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Watch as sewists remake two gowns in one weekend.

This activity is located in the lobby of the Education Center & Museum.

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Refashioned Gowns

Remaking “Mrs. Washington” gowns for “Ona Judge”

Mount Vernon’s historic costumer, Kathrin Breitt Brown, and journeywoman mantua maker Brooke Welborn of Burnley & Trowbridge will refashion two of Mrs. Washington’s gowns into new garments for character interpreter Timbila Kabre’s portrayal of Ona Judge.

Reuse, Remake, Refashion

The practice of remaking gowns for other people and refashioning gowns into the latest styles for oneself is well documented in the 18th century.

For this weekend, the skirts of one gown will be refashioned into a 1790s style jacket, and the entirety of another gown will be altered to fit both a different person, Judge, and a later 1790s style.

Caps and Aprons

Simultaneously, using historical methods, Mount Vernon sewing circle volunteers will work on caps and aprons. These accessories will be used for the upcoming cohort of Historical Trades summer interns.

A gown owned by Martha Washington that had been refashioned at least once. Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society.

18th Century Men’s Shirts & Neckwear

The shirts sewn during this event will be worn by the character interpreters representing:

  • Tobias Leer, Washington’s secretary
  • Dr. Craik, Washington’s physician
  • Christopher Sheels, Washington’s enslaved valet
  • Joe, an enslaved field worker.
Men's Shirt (Linen, wood, silk.) Circa 1750. Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Object #2023-103

“It is observed, by the weekly reports, that the Sowers make only Six shirts a week, and the last week Caroline (without being sick) made only five; Mrs Washington says their usual task was to make nine with Shoulder straps, & good sewing...”

George Washington to Mount Vernon Farm Manager Anthony Whitting, 23 December 1792.

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Request for a Refashion

28 September of 1760, Washington wrote Robert Cary & Company:

 “Mrs Washington sends home a Green Sack to get cleand, or fresh dyed of the same colour—made up into a handsome Sack again woud be her choice, but if the Cloth wont afford that, then to be thrown into a genteel Night Gown.”

A “sack” is a gown with long pleats, flowing loosely in the back from shoulder to hem, popular for more formal dress during that time period.  A “Nightgown,” also simply called a gown, has pleats in the back stitched down to the waist, requires less fabric, and was popular for less formal dress.

Cited: The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. Colonial Series (7 July 1748–15 June 1775), Volume 6 (4 September 1758–26 December 1760).

Read the Letter

Who Was Ona Judge?

Ona Judge was born into enslavement and made to serve Martha Washington as her maid. In 1796, Ona escaped from the executive residence.

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Charlotte’s Indian Chintz Gown

Learn more about the racialized underpinnings of fashion.

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