Sunday, May 6, 2018

Regency essentials: A little white dress - part I

Today I'm here to show you a dress that I finished nearly two years ago. I made it for our second Gustavian day event in August 2016 and have, sadly, never worn it since. 

This dress was probably the quickest and easiest gown that I've ever made so it took me less than a week to finish. I should definitely make more regency gowns just because it's so relaxing! :)

The bodice has a crossover front. Later on I learned that for a more typical early 1810s look there should be a small triangle shaped piece (that could also possibly be the front of an under-bodice or under-dress/bodiced petticoat showing) between the sides of the front (see an example of this in the painting a bit further below).

 I scaled up a pattern for the bodice from Period Costume from Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1800-1909 by Jean Hunnisett and altered the front to have a crossover front. The sleeve pattern also came from the same book.

I decorated the neckline with cotton lace with a scalloped edge, to match with the scallops on the hem. 

This type of bodice seems to have been fashionable in the early 1810s. Notice how the neckline is much wider and lower cut than mine.

Portrait of a Lady by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard.

The neckline is pretty much the same as in this fashion plate.

Costume Parisien fashion plate, 1810.

My bodice closes with buttons and buttonholes in the back. 

(Please ignore the underpetticoat straps showing through the fabric. I didn't put all my white regency undies on my mannequin so that's why they can be seen here...)

I've also learned that this wasn't a very common closure method, although a lot of historical costumers go for it! I think I've only found four extant dresses a functional button back closure. Different kinds of drawstring closures seem to be much more common in the 1810s and I can totally now see why - they allow for adjust-ability, whereas there's none in button closure.

One example of a drawstring closure of a 1810s dress can be found in Costume in Detail: 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield (pages 103-104). (Also notice the corresponding v-neck design on both the front and the back of the gown.)

 I think I've only found four extant dresses a functional button back closure. 

And the fourth example can be found here.

When it comes to the construction of the bodice, I must admit that I totally improvised. Since regency isn't the main period I'm interested in (no suprise there ;)), I've decided I don't need to have as high standards for accuracy as I have with 18th century. Not that I have very high standards of accuracy with 18th century either (although it varies from project to project and apparently seems to get higher with time) but at least it's higher than with regency. With regency I simply cheat as much as I can, without having any too obvious machine sewing showing.

Hence, this bodice is mainly machine-stitched, and it is lined with cotton. Another option would have been to leave the bodice unlined and wear a bodiced petticoat, however, my petticoat doesn't have a bodice so I had to add a lining to the bodice. The underbust is fitted with darts in the lining and gathering in the muslin on the outside (as seen in the previous pictures).

The dorset buttons were ready-made (no shame!) and I didn't even bother to do the five buttonholes by hand. Thankfully, my sewing machine makes really nice looking buttonholes so maybe I can get away with them because they don't look obnoxiously clunky? :)

...unless you look really closely. ;)

I also constructed the bodice in the modern way by sewing up the lining separately and adding it to the outer fabric by sewing around the edges with right sides together. That way I was able to easily cover the raw edges of the lace as well, because they were sandwiched between the outer fabric and lining. When the bodice was finished, I joined the bodice and skirt and left the seam allowances unfinished on the inside of the dress and facing towards the hem.

This fabric was yet another lucky local fabric store find. It's embroidered cotton with a scalloped hem that just had to be made into a regency dress. It instantly reminded me of this dress in Kvinnligt mode under två sekel by Britta Hammar & Pernilla Rasmussen. There is also a 1810s dress with a scalloped hem in Regency Women's Dress: Techniques and Patterns 1800-1830 by Cassidy Percoco.

In fact, the pattern for my skirt is based on the morning gown (dated 1809-1819) in Regency Women's Dress (see pages 62-65).

Scalloped hems were also fashionable in the early 1810s. The extant v-neck gowns that I found also often (thought maybe not always) had a corresponding back like this (more examples of this can be found on my Pinterest research image board).

And another example of a scalloped hem can be seen in this painting below.

The Misses de Balleroy, 1805-1815, by Henri François Riesener

A close-up of the embroidery on the hem:

When I was scheduling this dress and thinking how fast it would be to put together, I didn't realize that I would have to finish all the long seams on the skirt by hand because the fabric is so sheer that unfinished seam allowances would show and look really ugly. So the dress took me a bit longer than expected but I was really happy with how neat and tidy the skirt looked in the end! 

Here you can see the side panel of the skirt and the flat-felled seams.

The result was so worth the effort and I quite fell in love with flat-felled seam finishing. Now I'm tempted to use this technique on all my skirts! (I'm not actually going to do it where it isn't necessary because it's a waste of time though!) ;)

And this is how the seams look from the right side of the dress:

As this post was getting really long, I decided to separate the photos of the dress being worn into another post which I will try to publish soon. In the meanwhile I am going to end this post with a couple of teasers and links. :)

My Pinterest boards related to this project:

I should also mention that I found Natalie Garbett's post about her c.1812 dress very useful when starting this project. :)

Since this gown was made two years ago at a time when I was just starting researching and sewing regency era garments, I have have learned so much more after that. I'm now thinking about getting back to this gown to make some alterations to the bodice to make it more authentic. This was my second regency gown and it was definitely still very much a learning project. 


  1. Hello Sanna,

    I'd like to let you know that I've nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award. Your sewing projects are always meticulous and such an inspiration!


    1. Oh thank you very much Quinn! Your kind words mean a lot to me! <3

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  3. This gown is simply lovely!! I love seeing all of your construction details as well! You're right, your machine makes really nice buttonholes, I actually thought they were handsewn! Are all of the skirt panels gores like the front one, or are the sides and back cut on the straight grain?

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