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For the past two months I have been working on a commission costume for a friend. She is attending a “Battle of Waterloo Ball” in London to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the famous defeat of Napoleon by the English, and she needed a Regency outfit.

Stays

She decided that she wouldn’t bother about a chemise, so we jumped straight into making the stays. I drafted the pattern for the stays myself, using her measurements and following a similar method that I used to draft my own.

The stays are made from two layers of white cotton drill, with the boning sandwiched in between. For the centre busk I used two clear 30cm rulers and the boning is plastic imitation “whalebone” boning. The lacing is cotton cord and I used some thin cotton tape for the front drawstring around the top of the bust. The eyelets are hand sewn using a buttonhole or blanket stitch.

She was particularly concerned about her large-ish bust presenting a problem, so I used a double row of boning underneath and to the side of the bust area. The “cups” of the corset do extend a bit higher than normal to compensate for the lack of chemise. Traditionally, the corset holds the bust underneath while the chemise contains the bust from above. In this case, I used the bodiced petticoat to contain the top part of the bust.

The front view

The front view

The side view

The side view

The back view

The back view

Bodiced Petticoat

For the petticoat, we used the Regency Wardrobe Pattern by La Mode Bagatelle. I used the “DD” sizing for the bodice part but in hindsight I probably didn’t need to, as I needed to do a fair bit of adjusting because it turned out so big.

The petticoat is made from white cotton broadcloth, with cotton tape around the top edge to draw it in over the bust. The buttons are just plain modern plastic ones. The bottom of the petticoat is hemmed with some wide bias binding, which forms a casing for some large cording. This helps the petticoat stand out from the legs and prevents the gown from clinging.

The front view

The front view

The back view

The back view

Ballgown

I drafted the pattern for the ballgown myself, using a lot of similar features that I used in my own purple Regency ballgown. However, I used the sleeve pattern from La Mode Bagatelle (View C – short sleeve). My friend gained a lot of inspiration for how she wanted her gown from one she saw at Edelweiss Patterns.

The ballgown is made from purple dupioni silk and lined with acetate bemsilk lining. The piping around the waist and sleeves is made from cotton cord and cream satin bias binding. The buttons are self-covered and there is a ribbon drawstring around the lining of the neckline.

Side of Regency ballgown

Side and Sleeve view

The sleeves are “smocked” by sewing thread in a 1cm diamond and then pulling and knotting the threads tight. This is repeated in a honeycombed pattern across the sleeve. This creates little “puffs” on the other side of the material (which I used as the “right” side), and my friend then sewed little pearl beads to. The hemline was embellished later with some cream lace drawn up in scallops and some “flowers” made from the same lace.

In the pictures below, the dress takes on a luminescent glow from the morning sun, but the colour is actually darker purple than this.

The front view

The front view

Back of Regency ballgown

The back view

Spencer

The cuff detail

The cuff detail

We used the La Mode Bagatelle pattern for the spencer, using View H (minus the sleeve caps and with the addition of the peplum).

The spencer is made from a beautiful cream silk that my friend had in her “fabric stash”, but not dupioni as it has no slubs. The piping is made from cotton cord and gold bias binding. The buttons are a gold plastic button with a military design; a larger size for the front and two smaller ones for the cuff.

Instead of boning the collar (which is instructed in the pattern), I used two layers of very stiff, woven, sew-in interfacing which has worked really well.

In the pictures below, the spencer is shown over the bodiced petticoat.

The front view

The front view

The back view

The back view

The side view

The side view

I am very pleased with this little project, as I don’t normally do pattern or gown drafting for other people. And my friend is also very pleased and is looking forward to her trip overseas in a few months!

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

My Regency Journey: Making a Ball Gown – my own purple ballgown

Making a Regency Spencer – my own spencer

Sources and Relevant Links

Regency Wardrobe Pattern by La Mode Bagatelle – to buy

A Pink Silk Regency Ballgown – by Edelweiss Patterns

“Smocking” instructions – on Pinterest

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A typical Grecian statue

A typical Grecian statue

In Regency times, the prevailing fashion was for a Grecian look, and contemporary ideas on Grecian fashions were largely formed by examining Greek and Roman statues and other historical pictures. This meant that long, columnar, flowing dresses, with a short waist and a relatively natural bust were the principal fashion ideologies of the day. In order to aid the bust in its ‘natural form’, it was supported by stays which were designed to lift and separate the breasts, rather than compress them.

Changes from eighteenth century fashion to this new form of dress occurred as early as the 1790’s, even though the Regency period in English history did not strictly start until 1811. These changes in fashion were somewhat influenced by the French Revolution but also by the more widespread revolution of ideas (called the ‘Enlightenment’) that was sweeping Europe at the time. These ideas concerned notions of freedom, human rights, and equality, which were associated with the ancient ideals of Greece and Rome.

Of course, any changes in fashions (particularly extreme changes) were always accompanied by comments and caricatures in the press.

In the 1790’s, the Morning Herald published a rather severe critique on the ‘new’ position of the breast!

The bosom, which Nature planted at the bottom of her chest, is pushed up by means of wadding and whalebone to a station so near her chin that in a very full subject that feature is sometimes lost between the invading mounds. The stays – or coat of mail – must be laced as tight as strength can draw the cord, Not only is the shape thrust out of its proper place but the blood is thrown forcibly into the face, neck and arms … and were it not for the fine apparel of our ladies we should be at a loss at the first glance to decide, by their redundancy and universal redness, whether they were nurses or cooks. Over this strangely manufactured figure a scanty petticoat and as scanty a gown are put. The latter resembles a bolster-slip rather than a garment.

(quoted in Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh)

Caricature by James Gillray (1791)

Caricature by James Gillray (1791)

In 1791, James Gillray published a caricature of Mrs Fitzherbert, who had been secretly married to the future Prince Regent (George IV) in 1785. Their marriage was declared invalid, as it did not receive the prior approval of the King, and the Prince ended up marrying Caroline of Brunswick in 1795.

The caricature was entitled, Patent Bolsters;- Le moyen d’etre en-bon-point. The translation of “Le moyen d’etre embonpoint” is “The way to be overweight”. It depicts Mrs Fitzherbert standing at her dressing table, about to tie a pad on her breasts to make her very buxom figure even more plump! Her stays seem to be the transitional sort, with tabs at the bottom but pushing the bust upwards to form the characteristic “shelf”, where the chin is sometimes hidden between the “invading mounds”!

As an interesting aside, the picture frame on the wall depicts the Prince of Wales (George IV), and both the crown on the frame and the tiara on Mrs Fitzherbert’s head are inscribed with “Ich dien” or “I serve”.

By 1811, the bust was still very “shelf-ish”, as a lady of distinction writes in the book, The Mirror of the Graces.

The bosom, which nature formed with exquisite symmetry in itself, and admirable adaptation to the parts of the figure to which it is united, has been transformed into a shape, and transplanted to a place, which deprives it of its original beauty and harmony with the rest of the person. This hideous metamorphose has been effected by means of newly invented stays or corsets which, by an extraordinary construction and force of material, force the figure of the wearer into whatever form the artist pleases. […] In consequence we see, in eight women out of ten, the hips squeezed into a circumference little more than the waist; and the bosom shoved up to the chin, making a short of fleshy shelf, disgusting to the beholders, and certainly most incommodious to the bearer.

(quoted in Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh)

I am sure there are myriads of references to this particular extreme of fashion – the bust shelf. But I suppose with every aspect of fashion, someone will always take it to an extreme! As I write, I have mental pictures of today’s young men who currently wear their jeans around their thighs – below their bottom! This might be a modern example of the fall of the male waistline! (And I don’t think that has ever happened in history before!)

Related Posts

Fashion Advice from the Pulpit – extremes of fashion in the 1400’s

The Rococo: The Extremities of Hoops in the 1740’s – extremes of fashion in the 1700’s

My Regency Journey: Corset Construction – making a pair of long Regency stays

Sources and Relevant Links

Caricature Image Source: from The British Museum

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon

The Mirror of the Graces; or, the English Lady’s Costume, by A Lady of Distinction (1830 edition) – read online

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A pair of transitional stays, c. 1790, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A pair of transitional stays, c. 1790, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Last year when I attended the Jane Austen Festival, I remember my sister saying how comfortable her short stays were. She felt well supported but not restricted from doing the things she wanted to do. One of the problems I have always had with historic costuming is how restrictive the fashions could be for women, which has the undesirable effect of making you feel uncomfortable when you are wanting to have fun! So for this reason, I decided to have a go at some Regency short stays for myself.

I had planned to do these as part of the Historical-Sew Fortnightly Challenge #3: “Under it all” (for undergarments), due February 11, but I have finished them a tad early!

The corsets, or stays, of this era were first “transitional” (where they transitioned from the eighteenth century stays to the new Regency style) and then they are commonly thought to have been either long or short, with usually little or no boning. The Regency style of stays really just provided posture support and helped to define a high empire waistline, with a “bust-shelf”, that was popular in the fashions of the day. In researching short stays, I have struggled to find information on historically accurate short stays from primary sources of the period (such as pictures, paintings or extant examples). If you are interested in historical research of the so-called “short stays”, have a look at Short Stays’ Studies by Kleindung um 1800, which examines some historical patterns and journals on the topic.

Pattern and Construction Details

Step One: First I drafted my own pattern using the method I used for my long stays (My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern). I found this process a lot more difficult to do than I had previously, mainly because I did not have much of an idea what these types of stays looked like. I could not find many extant examples online, except for modern historical patterns (such as Sense and Sensibility Patterns) that mention that they are based on extant examples and pictures of the era. I decided to do a toile out of calico, just to make sure that it fitted properly, and then I adjusted the pattern pieces accordingly.

Toile pattern pieces: Front, side back and back. I ended up taking of quite a bit at the side seams, and adjusting the curve of the side back.

Toile pattern pieces: Front, side back and back. I ended up taking off quite a bit at the side seams, and adjusting the curve of the side back. Gusset pieces are not pictured.

Step Two: I cut out the fabric, making sure I added the seam allowances. For these stays, I have used three layers of material: the outer and inner layer are white cotton broadcloth, and the interlining is cotton calico.

Step Three: Beginning with the front pieces, I sewed along the centre front seams so that the three layers were all attached and could then be turned with the right sides facing out.

Centre front pieces, turned right sides out. Shows the layers of broadcloth, calico and broadcloth.

Centre front pieces, turned right sides out. Shows the layers of broadcloth, calico and broadcloth.

Step Four: Again treating the outer layer and interlining as one piece, the side back and back pieces were sewn, leaving the front lining pieces free.

The side back and back pieces sewn in.

The side back and back pieces sewn in.

Step Five: For the gussets, I cut slits through all three layers in the top of the front pieces. The slits were marked on my pattern piece and are placed either side of the nipple area. For this reason it can be useful to have a bust separation measurement (the distance between the nipples) for that part of the pattern drafting. I used the instructions from Sempstress’s tutorial on setting gussets, which made it very straightforward.

Breast gussets pinned ready for sewing.

Breast gussets pinned ready for sewing.

Step Six: As you can see in the picture above, I began decorating the outer layers at this point.

  • Boning Channels: I decided to run a decorative stitch along the outer layer of the boning channels, just to make them pretty! I had a line of nylon boning on each side of the eyelets at the centre front, one line of boning on each side seam, and one line of boning running diagonally from under the arm, forward, to the bottom of the corset.

    The decorated boning channels and underbust cording

    The decorated boning channels and underbust cording

  • Cording: I did three lines of cording, with cotton cord, running horizontally under the bust on each side.
  • Decorative stitching: I added a bit of decorative machine embroidery stitching around the bust gussets. I also did some extra lines of this stitching along some of the back seams (see below).

    The bust gussets, with decorative stitching

    The bust gussets, with decorative stitching

  • Embroidery: Just because I love embroidery, I decided to draw out the outline of a little flower stem that I had in my stamp collection. Using a basic backstitch with some coloured embroidery thread, I followed the lines. So pretty!

    The Embroidery

    The embroidery on the side back panel. You can also see the decorative top stitch on the seam (to the left).

Step Seven: In order to complete the lining, I sewed the side back and the back pieces of the lining together. Then I laid it on top of the outer layers (wrong sides together) and sewed a decorative stitch as a topstitch along the back seam lines, through all the layers. For the side seams, the side back lining edge was folded under and pinned to the front lining edge, with the same decorative stitch being sewn through all layers. This seemed an easy way to get the lining attached without fiddling around too much with it!

Front view

Front view

Back view

Back view

Step Eight: The straps were attached. The eyelets were hand sewn and laced with a length of cotton cording. The garment was then bound with bias binding around the top and bottom edges and around the armholes.

It took a few hours for me to draft the pattern, almost two days to get the toile adjusted and looking right, and then three full days of my holidays to sew it. The total cost was approximately $12 AUD. As the fabric, sewing thread, embroidery thread, and boning, were already in my stash box, the only thing I actually bought was the cotton cording and the binding (which came to $5).

I am really pleased with the fit. It really does pay to do an accurate toile first for less fitting dramas later. And I am really pleased with how pretty it is!

For more Regency costumes, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

My Regency Journey: Corset Construction – construction of a pair of long stays.

Sources and Relevant Links

A pair of transitional stays (pictured), from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Another example of a cotton Regency corset (c. 1800-1825) – from the National Trust website

Cording a corset

How to set a triangular gusset – Sempstress

Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays – by Oregon Regency Society

Making Hand Sewn Eyelets

Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

Jane Austen Festival, Australia – website

Historical Sew-Fortnightly – hosted by Dreamstress

‘Short Stays’ Studies, by Kleidung um 1800 – a great blog post looking at a book published in 1810 by J.S. Bernhardt, on the construction of a ‘new’ sort of stays.

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A Regency silhouette, showing the "bust shelf"

The second stop on my Regency Journey is the construction of my corset. Corsets of this era were not made to flatten the bust, as they were in the mid 1700’s. Nor were they made to restrict the waist, as they were in the Victorian era. They were made to “lift and separate” the breasts to form a type of bust “shelf”.

The corsets, or stays, were either long or short with little or no boning. They really just provided posture support and helped to define a high empire waistline that was popular in the fashions of the day.

Making a Regency corset has been a challenge: first drafting the pattern, and then figuring out the steps to put it all together! I decided to make some long stays for my Regency costume.

Making a Regency Corset

Step One: I first cut out the fabric, using my drafted pattern pieces, making sure I had added the seam allowances.

The cut-out pieces (except the bust gussets, hip gussets and shoulder straps)

In the Regency era, sometimes up to four layers of material would be used for a corset, for instance a cotton sateen for the exterior layers and then some linen for the inside layers. I have used three layers: an “unknown-satiny” outer layer (obtained as a remnant), a cotton lawn interlining and a cotton lawn lining. After discovering some cotton sateen in my local fabric shop, I would definitely use it next time as it is a nice soft cotton whilst still being sturdy.

Step Two: Putting the satin layer and lawn interlining together as one, I sewed the front and the side back together. I used felled seams (as is used for modern day denim clothing) throughout. Felled seams usually have three lines of stitching, and are known for their added strength and neat “fray-less” appearance.

Step Three: My next task was to decorate and strengthen this front/side section. In the Regency era, corsets were strengthened by cording and light boning. Embroidery and quilting were also used. I drew a basic design on the lawn interlining, drawing on some of my research of period pieces. Some of these areas would be corded, some embroidered, some quilted, and some boned.

The front and side back sewn (not felled yet), with a design drawing for the placement of the various decorative effects.

Whilst white embroidery seems relatively common on Regency era underwear, there are none that I have discovered that have coloured embroidery. Indeed, most of the Regency era underclothes are quite plain when compared to the embroidery in the Rococo era only 50 years before.

However, I can never resist a little embroidery! The design on the front busk pocket is a simplified version of one I have seen on a Regency gown.

Front detail: cording, quilting, boning, machine embroidery and busk-pocket hand embroidery.

Step Four: I then switched my attention to the back pieces. Treating the sateen and interlining as one, I sewed the lining to it on the centre back seam, right sides together. Then turning it to the right side, the boning channels were sewn, leaving a space for the hand sewn eyelets.

The two back pieces, with one boning channel sewn.

The back was then sewn to the side back with a felled seam, leaving the lining free. I hand sewed the eyelets with a small blanket stitch and laced it up with cotton cording.

Back detail

Step Five: Then I started on the lining. The lining front and lining side back were sewn together and then pinned (wrong sides together) to the embroidered outer. I sewed through all thicknesses when I did the third line of stitching on the felled seams, thereby attaching the lining to the outer layers.

Step Six: I cut slits through all three layers in the top of the front section for the bust gussets. The slits went either side of the nipple area, so it can be useful to have a bust separation measurement (the distance between the nipples) for that part of the construction. I used the instructions from Sempstress’s tutorial on setting gussets, which made it very straightforward. In the end, I didn’t need to put the hip gussets in. A bit of decorative embroidery was added around the breast gussets.

Bust gusset detail

You can see from the picture above how the breast gusset forms the lower support for the the bust, and the chemise forms the top part of the “cup” support. There is also a short strip of boning to the left of the picture (right next to each armhole), which helps push the breast to the front, a bit like an underwire bra does.

Step Seven: I attached the straps, once again using felled seams.

Step Eight: The garment was then bound with bias binding around the top and bottom edges and around the armholes.

Front view

Back view

An aluminium ruler works well as the busk, which slides in and out of a pocket behind the dark green embroidery. The ruler (busk) is a little too short, which causes the centre front to bunch in a little. I am undecided whether to find a different one or just shorten the busk pocket.

Overall, I am really pleased with it!

I have bought my ticket to the Jane Austen Festival, and am VERY excited! Next item on the Regency Agenda is the chemise to wear underneath, which you have already seen in some of the photos.

Go to My Regency Journey to view all my posts in order.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

How to Make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Relevant Links

How to do Flat Felled Seams

Cording a corset

How to set a triangular gusset – Sempstress

Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays – by Oregon Regency Society

How to make Hand-worked Eyelets – Sempstress

Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

Jane Austen Festival, Australia – website

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