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!
Since my new Regency brocade gown is very on-trend for England’s historically imperialist love of all things exotic, I figured I’d make a matching turban to really set off the outfit. After making a moderately full skirt for my gown I still had a bit of fabric left, which included a decent amount of gold embroidered border, so I gave it a shot.
I didn’t want my head to get too hot, so I opted out of the full-cap turban. Instead, I wanted to do a structured ring-shaped base with twisted fabric around the outside to vaguely resemble a turban. Ideally I would’ve gotten buckram for the base, but I didn’t have any and there was no time to order any. Instead I found myself a sheet of that plastic grid stuff you use for hooked-yarn projects– I cut out two 1.5″ wide strips and stitched them into a ring.
I covered the ring in a layer of gold sari border, whipstitching the edges on the inside.
To attach the skirts to the bodice (the last major construction step) I worked with each skirt separately– the underskirt was narrower than the overskirt, and I wanted to pleat them separately so they’d flow more gracefully when I moved. I only achieved limited success with that due to the stiffness of the hem trims (as noted earlier), but I did the best I could.
I pinned and basted each skirt to the bodice before machine-stitching the final waist seam (praying I wouldn’t screw anything up), and whipstitched the bodice lining over the seam allowance so the inside would be neat.
For the bodice front, I’d originally intended to cut the front pieces with the sari borders along the top edges so the trim would be integrated into the bodice from the beginning, the way I did with my dupatta open robe. However, the angles of the neckline for the dress made it impossible to cut the sides as single pieces, so I decided to just add trim to a normal bodice front instead.
Anyway, I lined the bodice with more blue cotton, and (sneaky shortcut) lined the back bodice pieces with single-cut pieces of cotton rather than dealing with back seams on the inside. No one would ever see them anyway, right?
Once the basic bodice was put together, I attached trim around the neckline, hand-stitching it with invisible thread. I did this before putting in the sleeves because the trim was wider than the shoulder straps of the bodice, and I wanted to catch the edges in the sleeve seams to keep things looking neat.
So like I said earlier, I wanted to take full advantage of the beautiful embroidered sections of the sari when constructing my gown. As you’ll read below, this had its ups and downs…
First I removed the pallu of the sari (I admit I cringed at the first cut of the shears– what if I screwed it up?) and cut it lengthwise to make two even panels. I immediately ran a zig-zag stitch along the cut edges to prevent fraying. (I actually did this every time I cut an edge that wouldn’t be encased in fabric) The panels aren’t exactly the same– the design is upside-down on one piece because the pallu wasn’t vertically symmetrical, so when I flipped the top half over to act as the hem it didn’t quite match. I figure no one will notice, since that part will be down near my ankles anyway.
I made an underskirt out of dark blue cotton voile, making it only as wide as the pallu pieces at the bottom. I tapered the front panel slightly, but cut the back panel as a rectangle so I could do some– but not too much– pleating in the back. The goal was to reduce bulk at the waistline, but I needed at least *some* pleating in back so both layers of the skirt would fall into nice folds.
For the front panel of the overskirt I cut two 34″ skirt pieces from the part of the sari directly above the pallu– like I did with the cotton Regency sari gown, I wanted to use the side borders to form a double-width embellishment down the center front of the skirt. (Well, almost double-width– I decided it looked better if I omitted the border edges down the center) Additionally, the borders on this portion of the sari weren’t just brocade, they were also embellished with beads, so I wanted them front and center.* Once they were cut out I stitched them together to form a trapezoidal front skirt panel, and attached another long piece of border to the straight bottom edge. This would prove to be a mistake.
When I made my first Regency dress, I wasn’t sure if I’d be sticking with the period for costuming so I didn’t bother making the necessary underpinnings. As a result, my outfit was nice but didn’t have the little details that make an outfit look really right. Now that I’ve really gotten into the sewing, however, I need to build the outfit from the inside out.
I have a mostly irrational fear of making structured/tailored garments, so I found an Etsy seller (Beth is awesome!) to make me a set of short stays– they turned out quite well, and I saved a little money by agreeing to hand-sew the thread eyelets myself. In the process, I learned how to do buttonhole stitch, so that was an added bonus!
But of course, once I had the stays I needed a shift to wear underneath them– not only to keep them clean, but also to keep things… er… contained up top. I picked up 3 yards of bleached fine muslin at the fabric store (not as nice as my sheer cotton voile, but much cheaper and probably sturdier), and got to work.