Posts Tagged ‘children’s costumes’

Detail of "The Hulsenbeck Children" painting, by Philipp Otto Runge in 1805-06.

Detail of “The Hulsenbeck Children” painting, by Philipp Otto Runge in 1805-06. One of the children is wearing a short-sleeved skeleton suit, with the frilled collar of the shirt showing.

In less than two months I am attending the 2nd Annual Melbourne Regency Picnic, in Melbourne, Australia. I have been busy making costumes for the remaining members of my family who have yet to be so privileged! I desperately needed to think of a costume for my two-year-old boy and I soon decided on making a skeleton suit.

Skeleton suits were first seen as an item of children’s dress during the 1780’s and continued to be used until the 1840’s. They were really a form of the modern romper suit, used particularly for boys. Skeleton suits were often a jacket and pants combination that were buttoned together at the waist. Sometimes the suit included a waistcoat. Underneath the suit, the child often wore a white collared shirt with a ruffle on the collar and cuffs.

A boy's shirt, with a deep square collar edged with a frill, c. 1770s. From Historic New England.

A boy’s shirt, with a deep square collar edged with a frill, c. 1770’s. From Historic New England.

This first post in this series is about making the little shirt to go underneath the skeleton suit. Boy’s shirts during this era seem very similar to men’s shirts, in that they are largely made from rectangles and squares.

The main difference seems to be the deeper, fold-down collar, often trimmed with a frilled edge, that was turned down over the top of the jacket. The front of the shirt had a large opening that was also edged with a frill, as could be the sleeve cuffs.


The pattern I used for the shirt was based largely on what I know of 18th century men’s shirts, and so was very similar to the ones I have made before. The only difference was that I made a wider collar and added the frills.

A boy's shirt, American, late 18th century. From the Museum of Fine Arts.

A boy’s shirt, American, c. 1790’s. From the Museum of Fine Arts.

I found the site, “Making a Men’s Shirt” (by Marquise) to be invaluable for detailing some of the historical aspects of construction.


As the construction steps are very similar to the previous shirts I have made, I will not detail them extensively here.

Collar: I made the collar in the normal way, except that it was a different shape. It was a lot deeper and the front edges (or corners) of the collar I made curved.

The shirt collar, wide and curved. This has been sewn right sides together and turned the right way, with one raw edge turned up.

The shirt collar, wide and curved. This piece has been sewn right sides together and turned the right way, with one raw edge turned up. The unturned edge is sewn to the garment and the turned-up edge is handsewn down on the inside of the shirt.

Frills: Whilst the rest of the shirt was made by machine, I decided to make the frills by hand. I measured the length of the seam where the frill would be sewn and doubled it to get the length of the frill.

I did a rolled hem on one edge of the frill, and then did a whipped stitch gather on the other edge. Once it was gathered to fit, I whip-stitched the gathered edge to the edge of the collar and centre front edge.

The collar frill, gathered with a "whipped-stitch-gather" stitch and attached to the collar with a whipstitch.

The collar frill, gathered with a “whipped-stitch-gather” stitch and then attached to the collar with a whipstitch.

The same type of frill was also attached to the cuffs in the same way. (These techniques were all used in my post A Regency Day Cap.)

The shirt all finished

The shirt all finished

This is how it looks on the little man! Unfortunately the light was not very good, so hopefully there will be better pictures to come.

The Back View

The Back View

The Front View

The Front View

The next post in this series will be on making the pants for the skeleton suit.

Related Posts

MY Mr Knightley: Making a Shirt

The Making of a Midshipman: Shirt and Stock

Sources and Relevant Links

The 2nd Annual Melbourne Regency Picnic – the Event on the Facebook page

Image Source: “The Hulsenbeck Children” by Phillipp Otto Runge (1805-06).

Image Source: A boy’s shirt, c. 1770’s – Historic New England

Image Source: A boy’s shirt, c. 1790’s – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Historical instructions from 1769 on making an 18th century men’s shirt – by Marquise

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What a peaceful Regency setting!

My daughter at the previous festival in 2014.

A few months ago I went to the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra with my daughter, and I was eager to make her a new dress to wear. So, in addition to letting down a number of her other gowns, I set myself the task of drafting a pattern for her.

I have wanted to learn the art of draping for awhile too, where material is held onto the body (or dressmakers form) and cut, smoothed and pinned to fit. Generally speaking, the process most of us use is to pin our pattern piece to the material, which is cut and sewn and then finally fitted. However, many experienced dressmakers tell me that draping is a really good way to get an effective fit for a garment.

For this gown I did not have heaps of time to learn (and have the necessary trial and error achievements) for draping, so I thought I could try and drape using paper. Effectively I would be laying paper on the body and cutting around it to form the pattern pieces to use.

Construction Steps

Step One: I started with thinking about the type of gown I want to make; that is, thinking about its particular features. I wanted a gown with:

  • long skirts, but slightly flared,
  • a bodice with some gathers around the bottom of the bust,
  • no waistband,
  • short puffy sleeves over a longer under-sleeve,
  • button fastenings at the centre back.

I found it is also important to think about where the seams will be, which then tells you how many pieces your garment will have, and which of those pieces will be cut on the fold, etc…

Step Two: I held up a piece of paper against my daughter, starting with the back. I made a back bodice piece first, then the front bodice piece, and then a side bodice piece. I cut the paper roughly to size (its always important not to accidentally cut hair or clothes!!) and then neatened it up later.

The back bodice piece

The back bodice piece being cut out on the body.

As I cut the pattern pieces, I made them as I wanted them to look when finished, that is, I made them without seam allowances. This meant that the pieces needed to meet each other along the seamlines, and the centre front on-the-fold-line should be on the centre front line of the body. Likewise, the centre back area needed a bit extra for the overlap to place buttons and buttonholes (which I added to the pattern notations later).

The back bodice piece finished. The shoulder seam is set far back, as was the fashion during Regency.

The back bodice piece finished. The shoulder seam is set far back, as was the fashion during Regency.

I think it is actually more difficult to draft/drape with paper, as it is much hard to pin and hold in place. However, it felt a lot less scary than cutting into fabric while holding it on the body. I did throw out a few sheets of paper, as I inevitably made mistakes with my cutting lines!

Step Three: I wrote notations on my pattern pieces to stop me getting confused later. Things such as: notches to show which panel is joined to which; the centre front and back; grainlines; place-on-fold marks. You can see below that I made a reminder for myself to allow more at the centre back for the button placket that I intended to make.

These are the pattern pieces with the notations added. Once adjustments are made, the pattern pieces can be altered.

These are the pattern pieces with the notations added. Once fitting adjustments were made, the pattern pieces can be altered (which they were). It is also a good idea to name the pieces, which I haven’t done here.

When marking grainlines, it is a general rule that the grainline runs parallel to the centre front/back line (and perpendicular to the waistline).

Step Four: I began to cut out the bodice pieces. Just in case I had made a mistake, I allowed bigger seam allowances on all the side seams of the bodice and the centre back seams. This allowed me to have “room to move” to make some fitting adjustments later.

Step Five: The skirt pieces I cut out with reference to a pattern of an extant girl’s dress I have made before. My skirts were in three pieces (1 centre front piece cut on the fold, 2 back pieces cut on the selvedge) and were slightly flared (which I like because the child can run around a little easier). I merely had to measure how long I needed them to be, that is, from the Regency waistline to the floor. The gathers of the skirt were all pulled to the centre back.

Step Six: The sleeve pieces were a bit more tricky. For the oversleeve, I flat-patterned the sleeve based on some other sleeves I had made, and then I just adjusted it to fit on the dress. You can use the extant pattern link above as a starting point, or use a tutorial for patterning puffed sleeves. I made it quite puffy, mainly because it is easier to make it smaller but impossible to make it larger if you have cut it too small!

The undersleeve was a very basic symmetrical shape, which I have sketched below.

The undersleeve was a symmetrical piece (even though it doesn't appear so from my hurried sketch).

The undersleeve is a symmetrical piece (even though it doesn’t appear so from my hurried sketch).

Step Seven: For the neckline, I sewed bias binding to the raw neckline edge (right sides together) and then folded it to the inside, leaving none of the binding visible. It was machine sewn down to make a casing. I threaded a piece of cotton tape through the casing and then pulled in the neckline to fit. Rather than having to tie it up at the back, I sewed the tape to the casing at the centre back to secure it.

Step Eight: The last parts to do were the hem, the dorset buttons and buttonholes.

The dorset buttons and buttonholes. You can see the centre back gathers on the skirt, as well as the piping around the bottom edge of the puffed sleeve. The bias binding is also visible around the inside of the front neckline.

The dorset buttons and buttonholes completed. You can see the centre back gathers on the skirt, as well as the piping around the bottom edge of the puffed sleeve. The bias binding is also visible around the inside of the front neckline.

Here are some pictures of the finished dress worn during the Festival promenade on the Sunday morning.

The front view

The front view

girls regency dress back

The back view (with some dorset buttons popped off, which were replaced later).

I found this process to be a good way to practise draping and drafting. I hope it encourages you to try it too!

Related Posts

How to make a Basic Regency Girl’s Dress

Dress-ups for a Girl

Dress-ups for a Baby

Sources and Relevant Links

Draping on a Dressform – by Craftsy

Draping on a stand for beginners (a snippet of a longer course) – Youtube tutorial

How to draft a puffed sleeve – at Sewing Mamas forum

How to make Dorset Buttons – by Potter Wright & Webb

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