When designing this dress in my head I knew I wouldn’t be content to just let it be plain and unadorned– there would have to be some detailing somewhere. Review of fashion plates and images of antique gowns indicated that elaborate detailing around the hem was more prevalent during the 1815-1820 period, which was a little later than I was going for (waistlines were also starting to get lower, which did not fit my main dress pattern), but I figured it was close enough. I looked around for some ideas for trimming, and came across this fantastic page explaining how to hand-sew various types of pleated and gathered trim.
The trims on the page probably aren’t quite period-accurate, but since I knew that similar trim was used pre-Regency in the 1700s, and since fancy trims of all kinds were popular during the later Regency period, I felt safe using it on my dress.
For the hem I decided to make a wide, pleated trim with pinked edges (pinking shears are so much quicker than hemming, plus they make a decorative edge!), with the corners folded into points. Luckily, the faint stripes on my fabric made it easy to cut long, straight strips to work with. When laying out my pattern pieces I’d done it so as to allow for long vertical sections to be left uninterrupted– that way I wouldn’t have to piece together as many short strips for trim. This was important, since my pleating pattern would require three times as much fabric length as the finished length of trim. As my skirt was 72 inches around, that meant I needed to pleat 6 yards of fabric, which I cut into 5″ wide strips. I was lucky that I didn’t want the trim to be any wider, since I had exactly enough fabric to make it 5″ wide!
I did the pleating and stitching by hand, pleating the fabric on top of a length of plain white satin ribbon and using a cardboard guide to keep the pleat depth consistent. The pleats need to be exactly half as long as the width of the fabric.
I began by bringing up the first pleat over the cardboard and tacking it down with thread in the center. Then I removed the cardboard, and ran my thread down the center of the pleat. Folding the top outside corners in to the center bottom, I used the thread to tack down the corners, setting the pointed shape in place. Then I brought up the next pleat and tacked it down in the same spot, setting up the next section. It was actually very simple once I got into it, and since I had a few hours of enforced idleness while taking a plane trip to a conference I managed to get it all done pretty quickly.
Once I had my length of trim, I hand-stitched it right down the middle to the hem of my dress, where it added some much-needed detail!
Of course, I couldn’t stop there– after I’d tried the dress on I realized that it needed something more, so I put together a 1 1/4″ wide strip of fabric and used the same technique (on a smaller scale, of course) to make a narrower strip of trim for the neckline. It looked great, and I got lots of compliments on it!