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.
Originally I’d planned on making the gown from scratch using some Truly Victorian patterns, but when I realized that the event was only a month away I nixed that idea as too difficult. Instead, as I’ve so often done before, I turned to eBay to locate an appropriate pre-existing dress that I could modify. Or rather, dresses (plural) because unless I found an absolutely perfect gown I was going to need some serious extra fabric to make the design work.
Luckily, I hit the jackpot with two identical dusty lilac gowns that had most of the required elements: boned bodice with center-pointed waist, faux two-piece design so I could completely separate the bodice from the skirt, and lots and lots of skirt fabric to work with. The spaghetti straps were a problem, but I figured that I could add shoulder straps and raise the back of the dress to an appropriate height, and rely on neckline decoration to disguise the joins.
Okay, so you’ve seen so far that I’ve made three dresses based on Simplicity 4055, which is the commercial version of Jennie Chancey’s Regency gown pattern from sensibility.com.** As you can tell, I’ve made a lot of adjustments to the pattern, mostly the bodice, to get it to work for me. I thought I’d detail them here so you can see how it was done. I’m not talking about basic stuff like lowering the neckline (by about an inch, otherwise it’s too high for most looks) or lengthening the bust to allow for any size over an A-cup (there are instructions available for that on Ms. Chancey’s website)— I’m talking about some structural changes for more period-accurate details.
Forgive my clumsy graphics– I’m not great at tracing things out using a laptop trackpad!
So a while ago I was thinking about going to an event in Regency finery, wielding a katana, and basically being Lizzy Bennet in “Pride, Prejudice & Zombies.” I already had a Regency ballgown that I’d worked on several years ago, so I figured it would be one of the easiest costumes ever– the only thing I’d have to do would be to buy a plastic sword. But things are never that easy, are they?
Because while I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t need a new dress, that didn’t stop me from looking around the internet at pictures of other Regency gowns, “just for fun.” I thought maybe one of my friends might want to join me in my Regency zombie-battling, and she would need a dress too, so of course I had to look at dresses and sewing patterns and fabrics, right? And then I came across a fabulous Regency-themed dance weekend that just happened to be occurring near me in only a few weeks’ time, and it had both day and evening activities including afternoon tea, a picnic, and a ball. It sounded great, and I even found friends willing to go with me!
But wait! My ballgown was nowhere near appropriate for daytime events. How could I ever show my face in a group of reenactors if I wore (gasp) a ballgown during the DAY? It just wasn’t done. And of course, that’s when it all got out of hand…