June 24, 2015

Colonial Shortgown Sewing Pattern

American Revolution Reenactor Bedgown Pattern
Shortgown Front
"[She had] a short gown, with some red and white stripes and sprigs through it, a good deal worn, and pieced under the arms with check linen, the colour much faded;"

I finally finished a new shortgown/bedgown. It's about time. It's an easy pattern but finishing the edges by hand took forever.  I find it really hard to get excited about "work clothes." Most notably because they get ripped up and dirty so quickly, especially while cooking. I'm sure only one trip to the hearth will have the kids asking "Why are you so dirty!?"

Shortgowns are unfitted or loosely fitted, work garments. Extant garments show that most were pinned shut but some have a few ties or even drawstrings at the neck and waist.  

 There had been a lot of debate among reenactors and historians about what a shortgown is versus a bedgown and whether or not these were considered appropriate public wear. Evidence points to these being casual or work wear. A 1793 version of the Shakespeare play Henry IV is annotated that "A half kirtle was perhaps the same kind of thing as we call at present a short gown or a bed gown," indicating that they were similar garments if not the same thing. Below are some great 18th century images of people wearing shortgowns outside or with visitors. 

Colonial Shortgown
The Abusive Fruitwoman, 1773, Courtesy of the LOC.
18th century shortgown pattern
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1761
Shortgown long sleeves 1700s
John Collet, 1764

1700s Colonial Reenactor Bedgown Pattern Free
Shortgown back

1700s Bedgown Shortgown reenactor pattern

18th Century Shortgown Sewing Pattern:

18th century Shortgown Bedgown Pattern Free
Right click and choose "open in new window" to see larger view.

I folded the fabric horizontally and then again vertically so that I only had to cut the pattern out once. Good seamstresses will cringe. If you wish you can fold the fabric horizontally and trace the pattern a second time mirrored vertically.

Cut out the back neck hole first. Open up the fabric,  then cut a vertical line down the center of the front. Adjust the neckline as you like, being sure to leave room for hemming. With right sides of the fabric together, sew under the arm and down the sides. Hem all loose ends. If you wish to have cuffs, fold the cuffs in half horizontally with right sides together. Fold 1/2 in up on the front and back of the cuff and sew the sides. Turn the cuff right side out and attach to sleeve. Fold the cuff up on the sleeve and secure it with a few stitches.   

I ended up sewing a pleat under each arm as well as three in the back, all ending at the waist to make the garment a little more fitted. It's not necessary if you use an apron to give the fitted look or if you are a beginner and just want something easy to work on.

Other Patterns and Info:

- MaraRiley.net: Shortgowns
- Making The Manteau de Lit

If you are trying this and need help, don't hesitate to comment or email.  


  1. Thanks for the pattern. I'm just getting into reenacting and this is perfect. I want to make a gown eventually but this will be great until then.

  2. I've just been thinking of making a shortgown, and what do I see?
    Although the fabric I intend to use is probably too small a quantity for this particular pattern and I'll have to get creative. But it's a good nudge that yes, I should do it!

    1. Hi, this is actually sized for a L - XL because a lot of the patterns online are a lot smaller. The shortgown a vary in length as well. It takes about 2 yards of fabric. It is good hearing from you!

    2. You're likely already done with your project but if not, you might be able to get enough by piecing. This was a common practice and is visible on several extant pieces. An accomplished seamstress could match patterns so closely that the piecing was almost invisible. There is a Swedish gown that is pieced over a majority of the bodice back - the smallest piece is about the size of a small postage stamp, the largest about the size of your hand. It is amazing!

  3. Thanks Stephanie for the pattern. Can you tell me if the front edges of the gown are straight? From your first photo it looks like the front of the gown is overlapped. Do you pin close?

    1. Hi Janis! Yes, the front is pinned closed. I ended up taking the sides in a bit as well to get rid of the bulk underneath the arms as well if that helps.

  4. I love your fabric. I want to make a bedgown but am struggling trying to find appropriate PRINTED fabric. I've been to all the usual websites (B&T, Renaissance Fabrics, Wm Draper (very expensive) Fashion Fabrics). Can you make any suggestions? I'm just about to throw in the towel and use a sheet! Thanks!

  5. hey thanks for commenting! Joann's has Williamsburg collection, but it's pricey. There are a few deals on Etsy right now. The great thing is that shortgowns don't take so much fabric.


  6. Hi Stephanie, I am attmepting to make a shortgown to wear under colonial 18th century costume. It is Butterick pattern 3071. I am making out of old cotton/polyester sheet. As sort of blouse to add to the petticoat and boned top. I was wondering about the back pleats. I am trying to make them from Mill Farm pattern. But hard to figure out. This picture seems to help me make the pleats. Do you have picture of back showing pleats. Or how to make them? Thank you. Catherine Dancy


Tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2008-2020 Stephanie Ann Farra. All rights reserved.

All materials posted on this site are subject to copyrights owned by Stephanie Ann Farra. Any reproduction, retransmissions, or republication of all or part of any document found on this site is expressly prohibited, unless the author has explicitly granted its prior written consent to so reproduce, retransmit, or republish the material. All other rights reserved.