I chose to use the sleeves from View A of the Laughing Moon 114 pattern– short mancherons over tight, bias-cut long sleeves. While the pattern said that I wouldn’t need to line the mancherons, I didn’t like the look of them unlined– instead, I cut out identical pieces out of my fashion fabric and self-lined the mancherons before attaching them to the long, unlined sleeves.
I hand-basted the sleeves into the armscyes to make sure that all of the layers stayed where they were supposed to be, then machine-stitched over my basting. Then (important step) I clipped the curves on the armscye seams, allowing for more movement. The piping turned out looking great– such a nice tiny detail.
Given my love of historical costuming, I often bemoan the fact that despite growing up in Northern California, which appears in retrospect to have been a Mecca of costuming resources and events, the only thing I took advantage of at the time was attending the Northern California Renaissance Faire (which was admittedly awesome). Now I’m in Massachusetts, where costuming events are less abundant and fabric stores are harder to get to. But as luck would have it, I’m going home for Christmas this year and I’ll be in the area for the last day of the San Francisco Dickens Fair!
As soon as I made plans to go, I knew I’d need a dress– nothing too complicated, and hopefully something that could be shoved into a suitcase without taking up too much space or sustaining lasting damage. Unfortunately, the event’s stated period (1842-1863) is smack dab in the middle of a gap in my costuming portfolio– I have nothing between 1815 and 1890. So I have to make something new.
Let’s just say it did not start off well.
I swear, this post took forever to write because every time I thought I had finalized my pattern/fabric choices, something happened to mess it up and I had to go back and update. Anyway, read on for the saga of “the Dickens Fair dress of indecision”…
Since I’m modifying Laughing Moon 104 so extensively, I knew I would have to make a mockup, or several mockups, before finalizing the pattern. Honestly, I’d have done at least one mockup anyway, but the pattern alterations just made it even more important. (sadly, the cat decided that she was more important, which delayed things a bit)
I decided to start by using the princess-seamed front pieces of the underbodice, but the more simplified back pieces of the guimpe (separate underblouse). I figured that this would allow for easier application of the trim and reduce bulk under the bretelles in front (since I could stitch the trim across the bustline to just the center front panel and hide the raw edges in the seams), but still allow movement due to the looser fit of the back. I first cut out the pieces as-is out of an old sheet and seamed them together as instructed, but it quickly became apparent that the bustline didn’t fit properly at all. The dress doesn’t appear to have been designed to be worn over a corset, or at least not the kind of corset that I have, since the curve of the dress bodice creates a high, perky bustline that’s almost pointy in shape. It doesn’t seem to match either the slight flattening effect of my mid-Victorian corset (I know, wrong corset, but it’s all I have), or the low, full bust effect that was en vogue in the Edwardian era.
I ended up cutting the side front pieces with a shallower bust curve, figuring that the bodice itself doesn’t fit that snugly (at least, not with the loose back piece), so it wouldn’t be an issue even if I did eventually get the right Edwardian corset. Anything was better than the bullet-bra shape I was getting from the original pattern.
As you recall, I’m making a sleeveless open robe to dress up my sheer Regency ballgown for an upcoming event. Here’s my inspiration:
Since I only have one dupatta to use to make the robe, I wanted to be extra-careful when patterning and cutting, which of course meant I had to make a muslin.
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!
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!
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.