One of my guiding principles for making a historical costume is to maintain my sense of self in the costume, no matter what the period is. I have to choose a style and fabric and accessories that speak to me, and find the “me” in the period. I think I did that pretty well the last time I did a Regency gown.
I thought that’s what I was doing this time. I’m not actually sure I succeeded.
I needed a dress to go to the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville. Given that it’s in July, in Louisville, Kentucky I planned for heat. I decided to try out a pattern for short stays in hopes that they would be cooler and more comfortable than the long style I have worn before. I adapted a pattern form Jill Salen’s Corsets, changing it to fit me and to lace up the back. I have a large bust and a small rib cage, so back lacing with a busk supports my figure better that front lacing.
They are made of two layer of medium weight linen with plastic boning. You can’t see it in either of these pictures, but I eventually replaced the multiple rows of boning in the center front with a busk I made from a ruler. I don’t actually recommend using a ruler (Redthreaded makes GREAT busks!), but it was quick and easy and I could cut it to the right length. The stays are super comfortable, though they have stretched a lot since I made them, because that’s what linen does. I took a tuck in the back to fix it, no big deal!
I made a bodiced petticoat to go over that since I wanted the dress to be sheer. I have pictures of it, but it’s awfully boring so I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll show you the inspiration image I used for the gown itself.
I particularly liked the v-front cross over bodice and the weird frilly hem decoration. It’s girlish and fresh and seemed perfect for a Jane Austen Event. But is it perfect for me?
I draped the bodice myself on the form, but the sleeves and the skirt came from the Sense and Sensibility pattern. Fitting this on myself was a pain in the ass because I decided to make it back opening. The first mock-up I fitting with the back sewn closed and final fabric fitting I had Mrs. Stitch help me to fit. She’s getting really good with those safety pins! I don’t know how I did this when I lived alone!
Here’s a picture of the mock up fitting plus a fitting in the real fabric with the chemisette underneath.
Oooo, some terrible bathroom mirror pics!
The fabric is a gorgeous and crisp Swiss voile from Farmhouse Fabrics. It’s so, so good to work with! For the long skirt seams I used a French seam, and for the bodice I used flat felled seams. I stitched the first part of the flat felled seam by machine, and then I trimmed one side of the seam and folded the second side over it. That second step is where I used a hand back stitch to hold down all those seam allowances. That way I sped up the the process with the machine, but only the hand stitching shows on the outside. The neckline is simply hemmed.
The dress went together pretty smoothly, and then I got the fun part of figuring out how to make that trim happen. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening in that fashion plate, but it looked to me like multiple layers of scalloped, flower-esq trim. I experimented with some shapes on paper first. I think I used a very small ramekin for the larger size and a spool of thread of the smaller size. I smoothed everything out with a French curve and made sure my template was even. I made a small sample in some muslin scrap and while it’s not EXACTLY like the fashion plate, I was pretty happy with it!
Then I had to cut about a million inches of it. I think the ration is 2-1 ruffles to hem, but I basically just cut as much as I could out of the remaining fabric. I think I only had two yards to start with, which worked because it’s 62″ wide. I traced my template out and then cut each section into strips. I stacked up two layers of fabric together, folded the stack in half, and then I cut out the scallops themselves. Since it was going to be gathered it didn’t need to be perfect and stacking sped everything up massively!
Then I fray-checked all of it, which went a lot faster than you would think. I used a random piece of foam core under the trim to protect my table from the fray check!
The next step was gathering. Let me tell you, guys, I HATE gathering. It’s just…the worst. It’s so tedious! So, I cheated. I used a gathering foot. A gathering foot is not super precise (though you have some control over the size of the gathers based on needle tension and stitch length), but it’s perfect for something like this.
It took some fussing to get the gather lengths to fit around the hem, but I pinned it all on the form so I could make sure it was hanging correctly before I stitched. I stitched the ruffles on by hand and then I pulled out the machine gathers. No machine stitching on the outside!
Don’t let anyone pin-shame you into only using dress makers pins! Quilt pins are fine which you need a big, easy to find pin that won’t hurt your fingers.
And with that, the dress was done! It turned out just like I imagined. And it’s SUPER cute. Maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever made. Not the most elegant or impressive, but the level of sheer cuteness is off the charts.
Seriously, I might be a little nauseous from how cute this is.
See?? SUPER CUTE.
But…I’m not sure super cute is very…me. It actually reminds me of a dress Lydia Bennett wears in the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice. It’s a lovely dress, but I am definitely not 15 or Lydia Bennett. I mean, I firmly believe that anyone of any age should wear whatever the hell they feel like, but I’m not sure something this cute really suits me and how I see myself at this age. Maybe I should have gone for elegant rather than cute?
That said, I am still excited to wear it. It is adorable, and maybe I will want to be adorable for the day! With the right accessories and attitude, maybe it absolutely will feel like a “me” sort of dress! So on July 15 I will give the dress a whirl and find out if it’s really “me” or not! I will definitely take lots of pictures to share with you. Stay tuned!
Bonus kitten sitting in my future bonnet!