Posts Tagged ‘Victoria and Albert Museum’

One of my earliest attempts at costuming was a sacque-back gown, however – as is normal for one’s first attempts – not all aspects of the gown were historical. One of my first corrections of this was to make a set of 18th century stays that would more accurately shape the torso for the dress, but because the “stomacher” for this gown was embroidered onto the front of the previous stays that I used for this dress, it meant that the gown was left without one!

An embroidery pattern for a stomacher, by Margaretha Helm, ca. 1725.

I have made an embroidered stomacher before, to go with my caraco jacket, and I really enjoyed making it! It really stretched my embroidery skills, and ever since then I have wanted to make another to match my sacque-back gown.


In my search for ideas for a pattern, I happened across several drawings from a pattern book by Margaretha Helm, on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. Here is what is written about the particular one I chose (pictured above):

This is a printed design for embroidery, with some drawn-thread work, for a stomacher featuring a floral pattern. Drawn-thread work is a form of counted-thread work in which the embroidery threads are used to pull the fabric threads apart. This creates an openwork pattern of holes and stitching. A stomacher is a stiff panel, usually triangular in shape and often heavily decorated, inserted in an open bodice to cover the corset in eighteenth-century dress. It is from a pattern book for embroidery (about 1725) by Margaretha Helm (neé Mainberger) (born in 1659 in Deiningen, died in 1742 in Nuremberg, Germany). Helm worked in Nuremberg as an embroiderer, a teacher of embroidery and a copperplate engraver who had her designs published by Johann Christoph Weigel. The V&A has a series of pattern books for embroidery in three parts by Margaretha Helm of which this volume is Part I. It is entitled Kunst-und Fleiss-übende Nadel-Ergötzungen oder neu-erfundenes Neh-und Stick-Buch or
The Delights of the Art and Industry of the practising Needle or the newly invented Sewing and Embroidery Book.

from Victoria and Albert Museum website

The design is symmetrical but not perfectly identical on both sides. I printed off the pattern and enlarged it to the size I needed to fit the front of my gown. I traced the full-sized pattern onto a large sheet of paper (as enlarging the pattern with the photocopier reduced its clarity), and then I traced it onto my fabric and began stitching!


The stitches I used are all ones that I have found before on extant embroidery pieces. Despite the V&A description stating that the pattern included “drawn” (or maybe more accurately, “pulled”) work, I did not do any of this on my stomacher. Instead I used laid work or various types of filling stitches that provided a patterned look to the finish.

The stitches I used were chain stitch, satin stitch, backstitch, seed stitch, long-and-short stitch, colonial knots, buttonhole wheel, laid work (called lattice work in this video), feather stitch, and stem stitch.

The beginnings!

I used a blue, water-erasable, pen to draw the design. This works well for me, although the colour does have a tendency to reappear after a while.

A flower, showing detail of the laid work, chain stitch and stem stitch.

A flower, showing detail of satin stitch, seed stitch and chain stitch.

More flowers, showing the detail of satin stitch, laid work, french knots, and chain stitch.

Flowers with satin stitch, laid work, and eyelet stitch (or buttonhole wheel), plus the chain stitch stems.

Once the embroidery was finished, it was mounted on to a boned base made from cotton broadcloth and synthetic whalebone.

The back of the stomacher, showing the boning channels.

The edges were bound with a bias-binding strip and tabs were handsewn on.

All finished, with a boned base and tabs handsewn on.

And some photos of it being worn!

I wore my stomacher for the first time to a Georgian High Tea!

I have a new embroidery project on the go now, so keep an eye out for posts about it later in the year!

Relevant Posts

Making a Stomacher

A Sacque-back gown (one of my earliest costumes)

A Caraco Jacket

Making 18th Century Stays

Sources and Relevant Links

Image and Quote Source: Embroidery design for stomacher, ca. 1725, from Victoria and Albert Museum

18th Century Embroidery Techniques, by Gail Marsh – buy on Amazon





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Stays (1770-1790)

English Stays (1770-1790), made from red silk damask, Victoria and Albert Museum.

My last pair of 18th century stays took about 13 years to finish, and by the time they were finished they didn’t fit me, so I have decided to make another pair.

I finally decided on a half-boned style, and used this pair of red silk damask stays (from Victoria and Albert Museum) as a starting point.

Stays of this era were designed to conform the body to an inverted cone shape, with a round bosom and a much smaller waist. They were also quite elongated, to draw the body upwards, and therefore came up high under the arms. The armholes were placed further back in the garment and, along with the shoulder straps, were designed to force the shoulders backwards to create the desirable “small back” posture.

My dear Louisa, you will laugh when I tell you, that poor Winifred, who was reduced to be my gentlewoman’s gentlewoman, broke two laces in endeavouring to draw my new French stays close. You know I am naturally small at bottom but now you might literally span me. You never saw such a doll. Then, they [the stays] are so intolerably wide across the breast, that my arms are absolutely sore with them; and my sides so pinched! – But it is the ‘ton’; and pride feels no pain. It is with these sentiments the ladies of the present age heal their wounds; to be admired, is a sufficient balsam.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph (1778)

I really like this style of stays, with the round, broad oval neckline and the way the bones are wrapped diagonally around the body. It looks very flattering for the 18th century figure!

This project fits well with the Historical Sew-Fortnightly Challenge #12, hosted by Dreamstress.


The pattern I have used is based on the 1780’s pattern from Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh. This one is very similar to the one pictured above – in fact it may be the same one, despite the minor styling differences apparent in the printed pattern.

A pattern for 1780's stays, from Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh.

A pattern for 1780’s stays, from Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh.

Beginning with my measurements and a piece of paper, I drafted my pattern up, using the Corsets and Crinolines pattern as a guide to panel shape and grainline. I used eight panels: 2 x centre back, 2 x side back, 2 x side, 2 x front.

The panel pieces all cut, excepting the shoulder straps which I cut and fitted at the very end.

The panel pieces are all cut, excepting the shoulder straps which I cut and fitted at the very end.

Four layers of material were used in this pair of stays. The outer layer was a cream/pale yellow cotton damask. The two interlining layers were a white cotton duck. The inner lining was a white cotton lawn. I used 6mm plastic boning with a tiny bit of 12mm plastic boning in the centre front. The embroidery was done with plain cotton sewing thread.

Construction Steps

In order to construct these I referred mainly to How to Make an 18th Century Corset but I have also detailed my progress below.

Step One: Draft the pattern up on paper, using your measurements. Do a toile to fit it to your body, marking any alterations on your pattern. Cut out the pattern pieces.

Step Two: Sew the panels together. I pressed the seams to alternate sides (rather than pressing each seam open) in order to alleviate stress on the seams.

The top layer is damask, then there are the two interlining layers of cotton duck. The lining was sewn in at a later stage.

The top layer is damask, then there are the two interlining layers of cotton duck. The lining was sewn in at Step Seven.

I found it easier to piece together the back, side back and sides first and then do the fronts separately until I was ready to put in the boning. This is because the front panel has boning that goes in different directions, rather than just up and down.

Step Three: Sew boning channels and then add boning.

One side of the back, with the centre back, side back, and side panels sewn.

One side of the back, with the centre back, side back, and side panels sewn together. Some of the boning channels are sewn. I am beginning to applique the ribbon on the seams here as well.

Step Four: Apply ribbon to the seams. I used nylon ribbon, as it was thin and of a similar thickness to silk ribbon. The boning should be inserted into the channels before you apply the ribbon, or else you may sew the channel shut by accident! I used a simple running stitch to applique the ribbon on, as this appears to be what was used on the extant pictured above.

The centre front panel, with ribbon being applied.

The centre front panel, with ribbon being applied.

Step Five: Add embroidery or other embellishments. Whilst a great deal of embellishment was not frequently used for stays unless the front was to be seen as a stomacher, some smaller amounts of embroidery (usually straight or curved lines) was occasionally used. I generally embroider my stays because I enjoy doing it and I think it looks pretty!

The central splays of boning is slightly different to the original, as the size of the panel is a little different. I have embroidered an 18th c. stylised set of buds and flowers between each. Note that the horizontal boning at the centre front is continuous and goes behind the vertical boning. Using two layers of interlining helps as you have two separate layers to run the crossing bones.

The central splays of boning are slightly different to the original, as the size of the panel is a little different. I have embroidered an 18th c. stylised set of buds and flowers between each. Note that the horizontal boning at the centre front is continuous and goes behind the vertical boning. Using two layers of interlining helps, as you have two separate layers to run the crossing bones.

The detail of the central embroidered flower.

The detail of the central embroidered flower, using mainly backstitch and running stitch.

Step Six: Hand sew eyelets and add lacing.

Step Seven: Attach shoulder straps. I did this as one of the last things, as I wanted to be able to try it on first so that I could fit the shoulder straps properly.

Step Seven: Piece together the lining panels and lay the lining layer to the inside of the stays. You can do this step earlier so that the eyelets go through the lining fabric, but I folded under the raw edges of the lining and handsewed them just inside of the eyelets. (You can see this on the finished pictures below.)

Step Eight: Cut the tabs after fitting it to your body. Cutting the tabs later in the process saves them from fraying everywhere or getting damaged in the construction process. I used a buttonhole/blanket stitch over the raw edge of the stays, and then added the binding.

I used twill tape for binding and sewed one edge down to the right side before folding the rest over and handsewing it down on the inside.

I used twill tape for binding and sewed one edge down to the right side of the stays before folding it over and handsewing it down on the inside. You can see the blanket stitch visible on the raw edge.

The extant stays pictured above have areas where the binding has worn away to reveal the raw edge sewn over with what looks like a blanket stitch. I was interested to try this technique as I wondered if it helped keep a narrower bound edge. It certainly helped with reducing the fraying as the binding is completed!


Outside all finished

Outside all finished

Inside all finished

Inside all finished

And tried on!

Back view

Back view

Front view

Front view

The other HSF items to cover are firstly historical accuracy, which was pretty good. Obviously the stay pattern was made to fit me, rather than an 18th century women that has been wearing stays her whole life, so the pattern is slightly different in shape to extant ones of the period. The fabric I chose was semi-accurate as cotton was in production then, but often linen was used for stay making. Secondly, the number of hours it took to complete are hard to calculate, as many hours were spent pattern drafting and making a toile. I began this project four months ago, but didn’t work on it solidly through that time. I am guessing 50 hours? Maybe more? Thirdly, it was first worn to a Three Musketeers Ball the day after it was completed! And lastly, the total cost was about $60 AUD.

My next post will be on my 18th century chemise made to go underneath.

Related Posts

Stays from the 18th Century – my first pair of 18th century stays

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern – a helpful beginning to drafting a pattern if you have never done it before.

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: from Victoria and Albert Museum online collection

The Sylph, by Georgiana Cavendish – read online

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh – on Amazon

How to make an 18th Century Corset/Stays – by La Couturiere Parisienne

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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 Graces in a high Wind – a scene taken from Nature, in Kensington Gardens.” By James Gillray, 1810.

From: Victoria and Albert Museum

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

The Pattern

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 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)

Pattern pieces, with some cut out. The sleeve head was later altered to be deeper.

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.

The neckbands, cut on a fold in order to create a facing to turn to the inside of the bodice. The shoulder neckband (top) was also lengthened.

Construction Steps

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.

Bodice and lining made up

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.

The bodice and lining gathered together

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.

The bodice, with waistband and neckband attached

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.

The inside of the dress, with waistband lining being pinned down. The cord is also shown.

8. Finishing off! Attach two buttons to the bodice back, and a hook and eye if needed. Hem the bottom edge. Voila!

Embroidery detail, with a pearl bead in the centre of each flower.

A close up of the back, done up with two covered buttons, a hook and eye, and a drawstring (under the waistband).

The front view

The back view, with a slight train (only 4 inches longer than the front).

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.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

My Regency Journey: Making a Dress for Daywear

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

Victoria and Albert Museum – website

V&A 1806-1809 Dress (pictured above)

Regency Embroidery Designs

Jane Austen Festival – website

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