1808), The Lady’s Economical Assistant, or the Art of Cutting Out, and Making the most useful Articles of Wearing Apparel. (London, 1808). These include details of the design of a T shaped bedgown.)

1798 near Aberaeron
9.5.1798 Wednesday Vitalis fair with wife. Wife cloak cloth 13s 11d
27.5.1798 Sulgwyn [Whitsunday] to church. Wife to Bethel chapel in her new Cloaks [or is it cloks (clogs)?]
Diary of John Davies, Ystrad (1722-1799), NLW ms 12350A

1802 Lampeter
No Mantua makers, women’s gowns, cloaks etc made by Taylors …
Walter Davies, diary, NLW MS 1760A p. 3/1 (rev)

1817 Llanrug
23.1.1817 Miss Man? cut out and put my scarlet cloak together.
24.1.1817 finished making my cloak
Williams, Hannah, (of Llanrug, between Caernarfon and Llanberis), Diary 1816-1817, NLW MS 856A, pp. 53-54

to a pair of clothes for Evan ???? [Crydd?] £1.1.8; to Taylor Bill for making clothes for Evan ???? 3s 6d
to Jenkin Thomas … 1 pair of new cloathes £1.3.3; To Taylor Bill for making the said cloathes 3s
Llanfihangel Ystrad Vestry Books, Ceredigion Archives CPR/LFY/3 1810-1827, p. 169

1836, Maesteg
‘In this place, as well as at Aberafon there is a shop for the convenience of those who belong to the works. Here the women buy their neat woollen gowns, the peculiar manufacture of the country, and their whittles, a sort of shawl, only worn by the Welsh women.’   (Esther Williams, Diary, 1836, Cardiff Central Library, MS1.521)

1874, Ceredigion
J. Islan Jones was born in 1874 in Cribin, Ceredigion. ‘One of the first things I remember in my new home (a smallholding near Cribin)- was the seamstress of the district, Shan Rhyd-y-Cwrt Fach, coming to make me a coat and breeches. It was customary in the area to dress boys and girls in petticoats and frocks until they were about two years old. Afterwards the boys had coats and trousers. I believe that my trousers and coat were made out of an old dress and petticoat.’ (J. Islan Jones, Yr Hen Amser Gynt, (1958), p.2, translated by Mary Jane Stephenson).

1896 Ceredigion
Welsh Costume for the Princess. The Messrs. Tyler of Mount Gernos, have manufactured a special cloth at their Maesllyn Mills with which to make a Welsh costume for the Princess of Wales. The tailors, Messrs. D. Jones and Sons, Penrhiwpal [near Rhydlewis, Ceredigion], are now engaged on the work. In a letter to a friend the latter say the costume is to be “cyflawn, sef pais a gwn bach, cap, hat uchel, ffedog a sleeves”. [complete, that is skirt and small gown, cap, tall hat, apron and sleeves]. The Messrs. Tyler will present it to the Princess on the occasion of her forthcoming Welsh visit. (Evening Express, 19.6.1896)