Baby Linen


How to Make a Basic Essential Layette
for Eighteenth Century Re-enactor Infants

© Sharon Ann Burnston 2005,
pattern diagrams may be copied for personal use, all other rights reserved

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These patterns are for personal use only, all other rights are reserved. To put it another way, the article posted here is the distillation of thirty years’ worth of research and experience. By putting it on the Web, I am giving it to you for free. But that doesn’t mean it has no value to me! What I ask of you in return is credit for my thirty years’ work.

No part of this article may be reproduced without permission. The patterns may not be reproduced for sale under any circumstances. You may use this information and these patterns in replicating 18th c. baby clothes for your own use or as gifts, but not for commercial resale. In any use of this article or of any of the information contained in it, this author and this article must be properly cited, every single time, as the source of your information. If you need to see this stated in more formal language, please read the standard use-agreement provided in this link:


Based on what can be determined from surviving examples, eighteenth century infant clothing could be anything from extremely elaborate to very plain and utilitarian. Since babies grow so quickly, and most re-enacting families won’t get to more than a few events before Baby outgrows his "newborn"-size clothing, this article presents a bare-essentials "layette" of 18th c. baby clothing you can make. The patterns and instructions are based in every detail on extant original examples, to the extent that they exist, and on period written descriptions where original items don’t survive. To the degree that some of the garments are speculative, the speculations have been field-tested by the hands-on experience of several seasoned reenactor-mothers.

This is not intended as a definitive treatise on how 18th c. infants were dressed, which is a topic bewildering in its variety. It is intended as a guide to recreating simple but accurate 18th c. infant clothing for re-enactor use, the minimum-necessary wardrobe adequate to fully and correctly dress an infant for events for mid-century (French & Indian War period) or third-quarter-century (American Revolutionary War period). It represents the best research to date, and has been selected as only one set of options, the simplest and easiest, out of a variety of options employed by 18th c. mothers to clothe their infants. (These clothes are also suitable for dressing a doll for static house-museum displays, should anyone want to.)

The patterns and dimensions as given should fit a newborn up to at least three months old, and probably up to about six months. With modifications for size, this same wardrobe would have been worn by babies up to about 9 months old, when ready to learn to walk, at which point their wardrobe changed rather markedly. They would then have been "short-coated", put into shifts, ankle-length petticoats, and back-lacing gowns.

This set of baby-linen ("layette" is actually a 19th c. term) will provide the minimum necessary for decency and historical accuracy. Each item is a manageable project for even a beginner-sewer, while a skilled seamstress should be able to complete any of these items, entirely hand-sewn, in a few hours apiece. Should you care to lavish more time and effort to make Baby a more ornamental wardrobe, each item of clothing is accompanied by suggestions for embellishment, where appropriate. If a truly lavish baby-wardrobe is your desire, you might also consider purchasing the Mill Farm Infant Gown pattern, which contains instructions for a fancier shirt, a basic petticoat, and an infant gown which has the potential to be as elaborate as you wish to make it.

While traditionally known as "baby-linen", the items described below were made in both linen and/or fine wool. Some of the garments, or parts of garments, do appear to have been made in cotton, but linen and wool, being more absorbent than cotton, and more comfortable to the skin when wet, should be your preferred choices. For newborns, white was the customary color. All fabrics should be pre-shrunk by machine-washing and drying on "hot" settings before cutting out the garment.

How much will you need of everything? That depends on the kind of events you’ll be going to. Are you day-tripping or going for a week-long encampment? As a rough estimate, plan on needing at least one shirt, one cap, one petticoat, one bed gown, eight napkins and four pilches for every 24-hour day of the event, plus assorted cloths and blankets. Also, if you want them, plan on one bib and one belly-band per day.

A Note on the Pattern Diagrams: In every cutting diagram given, each square of the grid equals one inch.

The Baby-Linen:

  1. Cap
  2. Diaper, known in the period as "napkin" or "clout"
  3. Pilch or Pilcher, a diaper-cover
  4. Shirt
  5. Petticoat
  6. Roller, swaddling-band, belly-band, or "surcingle"
  7. Bed gown or robe
  8. Bib, also Drool cloth, burp cloth, the "muckinder"
  9. Stockings, Shoes, Booties
  10. Baby sling, baby carrier
  11. Blanket, basket, bedding
  12. Final Reminder


    Baby Swaddling Photo Series
    Baby Gown Photo Series

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