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).
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Historical Sew-Fortnightly – hosted by Dreamstress