The sixth stop on my Regency Journey is to make a lightly embroidered dress for daywear.
The Regency era derives its name from the time, between 1811 and 1820, when Prince George was made Prince Regent due to his father, King George III, being too ill to reign. However, when looking at English culture, fashion and literature, the term Regency is used to cover a broader time period, from around 1795 to the 1820’s. This period marked the shift from the Georgian eighteenth century, to the Victorian nineteenth century.
Dresses during this period changed drastically from the previous fashions. Due to the uprisings in France, no one wanted to appear like the aristocracy, and so dresses were loose and flowing, inspired by Roman and Greek statues. They were made with light cotton muslins that were often rather transparent. These dresses become the object of satirists of the day, as they were almost the equivalent of the underclothes or petticoats of the previous fashions.
The dress I am making is dated from 1806-1809 and is displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The pattern for this dress has been drafted by Janet Arnold in Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860. She describes this particular dress (pictured left) as an evening dress, probably due to the amount of embroidery and spangles attached to it. She goes on to say that this same pattern made up in plain muslin had been described as morning negligee in La Belle Assemblee (1808).
I decided that, whilst a day dress was unlikely to have much elaborate embroidery, I would embroider a little on it because it looks pretty!! Though my embroidery does not compare to this superb museum exhibit!
Making a Regency Morning Negligee
As the pattern was printed in inches, I have used imperial measurements for reference, except for seam allowances, which were 1.5cm.
1. Draw out the pattern on 1 inch grid paper, and cut out the paper pattern. Make sure you add seam allowances, either to the paper pattern or when you cut out the fabric. Janet Arnold has not added seam allowances to any of her patterns in Patterns of Fashion. In the end, I used my own body measurements to make sure the pattern pieces would fit, and then added the necessary seam allowances. All measurements stated from here on DO NOT include seam allowances.
2. One very important point about this type of pattern that is drafted from a particular dress from a particular era: they are usually made to fit one particular person and adjustments will need to be made to fit it correctly on a different body, like your own. This particular pattern seems to have been made for a person about 166cm tall, or 5ft 4in, with a waist (underbust) measurement of under 35 inches.
Important Measurements to take for this pattern:
- Waist circumference (the waistline is high under the bust in this case)
- Arm circumference: at both the underarm and above the elbow (with the arm bent! or you might not be able to drink a cup of tea with your garment on!)
- Arm length (for the sleeve)
- Circumference of the arm at the shoulder (armhole measurement)
- Shoulder height (for the shoulder strap)
- Waist (underbust) to floor measurement (for skirt length)
These measurements can then be checked against the pattern pieces. It is important to remember that you do not want a garment that fits you so tightly that you can hardly move for fear of splitting the seams, so remember to allow a little extra for this on your pattern pieces.
3. Adjust your pattern pieces accordingly. I made the shoulder strap longer by 4 inches, which meant that the sleeve head needed to be adjusted as well. The skirt length was also lengthened by 3 inches.
The pattern for the skirt front and back were merely two large rectangles. The front was cut on the fold, measuring 18″ x 47″, and the back was cut on two layers of fabric, measuring 36″ x 51″. The waistband was 35 inches long and 1/2 inch wide.
Whilst the original garment does not appear to be lined, I decided to line the bodice and create a facing for the neckbands, just to make it neater.
Whilst Patterns of Fashion shows accurate pictures of the pattern pieces, it gives only brief desciptions of how to construct the garment. Even so, this dress was quite simple to piece together for an experienced seamstress.
1. Skirt: Sew the skirt together first, beginning with the centre back seam, leaving a 12 inch opening at the top. The two skirt side seams are then sewn.
2. Bodice: Sew bodice together at the side seams and the side back seams, leaving the centre back seam open. The bodice lining can be sewn together in the same way.
3. Bodice cont’: Put the bodice and the bodice lining together, wrong sides facing and gather the top and bottom edges of the front panel.
4. Attach bodice to waistband: Adjusting the gathers to fit, sew the waistband along the bottom edge of the bodice.
5. Neckband: Adjusting the gathers on the top edge of the bodice, pin the neckband on to fit. This is a good time to try it on to check that it fits and to check the mitred corners of the neckband! Then sew it in place.
Draw a design on the front neckband and embroider it. Handsew the neckband to the inside when complete.
6. Sleeves: The sleeve seams are sewn and then the sleeve head is gathered to fit the armhole. The gathered section of the sleeve is placed around the neckband, as there are no gathers attached to the bodice. Hem the bottom edge of the sleeves at the mid-hand or knuckle region.
7. Attaching the skirt to the waistband: Gather the skirt to fit the waistband and sew. The waistband can then be finished off in the following manner. The seam allowances of the bodice and the skirt can be trimmed and then folded towards the waistband. Then another piece of material (i.e. waistband lining) or a piece of bias binding can be hand sewn to the inside to hide any raw edges. A cord is then threaded through it so the dress can be tied up at the back.
8. Finishing off! Attach two buttons to the bodice back, and a hook and eye if needed. Hem the bottom edge. Voila!
Sometimes I wish I had hindsight beforehand, as I think I would have made the waistband out of a contrasting material, as seems common for many of the dresses from this era. In the end, I chose some lengths of ribbon in different colours that can be tied around the waistband (held in place with some small thread belt loops). This can give the dress a bit of a different look, which is handy if you need to wear it several times for the same event.
I am glad that I made a bodiced petticoat previously, as you can see my skin through the unlined sleeves of this dress! At least I can pride myself on having a suitably see-through cotton dress to wear for a promenade around Lake Burley-Griffin!
Janet Arnold mentions that this type of morning dress would be worn with a chemisette of some description to fill in the neckline. A Regency chemisette is the next stop on my Regency Journey.
To view all my posts in order, go to My Regency Journey.
Sources and Relevant Links
Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon
Victoria and Albert Museum – website
V&A 1806-1809 Dress (pictured above)
Jane Austen Festival – website