Welsh costume dolls project

The Welsh costume dolls project was a study of 38 19th century dolls, dressed in Welsh costume. It was undertaken in 2011-2102 to analyse the fabrics (possibly the oldest surviving Welsh fabrics), and the styles of dress on the dolls.

This page includes:

  • Details of the project
  • Structure of the reports on every garment
  • List of links to relevant pages on this site
  • List of dolls included in the project
  • Summary report by the conservators who examined the dolls

For illustrations and brief descriptions of these and other Welsh costume dolls see People’s Collection Wales and search for Welsh Doll.


The project was funded by a grant from CyMAL : Museums, Libraries and Archives Wales (Welsh Government), February 2010 – December, 2011 and the Federation of Museums and Galleries of Wales.

The project included nearly all the 19th century dolls in public collections in Britain including: St Fagans National History Museum; Pembrokeshire Museum; Tenby Museum; Gwynedd Museum, Bangor; Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth; Brecon Museum; Hereford Museum; Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of Childhood (London); Museum of London; Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke on Trent and a private collection. The project partners are grateful to all the museums who were kind enough to allow their dolls to be studied.

The fabric of the doll’s costumes were analised and photographed by Emma Telford and Clare Stoughton-Harris (independent conservators) and Jenny Barsby (National Museum of Wales)

The partners were:
Ceredigion Museum (Michael Freeman, curator of Ceredigion Museums, 1991-2012, who is studying the history and fabrics of traditional costumes worn by women in Wales, 1770 to the present.)
National Museum of Wales (Diane Gwilt, Elen Phillips, Emma Lile, Jenny Barsby, Mary Davis, Sue Renault)
Cardiff University, School of History Archaeology and Religion, Conservation Department (Jane Henderson)
Federation of Museums and Galleries in Wales (Rachael Rogers)

X rays were taken by Jihynn Kwon, a student at Cardiff University, School of History Archaeology and Religion and staff at London Museums.

The reports consist of:

  • a summary report by Emma Telford and Clare Stoughton-Harris (see below)
  • detailed descriptions of each garment (on this web site, see list below)
  • high resolution photographs of each garment on every doll
  • at least one x-ray of each doll
  • a summary description and 10 photographs of each doll have been uploaded onto the People’s Collection Wales web site.


Number           the dolls were numbered 1-38
Item                 e.g. hat, apron, bedgown etc
Item Number   each separate item of the doll’s costume was given a sub number e.g. 1.3
Component     each element of each item was described
Construction    a description of each component
Measurements of each component
Pattern                       of the fabric
Technique1     method by which the component was made (e.g. woven)
Technique2     type of method (e.g. plain weave)
Thread Count ends / wales per cm    of the fabric
Thread Count picks / rows per cm     of the fabric
Twist warp       of the fabric
Twist weft        of the fabric
Twist yarn       of the fabric
Fibre – warp     of the fabric (e.g. wool, cotton)
Fibre – weft      of the fabric (e.g. wool, cotton)
Material – other
Colour – warp  (e.g. wool, cotton)
Colour – weft   (e.g. wool, cotton)
Colour – other  (e.g. wool, cotton)
Finish               whether the fabric was finished (e.g. napped, raised, waxed)
microscopic analysis?            yes or no
Notes/general observations

A glossary of terms was prepared by the conservators.

See also
Welsh costume doll garments
Welsh costume doll aprons
Welsh costume doll bedgowns
Welsh costume doll cloaks
Welsh costume doll fabrics
Welsh costume doll gowns
Welsh costume doll hats
Welsh costume doll skirts
Welsh costume doll tie-on pockets
Welsh costume doll underskirts
Welsh costume doll underwear
Welsh costume doll contemporary references
Welsh costume doll presentations

Most of the dolls could not be undressed, without cutting threads which held the costumes in place, so there are no photographs just of the bodies but there are brief descriptions of those parts of the bodies (head, hands and feet) which were visible and x-rays were taken.
Help is required in dating the bodies.

Dating the dolls proved to be difficult. The bodies (which require expert identification) may be older than some of the costumes which might have been made fabric which was old at the time of making. One indicator of the date of the garments is the presence of machine stitching which first appeared during the 1850s. A few of the dolls were dated by the donors, but it isn’t unusual for people to think they owned something older than it actually is. Other dolls have been dated by informed guesswork by museum staff.

List of the dolls included in the project. The numbers are hyperlinked to very detailed descriptions of each doll’s garments.

1          Pembrokeshire Museum      Female Doll    late 19th
2          Pembrokeshire Museum      Male Doll        late 19th
3          Tenby  Museum                      Female Doll     19th and later
4          Tenby  Museum                      Female Doll     1889
5          Tenby  Museum                      Female Doll     1889
6          Bangor Museum                     Female Doll     mid 19th
7          Bangor Museum                     Female Doll     mid 19th
8          Bangor Museum                     Female Doll     mid 19th
9          Ceredigion Museum              Female Doll     mid 19th
10        Private Collection                   Female Doll     mid 19th
11        Brecon Museum                     Female Doll     early 20th
12        Hereford          Set of clothes (no doll)            mid to late 19th
13        Hereford                                 Female Doll     late 19th
14        Hereford                                 Female Doll     mid to late 19th
15        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     about 1845
16        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     1809?
17        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     1840s
18        NMW St Fagans                     Female Doll    about 1845
19        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     about 1895
20        Museum of Childhood          Female Doll     about 1880
21        Museum of London                Female Doll     late 19th
22        Museum of Childhood          Female Doll     late 19th
23        Museum of Childhood          Female Doll     about 1840
24        Museum of Childhood          Female Doll     about 1900
25        Museum of London                Female Doll     mid 19th
26        Museum of London                Female Doll     1832
27        Museum of London                Female Doll     mid 19th
28        Museum of London                Female Doll     19th
29        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     19th
30        NMW St Fagans                     Male Doll        late 19th
31        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     1855-1860
32        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     1851
33        NMW St Fagans                     Female Doll    about 1850
34        NMW St Fagans                     Female Doll    mid 19th
35        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     1825-1830
36        NMW St Fagans                    Female Doll     mid 19th
37        NMW St Fagans                     Female Doll    late 19th
38        Potteries museum                   Female Doll    late 19th


Clare Stoughton-Harris and Emma Telford reserve the right to be identified exclusively as the authors of this research and the associated catalogues.

Overview of catalogue
Over a period of four months a total of thirty seven dolls were examined and analysed by Emma Telford, Clare Stoughton-Harris and Jenny Barsby. Dolls had been selected by Michael Freeman from collections at The National History Museum St Fagans, Pembrokeshire Museum, Tenby Museum, Bangor Museum, Ceredigion Museum, Brecon Museum, Hereford Museum, Museum of Childhood, Museum of London, and a private collection.
Each doll has a unique spreadsheet in the catalogue. Looking at each item of clothing individually, a methodology was established for analysis, and the spreadsheet layout designed to record the following: garment construction (including seam types, stitching etc), dimensions, material components, technical analysis of those components (woven, knitted, felted, etc.), weave analysis, thread analysis (twist and ply), analysis of decoration or pattern (for example, printed or embroidered), colour and finish. A thumbnail photograph accompanies each component.
For comparative purposes, each garment type (bedgown, hat etc) is compiled in the separate ‘Components’ spreadsheet. There are further comparative categories for flannels, linsey-wolsey, printed cottons, woven cottons, and silks.

Outlined below are some observations on highlights from the catalogue.

There is a consistency in the garments worn, usually in the following sequence: tall
hat, cap, apron, shawl(s) bedgown, skirt, underskirt(s), chemise, drawers, stockings or
socks, shoes.

Gowns and Bedgowns
Most variation and individuality is exhibited in the gowns and bedgowns, both in the fabrics used and in the garment construction. The commonest type is a long gown, with a tailored back, cut away at the front and with a low neckline (type 1); D8, D10, D11, D13, D14, D16, D17, D22 and D36 conform broadly to this pattern, although with some variations between them. (D13 appears to imitate this style, rather than represent it, having been made up on the doll in separate parts).

Short tailored gown with short tail (or peplum) and often short sleeves, (D1, D4, D5, D23).

The remainder are bedgowns:

Short, T-shaped type, sometimes with collar, and in the case of the dolls studied, always made from cotton; D3 (although this may not be original), D7, D20, D21, D27, D31, D32 and D37 are of this type. Some examples had the bedgown tucked into the skirt layer, appearing more shirt-like, although this may not have been the original intention in every case.

Four examples each were found to represent the long kimono type without collar, (D6, D12, D18, D25),

Only two examples were found representing the other kimono style with collar: D26, and less certainly, D33 (which has its collar made from a different fabric to the main bedgown).

Some anomalies which could not be categorized are D15 ; D19 (a short style but with front corners hooked up round the back with ties); D24 (not really a Welsh bedgown); D29 (a dress); and D34 (which could be a gown but this is not certain).

Many of the tall hats display the high quality silk plush used for the adult hats but show varying construction methods – either exhibiting the product of a professional milliner or something rather more home produced. Professionally produced hats sometimes include printed details of the manufacturer inside the crown: evidently there was a small industry supplying demand for doll hats. As well as plush, outer coverings of felt were also found, and one hat of painted card.

Where a doll has a cloak, these are all almost identical. Their common factors are: made from bright red flannel, with a hood; usually decorated with some form of feather-stitch embroidery, always in black, or with black braid trim. Dolls with such cloaks are D3, D7, D19, D20, D21, D37.

Early dolls
There are very few pointers for giving dates to these dolls and their costume, but D6, D25 and D26 would appear to be the earliest dolls. D26 certainly has a stylistic profile which looks more Regency than Victorian. Overall the construction of these three dolls is almost identical, and there are many similarities between them in the garments too: all three have a papier mache head and wooden limbs; all have a linseywolsey fabric with a Z-spun blue linen warp and wool weft stripe, still in its loomstate; the bedgowns are all kimono-style (types 3 and 5); all three have a printed cotton neckerchief crossing at front in the same manner; the shoes and stockings are all constructed very similarly and with similar materials. The condition of these dolls and the fabrics thereon suggest that they were never played with, and it could be that they were made to illustrate fashions and/or fabrics as noted by Arnold.
Linsey-wolsey was initially defined as a coarse fabric with a linen warp and worsted weft, but more recently as being either a coarse linen fabric or a strong, coarse fabric with linen or cotton warp and a woollen weft. The warp is entirely covered by the weft and has a nap finish (Textile Institute 1993). (Note: many of the linsey-wolsey fabrics found in this research were loomstate, i.e. without nap finish). There are at least twelve woollen fabrics that have a linen warp. In addition, fabrics with a cotton warp have also been found throughout the project. In some cases the cotton warp is completely covered by the weft so would meet the later definition of linsey-wolsey.
There appear to be three types of linsey-wolsey exhibited on the dolls:
1. Early examples: linen warp, wool weft, striped, loomstate – (as above for early dolls)
2. Plain coloured linsey-wolsey – cotton warp, wool weft. Weft-faced through weave and finish.
3. Cotton stripe linsey-wolsey – cotton warp, cotton and wool weft stripe.

Aside from the early examples above, there are linsey-wolsey fabrics on D6, D12, D13, D14, D18, D28, D32.
A point of interest with the linsey-wolsey fabrics is that although the stripes are always in the weft direction (i.e. horizontal), they are typically hanging vertically. This must have been an aesthetic choice rather than anything to do with economy of fabric.

Shoddy fabrics
Some yarns which appeared to be made of wool, when analysed under the microscope, revealed a mixture of fibres – often wool fibres of differing colours, some of which seemed very worn, cotton fibres and unidentified fibres. We have suggested that this might indicate some form of recycled yarn perhaps from the shoddy trade. Shoddy is described as a fibrous material made in the woollen trade by pulling down new or old knitted or loosely woven fabric in rag form (Textile Institute 1993). Examples of shoddy fabric can be seen on D1(?), D4, D5, D8, D9, D15(?), D18, D19. Shoddy fabrics would typically be made for the lower end of the market.

The following dolls are pairs: D1 and D2, D4 and D5. Whilst not strictly a pair, there are many similarities between D3 and D8 which are worth noting: both are bisqueheaded with closing eyes; both 45cm high; both wear the same or very similar striped linsey-wolsey skirt (D3.3 & D8.5); both have the same shoes but different socks (D8) and stockings (D3); both are hand sewn in their original form, but D3 has alterations and additions which are machine stitched. There is no cloak to D8, just a long narrow
red flannel shawl. D3 would appear to have its original cloak, albeit repaired. The original silk ribbon used to bind the neck seam is extremely fine, approximately 100 ends per centimeter.

The dolls illustrate a number of different occupations: wool gathering, seaweed and cockle picking, knitting, baby carrying. Seven dolls carry babies in shawls, three dolls have tie-on pockets, nine dolls carry knitting, and six dolls carry baskets. One doll carries a metal bucket although its function is unknown (possibly a milking pail?). Separate sleeves or even two sets of sleeves on one doll is a typical indication of working dress. The majority of the sleeves and aprons were found to be cotton, possibly reflecting the adult versions, which could be readily laundered.

Possibilities for further research
It has not been possible within the time-frame to access the collections at Dre Fach. This might prove a useful avenue for further research, in identifying the provenance of particular fabrics. The range of printed cottons exhibited on the dolls could assist in identifying a date for some of them. Extensive archives for printed cottons exist in Manchester, where pattern books with dates detailing when a particular design was first produced can be studied.
Taking accurate patterns from the gowns and bedgowns, where these can be removed from the dolls, might form a useful source of reference and comparison for the adult versions.

Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion 1 Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c.1660-1860 (MacMillan, London, 1977)
Textile Terms and Definitions (Textile Institute, 1993, 9th Edition)