How to Make a Basic Essential Layette
for Eighteenth Century Re-enactor Infants
Bed Gown or Robe
Of the many styles of 18th c. infant gowns, this one is by far the easiest to make and is well documented by surviving examples. Garments like this can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Historic Deerfield, and Colonial Williamsburg (see Baumgarten, fig. 236), among others. At the first Tidy’s Symposium in 1993, Tandy Hersh shared with attendees a diagram of one of these garments from her private collection. There are two such objects in the collection of Historic New England, both of which I’ve had the opportunity to study closely.
Some of the surviving examples are proportioned for infants, some are toddler-sized, while some appear to have been altered from infant-wear to toddler-wear. In cut and construction they are all remarkably similar.
click image for larger view.
To make the infant bed gown: (Each square of the grid = 1")
1. Bed gown is cut from one piece of fabric 24" x 60"; it can be cut from ¾ yd. of 60" wide fabric. It is quite "authentic" to piece out a remnant which isn’t quite big enough. For an infant, this garment typically would be made in white, in linen or fine wool worsted. Cut out the bed gown as shown in the diagram.
2. Sew side/underarm seams. Finish the raw edges of the seam allowances as needed. If the bed gown is being made in linen, you should be making these in the form of narrow flat-felled seams, as fine and narrow as you can manage. You may want to pay particular attention to the seam finish on the 2" closest to the wrists, as all or part of this will be turned to the outside for a cuff, at least until Baby grows into it.
3. Cut bed gown open at CF edge where shown and hem these edges with as narrow a hem as you can.
4. Neckline can have a tiny turned hem, or be finished with ½" wide cotton twill tape. Cut tape 16 ½" long, slipstitch it to outside of neckline. Fold over, enclosing all raw edges and turning in short edges of tape, and slipstitch other side of tape to inside of neckline. A worsted bed gown could have a neckline binding of silk ribbon.
5. Hem bottom edge with a narrow hem.
1. The stitched pleat shown at CB neck is optional. It’s a good idea to put it in if the bed gown will be worn by a very small baby. Sew it from the inside as a vertical tuck, thus forming an inverse box pleat on the outside. It is sewn from the CB neckline to about 5" down the CB. If you choose to put in this pleat, do so after the neckline is finished; that way you can let it out as Baby grows.
2. The surviving extant garments have no fastenings. If you want them, add a pair of ties at the CF neckline and another pair about 4" further down the CF edge.
3. Narrow white lace edging, roughly ½" wide, can be sewn around neckline and at each sleeve opening. Cut the lace for the neckline 22", and the lace for each sleeve opening 10", and ease the lace to fit as you sew it on. Make narrow rolled hems on the short edges of the lace.
4. Ruffles of fine, sheer linen or cotton, like batiste, hemmed to equal roughly ¾" wide, can be used instead of the lace in option #2.
- Diaper, known in the period as "napkin" or "clout"
- Pilch or Pilcher, a diaper-cover
- Roller, swaddling-band, belly-band, or "surcingle"
- Bed gown or robe
- Bib, also Drool cloth, burp cloth, the "muckinder"
- Stockings, Shoes, Booties
- Baby sling, baby carrier
- Blanket, basket, bedding
- Final Reminder
Baby Swaddling Photo Series
Baby Gown Photo Series