Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Convent Nighties

One of my favorite things to find in France are the old linen and hemp convent night shirts. Sewn throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, these fine linen nighties are sewn with an impeccable hand. All of the stitches are tiny and all of the details are precise - the scalloped edge along the necklines, the elegant monogram either in the center or over the heart, the simple cotton tie that gathers the sleeves - nothing was left untouched by the needle and thread. Usually I find these gowns at a flea market, in a heap on the ground, covered with years of age and neglect. I usually scoop them all up, because I know underneath the grime is a simple dress waiting to shine again. Many times the dresses will have a small repair where the fabric has been hand-stitched back together, over and over again - I am sure that once you were given a gown, you were expected to take care of it forever - not just for a year or two until it wore out. These gowns, usually sewn by and for the nuns in a convent, are cool to the touch and feel like silk - the result of years of well worn linen.

10 comments:

Carolyn said...

Sewing with white linen is a cathartic experience. The crispness of the linen will hand press to get the seam just right among the tiny hand stitches. And it looks glorious drying on the line in the sunshine. Here is a pattern Plate II Garsault, 1769 for 18thC chemises, which were worn under clothes and as nighties. Your lovely photo illustration is basically these chemises without the sleeves and added lace and stitches around the neck and sleeve caps.

Laura said...

Simply beautiful...the linen and the hands that sewed those tiny stitches...

kate spain said...

Hi Kaari!
Thanks for your note. What a fun surprise. It was such a pleasure meeting you and spending time together at Market. Been reading your blog and love your narratives. It's like i'm there digging through the piles with you. Keep sharing your discoveries!
kate

Floss said...

That's wonderful informaton - I have one of these which I picked up at a Vide Greners last month but knew very little about it. It came aling with two of the more simple linen ones with the red initials emboridered at the neck, which I think were for use at home, not in a convent, but I would love to know more...

Jeanne said...

The simple beauty of these nighties is wonderful. Your detailed description of these beauties was lovely.
xo
jeanne

mimi charmante said...

I absolutely love these!!! I have one but can't wait to search the countryside next spring to find more!
xx

artgurl said...

I adore old linen too! Especially old little girl's gowns.

Sharon said...

The gown is so lovely and your description brings it right to my home...please give us more of your finds...such fun to read!

Anonymous said...

dear finder... why not reproduce and
tag them french general- such sweet
design w/monogram and drawstring sleeve caps-???!!!!

a. said...

I love these nighties and look for them all the time. The last commenter has the right idea!