Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Ubiquitous "Boone Frock"

In recent need (want, actually, but its more or less the same thing right? Especially when demanded by a rather pampered little three year old girl?) of a quick rendezvous-appropriate dress (for the aforementioned pampered three year old) I remembered often hearing about a simple little shift style dress from experienced ladies who focused on that era of American history. They called it the Boone Frock and the name stuck in my memory.

My interest in this kind of dress grew and waned as my costuming ADD ran its course unchecked throughout the early years of having babies and bringing them out to reenactments. I never made one though. Until now. I actually accomplished the amazing (for me) feat of sewing three of these little dresses within a 24 hour period. Wow! Go, me! 

I found it really hard to find much information about the origin of this dress, though. I wanted to know more! Why was it called a Boone frock? What time period was this style worn in? A little googling revealed that the main pattern for this dress was produced by Period Impressions, one of the older historic pattern companies. 

In their description they claimed that the dress was based on one worn by Daniel Boone's niece but no further information was given. I finally was able to find the real, original Boone Frock dress on the Kentucky Historical Society website. It's so cute!

The description states: 

"Date ca. 1782. This is a child's blue and white dotted cotton dress. It has a drawstring neckline with a tie at the front and the back. The dress is made of four panels of fabric, and the dress has short sleeves. Notes The old card for this artifact reads, "Blue and white dotted dress worn by Betsey Grant, niece of Daniel Boone, as she came with her parents on the journey from North Carolina to Bryan's Station. Daniel Boone's niece wore this dress at the raid of Bryan's Station.""

I'd really like a closer look at this dress. The hem on the sleeves and skirt look machine sewn, to me. What appears to me to be machine hemming could be a few other things, though, so for now I will take their word for it that this is the real ca. 1782 deal. 

I also found a few other similarly styled dresses, all from the same general late 18th/early 19th century period. This one is from the Met Museum, dated to the early 19th century. It has the short sleeved, waistless silhouette although it lacks the fullness of the KHS dress. 

This one is also from the Met: 

This one is from Vintage Textile, also having a waistless design, but with long sleeves that appear to be sewn in underneath short ones. This one is dated to the 1820's. This also  has a drawstring in the neck. 

This one is from the now-unavailable childrens clothing collection from the Wisconsin Historical Society

I made my versions using what I know about early 19th century clothing cut and construction. I don't think my version is an exact replica of any particular dress but it is based very much on rectangular construction and has characteristics that are commonly found on other dresses of the era, including:
  • drawstring neckline
  • shoulder straps that are sewn on instead of cut-on
  • sleeves cut similarly to extant late 18th/early 19th century dresses without the 18th century S-shaped sleeve head
 The one here is Benjamin's, which I made using the leftover fabric from his big brothers new shirt. I took a bunch of photos when making these so eventually will post a tutorial of how I made them. 

The two dress panels are cut as rectangles. The top edges are hemmed narrowly with narrow tape strings running from the sides to a center eyelet, to pull up the fullness. 

The sleeves have the ease taken up at the back with two little pleats. I could have just lightly gathered the sleeve, too, but pleats are quicker. ;)

I'm really happy with how fast these were to make and the size flexibility. Such a useful, practical garment for little ones. I'd love to find out more about this style such as how long this style was worn, if this style spanned classes or was unique to one or the other and what kind of undergarments were worn. 

Now, to make the three year olds new cap and help her bead a necklace to go with her new dress. 



  1. The children's clothing collection is still available to view on the WHS site. It's just a little trickier to locate due to their website overhaul. This is the direct link to the search feature:

    1. Oh, awesome! I have heavily relied on this fab collection for so many years and was very disappointed when I could no longer find it online. So glad that it is still accessible! Thank you!

  2. Lovely! I love the hem binding and the sleeves on that first Met gown. Yours will be beautiful on Benjamin. :)

  3. I think these are adorable, as I mentioned on Facebook. I'm planning to draft some for Grace. Swap the ties for elastic and it's a super modern wearable!

  4. Those are great idea for sizing adjustments! I made a Boone dress for my little girl, but didn't think to add in extra for growth.

  5. A quick message from the future! The KHS was kind enough to send me a few high-resolution photos of the interior of the Boone Frock (the NC connection is significant to me), and the stitching is 100% hand-work. The pattern of the material repeat, coupled with white thread and tiny stitches, make the exterior seams look like a straight line of machine work. It's definitely hand stitching, though, and it probably wouldn't look as overtly modern if it weren't for the optical illusion that the small dots create when they are intersected by the stitches.

    This post seemed to come up a lot when I was researching the piece, so I thought that an update on the pedigree of the construction would be helpful to anyone else who saw the low-resolution KHS collections photo and wondered.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!