Matilda la Zouche (matildalazouche) wrote,
Matilda la Zouche

The Moy Gown

Figure 1: gown based on Moy gown, front

This garment, presumed to be a woman’s, was discovered in a bog in Moy, County Clare, Ireland in 1931. The age of the gown is not known, but it is presumed to be from the mid 14th century to late 15th century based on its construction.
There are at least two very detailed accounts of this garment available. One authored by Kass McGann, who saw the gown in person and was allowed to make measurements, and one by Marc Carlson, who was in close contact with McGann. Both Mcgann and Carlson have made reproductions of the Moy bog gown.

The diagram in Figure 2 was made by Carlson, based on the actual tracing of the garment by Margaret Lannin of the National Museum of Ireland and allows for a detailed view of the remaining fragments. The most prominent characteristic of its construction is undoubtedly the trapezoidal shoulder blade gussets at the back of the bodice, which help to form a very large arm scye, which is labelled by some as “aux grande assiettes”. Newton discusses the grand assiette design Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince and gives examples of its usage post-1350 (eg., the poupoint of Charles de Blois, d. 1364). Geijer also discusses the grande assiette type design in her book, The Golden Gown of Queen Margareta in Uppsala Cathedral (trans.). This gown with grande assiette sleeves was purportedly worn by Margareta on her wedding day in 1363 when she was 10 years old. 
Figure 2: Moy Gown fragments. Drawings by Marc Carlson based on a tracing of the garment made by Margaret Lannin of the National Museum of Ireland.
Carlson quotes this paragraph from Dunlevy in his documentation:

"A coarsely woven twill of lightly spun wool, and may have had some slight felting on the inner surface. It has a low round neckline, with the bodice buttoned at centre front and tight sleeves buttoned to underarms. The skirt is shaped with a double gore at centre back and at either side. The front of the skirt did not survive. This Moy gown is of interest since it shows the sewing techniques of the time. Selvedges were used when possible, otherwise the fabric edge was thickened to avoid ravelling. All seams were welted but the neckline was finished neatly with backstitch on the inner face and the bodice fronts were hemmed. The seams of the skirts were sometimes left unfinished towards the bottom, the lower edge of which is so fragmentary that it would be unwise to conjecture as to whether it was ankle or calf-length. The difficulties surmounted in accommodating the sleeves are of interest. The fabric was wrapped around the arm and cut to extend close to the neck. A welted seam attached this to the body of the gown and continued into the sleeve. In this way the weakness of a shoulder seam was avoided. For further strength the two foreparts of the bodice were cut with narrow straps which extended over the shoulders and into triangular gussets between the shoulder blades. A gusset was placed at the front of each armpit for ease of movement and comfort."
Carlson writes:

“Contrary to what Dunlevy claimed, there were no welts in the seams. The seams are simple running stitches. The inside of the dress does appear "fulled", but it seems clear that this was because of wear and not fabric processing (it was more "fulled" in the folds where fabric rubbed against fabric and not "fulled" in other areas).”

Figure 3: aux grande assiettes
 Other points of construction include triangular gussets in the front of the sleeve to aid fit, and triangular gussets under the arm to shape the bodice. The gown has long triangular gores set at the waist in the front, at the sides and in the back to fit the hips and create sweeping fullness to the finished length. Additionally, the gown has cloth button closures down the centre front (although how far down the gown they originally extended is not known as those pieces are missing) and on the back opening of the sleeve. Marc Carlson writes “these buttons appear to be made from wads of cloth that is then covered in cloth, in a fashion consistent with other archaeological examples.” However, McGann states that no one had taken a button apart to examine its construction.  The buttonholes are set very close to the edge of the garment with the buttons attached directly to the opposing edge, which is consistent with other 14th-15th century examples. The sleeve pieces in existence do not extend past the mid-upper arm and although it is presumed that the gown had long sleeves, it is not known for certain.

Figure 4: triangular gores inserted under the arm, and at the front of the sleeve head

Figure 5: wrist to elbow button closures
The gown is constructed of 2/1 twill wool, with a thread count of 18 to 21 per inch along the horizontal and 20 per inch along the vertical.
The gown on display today is not a reconstruction. It is based upon the Moy gown, but the dimensions, materials, and construction methods have not been followed as an exact copy. Some of the differences are listed below.
  • My wool gown has been hand dyed with synthetic dye, not natural dye.
  • I varied the dimensions of the gown in order to fit my body, please see Table 1.
  • I sewed the gown by hand using synthetic button hole twist thread and a modern steel needle.
  • The cloth buttons I constructed are made from circles of cloth which are self-stuffed to create a firm button with no raw edges.
  • The button holes are bound in silk thread, not wool.
  • The buttonholes on my gown extend only from sleeve hem to elbow, not to the top of the arm.
  • My gown has linen facings for the buttonholes and the button edges, whereas the edges of the Moy gown were just turned over and neatly hemmed. The cloth with which I constructed my gown is not as coarse and I felt that the buttonholes and button edges required further reinforcement.
  • The lower front portion of the extant gown did not survive, but I have added triangular gores in the front of my gown based on the symmetrical gores placement seen in other extant garment of the 14th and 15th centuries
  • I have finished the seams on my gown by pressing them open and tacking them down with a running stitch as indicated in the MoL Textiles and Clothing book for seam finishing in the 14th and 15th centuries.


 Figure 6: Pattern created based on that of the Moy gown
The gown was entirely hand-sewn, using running stitch (main seams), back stitch (reinforcing main seams and gussets), hem stitch (hems and facings), and buttonhole stitch. As noted above, I used a synthetic, and heavy-duty buttonhole twist thread for the main seams and seam finishing. At the time I did not have access to any linen, or silk thread. Later I did, however, manage to procure some silk thread which I used in the construction of my 46 buttonholes. I have to say that sewing with finely corded silk is much more finicky than with the sturdier buttonhole twist, as it is prone to twisting and kinking. In the future I will try coating the silk cord thread with beeswax.
Of the diagrams depicting this gown, there are none that I know of which show the sleeve shape and how to adjust it to fit to the shoulder blade gusset and arm scye. This was by far the most challenging aspect of constructing this gown. It required 4+ mock-up versions of the bodice portion. And even then, some tweaking of the seams was necessary. This is definitely a dress that needs to be personally tailored to an individual in order to achieve the fit that makes it a superior working garment. 
Of the sleeve construction, McGann writes:

The sleeves of the gown are very curious. Their construction is extremely simple, but almost demands that they be fitted on the body of the wearer. The sleeves are simple rectangles, each about 16" wide. The 16" edge is sewn to the straps described above, with the edge of the sleeve being sewn to the top of the shoulder gussets. The rectangular sleeve then wraps around the arm and attaches to the outside edge of the same shoulder gusset (the 6 ½" side) being turned 90 degrees in its journey. A 3 ½" by 4" by 4 ½" triangle is inserted in a slit in the front of the arm, around the area of the armpit. This gore helps the sleeve fit better. The result is a sleeve that hugs the shoulder but doesn't have the stress of a shoulder seam.”

In the construction of my gown you can see this 90 degree turn which McGann describes, above. It occurs where the back corner of the underarm gusset meets the bottom corner of the shoulder blade gusset.

In my opinion, the beauty of this gown lies in the wonderful arm movement it allows, while not causing stress on the arm scye seams. Of the gowns I have made in the past with fitted sleeves and small arm scyes, the weakest link in their construction was always at the back of the arm scye where the sleeve was set. Inevitably, it is this point which undergoes the most stress when the arms are extended in front. And, if anyone reading this document has ever performed light to moderate labour in a cotehardie-type gown, you know that the ability to extend your arms forward to cook, clean dishes, sweep floors, and perform a plethora of other normal household (and Event) tasks is vital. This is one reason why I believe that the Moy bog gown is a working-class construct. Another reason is the coarse wool cloth from which the gown was made. McGann describes the individual threads from the cloth as varying in thickness from 1 mm to 1.5mm.
I generally construct 14th and 15th century gowns which utilise the underarm to floor method of inserting side gores, and this was my first attempt at an out garment with side gores set from the waist to the floor. The triangular gores set into the sides, back and front of this gown do add the fullness that is desirable, yet, they also create a stress point at the gore insertion point which requires much reinforcement. In the extant gown there is a roughly 2” square piece of cloth which patches a hole at the top of the gores in the back of the gown. 

Figure 7: gown based on Moy gown, back
All in all, I am pleased with the gown I made based on the Moy bog garment. I am very proud of the fit I achieved with the shoulder blade gusset shaping the large arm scye and the fit of the sleeve. If I had to do it again, I’d definitely use the fine silk cord I purchased near the end of the project to sew the seams, and I’d love to hand-dye some wool fabric with a natural dyestuff.
Table 1: A comparison of dimensions between the Moy bog gown and my gown

Construction area
My gown
Extant Moy bog gown
Shoulder gusset (grand assiette)
Top: 5”
Bottom: 7”
Sleeve side: 3”
Centre back edge: 5”
Top: 8 ¼" to 8 3/8"
Bottom: 8 ¼" to 8 3/8"
Sleeve side: 6 ½"
Centre back edge: 8”
Shoulder strap
Attach to bodice: 2”
Shoulder ridge: 1”
Strap length: 9”
Attach to bodice: 2”
Shoulder ridge: ¾”
Strap length: 8”
Underarm gusset
Top: 4”
Front side: 5”
Back side: 4”
Top: 2”
Front side: 3 ½”
Back side: 4 7/8
Sleeve gusset
Top: 2 ¾”
Sides: 3 – 3 ½”
Top: 3 ½”
Sides: 4 – 4 ½”
Top: 17 ½”
Buttonhole side length: 28”
Button side length: 23”
Top: 16”
The length of the sleeve is not known
Distance between: ¾”
Number and distribution: 13 from sleeve hem to elbow
Distance between: 1.1”
Number and distribution: unknown number from sleeve hem to shoulder blade gusset


Carlson, I. Marc, A Reconstruction of a Garment from the Moy Bog, Co. Clare, Ireland

Carlson, I. Marc, Some Clothing of the Middles Ages. Historical Clothing from Archaeological Finds,                                     

Crowfoot, Elisabeth; Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-c.1450. (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 4) London: HMSO, 1992

Dunlevy, Mairead. Dress in Ireland.  London: Batsford, 1989 (as referenced and quoted by Carlson)

Geijer, Agnes m.fl., Drottning Margaretas gyllene kjortel i Uppsala Domkyrka, Stockholm 1994

McGann, Kass, What the Irish Wore. The Moy Gown – An Irish Medieval Gown

Newton, Stella Mary, Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince. A Study of the Years 1340-1364. 1999
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