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.
Just wanted to give you guys a look at the new outfit in all its glory! I took these photos at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ Regency Dance Weekend, which culminates in a Grand Ball. The hall provided such a nice backdrop for the rich fabric of the dress– I’m very happy with it!
And then I stumbled upon a fabulous sofa that was crying out to be posed upon…
This is totally my new favorite picture of myself in Regency-wear!
I’m taking a quick break from the Embassy ballgown to post about another project I recently started– a Regency ballgown that I’m going to wear to a dance weekend at the beginning of April. While I do plan on wearing my burgundy dupatta open robe for the first night, I’m ready to make something new for the Grand Ball the next evening!
I do love beautiful textiles. Even when I was a kid I’d go to fabric/craft stores and buy beautiful ribbon by the quarter-yard just to have it, not necessarily to make anything with it (yeah, the people at the cutting counter just *loved* me, I’m sure). And some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world are Indian saris, at least in my humble opinion. I was on a sari-buying kick a while back, figuring that I’d use them to make Edwardian or Regency gowns, and while I’ve managed to use a cotton sari and a silk dupatta, the rest have languished in my closet for far too long.
But no more! For this project I’m going to use a gorgeous navy blue and gold sari– it has a fabulous pallu that’s not only brocaded, but also embroidered with bullion thread and sewn with tiny pearl beads. It’s just begging to be shown off at a fancy event!
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!
I admit it, I’ve been bitten by the Regency costuming bug. It’s just such an easy period to sew for, and there actually seem to be enough places to wear the results, that I can’t help myself. For my excuse to make this one I told myself that I was planning a costumed picnic for this summer, and that I would need something new either to wear myself or lend to someone else for the event. Makes sense, right?
Anyway, I considered breaking up this post into several installments, as I have with other dressmaking projects, but honestly the dress went together in a single weekend– it was that easy– so it hardly seemed fair to make you all wait for longer than that to see how it turned out! I’ll just put in headings for organization…
Part of this project is driven by fabric– I found a lovely vintage cotton sari on eBay that I was dying to use, especially once I diagrammed out how I could make best use of the border print. Sari fabric is actually a very period fabric for Regency dresses, as the British colonies in India were regularly supplying it for use in England.
The sari itself is extremely thin and delicate– it looks like a cotton gauze, and it’s so light and airy that it’s basically transparent. I hand-washed it so it wouldn’t get messed up in our washing machine, and let it air-dry in the sun before ironing it to get it ready for use.
It has a wide border down one side and a narrow border down the other, with a double-wide border on one end (the “pallu”).
You didn’t expect me to go to a Regency dance event without a friend, did you? And of course, she wanted to go in costume as well! (or rather, I strongly encouraged her to do so and volunteered to help make it so she had no excuse to refuse) While I was putting together my blue Regency dress I was also helping her put together her burgundy dress, which was only slightly different structurally from mine.
She used a twin-sized burgundy sheet set for her outer fabric, which provided plenty of yardage for the dress with some to spare. The lining was made of a white cotton sheet that I found at Goodwill. To make the design a little more interesting we gathered the front of the bodice, by the simple expedient of making the center bodice section wider and then gathering it to fit the original-sized lining. I think it turned out well.
Once it was put together we decided it needed a little trim, so I found a length of cream-colored sheer pleated trim (leftover from the Great Hat Project) and whip-stitched it to the inside of the neckline. You can’t really see it in this photo, since she’s got a scarf tucked into her neckline to serve as a fichu.
I also got some 1 1/2″ black velvet ribbon and stitched it to the waist seam. The placement was a little tricky, because placing it under the bust really diminished the effect of the Empire waist, making it look lower than it was. But trying to sew it above the waist seam just looked funny. In the end I centered it on the seam in front, but brought it all the way up to sit on top of the seam in back. Of course, it’ll be impossible to machine-wash the dress now that it’s got delicate velvet ribbon on it, but that’s the price you pay for beauty…
A few mistakes, of course: the “blind hem” was a little more obvious than I’d have liked due to my thread being just a shade too light to fade into the background. The neckline wasn’t perfectly fitted, so I had to hand-tack it in a few places to get it to lie properly across the chest. In retrospect I should’ve lined the bodice in burgundy rather than in white, because the lining peeked over the top of the neckline despite my efforts at topstitching. I will note that unlike my blue dress (which I actually sewed after finishing this one), the back of the skirt didn’t puff out weirdly because we’d added extra fullness to the back when cutting out the panel. The curve was still technically there, but the added fabric made it disappear into the pleats so it wasn’t noticeable at all.
We also hemmed up a black velvet jacket to make her a spencer (it fit perfectly and didn’t need any other alteration), and did a really basic modification on a straw hat to make a bonnet! Overall I really like the effect, and my friend looked fabulous!
Once I had my clothes set for the Regency event, I wanted a reticule (small purse) to carry things in, so as not to spoil the effect with a modern bag. I decided to make mine out of an ivory velveteen remnant from my Velvet Pumpkin project, and lined it with a scrap of sage green faux dupioni I picked up for a dollar at the fabric store. I figured that the ivory-and-sage color combination was sufficiently neutral that it would work with either one of my outfits without being too matchy-matchy.
After some internet browsing, which indicated that many reticules were covered in elaborate floral embroidery, I decided to decorate it with the ribbon flowers left over from my daughter’s flower-embellished holiday dress— they looked vaguely period and it was a good excuse to use them up. I placed them on the fabric, but they looked kind of bare.
I needed some form of leaf or vine to connect them, so I decided to use some sheer sage-green ribbon (purchased as an option for the Birthday Princess Dress but never used), which I sewed on using a couching technique.