1840s Day Dress, Part I: Pattern and Fabric Mishaps (or, Adventures in Indecision)

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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”…

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Adjusting Simplicity 4055

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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!

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Blue Regency Day Dress, Part III: Construction and Pattern Review

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.

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Blue Regency Day Dress, Part I: The Idea and the Pattern

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So a while ago I was thinking about going to an event in Regency finery, wielding a katana, and basically being Lizzy Bennet in “Pride, Prejudice & Zombies.” I already had a Regency ballgown that I’d worked on several years ago, so I figured it would be one of the easiest costumes ever– the only thing I’d have to do would be to buy a plastic sword. But things are never that easy, are they?

Because while I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t need a new dress, that didn’t stop me from looking around the internet at pictures of other Regency gowns, “just for fun.” I thought maybe one of my friends might want to join me in my Regency zombie-battling, and she would need a dress too, so of course I had to look at dresses and sewing patterns and fabrics, right? And then I came across a fabulous Regency-themed dance weekend that just happened to be occurring near me in only a few weeks’ time, and it had both day and evening activities including afternoon tea, a picnic, and a ball. It sounded great, and I even found friends willing to go with me!

But wait! My ballgown was nowhere near appropriate for daytime events. How could I ever show my face in a group of reenactors if I wore (gasp) a ballgown during the DAY? It just wasn’t done. And of course, that’s when it all got out of hand…

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