18th Century Girl's Gown

Monday, August 26, 2019


18th century girl's gown and cap, made from Larkin & Smith.



It took a while to get my niece interested in accompanying me to a reenactment. She'd look at me across the dinner table and turn up her nose.

"Do I have to wear those big cage skirts? I don't want to wear that!" 

I'd laugh and reply, "no, that's civil war. We do the one before that." Then I'd cringe a bit when I'd forgotten the War of 1812, but doesn't everyone? "You'd wear a petticoat, that's it." 

"What'd I do? Do I have to cook over a fire. I don't want to cook."

"You'd play games with the other kids, and if you're very helpful you'll get paid."

Her eyes lit up. "Wait!" Her jaw dropped in astonishment. "You get paid?"

In hindsight, I should of began with that. I suppose bribery isn't the best way to get kids interested in history, but the pretty dresses don't work with all girls. I decided if she went and didn't enjoy dressing up and playing old fashioned games, then she didn't have to come to another. It was good enough that she tried something different and I have pictures to last a lifetime. 

Anyway, as soon as I got permission from her parents, I went to work sewing up a gown. There are only a few options when it comes to children gowns, but since I have a long history using Larkin & Smith, I decided to give their girl's pattern a try. 

Nathaniel Dance, Detail from The Pybus Family, 1769

The reason their pattern appealed to me was that it was designed in an adult style. Despite her tiny frame, my niece is a bit too old for the white frock seen in period painting and I don't think the whole thing would've appealed to her if she didn't look a little bit like me.  

She's getting older, and I imagine any 18th century lady would be transitioning her young girls into more adult styles with a bodice, fitted sleeves, and a bum roll. I left out the stays because she's a modern girl who doesn't quite get their not the oppressive torture devices made out in contemporary media. But I drew a line with the cap. The cap was a must. 

My niece's cap made from Larkin & Smith's "Phyllis Wheatley" pattern. It's adult sized, making it quite big and fancy for a young girl. 

I had originally set out to sew the gown by hand. I spent a week handsewing the bodice during my lunch hour at work. Then kids do kid things. She grew. She came back from her summer vacation two inches bigger than she was when she left. It was too big of a difference to make the first bodice work, so I cut another one. With only a few days left to the reenactment, I machine stitched the interior and used quick running stitches for the exterior. 

Honestly, I don't know why I tried to handsew the first because no one seemed to ask how it was made, and because she's a kid she's not really going to appreciate the work of making something by hand. 


I did make a few changes for the sake of time. I gathered the skirt instead of trying to fuss with pleating. I prefer this method since the skirt was a little to wide at the final fitting and instead of rearranging the pleats all I need to do was push the gathers up and resew the waistband. 

I also cut the bodice front on the fold to save time. One thing that disliked was how deep and wide the neckline is for a child. A little dart in the center front tightened the neckline. It will be a useful seam to let out as she grows.


I did make a small bumroll and drawstring petticoat. I think it helped give the skirts a little more structure and fullness. However, saying my niece hated the bumroll would be an understatement. She loathed this thing. I tried to convince her to wear it by telling her it was a good talking point when kids came up and asked about her gown. She could poke the pad with her finger and go "isn't this ridiculous???!!!" In the end, she kept it because she got to complain about it. If she ever wears stays she gonna wish she only had to wear the bumroll.


I cut a basic crescent shape freehand and padded it lightly. It ended up being about 10 inches wide at the ribbons, 7 inches long, and 9 inches in diameter at the widest part.

Anyway, the dress worked great. She could run and play, and never once complained about the dress. Once and a while she wanted to take the cap off, but I felt like the accessories made her impression, so I bribed her to keep it on with a cookie and off she went, avec cap. 






Final thoughts: I love this pattern, even though it's not a pattern you can make without a muslin and a lot of tweeking. Kids aren't all the same, and man they'll sprout up when you least expect it, so it takes a bit of time getting the fit right. I wouldn't make it up unless the child was getting older and ready for more fitted garments. Definitely will make it up again when she grows out of this one. 

2 comments

  1. How sweet! You did a lovely job on your niece's outfit. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. GORGEOUS work! I really hope to see your sweet niece at more events, she cracks me up!! <3

    ReplyDelete

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