Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses; Gowns
c. 1800. Indigo blue and white striped homespun linen gown, one piece, open down the front and loosely pleated in back, with full length sleeves.
This is an informal everyday garment worn for work, likely over a petticoat. The locations of mends below the front waist-level seam are analogous to where an apron would have been pinned. Multiple patches and mends throughout the garment indicate heavy wear, and some of the patches have internal seams indicating they were cut from another finished object. The gown is constructed in the manner of short gowns, with fabric coming up from one hem, over the shoulder with no shoulder seam but with integral sleeves cut to shape under the arm, and down to the other hem. While the indigo-dyed blue stripes and fabric width (79.4 cm / 31.25 in.) are typical for New England homespun textiles of the period, its stripes are woven on the weft of the textile (across the fabric, not along its length) and the gown has vertical stripes. This means the vertical stripes needed to be created, first by cutting the horizontal striped yardage into pieces, then turning each section ninety degrees, then sewing them together into their new vertical orientation.
Accordingly, the back is made of two full-width panels turned vertically: the selvedge of the first back panel is the back skirt hem, the horizontal selvedge-to-selvedge seam to the second back panel falls at the top of the thighs, and this second panel continues up and over the shoulder, reaching to the front just below the bust, where its selvedge is sewn to a third panel cut down to measure 76.2 cm / 30 in., just 3.2 cm / 1.25 in. short of a full width of fabric. This seam falls exactly where the fashionable 1790s to early 1820s high-waisted styles do, but given that this is also where the two full panel widths reach and the seam creates no shaping, it can also be interpreted simply as the continuation of the fabric draping over the body. It is impossible to determine whether that seam placement is accidental or deliberate. An additional 20.3 cm / 8 in. is needed for the garment to be full length in front, so the third panel is pieced at the hem with one long rectangle at the left side and four smaller rectangles joined together side by side at the right.
The back of the garment has more fullness than the front. Where it falls at the shoulders, the fabric is 91.4 cm / 36 in. wide, and in back an excess 41.4 cm / 16.31 in. of this is gathered into a stacked box pleat at center of the neckline and bound from shoulder to shoulder by a narrow length of the fabric. The pleat falls loose and full to the hem. In front, the excess fabric is removed from the center and a low, curved neckline is cut and hemmed to form a casing for a drawstring. The front of the gown is cut open all the way down to the hem. There are no closures as the garment edges would have been slightly overlapped and pinned.
Triangular gores are added in at the side seams to increase the width of the skirts, reaching from the base of the sleeve to the hem. These are entirely constructed out of smaller pieces of fabric, twenty in all. An additional 35.6 cm / 14 in. is added to the sleeves to lengthen them to the wrist. In all, the gown is assembled out of thirty-two pieces (aside from its many patches) and its use of fabric is extremely frugal, in places suggesting that the fabric is recycled from a previous object. Unlined. Hand-sewn.
Length (from front over shoulder to back hem): 255.3 cm / 100.5 in.
Length (center, back of neck to back hem): 127.6 cm / 50.25 in.
Length (center, base of front neckline to hem): 109.2 cm / 43 in.
Width (skirt hem): 251.8 cm / 99.125 in.
Gift of Mary Pepperrell Ffrost Sawyer
University of New Hampshire Library
Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator
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Dresses, Gowns, Robes, Housedresses, Wrappers, c. 1800, Durham, New Hampshire, United States, One-piece dresses, Empire, Federal, Directoire, Regency, Homespun, Linen, Indigo (colorant), Indigo (color), Blue (color), White (color), Full-length sleeves, Informal garment, Work garment, Petticoat, Apron, Box pleats, Drawstring, Gores, Patches, Mending, Unlined, Hand-sewn, Ffrost Sawyer (donor), Ffrost (donor), Frost (donor)