I never liked Regency clothes. Compared with the later, Victorian styles, I found them rather shapeless and unflattering. Before you Regency-lovers get angry with me, I will hasten to say that this opinion has been amending to now be one of love for Regency dresses and silhouettes. The final turning point was when I watched the latest Emma movie (which is superb), and was jaw-dropped by the beauty of the costumes. Not only were the silhouettes shockingly beautiful, but the colours were so bright, the patterns delectable. I knew I had to make something Regency, right away.
I ordered this green linen fabric before designing this dress. Upon receiving it I was surprised by what an earthy colour it is, and knew it would need an extra feminine design, for balance. There is something extremely feminine about empire waistlines, and of course lots of gathers and big puff sleeves would be a ‘must.’
Making the Pattern
The lovely thing abut designing a Regency dress is that they are so much more forgiving than clothing of other eras. At least, the drawstring-bodice style certainly is due to its high adjustability. I didn’t make a mock-up for this dress (gasp!), and unlike my 18th century jumps, that choice turned out quite alright.
The first thing I noticed in real Regency dresses was that the type with the gathered bodice was almost always not gathered in the back, but rather had those quintessential Regency princess seams. I adore those style-lines, but in the end I opted for a bodice which would be gathered all around, for simplicity and because with the shorter length of this dress and the hem frill I feared it it would be ‘too much.’
So, I simply traced off my bodice block, cut it off at the empire waistline. and slashed and spread to add lots of width for the gathers. I has no clue how much extra width I should add, but I glanced at online photos of extant Regency patterns and also (this is silly) would hold up a piece of fabric to my body of the width I was considering, and gather it up to see how it looked. The more width the better, I decided. However, working with a massively wide bodice for the entire project was a leap of faith. I just could not see how it would end up looking okay. All that changed once I added the drawstring neckline (more on that later).
Cutting, Sewing, and Not Enough Fabric
I cut out the pattern pieces using my ‘lazy’ method, of not adding seam allowance to the paper pieces, but rather laying them out on the fabric and cutting the fabric out with an eyeballed seam allowance. Again, this type of dress is very forgiving.
All my pattern pieces were cut out (or so I thought!) and I began sewing the bodice and sleeve seams. I meant to use french seams, but for the bodice I forgot and had to hand-fell those seams instead. But otherwise french seams are my preferred way of finishing seams without the use of a serger or zig-zag stitch. Once I was ready to sew the skirt seams, I realized that I had only cut out one skirt panel! I didn’t have enough fabric for another one and so I had to use a narrower panel of fabric than I’d planned, and on the cross -grain no less.
I procrastinated the most on sewing the drawstring channels. For the neckline and sleeves, these consisted of a rolled hem, and for the waistline this was a flat-felled seam. After my last project, my 18th century jumps, I was worn out with hand-sewing, to the point where I used my machine for virtually every component of this dress, even the hems, which I have always sewn invisibly by hand. This time getting the dress done with my sanity intact was more important than being ‘couture’.
At the beginning of this project I had intended and started making a matching green linen drawstring. This was painful and was never finished. I opted to use some narrow white ribbon instead. This worked much better than the drawstring would have, as it is smoother and less bulky.
Pulling the ribbon through the drawstring channels, which I had sewn a buttonhole into for access, proved to be the most painful. I used a tapestry needle and had to use a small pair of pliers to pull the needle through the never-ending channels. But once the neckline drawstring was inserted and tied, I was in love with the gathered bodice and the overall silhouette.
What About You?
Do you like Regency era clothing? Have you ever sewn a modern Regency-inspired dress?
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