Beatie’s Nightgown



Erin Donaldson

Outline the story …

"Playing Beatie Bow" is the coming-of-age story of Abigail, a girl from 1980s Sydney being thrown back in time to 1873 Sydney through a time slip triggered by an antique crochet collar. She spends several months with the Bow family, learning what life was like for the working poor in Sydney at the time, and what it was like to be part of a migrant family, as the Bows were originally from Orkney.

The author, Ruth Park, describes the clothing worn by the Bow family and other characters in the books in detail, and thus I was inspired to create one of these garments to wear myself.

There are several lines in the book that describe all of the female members of the Bow family as wearing red-flannel dressing-gowns, and even though they are described in an unfavourable manner by Abigail, I fell in love with the idea of having a flannel/flannelette dressing gown or nightgown. I went looking through various fashion magazines from the time to see what the sleepwear of the time looked like and found several "night dresses" with tucked yokes.

I decided to do a simple red flannelette version of one of those night dresses with a series of tucks in the front yoke. Due to the Bow family being part of the working poor, I decided to omit the lace shown on various extant nightgowns and in advertisements.

Outline the construction…

My nightgown was mostly self-drafted using the Diamond Garment Cutter Diagram book from 1895 or so. The drafting process went smoothly, until I got to drafting the sleeve - there was no specific sleeve for the nightgown in the book, I was just directed to "draft any plain sleeve in the book".

The first attempt at a sleeve used the men's nightshirt sleeve from the same book, however that didn't quite look right, no matter how I set it in the armscye. Instead I used the sleeve from the Black Snail 1870s wrapper. Apart from having to guesstimate what size sleeve I needed to cut out based on the circumference of the armscye of my nightgown, and having to hand-sew in the sleeves due to the two pieces having differing seam allowances, this went rather well.

The assembly process went rather smoothly - I cut out the main body pieces, then pre-tucked the fabric that I was going to be cutting the yoke from before cutting those pieces out. Through this process, I learnt how to accurately fold and sew tucks.

All the seams are finished with either whipstitches holding the fabric together or with felling stitches securing the seam allowances down onto the fabric, depending on location.

The nightgown is held closed with buttons sewn through both sides of the front for the lower 30 inches, with three snaps 4 inches apart holding the remainder of the front closed with decorative buttons.




  1. Avatar Clare Connolly on March 12, 2021 at 9:10 am

    I love this- it has all the warmth of the Bow family. I am a big fan of the book and loved the descriptions in the book of the clothing too. Lovely details, but simplicity and completely right.

  2. Avatar Laurie on March 13, 2021 at 5:49 pm

    Nicely constructed with just enough detailing. I love this style with gathers and tucking and a long line of buttons.

  3. Avatar Manon L'Hostis on March 15, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    This long row of buttons makes me so happy! Your nightgown looks lovely, great job♡

  4. Avatar Kristina on March 22, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Entire piece is so carefully made and elegant in its neatness! You look lovely in it.

  5. Avatar Kikkii von Fustian on March 29, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    Such a cleanly made and nice garment! I love the fit of the yoke around the neck and shoulders, well done.

  6. Avatar Peta Pendlebury on March 29, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    Such a lovely shade of red – looks very cosy. And those pin tucks are great.

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