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.
Have you ever needed a bow tie for a costume or event, but couldn’t find one in just the right fabric? And it’s tough to make one from scratch, because the silk fabric used to make ties isn’t usually available at regular fabric stores. What to do?
Make one out of a regular tie!
I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on a nice tie just to make a bow tie, but if you happen to be at Goodwill and find a tie with the perfect fabric for $1.99 like I did (score!), here’s how you can make it work.
First, unpick the stitches up the center back of your tie, and use a cool iron to press the fabric flat so you can see what you have to work with. I only unpicked the wide half of the tie so I could use the skinny back half as a neck strap. I removed the interfacing from the unpicked half.
Next, find a pattern for a pre-tied bow tie. I used this one , which worked great.
So last year I whipped up a quick 1920s evening dress using a vintage silk dupatta and a basic One-Hour Dress pattern. It was fast, easy, and the fabric made it interesting despite its shapelessness. I learned that I really enjoy sewing with vintage saris and dupattas, simply because of all the fantastic details that are already present in the fabric– no extra embellishment needed!
That being said, you knew I couldn’t stop there, right? Having made a bunch of 1920s-style day dresses, I decided to revisit the evening dress and my love of vintage dupattas to make a glamorous emerald green flapper-style dress. While I don’t ordinarily wear a lot of green, I admit to having been inspired by Cyd Charisse’s sultry green costume from Singin’ In the Rain– I may not be quite as fabulous as she was, but I can aspire!
Obviously, Charisse’s costume isn’t anywhere near historically accurate, but it’s the feel I’m going for more than the actual look.
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.
As you recall, last time I made a muslin to pattern out my Regency open robe to fit onto a 45×90″ silk dupatta. I ended up with paper pattern pieces for the bodice, but I didn’t want to bother making them for the skirt so I just ripped apart the muslin and laid out the skirt pieces on my dupatta, cutting around them. It was kind of a hassle trying to keep the pattern of tiny scattered flowers symmetric on the bodice– I hadn’t thought about that when figuring out where I’d place the pattern pieces originally, but luckily I had enough spare fabric to move things around.
Okay, so after my failed attempt at dyeing fabric for a Regency ballgown, I went in search of some alternative deep red fabric to sew my gown out of. Sadly, I couldn’t find anything similar at the only fabric store nearby, so I decided to go in a different direction with some sheer ivory (polyester, sigh) drapery fabric. It’s thin, lightweight, and has a sort of striated design woven into it that adds some visual depth. It’s 120″ wide and I bought three yards, which should be plenty, right? I figure that I can make a basic short-sleeved gown and hopefully find some trim to decorate it later. The drapery fabric is very sheer, so I also bought three yards of ivory cotton/poly broadcloth (I know, 100% cotton is always preferable but they didn’t have any and I’m short on time) to line it with.
As another option, I’m going to use a vintage silk dupatta to make a sleeveless open robe to wear with it. I purchased several dupattas and saris a while back and got this one with the express intent of eventually making an open robe out of it, so this seems like the perfect opportunity. The dupatta is larger than usual at 45 x 90″ so even though it’s not enough fabric to make an entire gown I think I can get an open robe out of it if I’m careful with layout.
Wish me luck!