Once the bodice was done, the skirt was relatively straightforward. 1830s skirts are just rectangles pleated to the bodice, so rather than follow the pattern I cut three lengths of fabric to use.
I added some non-historically-accurate pockets to the side seams– I do intend to carry a reticule with this dress, but pockets are nice for things you really don’t want to lose.
Because I had a center back seam I figured that I didn’t need to stitch in a separate placket– I just used an extra-wide seam allowance and folded it over to one side. Sadly, this did not end up working out, as once I’d pleated my skirt to my bodice and basted it in place, I realized that it was just too full– my fabric was 54″ wide, making for a 160″ skirt circumference. It looked more like an 1860s skirt than an 1830s skirt, so I cut out a section from the center back (12″ on each side) and re-stitched the center back seam. That required me to rip out my skirt pleats and start again, which was a pain. And I ended up doing it a third time once I tried it on and was dissatisfied with how I’d distributed the skirt fullness. And then a fourth time when I decided that my waistline was just 1/2″ too high, so I needed to re-set the skirt (and waist piping) entirely to bring it down just a bit. And then a FIFTH time when I realized that in order to balance the hemline properly I’d need to take it up from the waist due to the difference in length between front and back. (sigh)
Making the overskirt was a bit more complicated than I thought it would be, so I put off finishing it until really late.
It started off simple– I extended the length of the original overskirt pattern and cut the pieces a bit larger to allow for some extra fullness in back, just as I did for the underskirt. However, since there were no darts in the front like there were in the underskirt, the shaping was different– once I pulled the waist tight in back, the front pulled unattractively across my stomach, and there seemed to be too much curve at the side seams, keeping them from laying smoothly over the hips. I tweaked the shape a few times, and eventually got it to behave reasonably well.
This issue was compounded by the horror stories I’d heard about working with satin– that it showed every tiny pinhole, that it puckered if you looked at it funny, that sewing machines loved eating it for lunch, and that it was impossible to keep straight while cutting or sewing. Though I managed to avoid most of these issues by flatlining the satin with my cotton voile, I still had to be really careful with pinholes and ripping out seams. Basically, in order to avoid visibly ripped-out seam lines, every alteration I made had to make the skirt progressively smaller as I widened the seam allowance. (sigh… I guess I should’ve done a mockup after all)
Once I’d finished the bodice (the most complicated part, obviously), I added a 1″ waistband– something I don’t usually do, but I thought it would help add some definition to the shape of the dress and would provide a convenient spot for adding trim later. I basically just cut out three 3″ wide strips of fabric (to provide plenty of seam allowance on both sides with room to trim)– one sheer, two cotton, and flatlined the sheer strip with one of the cotton strips.
I pinned the bottom edge of the bodice to the flatlined strip and basted it together. Then I pinned the remaining cotton strip to the inside of the bodice (to use for interior finishing later), and stitched all layers together at once.
So I had my pattern pieces, I had my dyed fabric– I was ready to start gown construction! It started off easy, but then (as it always seems to do) got complicated. Remember, this is Simplicity 4055, based on Sensibility.com’s Regency Gown pattern.**
I won’t go into too much detail about the ins and outs of dress construction, but I will note a few issues I had with this pattern:
- Like I said earlier, I added an extra curve to the bottom of the front bodice piece to adjust it from an A-cup measurement to a C-cup. I also moved the shoulder seam back and angled it for a more period look, and moved the shoulder straps in towards the center by about 1/2″.
- I really hated easing the curved back bodice seams together– things just wouldn’t match up properly– and since the finished piece was flat (as opposed to being shaped by the curves), I can only conclude that the curved seams are decorative only. That being said, I see plenty of Regency gowns with straight back seams, which I may do from now on to avoid the irritation.
Once all of the structural elements of the dress were done with all the seams finished, I finally hemmed it. The first step was putting it on the dress form and doing a preliminary pinning, but then I put it on myself and had my husband adjust the height of the hem so it actually worked for me (not making the same mistake I did with the bodice here). I trimmed the extra fabric and used the seam binding to bind the raw edge of the hem, then used that edge to machine-hem the dress with a blind stitch. The video below explains it fairly well.
You don’t really need a blind hem foot to do this– just keep a close watch on where your stitches are landing relative to the folded edge. Especially with a more textured fabric, it won’t matter if your stitches are a little bigger than expected.
So I’ve got the main dress done, but I wanted to add a little something to embellish it at the neckline. I wasn’t about to do any hand-embroidery or beading in my limited timeframe, so I looked for some nice appliques instead. I looked at a lot of different types, including venise lace, soutache, and even sari trim, but eventually I decided on some silver embroidered appliques in a vaguely floral pattern. They’re not too shiny and not too ornate, so they embellish without overpowering.