Swedish mid 1800’s Commoner’s Dress, a.k.a. The Insanely Pieced Dress

I didn’t participate in the Historical Sew Fortnightly’s ninth challenge as I had too much else to do, and couldn’t think of what to make with what little time I had. I was, amongst other things, actually working on challenge # 10.

I have long planned to make a mid 19th century common woman’s dress, and when I saw the theme for the HSF tenth challenge, literature, I realised this dress would fit in there. The book I chose is Utvandrarna (The Emigrants) by Vilhelm Moberg, which is about the first group of people in a certain Swedish farming community to emigrate to America. The main female character, Kristina, have several personality traits I can see in myself. I can especially sympathise with her fear of the dangers of bringing three little children on such a long and dangerous journey, and her grief in leaving her home, family, and friends forever. 



As always, economy is a factor to be counted with, especially in outfits from periods I don’t really do, but I was lucky enough to find an old tablecloth in a charity shop, in colours that I love, and with a hand woven look. As the tablecloth measured only 1,5 x 2,5 metres, this dress proved to be a study in piecing:


AMPS Fabric

 – each sleeve is made from ten (very carefully placed) pieces, not counting the cuffs
AMPS Pieced Sleeve


– the lining of the cuffs are made from four and seven pieces respectively

– the piping is made from twelve pieces, and sadly I didn’t have enough scraps to pipe the armscyes.
– the hem binding is made from seven pieces

– I needed to steal a bit from the skirt to have enough for the sleeves, and had to put a piece of another fabric at the centre front. 

AMPS Sparvåd


It’s perfectly period though: there are several examples of skirts being pieced with a different fabric in front, where it would be hidden by the apron. The result of the fabric shortage, however, is that the skirt is slightly shorter and less full than I’d have liked. 

AMPS folklig nyrokoko

Also the cuffs are narrower than I had intended. A handful of tiny scraps are all that was left of the tablecloth when the dress was finished.

AMPS scraps


The bodice is cut in four pieces, two in the front and two in the back, the checks making a v-pattern, as was common in these dresses. 


AMPS back

The front is shaped by darts, and there is boning in the front, darts, side and centre back. It closes in the front with thirteen pairs of hooks and eyes. 

AMPS hooks.jpg


The plan was to make a dress that could be worn without a corset, as that was likely the most common thing for this social class in Sweden at that time. EDIT: I’m no longer sure that is necessary the case, though extant stays from this class are few and far between. The ones I have found are of much simpler construction than fashionable corsets of the time. END OF EDIT. It would have worked very well, except for the fact that I lost weight during the making of the dress. When first stitched together it fit perfectly, like someone painted it on me. Then after a week or two it was sort of loose, and I had to take it in a couple of inches. When trying on the finished dress it was too loose again. Sigh. As there is a nice open air museum where my in-laws live I planed to have pictures of the dress taken there, while we visited them. I finished the dress the day before we were to take pictures, but I decided not to bother with the loose fit anymore just then, but spend some more social time with the family.



The sleeves are smooth at the top, and gathered to a cuff, and closes with a hook and sewn bar. The skirt has a facing, and is also bound at the hem. 

AMPS hem facing


The skirt width is taken in at the waist by knife pleats, and a few deep cartridge pleats at the centre back.

AMPS pleats


I wore the dress with the apron and kerchief belonging to my folk costume, as that is what would have been worn with these dresses by country women, and also because I haven’t had the time to make more simple, everyday versions of them. Only problem is that my apron and kerchief is from the county Skåne, and the people in the book is from the county Småland, and there were some differences in traditional dress. Instead of looking like a poor, starving woman from Småland, I look like a woman from the more prosperous Skåne, who would not have had to emigrate to get food on the table. Ah well – that is what my ancestors were. 


As for underwear, I’d have liked to have worn the dress with wool petticoats as well as a quilted one, as that was common, but so far I haven’t had time or material to make any. Instead I wore it over one of my everyday wool skirts, and my still not blogged about corded petticoat. Not right, but gave a tolerable poof. I also wore my regency shift.

Little B was with me, and had pictures taken in his clothes from challenge # 6. Need I say I found him adorable? I always do, but there is something extra with a child in period clothing…

AMPS toddler

The Challenge: # 10 Literature

Fabric: An old cotton tablecloth for the dress, another for the bodice lining, and a piece of a third for the piecing in the skirt. A bit of cotton sheeting from my stash as facing and sleeve lining, and a linen scrap from an old skirt my mother had when I was little for the binding.

Pattern: None. I looked at lots of pictures of original dresses of this kind, especially lots of detailed pictures of a one dress sent to me by a friend who works at a museum, and then draped my own.

Year: Mid 19th century.

Notions: Cotton cording for the piping, hooks and eyes, linen thread.

How historically accurate is it? Very much. It’s close in style to other dresses of this kind, and it’s hand stitched with waxed linen thread, using period stitches. The use of several different fabrics in the lining, facing and binding can be seen in period dresses of this kind.

Hours to complete:
Many. The piecing took an awful lot of time….

First worn:
For the pictures.

Total cost: 120 SEK ($18,3; £11,8; €14), including hooks and eyes.

29 thoughts on “Swedish mid 1800’s Commoner’s Dress, a.k.a. The Insanely Pieced Dress

  1. Wow. That is an incredibly impressive feat of fabric conservation and piecing! I'm amazed that a) you managed to make such a lovely dress out of so little fabric and b) you managed to piece the sleeves so neatly, keeping to the pattern of the fabric. Bravo!


  2. I love that you pieced the dress! I recently made my first fan front round gown and the print had wider stripes…when I darted the bodice it left such a jarring zigzag that I realized the best way to make that disappear was to piece the heck out of it so that the linear flow of the stripes was not interrupted. Came out well and makes it look more genuine. Wish more people did piecing.


  3. You are so talented! I enjoyed reading this.


  4. what wonderful piecing! i really love the look of the whole outfit. and your little one is so sweet in his clothes!


  5. Thank you! I like how the outfit came out very much, and wearing it is a pleasure.


  6. Mycket fint Sarah! Perfekt outfit för höstens Allmogemarknad!

    allt gott!


  7. Your sewing skills are truly gorgeous!
    The piecing is highly fascinating and so very period. How wonderful that you've shared the construction in detail and amazing how very little fabric was left, when you've finished the dress.
    The pictures at the museum add to the perfect image…and yes, little B. looks very cute 🙂
    It's always such a pleasure to visit your blog.



  8. Wow, it looks great, and you have good skills!


  9. good pieceing.

    am going to try and remember to show this to my mum, as she's researching working womens dress in england from about the same period


  10. So very lovely, and I'm amazed your ability to line up the pattern when you pieced it together.


  11. I love garments made with stylish economy. I'm always working on a budget and hate 'wasting' fabric. So would be interested in seeing how the peicing works. Is it like patchwork? How do you keep the grainlines the same?


  12. Thank you!

    Lady D: as you can see in the picture, I topstitched most of the smaller pieces in place, I thought that was the easiest way to make sure thay ended up where I wanted them. I began by sewing together the larger pieces, and then I had to puzzle for quite some time to find scraps that would fit in the gaps, and match the pattern.


  13. Å Sarah! Den är helt enkelt fantastisk! Så vacker, och vilket hantverk. Jag ÄLSKAR pusslandet med tyget.


  14. All that piecing you did is amazing, and of course a very period practice. Even though it was no doubt a tedious task, it is cool to get that feel for what sort of things people would have done in the day to conserve fabric.
    Amazing work, it looks great.


  15. I remember I read about a traditional folk costume from a region in what is now the Czech Republic (where I live; but it was a different region) that the colourful skirts always had a panel of plain fabric in the front where the apron was! Economy finds the same solutions all over the world (or at least Europe). 🙂 You did an amazing work on this.


  16. What a beautiful dress! And I loved the picture of your scraps. That is so cool!


  17. WOW. I am so impressed with that tiny handful of scraps being all you have left. That is so amazing. I am always trying to arrange my pattern-pieces to save fabric, but despite majoring in physics, can't figure it out. I am so impressed. You're a genius 🙂


  18. Could you point me to some sources for Swedish folk costume and generally clothing worn by workers/farmers in Sweden, especially Smaland?

    I'd be greatly obliged for the following reason:
    My grandparents came from Smaland and also became “utvandrarna”, however, in the 50s. But there are parallels in the family history to the book.

    Because of your previous research you might now more sites than I do. So far I wasn't very lucky. Thank you, D.


  19. Thank you all very much!

    D: If you could tell me what county (härad) they were from it would help a lot. Costumes often looked slightly or completely different in neighbouring countys, and many areas had no folk costumes at all….


  20. Sarah, I was out at lunch with a friend today and she told me in gushing praise about your dress. She said I simply had to see your piecing. I saw it on Sewing Academy and then followed you here to see more. May I add my praise to so many others for your wonderful work. An inspiration!


  21. Hello Sarah,

    thank you for your interest.

    I found this out:
    “Rydaholms socken i Småland ingick i Östbo härad i Finnveden och är sedan 1971 en del av Värnamo kommun i Jönköpings län.”

    I appreciate you helping my quest.


  22. D: I've made some google searches, and this is what little I've found. The costume from Östo is a reconstructed costume, made from different extant garments (don't know how true thay are to the period either, most folk dancers tend to be influenced by modern aesthetics when they make their costumes), the description of the woman's outfit is found here: http://www.folkdansringen.se/ostbogillet/drakter/ostbo_kvinnodrakt.htm

    Shortly translated:

    The skirt is made from vertical stripe wool fabric on a linen or cotton warp in blue, pink, beige and green.

    The apron is vertically striped cotton in blue, pink and white.

    The loose skirt pocket is made from triangular wool patches in red, blue and green. It's bound with chamois.

    The bodice is made from wool on a linen or cotton warp, with some accents in cotton. It's closed in front with hooks and eyes under a heart shaped stomacher-kind of thing.

    The cotton kerchief is checked in pink, blue and white.
    The shift is linen with a square neck, with embroidered pink initials. No mention of a headdress, which should have existed when it came to pass…

    Here are some pictures of women wearing it:






    Hope it helps!


  23. Thanks for your input and your time researching! I'll get stuck into the links directly.



  24. Did the Scandinavians ever use a piece of checked fabric to place the threads for the cartridge pleating, the way the Bavarians do for dirndl aprons?


    I'm planning on making a dress like this one,


    which has a 13cm section of pleating at the back, but the museum doesn't give any details about the *inside* of the skirt!


  25. Laurie Keller 31 July, 2015 — 18:29

    A distant cousin asked me, as family historian, for information about our Swedish ancestors. She's putting together a book for her son using an illustrator, so I was really glad to find your dress. We come from a long line of peasant Swedes, and most of the “historically accurate” costumes are rather elaborate and probably were for Sunday best or Christmas. I was looking for an illustration of something a woman would wear at home, and you've done it! Many thanks.


  26. This is amazing! Great job! I love your attention to detail!


  27. What a lovely dress & yr B. is totally adorable!


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