Baby Linen


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

Pilch, Pilcher

This is a diaper cover, sometimes also known as a "soaker" or a "saver". In the days before waterproof diaper covers, wool was preferred for making these. Washed wool flannel absorbs perspiration and other moisture, wicking it away from the skin, and holding it. You may be surprised at how effective it is in keeping your baby dry and comfortable. If you find that it isn’t effective, or that Baby is getting a rash, or whatever, then by all means make whatever changes or compromises are necessary for her comfort. First things first!

If you opt for modern diapers, whether cloth or disposable, a pilch, made of white wool flannel or linen, can be a good way to disguise them. If you use wool flannel, be sure it’s very well washed and preshrunk, so that you’ll be able to launder it without concern of further shrinkage. Well washed wool should be sufficiently felted or "fulled" that it will not need finishing along its cut edges, thus saving you some sewing and eliminating bulky hems between Baby’s legs.

As with the diapers, I know of no surviving extant examples of an 18th c. pilch we can copy, and all written descriptions of 18th c. pilches suggest that they were simply wool triangles or squares. Therefore, a "documented" pattern isn’t possible, and you are left with the choices of using a modern diaper cover, following a pattern from the early 19th c., or making up something plausible.

click for larger photo.

One plausible alternative is to use the directions for the baby "napkin" as described above, only use a single thickness of fulled wool flannel instead of the doubled-thickness of diaper-fabric. For a newborn, cut an 18" square, fold it diagonally, add a tape-tie and a tape loop as described above, under "Napkin, clout".

I had a remnant of fulled white wool flannel which was too heavy for this approach, so I simply used a single thickness triangle. I cut the 17" square on the diagonal, added tape-ties and a tape loop as you can see in the photo. This is another plausible option, especially since I already had the 17" wide remnant.

Here is a 19th c. pattern for a more structured pilch, from The Workwoman’s Guide, by A Lady 1838, reprinted by Dover, (p. 28 & plate 3 fig. 9, 10), and paraphrased by me:

Cut a piece of preshrunk wool flannel 24 ¾" square, then cut it on the diagonal (you’ll be able to make two). Round off the two ends of the diagonal and gather the diagonal edge to equal 18". Bind this with a strip of cotton or linen fabric cut 5" x 19", so that the finished waistband, when all raw edges are turned under and slipstitched, equals 2" x18".

(As with the diaper instructions from the same source, this seems to me to make up as a good size for an older baby, but too large for a newborn. I’d suggest beginning with a 20" square, cut on the diagonal. Round off the ends of the diagonal and gather to equal 15". Cut the waistband 4" X 16", so that when finished, it is 1 ½" X 15".)

The author says to sew a cotton tab to the remaining corner, and fasten the whole thing around the baby with a button and two buttonholes. However, this sounds to me like a 19th c. solution, and it’s non-adjustable, so I’d suggest you use two twill tape ties and a tape loop, as I did on my triangular pilch in the photo.

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


  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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