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Archive for the ‘Regency era’ Category

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

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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.)

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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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Parisian bonnets from Ackermann's Repository (1817)

“Parisian Head Dresses” from Ackermann’s Repository (1817)

At the Jane Austen Festival in 2013, I did a workshop on making a bonnet from buckram. I have always wanted to do more millinery but have struggled to know where to start without proper tuition, so this workshop was very exciting for me!

The pattern was of a late Regency bonnet, circa 1817, and was provided as part of the workshop. The basic materials (buckram, wire, and pellon) were also provided. We were set to work handsewing the strips of metal wire to the edges of the buckram.

In millinery, the buckram is cut to the desired shape and the wire is used to hold the buckram in this shape. For this reason it is important to pre-shape the wire to the desired shape before attaching it to the buckram. It is also important to double check that the part of the hat that sits on the head will fit your head!

The buckram top and brim, partially assembled

The buckram crown and brim, partially assembled. This is as far as I got in the class.

Once I got home, I sprayed the assembled buckram frame with a spray-on adhesive and stuck the pellon (thin layer of padding) to it. The pellon pieces covered the entire outer sections of the hat, as well as the inside brim area. The inside of the bonnet had no pellon.

The buckram frame fully assembled with the pellon adhered

The buckram frame fully assembled with the pellon adhered

Then the fabric was cut out and handstitched to the frame. The fabric was cut out in 6 pieces: the outer top, the inner top, the outer side, the inner side, the outer brim, the inner brim. The fabric I chose for the inner sections was different to the fabric I chose for the outer sections, thereby creating a contrasting lining.

The bonnet with the fabric handsewn on

The bonnet with the fabric handsewn on

Then I decorated it. The trimmings were all sewn on by hand after the hat was finished. This means that the trimmings can be easily removed and replaced later to create a new look.

All finished!

All finished!

"Parisian Bonnets" from Ackermann's Repository (1817)

“Parisian Bonnets” from Ackermann’s Repository (1817)

The piped band and ribbon flowers were both made by me (the links are below), and I obtained the ostrich feather from my local craft store.

These pictures from Ackermann’s Repository helped provide ideas of how these bonnets were trimmed at this time. I particularly wanted mine to match the Regency spencer I have just finished. Now I have a lovely bonnet-and-spencer ensemble! For my first-ever buckram hat, I am pretty pleased with how it turned out.

I really loved the opportunity to work with buckram because the skills I have acquired give me so much more versatility to my hatmaking. Now I am able to purchase other hat patterns or draft my own to make my own range of hats.

Hats are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

How to make a piped band

Making Ribbon Flowers

How to make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Making a Regency Spencer

Jane Austen Festival – Australia, 2013

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Regency Era Fashions from Ackermann’s Repository 1817 – by EKDuncan “My Fanciful Muse”

The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, by Ackermann – read various volumes online

How to make a Regency stovepipe bonnet from buckram – Youtube tutorial (The author recommends using millinery wire as I have done, but does not use it in this particular tutorial.)

Covering a Regency stovepipe bonnet – Youtube tutorial (The author shows how to cover a buckram frame. I sewed, rather than glued, mine.)

From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking, by Denise Dreher – this book has many ideas for hat patterns, as well as construction steps and decorating ideas.

Jane Austen Festival, Australia – website

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A Regency spencer (c. 18), from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

A Regency spencer (c. 1815), from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Once you have made a supply of Regency gowns, the next thing to try making is something to keep you warm during those promenades around town. I had been wanting to try making a Regency spencer for a while and I had a small piece of velvet in my stash that I wanted to use for it.

I found a pattern for a Regency pelisse (c. 1820) in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1, and so I decided to just use the top half and turn it into a spencer. The only significant (and tricky) alteration I made was to make a peplum for the back. Both the outer fabric and the lining are cotton, and the interlining is cotton flannel. The trims are made from velvet and satin.

This garment fits in nicely with the Historical Sew-Fortnightly Challenge #20: Outerwear.

Pattern

The pattern pieces are:

  • Front
  • Side Back
  • Back (with the peplum I fashioned myself)
  • Collar
  • Sleeve
  • Sleeve cuff
  • Mancheron (or upper over-sleeve)

Some pattern pieces are not shown in the photo below. These are the sleeve head (cut from calico), and the two belts that go around the waist. Any extra “bits” are described in the steps below.

Pattern pieces for spencer

Pattern pieces for the spencer

Construction Steps

Step 1: Treating the lining material and the flannel interlining as one, piece together the side seams (there are two; the side-back seam and side-front seam) and shoulder seams. Note that when sewing the side-back panel to the back panel, leave sufficient seam allowance at the bottom of the garment to attach the pleated peplum later.

When sewing the side back panel to the back panel, it helps to draw the sewing line in tailors chalk.

When sewing the side back panel to the back panel, it helps to draw the sewing line in tailors chalk. This will help to see where to stop stitching so the peplum can be stitched properly to the bottom of the garment.

Press the back seam allowances to the side. Repeat for the outer material.

Step 2: Sew three front darts in either side of the front panel for both the lining layers and outer layer.

Step 3: I made up two strips of velvet, with piping along the edges, to be sewn to each side of the centre front. However, the pattern produced by Janet Arnold is complete without it. In her example, the decorative centre front strip is mounted on top of the fabric on one side only.

The centre front velvet panel is sewn in.

The centre front velvet panel is sewn in, and the lining and outer layers are arranged right sides facing.

Step 4: Sew the collar seam at the centre back and then sew the two layers of collar pieces together, right sides facing. You may want to add piping along the seam, as I have.

Collar pieces sewn up

Collar pieces sewn up

The collar is then turned right side out and sewn to the garment. Instead of attaching this collar in the normal way, I laid both layers of the collar in between the lining and outer fabrics of the spencer and sewed through all layers. This made the neck seam less bulky when using velvet.

The collar is pinned ready to sew. Note how the piping from the collar and the centre front are positioned to create a continuous look.

The collar is pinned ready to sew. Note how the piping from the collar and the piping from the centre front are positioned to create a continuous line.

Step 5: While the outer layer and the lining layers were still inside out, I sewed around the bottom of the spencer, between the side back seam and the front, stopping where the velvet trim begins. I also sewed the bottom edge of the peplum. Then I turned the garment in the right way.

Step 5: Treating the lining and outer fabric as one, pleat the peplum and attach to the bottom of the side back panel of the outer fabric, along the waistline. Clip the seam allowance to make it easier.

This is the lining layers of the back of the garment. The flannelette interlining stops at the waist, so that the peplum does not have interlining. You can see the seam allowance clipped to allow the peplum to be pleated and sewn.

This is the lining layers of the back of the garment. The flannelette interlining stops at the waist, so that the peplum does not have interlining. You can see the seam allowance clipped to allow the peplum to be pleated and sewn.

On the right, both layers of the peplum have been sewn to the outer fabric. On the left, the peplum is sewn in and the lining pinned ready to handsew.

On the right, both layers of the peplum have been sewn to the outer fabric. On the left, the peplum is sewn in and the lining pinned ready to handsew.

Step 6: Attach the calico sleeve head to the top of the sleeve, and then sew side seams.

The sleeve head sewn to the sleeve.

The sleeve head sewn to the sleeve.

Attach the velvet cuffs. You may like to sew piping along the edges as I have done. Once again, the pattern piece is complete without the need for cuffs. In Janet Arnold’s example the decorative edging on the cuff area was mounted on top of the fabric.

Step 7: The mancherons (or upper over-sleeves) are lined with black net to stiffen them. The horseshoe-shaped areas are cut out and bound with bias binding.

Binding the horseshoe cutout sections of the mancheron.

Binding the horseshoe cutout sections of the mancheron.

Gather the bottom edge of the mancheron and attach binding to cover this raw edge. (Hint: Make sure this bottom edge will fit around the upper part of your arm!)

Make the decorative piped band that will be used to ruche up the mancheron. You may want to experiment with different ways to do this, otherwise I have a tutorial on how I constructed mine (How to make a piped band). These should be attached to the head of the mancheron and tucked under the horseshoe cutouts to be sewn in place.

Step 8: Gather the mancheron to fit the sleeve by using small tucks. Fold the side edges (underarm area) of the mancheron under and sew to the outside of the sleeve. According to Janet Arnold, this reduces the bulk of material under the arm. Then, treating the sleeve and mancheron as one, gather the sleeve head to fit the armhole (again using small tucks) and sew to the garment.

Mancheron and sleeve completed

Mancheron and sleeve completed

Underarm view

Underarm view: the mancheron is also pleated under the arm to ruche it up.

Step 9: Two belts should be cut to fit from the side back seam to the centre front. I attached piping around the velvet waistband and lined them using the same lining material as the garment. In the original pelisse, this belt does not appear to be attached except at the back with a button, but because this is a spencer and I did not want the waistband to sag or ride up, I handstitched it in place.

Step 10: The spencer is fastened at the front with hidden loop buttonholes and covered buttons. After these were attached, I handsewed the centre front lining down.

Inside the centre front

Inside the centre front

Unfortunately the centre front opens slightly, so I may attach some hooks and eyes to keep it flat. However, it is finished!

Front view

Front view

IMG_4383

Back view

This garment is fairly historically accurate as far as the pattern and look of the garment is concerned. It took many hours (probably 30 or 40) to complete, mostly because I spent a lot of time on a toile to get it to fit nicely and then again experimenting with the trim. Having a baby in the middle of the project didn’t help either! The total cost of the project was about $40 AUD, and I am hoping to wear this garment for next years Jane Austen Festival in Australia.

For more of my Regency sewing, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

How to make a piped band

Sources and Relevant Links

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Image Source: from Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

How to make and attach your own piping

Making fabric looped buttonholes

Historical Sew-Fornightly – hosted by Dreamstress

Jane Austen Festival, Australia

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In my first post in this series, I looked at the movies Becoming Jane (2007) and Miss Austen Regrets (2008) and began to explore the ways in which these movies are historically accurate. In my second post, I elaborated on the known details of a number of suitors that were attracted to Jane Austen during her life, and discussed the likelihood of Jane having “her very own love story”. In this post, I am examining the likely career prospects that Jane Austen could have had (if she had lived longer) when compared to other female writers of her era.

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen.


Jane’s Career Prospects

In Regency society, career options for gentlewomen were few. Lower classes of women generally had more options for earning money, but Jane Austen was a member of the gentry, traditionally country landowners. Men and women of the gentry generally lived off the income from their land or investments, and whilst younger sons of the gentry were required to have a career to supplement their income, the women were not expected to work for money.

Unmarried women of the gentry would be supported by their fathers and, upon their father’s death, their father’s estate or their brothers would provide them with income. Unmarried women from richer families could also inherit funds or property that would provide them with an independent source of income. (It is this reason that Emma (from Emma, by Jane Austen) could reasonably decide that she had no wish to marry, as she would have had an independent source of income from her father’s estate upon his death.)

However, upon marriage any property would generally transfer to the husband. Married women could still keep property or funds given to them in a trust or specifically for their own use, but they needed their husband’s consent to dispose of it. Often the fathers of these women would work into a marriage agreement that the woman’s inherited property was for her use alone, limiting the husband’s automatic rights to ownership. However, a married woman (by law) did not have exclusive rights to her own wages, that is if she was in a position to earn any.

Rather than being concerned with earning money, women of the gentry generally did other things with their time. They ran their household, cared for the poor or sick living within their area, completed handiwork such as embroidery, and developed their musical accomplishments. There were women who sought more active employment within their sphere of influence, such as Jane Austen’s friend, Mrs Lefroy, who taught the local poor children to read.

Many women of both the eighteenth century and Regency periods expressed concern that there was not adequate education for girls and women. I have also read the personal accounts of women who frequently felt disempowered to make any real difference in the world because they lacked the opportunities to do so. However, women of the gentry during the eighteenth century and Regency times did not view careers for earning money in the same way it is viewed today, that is, as a way of becoming financially independent and of developing a sense of self outside of domestic duties.

Jane Austen is represented in both Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets as being quite concerned with poverty and her family’s lack of money, even to the point that she feels pressure to provide for them. She is also portrayed as having a strong desire to cultivate a career for herself. When the historical background of the Regency era is taken into account, as well as the voice of Jane in her own letters, I have wondered if the modern representations of Jane Austen in movies are at odds with this evidence.

Would Jane have felt pressure to provide for her mother and sister?

As the youngest child of eight, and a daughter, it is unlikely that Jane should have been expected to provide for her mother and sister after her father’s death. After Mr Austen died, the Austen brothers rallied together to help their mother and unmarried sisters with a supplemented income. The brothers managed to increase the income from 210 pounds to 460 pounds a year. Whilst this was still a smaller income than the women were used to, and it required them to move from Bath to cheaper lodgings in Southhampton, it was still enough for them to keep a servant.

Did Jane Austen want to be famous?

Early in her life, Jane appears to have written for the enjoyment of herself, her family and her closest friends. Her first attempts at publication were at the encouragement of her father, and she remained quite obsessive in her secrecy about her writing throughout her life. She published her books anonymously (which was common for women authors of this period), instead attributing the authorship to “A Lady”, and some of her own nieces and nephews were unaware of the true author when her first books were published.

Once her brother Henry dropped the secret and her name became more widely known, she still persisted in her reluctance to attend functions where she might meet other influential literary people. She seemed to consistently deny all appearances of fame that people tried to put upon her, even refusing an invitation to a party to meet the famous authoress, Madame Germaine Da Stael. From these instances, as well as her own letters, she did not seem to write particularly to achieve fame.

Could Jane Austen have made her fortune in the career of an authoress?

Jane Austen made 140 pounds from the publication of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, and her total earnings from her writing was 684 pounds at the end of her life. Whilst her six novels were all published within seven years (1811-1818), most of them had been started much earlier in her life and had undergone a long process of revision. Even if she had continued to write a novel every year from then onwards, she would have struggled to produce a very large fortune by her pen.

Looking at other female authors of the time, monetary compensation for a writing career was generally low when you consider what sort of income a member of the gentry considered appropriate to live on. In addition, both male and female writers usually did not merely live by the income made from writing novels. They often had other forms of income in the form of royal pensions, earnings from investments or estates, or other forms of writing such as literary reviews or submissions to journals or magazines.

At this point, it is interesting to examine the careers of other female authors during the time of Austen, compiled in the table below. I have only included women writers who wrote in the fiction genre (the newly emerging novel form), as Jane Austen did. There were, of course, other women during this era who were influential in writing other forms of material, such as educational pamphlets and conduct literature.

Copyright Kelly Lock. Disclaimer: This information was compiled using limited web-based research. Any inaccuracies will be amended once discovered.

Copyright: Tea in a Teacup. Disclaimer: This information was compiled using limited web-based research. As there is often not enough available information on the particular earnings of authors, I have included as much information regarding earnings as I could accurately discover. Any inaccuracies will be amended once discovered.

By this rather brief and simplistic comparison, one could conclude that Jane Austen was underpaid when compared to several of her contemporaries. It has been suggested by others that, by leaving the financial negotiations to her father and brother, she may have unwittingly limited her income because they were unskilled at such negotiations. It is unclear how she could have combated this though, as Charlotte Turner Smith managed all her own negotiations with her publishers and still struggled to enhance her financial position.

One significant difference between Jane Austen and other women writers of her time is that most of the other women actively sought patronage from notable peers known to them or their families, sometimes even asking permission for their works to be dedicated to them. Most of the women listed in the table also moved actively in literary circles, often getting to know other famous authors such as Dr Samuel Johnson, Sir Walter Scott, and Hester Thrale, and other female authors. Whilst Jane Austen was not interested in actively promoting herself in literary circles, she did manage to attract the patronage of the Prince Regent who offered her “permission to ask for permission” to dedicate Emma to him, which she seemed to do fairly reluctantly and only after advice from her family. 

Even if Jane Austen could have managed to overcome some of these differences, it is probably still inaccurate to say that she could have made her fortune by writing novels. Whilst she had several unfinished manuscripts in progress when she died (The Watsons and Sanditon) as well as an unpublished epistolary novel (Lady Susan), she still may not have been able to produce a novel every year, especially considering her previous propensity to spend much time revising and perfecting her work. This natural restriction of time frame would – itself – have limited her income.

In order to live comfortably as an English gentleman or lady, it was desirable to have at least 300 pounds per annum for each individual within the family unit, equating to roughly the annual interest on 6,000 pounds. Unless Jane Austen could save that amount for herself (as well as for her mother and sister), there would have been little hope that she could have lived in such a comfortable situation once she eventually stopped writing later in life. Indeed, many of the women who, by necessity, had lived solely on the proceeds from their writing ended their lives in poverty as their writing income dried up.

So, whilst Jane Austen would have certainly made more money from writing more novels if she had lived longer, and she could well have been able to better negotiate her earnings with her publishers, seek out some form of patronage and promote herself in literary circles, it still seems unlikely that she could have lived a comfortable life as a member of the gentry purely on the earnings of writing her novels.

Was Jane Austen a meek and mild, content-to-be-at-home, aunt?

I have read criticism of the popular conception of “Aunt Jane” as a “meek and mild”, family-focused woman who refrained from devoting herself fully to her writing in favour of availing herself to her nieces, nephews, and other family members. Certainly, from reading her letters I never had this impression of her!

Portrait of Jane Austen (1775-1817)

The Victorian version of Cassandra’s portrait of her sister Jane, published in James Austen-Leigh’s Memoirs (1869).

It appears that this picture of Jane Austen could have come from her portrayal to the public during the Victorian era, probably because Austen’s Victorian relations wanted their “dear Aunt” to appear as their version of a “proper” woman, or a woman that deserved their Victorian esteem. In this way, the Victorian perspective of Jane Austen may not be accurate.

However, it is just as dangerous for us – as people wedged firmly in the 21st Century – that we not assume that Jane was just like us! That she wanted to have a career because she wanted to be independent. Or that she wanted to fall in love and elope. Or even that she held feminist ideals before her time. If we do this, we could be accused of painting that same sort of inaccurate picture that we accuse the Victorians of doing! That is, painting a picture of Jane Austen that does not accurately represent who she was in the context of the time she lived.

Biographer David Cecil expresses it well when he says:

I have come across critics who discuss [Jane Austen] and her view of life and character as if they were those of a contemporary of their own. The result is a portrait comically misleading. For, as we should have learned both from social historians and common observation, we are all largely the creatures of the world we happen to have been born into and our outlook is conditioned by its assumptions and beliefs and conventions and customs.

In summary, whilst I enjoy movies depicting Jane Austen’s life, I do find it problematic when they are not historically accurate. Sometimes modern movies tend embellish these historical characters with values that we – as modern men and women – think are important, particularly in the area of the rights of women. In essence, these movies could sometimes say more about our own 21st Century ideals than they say about the reality of Jane Austen, her perspective and her life.

Related Posts

Jane Austen. Who? – Part 2

Aunt Jane!? An Author!?

A Happy New Year - letter from Jane Austen to her niece, Cassy

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – Amazon

Becoming Jane (2007) – the movie

Review: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence - by AustenBlog

Fact and Fiction in Becoming Jane - by Following Austen

Miss Austen Regrets (2008) – the movie

Miss Austen Regrets: How Jane lost her own Darcy - an article by The Independant (April 2008)

Jane Austen’s letters, Brabourne’s edition – read online

Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh - read online

Women and Literature in Britain: 1800-1900, edited by Joanne Shattock – buy through Booktopia

Pride and Prejudice Economics – by Jane Austen’s World

Other Jane Austen Biographies

Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin

Jane Austen: A Life, by Carol Sheilds

Jane Austen: A Family Record, by Deirdre La Faye

Jane Austen: A Biography, by Elizabeth Jenkins

The Life of Jane Austen, by John Halperin

Jane Austen: Her Life, by Park Honan

Jane Austen: A Life, by David Nokes

Jane Austen in Context (a collection of essays), edited by Janet Todd

Becoming Jane Austen, by Jon Spence

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Thursday night's gown

Thursday night’s gown

On the 18th of April I travelled to Canberra, Australia, for the annual Regency event, the Jane Austen Festival!

Day One

The Festival began with a casual evening of eating, last minute sewing and chatting at the Director’s house. I also got the opportunity to peruse some old dancing books, gaze at beautiful paintings of ballroom dancers and handle some extant garments.

Friday's gown

Friday’s gown

Day Two

On Friday the day began at St Johns Church with a dancing session to learn the basics of the Country Dance. In the next session I also learnt the rudiments of the Cotillion and the Quadrille. The Cotillion was the forerunner of the Quadrille and, as I have done a lot of Quadrille dancing in Australian Colonial dancing, it was interesting to find out how the dance had developed.

In the next session I had my first proper millinery lesson, making a late Regency bonnet out of buckram and wire. I am really excited about finishing this project now that I am home, as then I will be able to extend my previously meagre hat-making skills to the much more complicated Victorian hats!

Later in the afternoon I managed to view some more extant garments; a cotton day dress, a bib-front silk ballgown, a spencer, and chemise. I find examining the construction techniques of dresses of this era fascinating and I wished that I had more time to take some notes.

For my last workshop of the afternoon I learnt to make Dorset Buttons. I have been wanting to learn this technique for a while and I am really pleased with my first attempt!

The Fashion Parade

The Stars of the Fashion Parade

The evening session – the “Dinner with Darcy” Variety night – began with a lovely traditional English roast dinner. We were entertained with delightfully humorous Regency-themed plays and lovely opera-style singing. A fashion parade, truly a feast for the eyes, illustrated the main shifts of fashion from 1780 through to 1820 and even featured one of my own garments! There were even some fancy French dances beautifully performed for us. The night finished with a fine British sing-a-long, featuring The British Grenadiers, Greensleeves, and Rule Britannia.

Muskets were notoriously unreliable in hitting targets, so in order to improve their effectiveness as weapons, the company were required to shoot in unison at the command of their leader.

Muskets were notoriously unreliable in hitting targets so in order to improve their effectiveness as weapons, the company were required to shoot in unison at the command of their leader.

Day Three

Saturday began with some more dancing workshops to teach the Essentials for Capital Dancing for the coming ball that night, and I also managed to learn some Finishing Dances that were often danced to conclude a Regency evening.

Over lunch we were able to view a company of Grenadiers loading (or pretending to load…) and firing their muskets! They also did a demonstration of how bayonets were attached to the end of the musket in order to use the firearm as a hand-to-hand combat weapon.

A Death Head button; blue cotton thread wrapped around a disc.

A Death Head button; blue cotton thread wrapped around a disc.

I spent the afternoon running a Chemisette Making workshop and then learnt how to make Death Head buttons, which are discs of wood or horn wrapped in thread. Whilst my example is fairly plain, different coloured threads can be used to create a contrast in the weaving pattern and the result can be extremely decorative. I am planning to use this new skill to adorn an eighteenth century frock coat for my husband.

I also managed to view a study table of extant examples of Regency accessories during the course of the afternoon, examining coin purses, reticules, fans, jewellery boxes, and shoes.

My sister and I dancing on Saturday night's Grand Napoleonic Ball!

My sister and I dancing at Saturday night’s Grand Napoleonic Ball!

In the evening we all donned our ballgowns and jewels and attended the Grand Napoleonic Ball, dancing until midnight! It was great to see a completely full hall of enthusiastic dancers and costumers. Aside from a quick trip upstairs for a photo shoot, I think I danced every dance and I was VERY stiff and sore the next morning!

Day Four

My sister and I in the horse and carriage.

My sister and I in the horse and carriage.

On Sunday we met at the historic grounds of Lanyon Homestead for a “Picnic at Pemberley”. We were all conducted on a tour of the homestead, gardens and outbuildings, and then had a lovely lunch and a horse and carriage ride. The day was gloriously sunny and provided me with the perfect occasion to use my new parasol!

The afternoon was spent back at St Johns Church with a Country Fayre, including various stalls, maypole dancing, a fencing display, more dancing and a concert.

My latest ballgown and my entry into the 1813 Costume Competition.

My latest ballgown and my entry into the JAFA 1813 Costume Competition.

The Jane Austen Cotillion Ball was held in the evening and was a great conclusion to the festival. The entrants in the 1813 Costume Competition paraded in their garments and the winners were announced – a three-way win of which I was one! There was also a Regency Gentleman’s Costume Competition this year, with entrants falling under the sub-categories of Mr Darcy, Mr Wickham, Colonel Fitzwilliam or Mr Collins. As part of the competition, the entrants had to pretend to be single, and the “Mr Collins” entry was particularly entertaining!

I really have loved attending this festival over the last two years, and I would highly recommend it! It is full of friendly people who are all eager to try new things and learn from each other. This year we even had visitors from as far as France and America! The festival also offers a great opportunity for people who are interested in learning about a variety of topics relevant to the Regency era, such as history, fashion, dancing, sewing, Regency entertainments and even war. My only lament is that there is not enough time to do all the things I want to do. Even so, I am looking forward to next year already!

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: The Destination – a post on the Jane Austen Festival (Australia) for 2012

Sources and Relevant Links

Jane Austen Festival Australia – website

More photos of JAFA online – from The Canberra Times

A report on the Today Show about this years JAFA – (I am on TV!!! If you can’t see me, I am to the very right of screen in the dancing scenes, with my back to the camera.)

Another person’s Impression of the 2013 Jane Austen Festival Australia – by the Tailor’s Apprentice

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During the early Regency period, silk bobbin net and silk gauze dresses became increasingly fashionable.

1813 Dress

White netted gown over a pale pink petticoat, Costume Parisien (1813), in Journal des Dames et des Modes.

Machine-made net, commonly called ‘English net’ or bobbinet, became more widely available in the early nineteenth century after the invention of a machine (patented in 1808, by John Heathcoat) which copied the technique of the much more costly hand-made bobbin net. This meant that net was cheaper and more accessible to more people.

From 1810 onwards, dresses overlaid in net or gauze increased in popularity. Some netted dresses were made to be worn over an alternate coloured dress or petticoat. Other netted gowns had the netting sewn into the matching or contrasting fabric so that the netting overlaid the dress permanently. Examples of both sorts of dresses can be seen in various museums, and I have included several links to online sources below.

Whilst machine-made net was cheaper, it was initially made plain and had to be embroidered by hand, that is, until a machine could be made to ornament it. Netting could be embroidered with tambour or other decorative embroidery stitches, often in the shapes of small flowers or spots. It also became popular during this time to embellish the hems of the net with embroidery, net frills, ribbon, roulade, satin, ribbon, lace or fabric flowers.

"Robe de Gaze. Garnie en Satin decoupe." Costume Parisien (1813), in Journal

“Robe de Gaze. Garnie en Satin decoupe.” [Gauze Dress lined in etched satin] Costume Parisien (1813), in Journal des Dames et des Modes.

The skirts of gowns in this era were columnar, cut in large rectangles which were then gathered at the top, with the gathers centred in the back. The bodice was often fastened in the centre back with two drawstrings, one around the neckline and one around the waistline.

This particular ballgown was made for the Jane Austen Festival Australia – 1813 Costume Challenge. Unfortunately the cost of silk tulle was too prohibitive for my budget, so this gown was made from “Poly Tulle”, made from polyester, which is finer and drapes more like silk than the stiffer types of nylon tulle. As I could not buy tulle that was already embroidered, I decided to try embroidering the white spots on by hand. The contrasting fabric underneath was a satin-backed shantung (also made from polyester), and the lining was bemsilk acetate.

This outfit was a bit late for the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #4 (Embellishing a garment), but there was no other particular challenge that it could fit under, so I have just made a late entry!

"Robe de Tulle. Garnitures de fleurs." Costume Parisien (1813), from Journal

“Robe de Tulle. Garnitures de fleurs.” [Tulle Dress trimmed with flowers] Costume Parisien (1813), in Journal des Dames et des Modes.


Pattern

After much deliberation, I decided to use the picture to the right – Robe de Tulle Garnitures de fleurs – as a model for my pattern drafting. I used the pattern I drafted for my previous Regency ballgown, and just made some necessary alterations to reflect the differences that I could find in the picture. In this gown the skirts were ungored, and gathered at the back rather than pleated. The sleeves were cut fuller and the neckline was altered. The front bodice piece was cut in two pieces, rather than on the fold.

Please note: None of the measurements given here include seam allowances.

Pattern Pieces

  • Bodice Front
  • Bodice Back
  • Front “Modesty Piece”
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Waistband (cut 2 – 35″ x 1/2″)
  • Sleeve
  • Sleeve band (cut 2 – 15″ x 1″)
  • Skirt Front (cut 1 one on the fold – 15″ x 49″ – here the length of the skirt is 49 inches to floor)
  • Skirt Back (cut 2 – 28″ x 49″)

Sleeve pattern piece, showing the increased height and width of sleeve.

Sleeve pattern piece, showing the increased height of sleeve head and width of sleeve.


Construction Steps

Step 1: After cutting out the pieces of fabric and netting, I embroidered round white spots in chain stitch evenly over all of the netting, to resemble the fashion plate picture.

White spots, embroidered in a chain stitch spiral.

White spots, embroidered in a chain stitch spiral.

Step 2: Treating the fabric and embroidered netting as one, piece the bodice together at the side seams and two shoulder seams. Leave the centre front and centre back open. Piece bodice lining together in the same way.

Step 3: Lay the bodice and the bodice lining right sides together and sew around neckline. Turn the right way and press. Gather a small section underneath each side of the bust to fit waist measurement.

The beginnings of the bodice. You can see the gathers under the bust area.

The beginnings of the bodice. You can see the gathers under the bust area.

Step 4: Sew one boning casing on each side of the centre back. You can handsew eyelets into the outer fabric and lace up your dress from behind, as I did for my previous ballgown. However, this time I decided to make an inside flap to house the lacing. I made two flaps from some cotton broadcloth and inserted a piece of cable tie as boning down the centre back edge.

The cotton broadcloth eyelet flaps

The cotton broadcloth eyelet flaps

Then I sewed the flaps to the inside of the bodice, allowing a gap so that I could lace the dress tighter if I need to. (I am currently six months pregnant, and am cautious of making the dress too big and not fitting into it after I have had my baby!) I handsewed the eyelets and threaded the lace through. I did need to add two hooks and eyes to the outer fabric – one at the neckline and one at the waist – to help it sit flat when worn.

The flaps sewn in the inside (a little crooked). I trimmed them a little and handsewed the eyelets.

The flaps sewn in the inside (a little crooked). I trimmed them a little and handsewed the eyelets.

Step 5: Once the centre back can be attached, it is a good time to try it on to figure out how to fit the centre front pieces together. For the “pointy” centre front parts, I folded under the raw edges so that I could thread a diamonte buckle onto the end.

The lower edge of the centre front bodice is turned under and handsewn closed to form a point.

The lower edge of the centre front bodice is turned under and handsewn closed to form a point.

Then I sewed a decorative section (or “modesty piece”) to fit into the gap at the front, embellishing it with some lace and ribbon. It can be pinned in place when you try it on to make sure it covers any necessary bits! It will be sewn in the seam with the waistband in Step 7.

Step 6: Treating the fabric and the embroidered netting as one, sew the sleeve seam and gather the sleeves at the sleeve head and the bottom edge. Attach sleeves to the bodice. (I didn’t line these sleeves, but you can if you like.) For the bottom edge of the sleeves, attach the sleeve band (right sides together), folding it inside to handsew.

Step 7: Attach the waistband and a waistband lining to the bottom edge of the completed bodice.

The front "modesty piece" is pinned in place at the top, and is pinned into the waistband seam. The waistband lining sits underneath, ready to be folded down to meet the outer waistband after stitching.

The front “modesty piece” is pinned in place at the top, and is pinned into the waistband seam. The waistband lining sits underneath, ready to be folded down to meet the outer waistband after stitching.

When sewing the waistband to the bodice, the centre front “pointy bits” should be left free.

You can see the "pointy bits" are pinned out of the way, but all other raw edges are contained in the waistband seam.

You can see the “pointy bits” are pinned out of the way, but all other raw edges are contained in the waistband seam.

Once the waistband is sewn, the centre front “pointy bits” can be threaded with the diamonte buckles and sewn together.

The centre front seam is only small, and the seam allowance can be handsewn flat if desired.

The centre front seam is only small, and the seam allowance can be handsewn flat if desired.

Then I handsewed the “modesty piece” to the top edge of the bodice, just to hold it in place properly. In the pictures above, you can see where the bodice and “modesty piece” have been pinned in place to be handsewn later.

Step 8: Piece the skirts together, with a centre back seam and two side seams. Do the same with the netting. Gather the back of the skirts to fit the bodice, gathering the fabric and the netting separately and then laying them on top of each other.

Step 9: Attach the skirts to the waistband. The side seams should reach all the way around the body to the side back. On the inside of the dress, turn all raw edges into the waistband area, fold the raw edges of the waistband lining under and handsew.

The inside of the dress, showing the waistband lining pinned ready to handsew.

The inside of the dress, showing the waistband lining pinned ready to handsew.

Step 10: Hem the dress. Attach any trims around the hem of the netting. I had also wanted to attach some fabric flowers to the bottom, as in the fashion plate picture, but ran out of time! Maybe later…

Two rows of pleated netting, with ribbon bordering the top and bottom.

Two rows of pleated netting, with ribbon bordering the top and bottom.

Back view, without the embroidered spots

Back view, without the embroidered spots. The centre back gapes a little and needs a couple of hooks and eyes to help it sit flat.

Front view

Front view

I am really, really happy with how this dress turned out! I was very anxious about my ability to make a dress when all that I had to work with was an old fashion plate picture. It did take a lot of preparation, as I spent a lot of time thinking about my design and how to accomplish it, and I also did a toile of the bodice to make sure my design ideas were going to work.

In the end I feel I did the fashion plate justice, though I did not embellish the sleeves in quite the same way.

Historical Sew Fortnightly details: This gown is fairly historically accurate. Whilst the garment is copied from a 1813 fashion plate, most other parts of construction (the pattern, bodice construction, lacing, etc…) I have seen on other extant garments of the period. The fabric I used, however, is not historically accurate. This took me many, many hours to complete! I would estimate it at about 50 hours, as I worked on it for over two months from toile to completion (and the embroidery and flower trims are yet to be completed). It will be first worn at this years Jane Austen Festival in Australia. Total cost came to AUD $126, largely due to the fact that I had nothing to use for it in my stash and had to buy everything new.

For more of my posts on making Regency wear, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: Making a Ball Gown

Jane Austen Festival, Australia – 2013 – for a picture of me in this gown

Sources and Relevant Links

A French brown silk and net dress c. 1805-1810 – The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A white net overdress c. 1805-1810 – The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pink and cream silk net dress c. 1800-1810

Cream and green silk net dress c. 1810 – The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Red silk net overdress c. 1807-1811 – Victoria and Albert Museum

Regency Fashion: The Muslin and Net Period – at Jane Austen’s World

It’s All in the Details: Making a Regency Ball Gown

Handsewn eyelets – by Sempstress

Jane Austen Festival Australia – 1813 Costume Competition

Historical Sew-Fortnightly – from The Dreamstress

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In my previous post about Jane Austen, I looked at the movies Becoming Jane (2007) and Miss Austen Regrets (2008) and questioned how historically accurate they were. There are obvious discrepancies taken in the name of artistic licence, such as the names and situations of her suitors, but there are also more subtle differences, like the more modern representations of her attitudes towards having a career.

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

The best way to get a sense of who a person was – short of talking to them yourself – is to read what they have written. Obviously reading more personal accounts, such as journals and personal letters, allows you to see the person in the way they saw themselves. Their other writings, such as novels, poetry, and published pamphlets or articles, also give a sense of their voice and an idea of what interested them. Reading other people’s first-hand accounts give a sense of how other people perceived this person. Biographies, although a secondary source of information, are valuable in giving a sense of the circumstances and background of the person’s life. So it is in these places that I have sought information on the realities of Jane’s life.

Jane’s Suitors

Thomas Lefroy (years lived)

Thomas Lefroy (1776-1869)

Jane did meet Tom Lefroy in 1795 while she was still living at Steventon, aged 20, and mentions him in her letters to Cassandra. However, there is little evidence that marriage between them was ever seriously contemplated.

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved, Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking the the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs Lefroy a few days ago.

9 January, 1796.

John Warren (1771-1831), who proposed to Jane in Becoming Jane, was at Oxford at the same time as James Austen. He also became a pupil of Jane’s father, George Austen. Mr Warren and Jane were always good friends and he was occasionally mentioned in her letters. The following excerpt was written immediately after the above quote regarding Tom Lefroy, in the same letter to her sister.

We left Warren at Dean Gate, in our way home last night, and he is now on his road to town. He left his love, &c., to you, and I will deliver it when we meet. Henry goes to Harden to-day in his way to his Master’s degree. We shall feel the loss of these two most agreeable young men exceedingly, and shall have nothing to console us till the arrival of the Coopers on Tuesday.

9 January, 1796.

Samuel Blackall met Jane in 1798 while visiting the Lefroy’s and soon became an admirer of her. He had intended to visit again at Christmas but upon his return to Cambridge, where he was a Fellow, he discovered that he was not in a position to marry at present, and wrote to Mrs Lefroy to tell her so. In any event, his admiration does not appear to be returned by Jane.

She [Mrs Lefroy] showed me a letter which she had received from her friend a few weeks ago (in answer to one written by her to recommend a nephew of Mrs Russell to his notice at Cambridge), towards the end of which was a sentence to this effect: ‘I am very sorry to hear of Mrs Austen’s illness. It would give me particular pleasure to have an opportunity of improving myself with that family – with a hope of creating to myself nearer interest. But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it.’

Jane then goes on to comment on this to her sister:

This is rational enough; there is less love and more sense in it that sometimes appears before, and I am well satisfied. It will all go on exceedingly well, and decline away in a very reasonable manner. There seems no likelihood of his coming into Hampshire this Christmas, and it is therefore most probable that our indifference will soon be mutual, unless his regard, which appeared to spring from knowing nothing of me at first, is best supported by never seeing him.

17 November, 1798.

There was one mysterious love interest that occurred in 1801, while Jane’s family was on a visit to Sidmouth from their new home in Bath. We only know this by a few scant remarks that Cassandra had made to several of her nieces and nephews later in her life. Biographer David Cecil goes into some detail about the incident. This man was handsome, intelligent and quite charming, and became quite attached to Jane over the two or three weeks that he was in town. Unfortunately, the gentleman was forced to leave on account of some business and it was understood that he would return soon to see the Austen family again. Before he could do so, the Austen’s received a letter from his brother saying that he had suddenly died. There are very few letters of Jane’s that survive from May 1801 to 1805, which leaves this period of her life quite blank.

Harris Bigg-Wither (1781-1833)

Harris Bigg-Wither (1781-1833)

In 1802, Jane was proposed to by Harris Bigg-Wither, when she was aged 27, on a visit to the family with her sister. She accepted the offer, but then withdrew it the next morning and hurriedly left with her sister to return to Bath. Biographer David Cecil suggests that her reluctance to marry Harris Bigg-Wither might be related to the brief but strong affection she felt for the Sidmouth man.

In 1808, upon a visit to Godmersham, it appears possible that Mr Edward Bridges (1779-1825), made her an offer of marriage. She makes a curious mention of it in a letter to Cassandra, which has led Deirdre LaFaye – an Austen expert – to suggest that it is possible that he did make her an offer, but that she refused.

I wish you may be able to accept Lady Bridges’ invitation, though I could not her son Edward’s; she is a nice woman and honours me by her remembrance.

October 7, 1808.

One thing I can say for certain about Jane and her view of marriage is that she was well aware of the advantages of having money upon marrying. However, she also seemed firm in her views that a marriage without affection was as equally undesirable as one without money. She gave some very pertinent advice to her young niece Fanny in one of her letters, about her suitor Mr Plumtre.

There are such beings in the World perhaps, one in a Thousand, as the Creature You and I should think perfection. Where Grace and Spirit are united to Worth, where the Manners are equal to the Heart and Understanding. But such a person may not come in your way, or if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a Man of Fortune, the brother of your particular friend, and belonging to your own country. Think of this Fanny. Mr J.P. has advantages which do not often meet in one person. [...] And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself further, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection…

18 November, 1814.

When I first discovered, early in my “Austen education”, that Jane Austen had never married, I remember being shocked! It seemed unthinkable that a person who could write such moving stories about life and love – stories that have stood the test of time and have charmed people born long after her death – never had her own love story.

Even though Jane never married, it is clear that she had a variety of experiences in her relationships with marriageable men; some consisted of mutual friendship, others mere attraction and flirtation, at least one with a more financial allure, and possibly one with a deeper affection that Regency women regarded as a foundation for marriage.

Whilst this tendency to want Jane Austen to have had a love story of her own is understandable, it is possible that this modern appetite for love and romance may cloud our perception of the realities in Jane’s life. It can prevent us understanding the way a Regency woman would perceive her own situation of singleness within the context of her own time.

As someone who is interested in history, I tend to find it more interesting to try to understand this historical context of a person rather than merely watch an entertaining movie about them. Actually, this interest has often driven me from the movie theatre to the nearest bookshop in search of more information – which I can then devour over a cup of tea!

Due to space, I have decided to make a Part 3 to this post which will endeavour to explore the realities of Jane’s career prospects as a female author in the Regency era.

Related Posts

Jane Austen. Who? – Part 1

Aunt Jane!? An Author!?

A Happy New Year – letter from Jane Austen to her niece, Cassy

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen – a book review

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – Amazon

Becoming Jane (2007) – the movie

Review: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence - by AustenBlog

The Truth about Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy - by Following Austen

Fact and Fiction in Becoming Jane - by Following Austen

John Warren at the Dean Gate Inn – by Austenonly

Miss Austen Regrets (2008) – the movie

Miss Austen Regrets: How Jane lost her own Darcy - an article by The Independant (April 2008)

Miss Austen Regrets: Brook Edward Bridges - by Jane Austen Society of North America

Jane Austen’s letters, Brabourne’s edition – read online

Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh - read online

Other Jane Austen Biographies (and there are many more!)

Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin – buy through Amazon

The Life of Jane Austen, by John Halperin – buy through Amazon

Jane Austen The Woman: Some Biographical Insights, by George Holbert Tucker – buy through Amazon

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Regency gowns – to me – have often all looked the same. It probably has something to do with the simplicity of their design, particularly in the early Regency period when plain dresses were very fashionable. After a bit of research, I discovered the Regency bodice that wraps around and crosses over at the front, and decided to try this relatively simple bodice design for my next Regency day dress.

I have been involved in the JAFA Costume Challenge, for the Jane Austen Festival Australia (2013), where participants make a Regency garment each month. This garment was also designed to double-up and form part of my Historical Sew-Fortnightly entries, specifically for the Challenge #5: Peasants and Pioneers (making a Common dress).

The half-robe patterned in Patterns of Fashion 1, (c. 1795)

The half-robe (c. 1795-1800) shown in Patterns of Fashion 1, from Snowsill Manor.

I found a pattern for a half-robe that crossed over in front in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 1, which I thought I would try, making a slight alteration by extending the skirts to the floor. Sensibly, I began with a toile of the bodice and soon discovered that the person who wore this dress must have had a hideous figure! The bust was way to big and shapeless, and the waist far too small. I ended up having to spend a few days in pattern adjustment just to get it to sit nicely on me! (Though, in fairness to the poor person who once owned this dress… it could be me who has the hideous figure! hehe)

Hopefully I have achieved a nice fit after all that work! This gown was made of cotton shirting material and lined with white cotton voile.

Pattern Pieces

The skirts of Regency gowns were usually just big rectangles of fabric. For this gown I altered the pattern to make the skirts longer and also fuller, just because I like it better that way! I cut two back pieces (each measuring 44″ wide and 49″ long), and two front pieces (each measuring 20″ wide and 49″ long).

The other pieces consisted of:

  • Bodice Back
  • Bodice Side-Back
  • Bodice Side
  • Bodice Front
  • Bodice Front lining (which I didn’t use, as I made a lining layer using the bodice front pieces)
  • Sleeve (not pictured below)
  • Half Belt (measuring 1 inch wide and 16″ long, not pictured below)
Bodice pieces

Bodice pieces

In this picture you can see some of the alterations that I made to the pattern in my cutting. Please note that Janet Arnold patterns do not include seam allowances, and all measurements given here also do not include seam allowances.

Construction Steps

Step 1: The bodice was pieced together, and then the lining was pieced together. When piecing the bodice together, attach the half belt into the waist at the side seam. For the half belts, I made a tube of material 1 inch wide and the required length across the front of the bodice. I had two half belts, one attached to each side, however it was difficult to tell if there was actually one or two from the pattern. (The picture of the extant above appears to have just one on the outside.)

Step 2: With right sides together, the lining and bodice were sewn around the neckline.

The bodice, sewn around the neckline and turned right way out.

The bodice, sewn around the neckline and turned right way out.

Step 3: The skirt was pieced together, starting with the centre back seam and side seams. As the front of this dress wraps around the body, it was not necessary to have a centre front seam. Instead, the vertical front edges of the skirt were hemmed.

Step 4: The skirt was then pleated. The pleats at the back were 3 inch pleats, positioned 1/4 inch apart. For the side pleats, I used any excess material to make three even pleats near the side seam, positioned 1/2 inch apart.

The centre back pleats

The centre back pleats

Step 5: The bodice and skirt were attached, and the lining hand sewn down around the waistline.

Step 6: The sleeves were attached. I had made a toile of the sleeves, but when I cut them out they still didn’t fit properly so I had to cut out another pair. I find sleeves very hard to figure out! They were supposed to be lined, but I ended up discarding the lining.

Sleeve pieces. I cut vertically down the highest part of the sleeve head and widened the sleeve to fit my shoulders. I then needed to take the sleeve in around the arms later.

The sleeve pieces. I cut the pattern vertically down the highest part of the sleeve head and widened the sleeve to fit my shoulders. I then needed to take the sleeve in around the arms later. The white lining was cut first in an altered shape, but discarded later.

The sleeves in this garment show the remains of eighteenth century fashion, with elbow length sleeves which are then shaped around the bend of the arm.

Step 7: The half belts were held in place at the front edges of the garment with some small stitches and hooks and eyes. I not only used a hook and eye on the outside front edge, but I also used one on the inside front edge as I was worried I might stand on the front of the dress and it would fall open.

Step 8: The bottom of the dress was hemmed and braid attached around the neckline and sleeve-ends for embellishment. A self-covered button was attached to the front neckline with a rouleau loop behind, which can be used to alter the neckline.

The front neckline, with the buttons and cord to alter the shape of the neckline.

The front neckline, with the button and loop to alter the shape of the neckline.

The front view; with me looking slightly pregnant!

The front view; with me looking slightly pregnant! (Which I am, so its all ok!)

The back view

The back view (very unironed!)

Historical Sew-Fortnightly Details: This dress should be fairly historically accurate, even though I have altered the pattern in length. It took me a few days to get the toile fitted correctly, but after that it would have only taken approximately 8 hours to complete. This will be first worn at the Jane Austen Festival Australia in April, 2013. The total cost was $25 AUD.

I am thinking of getting a pretty silver clasp to put on the waistband opening. It just might give it a bit of a bling-factor!

For more of my Regency sewing, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: Making a Dress for Daywear

My Regency Journey: Making an Embroidered Morning Negligee

Sources and Relevant Links

The half robe (pictured) - from the National Trust Collection website

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon

Jane Austen Festival, Australia - website

Jane Austen Festival Australia, Costume Challenge

Historical Sew-Fortnightly – hosted by Dreamstress

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