To go along with my winter Regency pashmina gown, I needed some winter-appropriate outerwear to take with me on the sleigh ride. However, I wasn’t up to sewing a pelisse from scratch in my limited timeframe, so I decided to wear a modern full-length black wool coat and just add a fancy fur-trimmed wrap to wear over it.
I wasn’t ready to learn how to sew real fur pelts, so at first I looked into faux fur; but when I added up the cost of an appropriately luxurious faux fur (the good stuff is expensive!), an outer layer, a lining, and an inner layer for warmth, it seemed like an awful lot of effort and money to sew something from scratch.
So I decided to cheat.
Since most of my Regency gowns were made for dance events or picnics, I’ve generally accessorized them with more formal items or bonnets. While these are appropriate for the occasion, I realize that I’ve been neglecting a standard piece of headwear for adult women– the cap.
Women (at least once married or deemed spinsters) would wear them pretty much all the time, whether alone (indoors) or under bonnets for outings. They could be made of plain or embroidered muslin, or even lace.
I thought that it might be nice to have one, either to cover up a not-so-historical hairstyle or just to add an extra touch of realism to an indoor outfit. The second cap pictured above is my favorite, with the embroidered net and delicate lace ruffles, so I started with that as my inspiration.
To add some interest to the design of an otherwise relatively plain dress, I decided to add a small puff to the top of my long, straight sleeves. Not only that, but I wanted to ruch the puff to give it even more texture and dimension.
I wanted to use existing patterns for long sleeves and puffed sleeves– the problem was, my sleeve patterns are completely different shapes. As in, my puffed sleeve pattern is symmetrical and my long sleeve pattern is cut so that the seam is set towards the back. I decided that rather than try to convert my puffed sleeve pattern, I would use it anyway and rely on the fact that the whole thing is going to be too short for the difference in seam placement to matter.
Let me just say at the outset that I am never going to make a dress out of pashmina shawls again. The fabric is so loosely woven that it’s next to impossible to cut straight, it frays if you look at it funny (I had to zig-zag every single edge to keep it from unraveling entirely), and it snags at the slightest provocation. Unpicking seams takes forever and leaves gaping wounds in the fabric, the weight of the skirt alone appears to be pulling the fabric itself out of shape, and I have no idea how I’ll wash this thing if it ever needs cleaning. Never again. Never. Again.
Anyway, back to a time when I didn’t know all this…
A few months ago I was invited to join a friend at the The Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vermont for a Sense and Sensibility Weekend, which is basically a weekend of Jane Austen-y activities at a historic house (built in 1895 but it’s a copy of a 1753 home), including tea, a dinner dance, and a sleigh ride! It sounded like fun, but I immediately knew that I would need to supplement my Regency wardrobe, which until now has consisted solely of evening gowns and springtime-appropriate daywear. Clearly, I needed something for winter!
I wanted to use a more winter-appropriate fabric than my usual cotton, not only for warmth but also because I just thought something more textured would look better in the setting. The problem was, it was difficult to find lightweight wool in a pretty color at any price point, much less one that I was willing to pay. But then it occurred to me– what if I made my gown out of pashmina shawls? After all, making gowns out of such shawls is actually completely accurate to the period, as textiles from the Indian colonies were hugely popular during the Regency.
I recently attended a Regency ball, which is usually my excuse to make something new and pretty to wear. However, as I’d just finished cleaning out my closet I couldn’t really justify making a brand-new gown (also, no time), so I decided to freshen up an old one– my ivory sheer ballgown, originally worn under a burgundy open robe made of a vintage dupatta.
I’d worn the burgundy open robe a few times already, but without it the ivory gown just seemed too plain. I dug through my stash and pulled out a vintage chiffon dupatta in forest green, leftover from when I was collecting fabric for my 1920s green evening dress.
I know, I know, I’ve already made several Regency gowns out of saris, but they’re just so perfect for this kind of thing! Besides, this one isn’t for me, it’s for a friend of mine who is (luckily) short enough to use the width of the sari as her skirt length, so I used a slightly different cutting layout than I have in the past.