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At the Jane Austen Festival Australia 2012 I had the privilege to be able to view and handle some extant garments of the Regency period. This was the first time I had ever handled clothing so old and I found it particularly exciting.

A Regency cloak, c. 1790's

A Regency cloak, made of fine chocolate brown chintz with a deep pleated trim (c. 1790′s).

One of the garments was a Regency cloak. After I examined it, I discovered that it probably would not be that difficult to make, so I wrote down some of the measurements and drafted a pattern from what I had seen. Due to its simple construction, I decided to attempt to sew it entirely by hand, which is a first for me!

Historical Background

I have grown to enjoy finding real historical examples of garments to make, as it is challenging and it helps ensure that I get the right look for the period. However, with this cloak I found it quite difficult to find pictures, paintings or extant examples of this particular type of cloak in Regency times.

The typical eighteenth century cloak did not have a yoke. However, by Regency times cloaks did begin to appear with a cape to help prevent rain from penetrating the shoulder area. These capes were attached to a yoke or collar, which was hidden beneath the cape and was not visible like this yoke is. Unfortunately, I have not been very successful in finding any cloak quite like this one to help verify its historical accuracy, but I decided that it was still worthwhile making!

The Pattern

The cloak consists of four pieces: the body, the yoke, the hood, and the hood trim. I have not included any seam allowances in any of the following measurements.

Pattern Pieces

  • Cloak body – 41.5 inches long x 157 inches wide
  • Yoke – pictured
  • Hood – 37 inches x 12 inches
  • Hood trim – 3 inches wide x 111 inches long

(The hood trim needs to be at least 3 times the length of whatever area it will decorate, in this case the hood opening. I ended up adding another 15 inches because I hadn’t made it long enough, making it a total length of 126 inches.)

This is the yoke I drafted. It basically ends up as a U-shape and it is worth drafting one to check it fits you properly.

This is the yoke I drafted. It basically ends up as a U-shape and it is worth drafting one to check it fits you properly.

I did a toile of the yoke first, just to make sure it sat correctly and fitted across my shoulders properly. The original one was four inches narrower in the centre back.

The Construction

Step One: Beginning with the hood, I folded the hood piece in half widthwise (right sides together) and then sewed down one of the long edges. Repeat this for the hood lining. This should give you the beginnings of a hood shape.

Folded and sewn down one edge

Folded and sewn down one edge. I have made this hood a rectangle, but a lot of 18th century hoods were shaped a little at the edges to make them sit a little closer on the head. The sources below give more information on this type of shaping.

The lining and outer are together.

The lining and outer put together. The seam you can see is the centre back seam in the hood. The seam is pinned ready to pleat for the fan pleats.

Step Two: To give the hood a bit more shape, fan pleats are put in the rear of the hood. Hand sew two rows of large stitches that are aligned and are 1/2 inch apart. These stitches will remain in the pleats, so make sure any end threads come to the inside of the hood. They can then be tied closed.

The fan pleating stitches are sewn in the centre back seam of the hood and then drawn up.

The fan pleating stitches are sewn in the centre back seam of the hood and then drawn up.

The inside view of the hood as the fan pleats are drawn up.

The inside view of the hood as the fan pleats are drawn up.

The fan pleats from the outside.

The fan pleats from the outside, fully drawn up.

Step Three: The hood lining and the hood outer are then edge stitched together, by folding the raw edges to the inside.

The hood is pinned for edge stitching.

The hood is pinned for edge stitching.

Step Four: For the hood trim, I sewed a gathering stitch along one long edge and pleated the other long edge in 1/4 inch pleats, gathering the other edge to fit.

The raw edges are folded to the inside. One edge has two rows of gathering stitch sewn.

The raw edges are folded to the inside. One edge has two rows of gathering stitch sewn. The strip is then pleated.

To attach it to the hood, I laid the pleated/gathered strip on the front edge of the hood with the gathered edge hanging slightly over the edge. I ran three lines of stitching down the length of trim; one on the pleated edge, one in the middle of the trim to hold the pleats, and one on the gathered edge. These stitches tacked down and held the edge of each pleat.

The trim is pleated and tacked down through all layers. The gathering stitch can be removed at the end.

The trim is pleated and tacked down through all layers. The gathering stitch can be removed at the end.

Then I put 6 pleats (3/8″) around the neck of the hood. The total neck edge of hood should measure 19 inches.

Step Five: To attach the hood to the yoke, I sewed the lower edge of the hood to the top edge of the yoke. The yoke lining was sewn so that when the right sides are visible the seam is hidden on the wrong side of the layers.

The yoke (outer, flannel interlining, and lining) is attached to the hood.

The yoke (outer, flannel interlining, and lining) is attached to the hood. You can also see the small pleats in the neck of the hood (as per Step Four).

Step Six: The body of the cloak is just one big rectangle. I put the lining and outer material wrong sides together and folded the raw edges (on each side and the bottom edge) to the inside and slip stitched or edge stitched them together.

The top edge of the body is then cartridge pleated. I drew three horizontal lines across the top of the body, 1/4 inch apart. Then I stitched three rows of stitches along the lines (and in line with each other), with each stitch 1/4 inch apart. The threads are then drawn up to form the cartridge pleats.

Measuring and drawing out the lines for pleating.

Measuring and drawing out the lines for pleating.

In hindsight, I think the body of the cloak would have fitted better if the cartridge pleats had been a little smaller and finer, maybe 1/8″ instead.

The cartridge pleats drawn up.

The cartridge pleats drawn up.

Step Seven: To attach the body to the yoke, the body is gathered up to fit the lower edge of the yoke. I then turned the yoke edge (the outer and flannel interlining) to the inside and pinned it, right sides together, to the body.

The outer layers of yoke are folded and pinned to the pleated body of the cloak.

The outer layers of yoke are folded over and pinned (right sides together) to the pleated body of the cloak.

Then I stitched it together, putting two stitches into each pleat.

The needle is going down through the "hill" of the pleat.

The needle is going down through the “hill” of the pleat.

The needle is coming out in the valley on the other side. The needle is put back in the valley and catches the yoke on the other side. Each pleat is stitched twice.

The needle is coming out in the valley on the other side. The needle is put back in the valley and catches the yoke on the other side. Each pleat is stitched twice.

I then sewed the yoke lining to the body, folding under the raw edge and catching in a pleat with each stitch.

The yoke lining was sewn down to each pleat. This means that each pleat is sewn on each side, which increases its strength.

The yoke lining was sewn down to each pleat. This means that each pleat is sewn on each side, which increases its strength.

One part that was in the original that I didn’t add was a small gathered ruffle (about 1 inch wide, with raw edges tucked under) attached around the inside of neckline. This was probably included to prevent uncomfortable drafts from making your neck cold.

Step Eight: Lastly, I sewed on three large fur hooks and eyes to fasten the centre front with.

The finished cloak with hood off.

The finished cloak with hood off.

The cloak with hood on.

The cloak with hood on.

Finally done!

The finished cloak back view.

The finished cloak back view.

I am so pleased to be finished a cloak that has been two years in the making! And it is my first completely handsewn garment, which I am very proud of. This has been completed just in time to wear to this year’s Jane Austen Festival which begins this week. Look out for my next post describing the fun in detail!

Related Posts

Making a Regency Spencer

My Regency Journey – a page with links to all my regency sewing.

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Christie’s auctions

Extant examples of cloaks in the eighteenth century – From 18th Century Notebook

Cloaks, Mantles and Mitts (with a close up view of fan-pleating in the eighteenth century) – From 18th Century New England Life

Construction instructions from 1760 on mantelets and plisses

How to Sew Cartridge Pleats – by Historical Sewing.com

Marie Antoinette, the Dauphine of France (1773), by François-Hubert Drouais.

Marie Antoinette, the Dauphine of France (1773), by François-Hubert Drouais.

What immediately springs to your mind when the name Marie Antoinette is mentioned?

Pretty? Fashionable? Selfish? Expensive?

She is often remembered as the most famous Queen of France. Sometimes even as the Cause of the French Revolution, with that infamous and outrageous (and untrue) quote “if they [the poor people of France] don’t have bread, let them eat cake”, which had been circulated about other foreign princesses throughout the eighteenth century. Even more graphically (and literally) she could be remembered as The Head of the French Revolution.

There have been movies that have depicted Marie Antoinette as an extravagant, shallow, and flighty Queen, a spendthrift, and even a bit mentally unstable. And she was portrayed in an even more derogatory light in the contemporary press of eighteenth century France. However, it is interesting to ponder what she was like as a person, and particularly how she was known by those closest to her.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser (year).

Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser (2002).

Antonia Fraser’s book, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, explores a very personal account of this well known woman, using first hand accounts of those people who knew her best and most intimately. This is an insightful account of Marie Antoinette The Person, rather than the more public figure of Marie Antoinette The Queen.

Childhood

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was the fifteenth child (of sixteen) born to the Emperor and Empress of Austria, and as one of the many archduchesses of the realm was destined to make a marriage alliance for the good of her country.

However, because she was the last female child born to the Royal family and because she had seven older sisters whose responsibility it was to also make important political marriages, her own importance in making a political alliance for her empire was not initially uppermost in the minds of her parents.

During her childhood, Marie Antoinette was often left alone with her younger siblings to play and it was not until she was older that her mother discovered she had a remarkably poor education by royal standards. She later ascribed her inability to concentrate on matters of the state (surely a task that is necessary to a Queen) as being due to an inadequately supervised childhood.

A brief summary of the lives of Marie Antoinette's sisters. There were four other daughters who did not survive infancy.

A brief summary of the lives of Marie Antoinette’s sisters. There were four additional daughters who did not survive infancy.

Due to several cruel twists of fate, four of her older sisters died, became ill or were permanently disfigured, which prevented them from marrying. One of her sisters, Maria Christine, married her second cousin for love, which left only three of the sisters to make marriage alliances for the Austrian Empire. In the end, Maria Antonia (as she was christened) was married to the Dauphin of France, the future Louis XVI. In short, of all of her sisters she had made the most illustrious match, one day to be Queen of the powerful nation of France, yet she had the least preparation for it.

Preparation for Marriage

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette’s marriage to Louis XVI was always going to be fraught with difficulties, particularly when you examine the ways in which they had both been prepared for their positions.

They are born to obey, and must learn to do so in good time.

Maria Theresa on her daughters (1756)

Marie Antoinette’s mother, Maria Theresa, held a firm view that a wife, and more particularly a Queen, should be deferent and submissive to her noble husband. In this way she could endear herself to him and then – in return – he would be likely to love, adore and trust her. In the Empress’s opinion, everything depended on the wife.

Everything depends on the wife, if she is willing, sweet and amusante.

Maria Theresa in a letter to Marie Antoinette

However, despite her sermons on how it should be done, she offered her daughters a very different model of reality in the form of herself. Maria Theresa, while displaying respect and love for her husband, was anything but meek and subservient. She was strong in her ideas and decisive in her plans. She would spend hours at her state papers while her much more placid husband went hunting.

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes, by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty (1775).

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, in coronation robes, by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty (1775). Image source: Wikipedia.

Marie Antoinette did not share this strong personality with her mother. Instead, as a child she was pretty and graceful, but also compassionate, maternal, soft-hearted and eager to please. Upon her marriage and removal to France, one cannot help feeling sorry for Marie Antoinette as she received instructions from her mother on how she should be submissive, obedient, never introducing new customs to the French court, but following the lead of others and making herself agreeable to them. Yet in other letters the contradictory, and even harsh, missives flowed. She should not go riding with her husband, although he had asked her to; she should strive to share a bedroom (and bed) with her spouse, even though it was not the practice in Versailles; she should exert more influence on her husband in matters of the state, for the good of her home country.

You are a stranger and a subject; you must learn to conform; [...] you must not seem to dominate [...] you know we are subjects of our husbands and owe them obedience.

Maria Theresa to her daughter Amalia on her marriage

So Marie Antoinette began her role as the Dauphine of France with what surely must have been a great deal of confusion as to what was expected of her.

Louis Auguste

Likewise, Louis Auguste (1754-1793) had received his own particularly woeful preparation for his eventual position as king and husband. At the time of his birth his grandfather, Louis XV, was king and Louis Auguste was in line for the throne after his father, his oldest brother, and his second brother (who died in infancy just before Louis was born). However, tragedy continued to haunt the family with the death of the eldest brother in 1761, and of the father in 1765, after which the eleven-year-old Louis Auguste became the new Dauphin of France.

His confidence as the future king had already been eroded upon the death of his eldest brother, whom he was unfavourable compared to by the Governor of the Children of France. The resulting feelings of inadequacy for his new role were compounded by his clumsiness, weight problems, and difficulties participating in the court life at Versailles. In the face of this, his favourite and frequent retreat was hunting. These circumstances made the contrast between the current king and the future king very stark, as Louis XV was – in looks and personality – the sort of king that Louis Auguste could never be.

To further complicate Louis’ marriage to, and relationship with, Marie Antoinette, he had been warned in his childhood of Austrian archduchesses and their predilection for domination. This domination over a head of state by a foreign woman was something that always needed to be resisted, and this lesson had the unfortunate later consequence of denying the already unconfident, indecisive and uncertain King Louis XVI of an understanding ally, that of his very tender-hearted and kind (but not domineering) Queen.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution, where the French people overthrew the aristocracy in an attempt to change the way the country was governed, was the result of the complex interrelationship of many factors within and around France during the eighteenth century. One of these factors was the relationship between the royal family and the French people, which had become increasingly strained towards the end of the century.

After examining the backdrop of the King and Queen of France, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, it seems apparent that they were possibly both ill-equipped to deal with the situation that confronted them.

Louis XVI was far from firm or decisive, but this was a time when both firmness and decisiveness was required. He struggled to stand up to the aristocracy who refused to pay taxes and whose claims on the state treasury were bankrupting it. He also struggled to make decisive decisions that would have a positive impact on the issues that the French people were dealing with, such as food shortages and Enlightenment ideals.

Marie Antoinette (1783), painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun.

Marie Antoinette (1783), painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Likewise, Marie Antoinette struggled to know how to help her husband overcome his weaknesses. Her husband’s unwillingness to listen to her advice contributed to this, but her lack of early education regarding political affairs made it hard for her to concentrate and learn in this environment.

The French state had been so eroded during the course of Louis XV’s reign that it would have taken an expert hand to guide France to better times, and unfortunately the two hands that guided it seemed to lack the qualities to make their reign successful.

This book provides a fascinatingly detailed and in-depth description of Marie Antoinette’s life in its entirety, and attempts to paint a realistic picture of who she really was. I highly recommend it!

Note: All quotes are obtained from Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser.

Related Posts

Farewell, My Queen

The Case for a Dictator

Sources and Relevant Links

First image source: Marie Antoinette in purple - by Versailles and More

Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser – buy on Amazon

Marie Antoinette’s sisters, by History and Other Thoughts

From the Delineator, 1897.

A cape and skirt, published in the Delineator, 1897. The magazine states: “The seven gored Princess skirt has a fan back.”

In the 1890s, the era of the bustle skirts had faded away. Instead, skirts became fitted closely to the waist but full along the hemline at the back. This look was achieved by making the front panel A-line in shape and the back panel shaped like a semi-circle. Because of the way the skirt fanned out at the back, often falling in natural pleats, it became known as the “fan” skirt.

There were many other skirts of similar design that were used during this period, all called rather unique names. Janet Arnold provides some of the names in her book, Patterns of Fashion 2, and they include the “Bell” skirt, the “Restoration” skirt, the “French” skirt, the “Rejane” skirt, the “Papillon” skirt, and the “Umbrella” skirt, among others. Essentially they were all the same in that they were fitted at the waist and full at the back hemline.

A fashion plate from 1896.

A fashion plate from 1896.

The way in which the back of the “Fan” skirt spread out when moving made it a very pretty skirt for ball dancing, and for this reason I have been very keen to make one of my own.

Pattern

There are several basic patterns in this style reproduced just as they were printed in newspapers and fashion magazines, in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. For this particular garment I used Illustration 70 and 71 – “Illustrations and diagrams of the ‘Fan’ skirt, from Le Moniteur de la Mode, The Lady’s Magazine, 1 June 1894.”

Unfortunately for present-day dressmakers, many of these types of patterns and the accompanying instructions that have been extracted from historical sources presumed a fair bit of knowledge on the contemporary reader. For instance, there is no instructions about what sort of a waistband to construct or how the back or side fastens, especially when there is no allowance for a placket. In the absence of this information, I have had to look at extant examples to discover what sorts of waistbands and fastenings were used during this period and do my best!

One beneficial inclusion in the sewing directions is the precise instructions of how to make the garment to your own figure. However, the instructions also presume the wearer will be using a corset and has a relatively small waist measurement. (The pattern uses a waist size of 24″ as an example.) I wanted to make this skirt to my uncorseted waist size and, whilst I still used the sizing instructions, I found I needed to adjust them a little when using a much larger waist measurement. Basically I just applied the measurements to the cloth and then cut out the fabric, allowing a little extra for the seam allowances.

The front panel of the fan skirt, centre front on the fold.

The front panel of the fan skirt, centre front on the fold.

The back panel of the fan skirt, with the centre back on the fold.

The back panel of the fan skirt, with the centre back on the fold.

For the outer fabric I used a soft thick cotton (woven similarly to drill) and for the lining I used cotton broadcloth.

Construction Steps

Step One: Sew the side seams. Here, I treated the lining and the outer fabric as one. This made the fabric thicker and helped it stand out properly.

Step Two: Make two darts in the front panel at the waistline (one on each side). I also made two darts on each side of the waist, near where the back panel meets the front panel. You can see the darts in the photos below. Mine are a bit dodgy and I think I will need to go back and fix them.

Step Three: I was initially going to make a basic waistband which fastened at the centre back, but where to place the placket really baffled me, especially since the centre back was on a fold. In the end, I changed the design of the waistband, using this extant example as a guide.

This dress appears to still have a back placket and the centre back edges overlap and fasten with two buttons.

This skirt appears to still have a back placket and the centre back edges overlap and fasten with two buttons.

But I wanted the back of my skirt to look more like this:

This skirt has a lovely pleated back which I really like.

This skirt has a lovely pleated back, where two pleats fold to meet each other at the centre back.

So, using these two ideas, I developed a way to have a centre back opening without the need for a placket. Most extant Victorian skirts I have seen have plackets, so I am unsure of exactly how they were done in this case where the centre back is on a fold and the side seams are so close to the front of the skirt.

The waistband is in two parts; the normal waistband is cut to reach almost all the way around to the back but there is a second waistband "tab" in the centre back which the sides attach to.

The waistband is in two parts; the normal waistband is cut to reach almost all the way around to the centre back but there is a second waistband “tab” in the centre back which the sides pull in and attach to. This creates a pleat in the centre back.

The finished back closure is pictured below. It is not what I would call strictly historical, as most Victorian skirts had plackets and were generally fastened with hooks and eyes, but I am happy with it nonetheless.

The finished closure

The finished closure

Step Four: Then the skirt just needs to be hemmed.

Here are the finished pictures:

Front view

Front view

Back view

Back view

Side view, with the fullness of the back held out.

Side view, with the fullness of the back held out.

It was really a fairly quick and easy sewing project to make. I have been thinking about also adding two tabs onto the waistband that I can tie in to make the skirt wearable with a corset. All that would change in the appearance will be that there will be an extra set of pleats at the centre back.

I am looking forward to my next dancing evening now!

Related Posts

Making a Gored Petticoat

Sources and Relevant Links

First Image Source: at Victorian Trends by Vintage Field and Garden

Second Image Source: at All the Pretty Dresses

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and their construction c. 1860-1940 – buy on Amazon

Black and purple extant Victorian ensemble (1895) – at All the Pretty Dresses

Tweed Victorian ensemble with a pleated skirt back (1890′s) – at All the Pretty Dresses

I always find it interesting to read about different women’s experiences throughout history. During each stage of history, there is always a backdrop by which to understand the people of a particular time. This backdrop includes social, economical, political, and cultural factors that all roll together to influence what people believe and how people behave. And the key to understanding people properly is to understand their “backdrop”.

The Weaker Vessel: Women's Lot in Seventeenth Century England, by Antonia Fraser (2002)

The Weaker Vessel: Women’s Lot in Seventeenth Century England, by Antonia Fraser (2002)

I have recently finished reading The Weaker Vessel, by Antonia Fraser, about women and their role in seventeenth century England. It is a fascinating account of real women and what they did during this period.

During the seventeenth century, it was often proclaimed that women were the weaker sex. This term was preached from the pulpit, professed in poetic verse, and generally acknowledged by everyone. However, it was unclear exactly how far to extend that precept. Women were certainly weaker than men physically, but there was more uncertainty as to whether women were weaker spiritually or intellectually.

In any case, women often viewed themselves (that is, their own sex) as weak, so much so that they often apologised when a show of strength was required in order to endure whatever circumstances confronted them.

Marriage and Love

No passion could be long lived, and such as were most in love forgot that ever they had been so within a twelvemonth after they were married.

Henry  Osborne

Fraser examines women in the context of marriage in the seventeenth century, where marriage, at least in the upper classes, was often a financial transaction settled between parents. Whilst there was consideration for the suitability of the prospective spouses for each other, this manner of arranged marriage did result in some unhappy marriages but it also resulted in some happy ones too. What we would call love was not actively sought when marriage was contemplated, and was even thought to somehow damage the offspring of such a match. However, Fraser gives several examples of couples who had somehow developed this mutual love in their relationship (or beforehand) and there is little doubt that they certainly enjoyed their life together more.

“Dost thou love me?”, Elizabeth Walker would ask of her husband, smiling. To which he would reply, “Most dearly.” “I know it abundantly,” she would answer, “to my comfort; but I love to hear thee tell me so.”

Often, after the death of a spouse, the obituaries or memoirs conveyed hauntingly how treasured this love had been that had developed during a marriage. Ann Fanshawe had endured much with her husband, Richard, during his life, including an escape from a plague-ridden town after first fleeing Cromwell’s troops. They also had an eventful – and frightening – voyage to Spain which included an imminent capture by a Turkish ship and a violent storm which almost resulted in shipwreck. However, their lives together were peppered with that very mutual respect and even, on occasion, passion [God forbid!] that good marriages are built on. Ann, when writing to her son after her husband’s death, said:

Now you will expect I should say something that may remain of us jointly, which I will do, though it makes my eyes gush out with tears, and cuts me to the soul, to remember and in part express the joys I was blessed with in him. Glory to God we never had but one mind throughout our lives, our souls were wrapped up in each other, our aims and designs one, our loves one, and our resentments one. We so studied one the other that we knew each other’s mind by our looks; whatever was real happiness, God gave it me in him…”

Ann Lady Fanshawe

Motherhood

There are many accounts of women greatly fearing the pain accompanying child-bearing. And it was not only the pain, but the reasonable expectation of death – either during or afterwards.

These are doubtless the greatest of all pains the Women naturally undergo upon Earth.

Jane Sharp (midwife)

And labour was not the only peril of motherhood. The high infant and child mortality rate meant that many women buried many more of their children than they reared. The grief of losing children, and sometimes losing many children, was often enormous and was not lessened by the fact that death could be reasonably expected. Fraser cites many first-hand accounts of parents whose “great affliction” was all-encompassing.

We are so comfortably sure that the poor innocent babies are taken out of a naughty world to be very happy, that I have often wondered at the excessive sorrow I have sometimes seen on these occasions.

Anne Digby, Countess of Sunderland

Education

One of the things that most intrigues me about history is the up-and-down nature of progress. Often we think of the rise of women’s rights, for instance, as progressing in a rather linear manner; that is, each generation builds on the advances of the previous one. However, quite often generations “lose” the advantages, progresses or knowledge of previous generations. This is particularly so in the case of women’s education in the seventeenth century.

The sixteenth century had been presided over by a particularly strong woman, that of Queen Elizabeth I. During her reign it became acceptable, even a mark of elegance, for a woman to learn the classics, including Latin, Greek, arithmetic, writing, and music. Indeed, even the Queen could translate Latin to Greek! However, the next monarch, James I, did not share the same opinions as his predecessors and so education declined to a more basic sort for young women (music, dancing and French), which inevitably lead to a decline in female literacy.

This verse written by Anne Bradstreet summed up the change well;

Let such as say our Sex is void of Reason,
Know ’tis a Slander now, but once was Treason.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the sisters Queen Mary II and Queen Anne had lamentable education for their eventual roles as monarchs. Mary, luckily able to leave state matters to her husband, William III, confined herself to refined accomplishments such as needlework, while Anne was known to have an appalling knowledge of history and geography with dreadful spelling and grammar. They are in stark contrast to the Queen of the previous century.

The most advantageous daughters, in terms of education, were those who had a learned father who believed in the importance of education, and Fraser cites several examples where a significant parent radically altered the educational experience of their daughter.

In Wartime

During the middle of the seventeenth century a civil war raged in England. Charles I had taken great liberties with his powers of kingship and had eventually been overthrown, put on trial and executed. Oliver Cromwell took the reigns of government and what ensued was a nine year war between the exiled heir to the throne, Charles II, and Cromwell’s troops. Naturally the nation divided. On one side stood the Parliamentarians and on the other the Royalists.

There are many examples of women taking extraordinary roles during this period of wartime, generally involving feats of strategy, strength, determination and cunning that was deemed beyond the bounds of female ability but was applauded nonetheless.

My dear wife endured much hardship, and yet with little show of trouble; and though by nature, according to her sex, timorous, yet in greatest danger would not be daunted, but shewed a courage even above her sex.”

Sir Hugh Cholmley

There were great ladies who defended their great homes when under siege. The Countess of Derby successfully defended Lathom House against attack for over three months until reinforcements could arrive. The Marchioness of Winchester was valiant in the siege of Basing House, with her and her ladies casting bullets out of the lead stripped from the castle, and held out for over two years before falling to their attackers. Lady Bankes of Corfe Castle only had her daughters, her waiting women and a garrison of 5 soldiers to defend her home, and managed to hold out successfully against a troop of 500 men. Eventually this castle fell in a subsequent siege when one of her soldiers smuggled enemy troops into the castle under the guise of reinforcements. Brilliana Lady Harley successfully defended Brampton Bryan Castle from attack for 10 months. After only one month of relief the siege began again but this time she became sick with an illness and died, leaving her great house to fall to its attackers within three months of her death.

Then there were other women who defended their towns from attack by helping to construct fortifications. They fought fires, threw stones and suffered injuries.

Still other women dressed like men and went to war so that they could follow their husbands. In these cases it was often expedient to adopt soldier’s dress, but there is evidence that some women actually fought (with weapons) as – what came to be known as – “she-soldiers”.

Her Husband was a Souldier, and to the wars did go,
And she would be his Comrade, the truth of all is so.
She put on Man’s Apparel, and bore him company,
As many in the Army for truth can testify.

The Gallant She-Souldier (1655)

In Business

Women of the lower and middle classes needed an income like anyone else, and could often be found working as ale-house keepers, linen drapers, tobacco sellers, booksellers, merchants, and shop-keepers. The type of occupation a woman had was usually a result of some sort of family connection to a particular industry. Mrs Constance Pley assisted her husband with his business in the manufacture of sailcloth, which was supplied to Cromwell’s Navy. However, when the business became a partnership and was expanded to include manufacture of hemp and cordage and the importation of canvas, Mrs Pley became a key part in keeping the business productive. One of her roles was to correspond with many navy officials, often demanding outstanding payments for wares already delivered. Her business partner, Mr Bullen Reymes, even said that the business “would have been aground long since but for his woman partner.”

Pray be punctual with her [Mrs Pley], she being as famous a she merchant as you have met with in England, one who turns and winds thirty thousand pounds a year…

Colonel Reymes

Sometimes a widow, able to control her assets after the death of her husband, was able to use her capital to start her own business. Joan Dant, a widow, became a pedlar and imported and sold wares in and around London. By her death, she was able to bequeath 9000 pounds to be distributed by her executors.

The upper classes of women would normally rely on income from the family estates, but women here could also conducted business. Anne Russell, the Countess of Bristol, had a licence to import and sell wine, and did so until she was 80.

There are many more illustrations of actual women and the lives that they led within this book – religious women, women teachers, actresses, prostitutes, and midwives – more than I could include here. Each one serves to illustrate the breadth of experience of life that women had in the seventeenth century. Far from being the mere seventeenth century ideal in virtuosity and obedience, in reality there were many women who led much more active lives within their social circles. It makes for interesting reading.

To conclude, I found one particularly poignant sentiment communicated between a mother and her daughter; one which probably still applies today.

Believe me, child, life is a continual labour, checkered with care and pleasure, therefore rejoice in your position, take the world as you find it, and you will I trust find heaviness may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Rachel Lady Russell (1695)

Related Posts

What would You want in a Wife?

Sarah Hurst’s Diaries: From 1759 to 1762

Sources and Relevant Links

All quotes from The Weaker Vessel: Women’s Lot in Seventeenth Century England, by Antonia Fraser – buy on Amazon

It has been pretty quiet on the blog for the last two months or so, as everything from a very busy year caught up with me! Unfortunately life has the tendency to do that some times, and it seems to happen most often at Christmas time.

On the subject of Christmas, one of my presents this year from my long-suffering husband was the mini-series Lost in Austen. I remember seeing some of it on TV a few years ago, but I felt so upset to see the storyline all mixed up that I couldn’t bear to watch it all. It must have just been a stage I was going through at the time, because this year I decided to put it on my present list!

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) in Lost in Austen (2008).

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) in Lost in Austen (2008).

The story centres around a young lady, Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper), who lives in Hammersmith, London. She has a passion for Jane Austen and, in particularly, for the book Pride and Prejudice. On one rather peculiar day she discovers Miss Elizabeth Bennet standing rather awkwardly in her bath. This elegant regency lass had found a secret doorway leading from her attic in 1813 to Miss Price’s modern day bathroom. But after Amanda steps through the doorway to check it out, it slams shut leaving Miss Bennet behind to navigate a world of mobile phones, electrical appliances, and speeding vehicles.

Lost in Austen (2008)

In the bathroom in Lost in Austen (2008)

Poor Miss Price is likewise in a dilemma! Not only is she locked in a world that she does not belong to, she is quick to realise that the events from her favourite novel are about to radically change without Elizabeth Bennet present. And how devastating would it be for an Austen fan to realise that they were the means by which a perfect storyline could be forever destroyed?

What follows is a series of blunders as Amanda desperately tries to orchestrate the meetings of those characters who need to meet, and similarly attempts to prevent some characters from getting too close. Mr Bingley and Jane, Mr Collins and Charlotte, and NOT Mr Wickham and Lydia. She even resorts to convincing them of the affection which they should hold towards each other.

When you stop to think about it, losing the main character from any story would quite naturally radically change it, and the loss of Elizabeth is no exception. Suddenly, Bingley is attracted to Miss Amanda Price instead of Miss Jane Bennet; Jane then has no reason not to think of matrimony with Mr Collins; Charlotte Lucas is promptly left “on the shelf”; Bingley is heartbroken when the fair Jane slips through his fingers; and so it continues. The ravages that occur to a storyline when its main character is unavoidably absent!

Here that sound? That’s Jane Austen spinning in her grave like a cat in a tumble dryer.

The worst thing about this movie is that I didn’t know how it would end. (And that is just-a-little hang-up of mine… I really don’t like not knowing the ending! That is probably the reason why I enjoy movies based on historical novels… movie producers don’t tend to change the ending of a classic storyline, how ever much they meddle with the middle bits.) It felt awful to see the storyline reduced to a shambles! Charlotte Lucas deciding to be a missionary, Jane Bennet miserably unhappy, and no one to tempt Mr Darcy to get off his high horse so he can pollute the shades of Pemberley. Something deep inside me still insisted that the story should somehow have a happy ending, regardless of the cyclonic trail of demolition that had wreaked its havoc. And somehow – against all the odds – it did!

One of the things I did like about this movie is that the theme within the novel – that of Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice – still flows through the movie and its characters despite the altered storyline. Darcy is still proud, and he still comes to regret his pride. The only alteration is that of Amanda’s prejudice, that she is initially convinced she should love Mr Darcy but instead finds him unbearable.

If I dream about him tonight, I shall be really angry! I am going to dream about him. Well, in my dream I hope you choke! Hateful man.

Overall, I found this movie funny and lighthearted. It is always interesting (and amusing) to imagine what sort of mess would happen when modern life has a mid-air collision with Regency times. And this movie is precisely a depiction of what you could expect!

Related Posts

Every Savage Can Dance!

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood

Sources and Relevant Links

Lost in Austen (2008) – the mini-series

Image Source: Penny for your Dreams (This blog post is a great summary of the storyline for the first episode.)

Evening gowns from the 1890's

Evening gowns from the 1890′s

In the late Victorian period the large bustles underneath the skirts gave way to the long, flowing lines that preceded the Edwardian period. The skirts of this period were close-fitting around the waist and very A-line in the front, but they fanned out to be quite full at the back of the dress.

In order to support the shape of the skirt, a petticoat was required that could hold this quite definite A-line angle. There were several different types of petticoats worn during this era, but I was particularly interested in the gored petticoat.

A gored petticoat, c. 1896.

A gored petticoat, c. 1896.

The Delineator magazine published a pattern for a gored petticoat in June, 1896. I have not been able to find the original article online, but Dressmaking Research has been kind enough to reproduce the pattern instructions, which I am very grateful and have found very helpful! For this reason, I have decided to do this petticoat for the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #23: Generosity and Gratitude.

The skirt consists of a front-gore, two gores at each side and a back-breadth.

For the fastenings:

The top of the petticoat is finished with an under-facing, which forms a casing for tapes that are tacked [to the] back of the darts in the side-gores and drawn out through openings made at the center of the back, thus regulating the fullness about the waist and avoiding the need of a placket.

And for the ruffles:

The [top] flounce is ornamented by a deep, bias trimming flounce that is turned under at the top to form a self-heading and shirred on cords at the top and hemmed narrowly at the bottom; the trimming flounce is decorated with two silk ruchings, the whole arrangement increasing the flaring effect and making quite an elaborate foot-trimming.

How much material will you need?

To make the petticoat-skirt with the trimming flounce for a lady of medium size, will need twelve yards of material twenty inches wide, or eight yards and an eighth twenty-seven inches wide, or seven yards and a fourth thirty-six inches wide.

Jeepers! That’s a lot for a petticoat! No wonder the war changed the yardage available for women’s fashions.

The Pattern

There are three pieces to the skirt; the front (cut on the fold), the side (cut two), and the back (cut two).

Gored skirt panels always have the “front edge” cut on the grain, with the other “bias” side pointing to the back. In this case, the centre front fold runs with the grainline and the side gores have the front edge on the grain. For the back panel, the centre back runs with the grainline.

The two measurements that need to be taken are your waist measurement and waist-to-floor (length) measurement. The skirt panels plus the added length of the two rows of ruffles need to equal the waist-to-floor measurement.

In order to make sure the finished petticoat fits your waist correctly, the waistline of both the front and side panels should each measure 1/6 of your waist measurement. Because these panels are doubled over on the material, they should make up for 2/3 of the waist measurement (1/3 each), leaving the last 1/3 for the back panel.

As the back panel will be gathered in with ties, the waistline of this panel should measure 1/3 of your waist measurement (which is double what it needs to be, but allows the extra to be gathered in at the back).

The pieces cut out; (from left to right) front, side, back.

The pieces cut out and laid out as they will be sewn; (from left to right) front, side, back.

The only thing I would change to the skirt if I did it again is that I would make the front and side gores a bit more narrow and less full around the bottom edge.

The first row of ruffles were cut to be 10 cm deep and twice the length of the bottom edge of the skirt. The second row of ruffles were cut to be 15 cm deep and twice the length of the first row of ruffles. I did not make my ruffles on the bias as the pattern suggested, but ran them perpendicular to the grainline (mainly to conserve fabric).

Construction Steps

Step One: The skirt panels were sewn together; front to side, side to back, and centre back seams. Darts were sewn in the front and side panels to fit them around the waist.

Step Two: The ruffles were sewn together to form long lengths, which were then sewn with gathering stitch. I also hemmed the bottom ruffle to save doing it later.

  • Hint: Sew the gathering stitches on the ruffles in sections. Smaller sections of gathering will reduce the likelihood of breaking the threads and make it easier to make the gathers even.
  • Another Hint: Don’t gather the ruffles until you have sewn the ruching on, as it is easier to work with flat material.

Step Three: The ruching was made from bias strips with the raw edges turned under. A gathering stitch was then sewn down the centre through all thicknesses. The strip could then be gathered and stitched down in place on the ruffle. Once again, the gathering stitches should be sewn in smaller sections as it makes it more manageable to gather and attach it to the ruffle.

The raw edges of the bias strip are turned in and under before being sewn with a gathering stitch.

The raw edges of the bias strip are turned in and under before being sewn with a gathering stitch.

The finished frill with a row of ruching on each row of ruffle.

The finished frill with a row of ruching on each row of ruffle.

Step Four: A strip of bias binding was sewn around the waistline. This was then turned to the inside and sewn down to form a casing for the waist ties.

The bias binding sewn onto the waist edge. This will be turned to the inside and sewn down to form a casing for the ties.

The bias binding sewn onto the waist edge. The ties will come out through the seam in the centre back.

I used cotton tape for the waist ties, anchoring them at the darts in the side panel and then threading them through the centre back seam. They could then be drawn up to fit the waist.

This petticoat was just made with a plain poly-cotton which I found on sale cheap at my local fabric store. It took about 24 hours to make it in total, as it took ages to gather up all those ruffles! It cost roughly $18 AUD to make.

And now for the finished article. Often petticoats of this era were made with silk and were trimmed elaborately. However, mine serves the purpose – as a functional undergarment for a 1890′s fan skirt.

Side-front view

Side view

Back view, with ties

Back view, with ties

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: A Bodiced Petticoat

Sources and Relevant Links

1890s Under Dress - from Dressmaking Research

Historical Sew Fortnightly – hosted by Dreamstress

Image from Oregon Regency Society

A Danish girl’s dress from the Regency era. Garment from the National Museum of Denmark. Image from the Oregon Regency Society.

Since my oldest daughter has become interested in folk music and dancing, I have been focused on sewing her some period clothes that she can wear for dancing events.

Girls dresses during the Regency era were remarkably simple in structure and make an ideal quick sewing project! I found a picture of a basic girl’s dress when I was searching online, and there was even a pattern to go with it. The links for all the relevant webpages are provided below.

This dress is fairly standard for the era and the pattern can be fairly easily adapted for different sized children. Once the garment is made, it is even pretty easy to adjust as your child grows, which was surely as desirable to the contemporary families as it is to families today.

The Pattern

The pattern for this dress has been provided online as an image file and can be saved to your own computer. It will need to be scaled up to full size and drawn out on some dressmaking paper. Make sure you allow extra for seam allowances.

Some measurements to take:

  • Waist measurement: remember that this should be measured at the high Regency waistline.
  • Waist to floor: this measurement will be the length of the skirts.
  • You could also take additional measurements around the chest, over the shoulder, and around the arms if desired. I didn’t, but I made sure I added extra in the seams when cutting out so that adjustments could be made once the bodice was fitted.

Enlarging the pattern:

This particular pattern would probably fit a six-year-old girl, so it is possible that you may have to enlarge the bodice to adapt it for an older child, as I had to do.

In order to do this, I made a mock up of the bodice and made several changes to the pattern. I extended the shoulder straps, I added a bit extra width in the centre front (after comparing the pattern to the “waist” measurements I had taken), and I extended the centre back to make it wider as well. I also found it useful to allow extra for the seams under the arms.

Then all it takes is a quick fitting to get all the seams right. At the fitting stage, you may find the armholes and/or neckline also need trimming.

Construction Steps

Step One: Sew the side seams of the bodice together, followed by the shoulder seams. The pattern includes a very narrow piece as a side-back panel, but I omitted this piece.

The front fitting

The front fitting: The neckline gapes, which will be fixed once there is a drawstring around the neckline. There is no need for bust shaping for a young girl. The arm scythes are too tight under the arm so they were trimmed back slightly. (I fitted on a sleeve here but I re-cut it later to make it bigger.)

The back fitting

The back fitting: The bottom area gaped so I put in some side-back darts. I allowed extra material on the centre back seam as this extra material is drawn up with a drawstring and allows for easy adjustment as the child grows. The extra in the side seams was trimmed back.

Step Two: The pattern for the skirt is slightly flared or gored, however I cut mine in the early Regency style – in large rectangles. The front skirt (cut on the fold) measured 22 cm wide and 120 cm long. (I allowed an extra 20 cms at the bottom as a deep hem that could be let down as my child grows taller.) The back skirt (cut two) was 45 cm wide and 120 cm long. (Unlike the pattern, my version has a centre back seam.)

Hint: Allowing extra for a deep hem will mean that the garment can be let down as your child grows. Allow more than double (even up to triple) the waist measurement for the width of the skirts, especially if you are not using gored skirt panels. This will mean that the child will still be able to walk and run!

Sew the side seams of the skirt together. Sew the centre back seam, allowing an opening of 15-20 cms at the top. I sewed a topstitch around this opening.

The back opening of the skirt

The back opening of the skirt

You can also hem the skirt at this point, using your measurement from the waist to the floor. Because my skirts were rectangular, it was quite easy to take up a deep hem and then hide the hemline with some rows of decorative ribbon.

The hem of the skirt

The hem of the skirt

Step Three: The back panels of the skirt are then gathered and can be attached to the bodice. Remember that the back area of the dress will be further gathered up by the back drawstrings later.

Step Four: The sleeve seams are sewn and I pleated (rather than gathered) the head of the sleeve to make it fit the armhole. The bottom edge of the sleeves are then hemmed. These particular sleeves are not supposed to be gathered around the bottom edge, but I decided to do a small box pleat to draw them in a bit.

Step Five: The neckline of the bodice can be finished with a strip of bias binding, which acts as a casing for a drawstring. I also sewed a strip of bias binding around the waist seam as well (rather than turning the seam itself into a casing, as the pattern suggests). I also used some more decorative ribbon to disguise the stitching lines of the casings.

The bias binding is sewn to the neckline of the bodice. It will be turned under and sewn down to create a casing for a drawstring.

The bias binding is sewn to the neckline of the bodice. It will be turned under and sewn down to create a casing for a drawstring.

Step Six: Insert cotton tape through both of the casings to form two drawstring ties at the centre back.

The drawstrings have been inserted.

The drawstrings have been inserted.

The dress is now complete!

Front view

Front view

Back view

Back view

This little daughter is keen to go dancing in her new dress. Hopefully it’s her cup of tea!

Related Posts

Dress Ups for a Girl

Dress Ups for a Baby

Sources and Relevant Links

Costumes for a Regency Child – by The Oregon Regency Society (image source)

Free Online Pattern for a Regency Girls Dress and a Regency Boys Skeleton Suit - from Regency Society of America forum

National Museum of Denmark – the dress pictured is from this collection, however I have been unable to find the page for this particular dress.

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