The fifth stop on my Regency Journey is to make a morning dress for daywear. Dresses worn during this era were usually made of a light cotton muslin, and were often dotted with small geometric prints or thin vertical lines.
All clothing during this era, up until about 1860, was entirely hand-stitched and fitted for the person it was for. It is therefore understandable that Jane Austen should lament over the decisions required upon ordering a new gown to be made up.
I cannot determine what to do about my new gown; I wish such things were bought ready-made. I have some hopes of meeting Martha at the christening at Deane next Tuesday, and shall see what she can do for me. I want to have something suggested which will give me no trouble of thought or direction.
Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister (1798)
The dress I am making is a bib-front dress, and is a replication of a period morning dress dated around 1798-1805. The pattern for this dress has been drafted in Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold.
Making a Regency Morning Dress
A morning dress; from Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.
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 163cm tall, or 5ft 4in, with a waist (underbust) measurement of about 25 inches. As I am both taller and wider than this, the dimensions of the pattern pieces had to be changed.
Important Measurements to take for this pattern:
- Bust circumference
- 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
- Circumference of the arm at the shoulder (armhole measurement)
- Shoulder width
- Shoulder to bust (or to waist) height
- 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 bodice back wider by 3 inches (shown un-enlarged in the picture below), the back shoulder strap longer by 3 inches, the sleeve pieces wider down the arm length by about 1 inch. The skirt length was also lengthened by 5 inches.
The pattern pieces for short sleeve (cut on bias), long undersleeve (cut on bias), sleeve lining, bodice back (outer cut on bias, lining cut on straight grain), bodice front (cut outer and lining) and back shoulder (cut outer and lining).
The pattern for the skirt front and back were merely two large rectangles. The front was cut on the fold, measuring 20″ x 49 “, and the back was cut on two layers of fabric, measuring 30″ x 49”. The original dress was trained (with the back skirt 15 inches longer than the front), but I decided to have mine untrained.
The waistband was 81 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. All additional pattern pieces (such as the front stomacher piece and the various edging bands) are described below.
Whilst Patterns of Fashion shows accurate pictures of the pattern pieces, it gives only brief desciptions of how to construct the garment. These descriptions are also limited to the manner in which the particular garment was constructed in that particular era, which is not all that helpful unless you are sewing the garment completely by hand. This meant that there was a significant amount of work to do in order to figure out how to put the dress together! For these reasons, the patterns in this book are more suited to the experienced seamstress rather than the beginner.
1. Skirt: Sew the skirt together first, beginning with the centre back seam. The two skirt side seams are then sewn, leaving an 11 inch opening at the top on each side.
2. Bodice: Sew bodice lining together at shoulder seams, pinning side back seams to check that it fits. Then sew bodice outer together at shoulder seams.
3. Bodice cont’: Sew the lining and outer bodices together (right sides together) along neckline and around centre front panels.
The bodice outer and lining pinned around the neckline.
4. Bodice cont’: The side seams of the bodice outer and lining can then be sewn, but make sure you check that it fits!
The bodice, with side seams sewn.
At the sides of the picture above, you can see that the outer bodice has an extra piece of lining attached to it to form the front section. The resulting piece mirrors the front lining piece, but it could have been cut entirely from the outer material. This small area of lining will be pinned under the bust and will be hidden by the front stomacher piece that attaches over the top of it.
5. Attaching the skirt back to the bodice: Gather 16 inches of the skirt at the centre back, fitting all the gathers into the back bodice panel. Pleat the remaining sides of the skirt back piece in the following manner. On each side of the gathers, measure 4 and 1/2 inches and fold this towards the back to form a large pleat. Repeat to make a second pleat on top of the other. Then, working from the sides, and leaving a 2 inch space from the side seam, measure 2 and 1/2 inches and fold towards the front to form a pleat. Repeat to form a second pleat on top of the other.
You should end up with four back pleats (two either side of the gathers), and four side-back pleats (two on either side). You can see them pinned in the picture below.
The skirt back pinned to the bodice outer (with bodice lining free). The centre is tightly gathered, with one set of pleats folded towards the back and then the next set of pleats folded towards the front.
When sewing the skirt back to the bodice, leave the bodice lining free.
6. Attaching the skirt front to the waistband: Gather the skirt front in 3 sections. The centre front 14 inches should to be eased into 11 inches and pinned to the centre front of the waistband. The remainder of the two sides of the skirt front are then gathered to fit within the next 5 inches of the waistband.
The skirt front, gathered and pinned to the waistband. You can see the three separate areas of gathering.
You can see from the picture above that I have also sewn a facing onto each side where the opening of the skirt is. Instead of a facing, you can finish off the seam by folding the seam allowance over to hide any raw edges.
7. Front Stomacher: The front stomacher piece, which sits over the bust, is a piece of lining that is sewn with 1/16 inch tucks on the straight grain. I did rows of 4 tucks, each tuck 1/8 inch apart, which were then separated from the next set by 7/8 inch, all over the fabric. The stomacher piece (14″ x 5″) is then cut on the cross grain.
Lining material sewn with tucks, then laid out with pattern piece.
The stomacher is edged on each side with 1″ x 5″ lengths of material. The top edge of the stomacher is gathered in two places above each breast and edged with a 1″ x 11 and 1/2″ piece of material. The bottom edge is then attached to the waistband, making the finished width of the waistband 3/8 inch.
The front stomacher piece sewn to the waistband.
The waistband can then be finished off. For the part where the stomacher is sewn, the seam allowances can be trimmed and then folded in so that a piece of bias binding can be hand sewn to hide any raw edges. For the rest of the waistband, fold it under and down on itself to hide any raw edges, and then sew.
The inside view of the waistband with the bias binding pinned.
8. Sleeves: The three sleeve sections (short sleeve, long sleeve, sleeve lining) are each made up separately. Then the sleeve lining can be hemmed.
The sleeve lining is put inside the short sleeve (wrong sides together) and the back area (between the shoulder seam and the back bodice seam) of the short sleeve is tucked to fit. A small section of the lower edge of the sleeve is gathered and an arm band, measuring 1″ x 12”, binds the lower edge of the sleeve.
A back view of the short sleeve, tucked to fit. The sleeve arm band and gathers can also be seen.
The sleeve and the lining are then sewn as one to the bodice.
After the long undersleeve is sewn, it can be hemmed top and bottom, and then hand-sewn to the sleeve lining. Sleeves of this era reached below the wrist to the mid-hand level.
I had a lot of trouble with the sleeves fitting, so I ended up unpicking them to make the armhole bigger. I also re-cut the sleeve lining to be the same size as the outer sleeve, which seemed to fix my problem!
9. Finishing off! Handsew bodice lining to bodice (where it is attached to the skirt back). Attach two small loops at the back for the waistband to thread through.
The back panel, with two loops to thread the waistband through.
Attach some hooks and eyes on the underbust piece at the centre front. You could also use eyelets and cording or pins to hold it in place.
The underbust piece, with hooks and eyes attached
Attach two buttons to the bodice front, to hold the stomacher piece in place.
The stomacher piece, held up with buttons
Hem the bottom edge.
How to put it on!
1. Put your arms through the sleeves and then hook the underbust piece closed.
2. Thread the waistband through the back loops from each side and then tie it up at the front, under the bust.
Hook the underbust pieces together and tie up the waistband.
3. Button the front stomacher onto the bodice.
The front stomacher buttoned up, all dressed and ready to go!
The back view, all finished!
This dress is a perfect costume for pregnant women (as most Regency dresses are) or breastfeeding mothers, due to the bib-front design. Though it can make the wearer look a bit frumpy! Adjusting the gathers at the front so that all the gathering is at the sides of the dress can improve this.
Janet Arnold mentions that this type of morning dress would be worn with a chemisette of some description to fill in the neckline. I will be making one of these soon.
For the next stop on my Regency Journey, I will be making another morning dress.
To view all my posts in order, go to My Regency Journey.
My Regency Journey: In the beginning…
My Regency Journey: Making a Bodiced Petticoat
How to Make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps
Sources and Relevant Links
Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon
Jane Austen Festival – website
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