Project 3, part 1 – Meet the Nightgown and the Victorian Era
Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Today marks the beginning of a new project; the restoration of a Victorian Era nightgown.
I adore the Victorian Era; it was a fascinating and complex time worldwide. In the history of the United Kingdom it is the period encompassing Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1837 until her death in 1901. (As you can see, it overlaps the Meiji Era from when the kimono in my first project originated – which may or may not be part of why I love that kimono so much.) During this era women’s suffrage finally gained traction, tremendous advances were made in science and medicine, and many novels and poetry still beloved today were written. On the flip side, it was a time of oppressive colonialism, the Industrial Revolution, and an event which still reverberates in American politics today – the Civil War. People who lived in this time had to be flexible in their mindsets due to the rate of change; open to new ideas while still depending strongly on their traditions and families to sustain them.
Plus the fashions were FABULOUS.
This nightgown was given to me by a friend who found themselves in possession of a family heirloom, but with no desire to manage the project of restoring – and then storing – one. I don’t have enough words in my lexicon to express how honored and grateful I am to be the person now entrusted with this precious piece of history. I can only hope to do it justice!
Family records dated this garment to around 1860, but your girl is always going to do her research. In this case, it turned out to be a good thing I did! Not because of the date, but because of the original use case for the garment itself.
You already know it’s a nightgown – but when I received it, I did not! The family records listed it as a car coat – a coat meant to be worn by a lady over her dress to protect it from dust or grime while driving – and I originally had no reason to dispute this assertion. As I began preparing for this project, however, a few problems presented themselves.
- No one was driving cars until the late Victorian Era – a good 20-30 years past the date of this garment. Really, you’re looking more at the Edwardian Era for dusters and driving coats, and they looked quite different from what I have in my possession.
- Carriage coats, as they were called in the mid-Victorian Era, looked wildly different from my garment as well.
- My garment is made of a fine cotton fabric, as far as I can tell, with absolute truckloads of fine detailing – pintucks, ruches, lace, shell buttons…not the sort of things you typically would find on a practical overcoat.
So I started poking around. Could it be a chemise (a garment worn under the corset to protect it from sweat)? No, buttons would be terribly uncomfortable. How about a camisole, or corset cover? No, they tended to be short and low-necked, and my garment has a very high neckline. Then I had an epiphany – nightgown!?!?
So now that I know what I’ve got, what needs to be done? Some mending, naturally.
The biggest issue is the stains; it has a whole panoply of them; mostly across the back, but there are a few lighter ones on the front, and overall it has yellowed with age. It’s missing two buttons (at the bottom, fortunately), so I’ll need to either replace all the buttons or locate two suitable replacements. Other than that, it’s in tremendous shape! So tune in next time as I begin my adventures in cleaning an historic garment and searching eBay for two dang buttons!
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