So remember last year when I was sewing my blue Regency dress, and I said that I already had a Regency ballgown that I’d intended to use for that dance event? Here’s the story: Back when I was in college, I was shopping at JC Penney’s when I came across these beautiful shower curtains that I immediately knew would make a perfect Regency gown. That’s right. Shower curtains = Regency gown. Sounds weird, but hear me out– they were made of ivory netting, embroidered all over with variegated pink roses and green vines, and they were so pretty and antique-y that I knew they’d work.
Of course, back then I didn’t have much experience sewing dresses from scratch, much less dealing with fiddly materials like embroidered net, so I found a seamstress online (Etsy was not a thing back then) and commissioned her to make me a gown based on a sketch I sent along with my fabrics. It turned out nicely, and I spent the next several weeks snipping out embroidered roses from the remaining fabric scraps and applique-ing them onto the gown with hand-embroidered vines to make it more embellished. The finished product was really beautiful. It always reminded me of Anne Shirley’s dress from Anne of the Island:
She had a particularly pretty gown on. Originally it had been only a simple little slip of cream silk with a chiffon overdress. But Phil had insisted on taking it home with her in the Christmas holidays and embroidering tiny rosebuds all over the chiffon. Phil’s fingers were deft, and the result was a dress which was the envy of every Redmond girl. Even Allie Boone, whose frocks came from Paris, was wont to look with longing eyes on that rosebud concoction as Anne trailed up the main staircase at Redmond in it.
I wore the gown once for a Halloween party (no one had any idea that it was a Regency-style gown… Phillistines!), and then I put it away in my closet and haven’t had an excuse to wear it since. That is, until recently, when I pulled it out in the hopes of wearing it to the dance event. It was still beautiful, it fit perfectly, and I knew it would work well for the event– heck, embroidered net was actually just coming into fashion in the Regency!
EXCEPT. There was a problem. A big problem, in the form of a giant stain on the front of the skirt. Seriously, the thing was about 6″ in diameter and I have no idea how I missed it when I first put the dress away. Maybe it got darker with age? In any case, something needed to be done.
First I tried the obvious– washing it. That didn’t work. I tried using OxiClean. That didn’t work either. I tried repeated applications of OxiClean and detergent, with vigorous scrubbing and long soaking times. Made no difference whatsoever. I couldn’t use bleach because the fabric wasn’t pure white and I didn’t know what it would do. I thought about painting over the stain with fabric paint, but the sheen of the unpainted fabric would have made that really obvious. I finally concluded that I would need to remove and replace the stained fabric, which was not exactly the easiest proposition since the dress was already hemmed to the correct length and I had no matching fabric to work with. I would have to replace the entire skirt.
I concluded at that point that I just didn’t have time to undertake such a big project, so I put it away for another day. Well, it’s another day, so here we go!
I picked up two yards of ivory polyester (I know, polyester= bleh, but there was a limited selection) shantung fabric at my local store– I couldn’t find anything that exactly matched the original dress, but it was reasonably close. It was 54″ wide, which was also good because that meant I could use the width of the fabric as the length of my skirt, thereby saving on yardage. I cut the original skirt out of the dress, laid it out on the new fabric, and cut a new front panel to the same shape.Then I just cut a straight panel for the back (to avoid the puffy-butt effect I’d gotten on my blue dress) and got ready to attach it.
It was then that I decided that the overskirt was too narrow for the new underskirt. Luckily, the original rose-embroidered curtain design was popular enough that it’s still possible to find matching curtains on eBay (the name of the design is “Vintage,” which isn’t much help), which is what I did. At least, I almost did. Apparently, while the curtains were available for quite a while there was some variation over time in the details– the new curtain looked great on my computer screen, but in person the roses were slightly brighter and more pink in color (see the comparison of the old (left) and new (right) below), and the vines were similarly more of a yellow-green than the darker green of the original. Plus, the scalloped border was patterned differently, with a much simpler shape overall (again, see left and right below). Not huge differences overall, but enough to bug me a little. Nevertheless, I decided against trying to buy yet another curtain, and determined that I would just use the new fabric as a tightly-gathered back panel so it would be less obvious.
It was then that I went completely off the rails and turned what would have been a relatively simple project into a far more complicated one– I decided that the original bodice of the dress was all wrong and needed to be replaced as well. I won’t go into too many details, but suffice it to say that the replacement involved completely re-doing the entire front piece so the fabric would match the underskirt better, which involved patching together a bodice out of shantung scraps and attempting to convert the design to a fan-gathered front, which ended up looking so bad I had to rip it all out and start over again with a reproduction of the original design. And when it was done, I’m sure the differences were essentially invisible to anyone but me. (sigh)
Anyway, once that was done I french-seamed an extra rectangular panel to the back of the overskirt, and pinned it to the bodice to see how to attach the new, wider overskirt. Since the underskirt and overskirt were now of different widths I pleated them separately to the bodice– first I did numerous small pleats in the overskirt, which I basted down to keep in place, then I basted the underskirt pleats down on top of that. I machine-sewed both layers to the bodice at the same time.
I decided to make this skirt just a bit shorter than the skirt on the blue Regency dress– that one was lovely for posing in, but I had to be very careful about the hem while dancing so I wouldn’t step on it. This one is just about ankle length, which makes it much easier to dance in.
I was going to just re-attach the double-layered ribbon waistline detail from the original dress, but the new bodice was just enough wider than the original that the ribbon was too short. It took me forever to find a replacement ribbon of the correct color– who knew that “antique rose” was such a difficult color to find?
Just another shot of the overdress to show how pretty the fabric is– you can see that I appliqued extra rose clusters and embroidered additional vines down the center front of the gown in order to make it look more “finished.”
- First things first– if you’re ever tempted to patchwork together a bodice made of scraps, rather than going out and buying more fabric… don’t. It’s such a pain, and you’ll spend far more time swearing over the pieces than you would just getting new fabric.
- It probably would have been better if I’d waited to receive my new Regency short stays before constructing the bodice on this dress. I know there’s a chance that it may not fit once I have the new undergarments, but I just wanted to get the darned thing finished and move on to the next project.
- I made a tactical error in placing my skirt pleats– I did big pleats in the back between the back side seams, but I also placed a series of small pleats between the back side seams and the actual side seams. I’d intended to just allow for some extra fullness in the skirt, but the pleats ended up making me look kind of wide from certain angles. I’m kind of tempted to go and hand-stitch the pleats a few inches down so they lie flatter at the top of the skirt.