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Banyan, 1750-1775. T.215-1992, V&A Museum

Banyan, 1750-1775.
T.215-1992, V&A Museum

Disclaimer: This is an adaptation of an earlier post, so if you think you’ve read this before, you probably have.

Banyan or wrapping gown: both terms are used,  but the wearer and I call this a banyan for brevity’s sake. Despite its simplicity, this project took longer than I wanted, mostly because I have a tendency to take on too many things at once and promptly get sick. I like to think of this ability as a very special talent.

In any case, this simple garment was made more fun by piecing– it’s the challenge that keeps you awake, when the majority of the work is in teeny-tiny back stitches.

I took the subject’s chest, arm and back length, and bicep measurements, and made up my own pattern, using the chintz banyan in Fitting and Proper and this one at the V&A as models.


Measurements in hand, the patterning was straightforward: you know how wide to made the body, the center back length you need to achieve, how wide to cut the neck hole, and how wide and how long the sleeves need to be. Really, not that hard.

You can use a diagram like this to start you off. I did wing the bottom width, guessing at the angle to give the garment a fullness similar to the chintz at the V&A.

I didn’t have quite enough fabric to accommodate the recipient’s full height, nor could I get enough of the red print lining material; I had to piece both the stripes and the lining.  Trying to match up the stripes was remarkably satisfying, both when I succeeded and when I was  little off. Life Goal: Dizzying, please.

It contrasted well with a blue woven coverlet, making a nice bright note as I prepped rooms for What Cheer Day 2016. This was the effect I had hoped to achieve waaay back in April 2016 when I failed to finish anything I wanted for the After Dark program thanks to a bout of strep throat.

Jimmie and Billie, unwell and unable to dress themselves without Gideon’s aid. Photograph by J. D. Kay

By October, though, I was able to finish the entire item and make a matching cap, allowing Billie Bowen to recuperate in style from an evening at the Cold Meat Club. I’ve drifted away from making things for other people (except to sell) in part because the Giant, heading to college, has drifted away from living history and thus occupies far less of my sewing time.