1810 Regency Gown

1810 Regency Gown

In April, I finished the regency short stays and chemise, and in May, I finished the gown.  So I am putting this in between the April and May Projects blog posts, even though I still haven't gotten to the April one. : ) The inspiration from this project came from watching Immortal Beloved, a movie about Ludwig Van Beethoven's life. He is long been a favorite composer of mine, and I love the movie because it captures his life through his music. In the movie, the women wear these gowns that seem sort of plain, at first; their beauty isn't in their lines, but in how they frame a woman's figure, and how they move as the woman moves; they somehow capture the softness and beauty and feminism of the female form and transform regular women into works of art. The regency era was the period for raised waistlines, elevated (and not compressed) breasts, and one of the few periods where the female form was, for the most part, unrestricted through body shaping corsetry.  The short stays were designed to lift and separate the chest, not to flatten it into the conical shape from eras before, or the hourglass figure that would become popular in the Victorian era. The fabric for the gown itself, and the motivation for finally starting this project, came from drapes.  The second I saw them, I knew the fabric was special. Even though the color wasn't one I would normally pick up, the luster of the fabric was just eye catching, and I knew I had to do something with it.  How often does one come into possession of drapes made from 100% silk?  I suppose I could have hung them, but that would be overkill for my tiny little paneled-wall house.  Dog beds were out of the question. That left gowns! I started with the short stays, since the corsetry is often the hardest part of any set of historical garments. The construction is fairly straightforward; three layers of fabric (inner layer, lining, and fashion fabric) all bound together with bias tape made from the fashion fabric; and the garment is laced together in the front, using eyelets and a lacing cord. Having made a number of corsets before, nothing about this one was scary or intimidating. I picked up some silk diuponi in white for the fashion fabric ($24.99 a yard!!!!!!), and used a white twill for the interlining, and white cotton for the lining. The only thing that gave me any issues on the stays were the gussets; they are triangular-ish shaped pieces that fit into the front of the corset to give a little extra room for the bust, to avoid heavily smashing them into the smooth look of prior eras.  I did a test run with the interlining, so that I could see how it fit, and if it worked, I could sandwich that in between the other layers and hide any first-timer mistakes. It fit well, as well as I could tell without it being boned and without being able to lace it up. I proceeded with the rest of the layers, and pinned the three together.  That's when I realized that those damn triangular shaped gussets, once sewn in, were all different sizes. There really wasn't any way to fix it without ripping them all out, so I sat down with the seam ripper, and pulled set of gussets closest to the eyelets from all three layers out. I reset them, more carefully this time, restitched, and this time, the three layers were all the same size. PHEW! Crisis averted.  I put the binding on the top and front edges of the corset, and then marked the eyelet holes. The directions called for ladder lacing, which is not historically accurate, and so I converted the markings to accommodate spiral lacing, which uses some offset holes and only one lace, not two. I punched the holes with an awl to avoid breaking fibers as much as possible, and sewed the eyelets using white embroidery floss.

In the pic, you can see the lining, and the binding, both of which hide all seam allowances and raw edges.  The construction techniques are really cool, the garments come out looking so finished.  And finally, once the eyelets were worked, I could try it on and lace it up!  The offset holes were perfect, the lacing worked great.  What didn't work so great is that once the stays were laced, I had almost an inch of room at the top of the bustline. Not good. :sigh: I debated leaving it, but I knew it would show in the bodice of the gown, and it looks terrible.  As I sat down with a glass of wine, I debated on how to fix it. The eyelets were all worked, so I couldn't just lop off the front edges to shorten it.  And there were no seams to take in, since they were so carefully hidden. SIGH.  The only place that I could adjust the fit was... oy, the thought was almost to terrible to contemplate...  the gussets.  Boo....  Since the bottom of the corset fit fine, and the only gappage was at the top of the bustline, taking out all 12 gussets and cutting them down was the only way to correct the fit.  I pulled off the binding across the lacing edges, and across the top of the stays from that edge to the shoulder strap. Sighing the whole way, of course. I ripped out the boning channel as well, and the gussets.  That's when I also decided to not go with reed, as I'd originally intended.  Either reed or cording would have been historically accurate, but I found the reed to be too brittle in this particular application, since it wasn't a heavily boned garment. And I did try the cording, but since I didn't have the right diameter of cord, I just wasn't satisfied with the support. Since it was really late at night, I just set the whole thing aside, and picked up a knitting project instead. The next morning, as I reset the gussets. Which was no mean feat, because all three layers were sewn together, and their wasn't much maneuvering room between the shoulder strap, side seam, and eyelets.  I worked slowly and carefully, and set them all in, and this time just sewed each gusset through all three layers, instead of layer by layer.  At this point, I just wanted the damn thing done, and there was NO way I was cutting out the eyelets.  Once the gussets were resewn, I put the binding back on, and once again had a finished garment. One I was a little more bitter about.  What a pain! : )  Now I just had the boning to deal with.  I had to run to the grocery store, and on my way, I passed the dollar store. I stopped, looked for fun plates for food presentation, and that's when I remembered an old costuming tip from doing 16th century garments.  Those originally used whale bone, which we obviously don't use anymore. Metal boning had not yet been invented (it technically arrived on the scene just after 1810, but wasn't in wide use at that point.) So many costumers used either reed, cording, or, believe it or not, cable ties.  Cable ties approximate the flexibility and support of whale boning, at a fraction of the cost, and without harming any whales.  For heavier support in 16thc corsets, I use the larger cable ties intended for water heater installations; I just cut them to size using some cutting tool that probably was intended for something a little manlier, and dremel the edges to smooth them out. But for the short stays, I didn't need that  much support, nor did I want the thickness of the cable ties to be obvious. So I picked up regular cable ties for electronics at the dollar store. Only they were imported from China, and weren't very good quality, and so they were extremely flexible. They'd work to repair the dog crate my last foster damaged, but not for the stays. But next door was an AutoZone, so I popped in, and they had just the right ones!  I came home, resewed the boning channels to the right size, and inserted the cut and dremeled cable ties. They were so perfect!! I doubled up the ones at the front lacing edges for a little extra support, and was very pleased with it all.  I finished the bottom bias tape, added a lace in that tape to tie around the ribcage, which kept the corset from shifting up. I gave it one last test fit, and it seemed to work fine. Yay! Next up was the chemise. Having sewn a number of these from different eras, it was very straightforward. I finished it in a few days, working a few hours each  morning before work.  Like the stays, all seams are enclosed, but since there is no lining in the chemise, they are closed using flat felled seams, in which half the seam allowance is folded around the other seam allowance, and pressed then stitched into place.

Flat Felled seams

Finally, I could try on the stays with the chemise!!!


I love how it turned out! It almost looks like a finished garment to wear just as it is! But, it is not, it's still underwear, albeit fancy underwear. : )  On to the gown!! It was nearly as simple as the chemise; I didn't even take construction pictures it went so fast! The top features a gathered bodice, curved back seams, and buttons at the back. The skirt is narrower in the front, and the back is gathered. The entire garment is lined with an off white taffeta, and the fabric is the 100% silk.  I did opt to handsew the buttonholes, since I'd handworked the eyelets on the stays. And the buttons are metal blanks I covered with silk, so they would match the gown.

Handsewn button holes and covered buttons

This picture shows the true gold color of the silk; the full length pictures are a little washed out.  For the back of the gown, I didn't want to gather it, and I didn't think there was quite enough fabric to cartridge pleat it, and so I opted to knife pleat it. I love the effect, it's so evenly and neatly pleated.  The gown really only took two days of work; I dragged my feet during parts of it, for no good reason; I was actually finishing up another project I was working on at the same time, and that just seemed like more fun. : )  Once I finished the hems, I tried the dress on over the short stays and chemise; that was when I realized that A., I couldn't button this sucker up by myself, and B., the top line of the stays was clearly visible through the bodice! ARGH!!!  I took the dress off, irritated. I so did not want to make another smaller set of stays, since I was just making this whole thing just for fun. After a few minutes of toying with it, I realized I could lace the edges of the short stays so they overlapped to the eyelet holes, and that did help with the line showing through the bodice.  But I still couldn't button the dress up to make sure that the issue was fixed. Instead, I settled for pictures of the gown on the dummy.

Overall, I'm mostly happy with it.  I think I'd be happier if I could actually try it on. : )  It's not intended as a day dress, but as an evening dress, and so the fabric is heavier, and not as flowy. It needs a little trim, but I'm not set on anything, except hand beading pearls and crystals at the neckline and sleeve cuffs.  And I think a chocolate brown shawl would set it off beautifully. But, the important thing is that it is done! And, as soon as I can get help to get it on, I'll take pictures of it on a body and not a dressmaker form! : )


Beautiful, I love the simplicity of all three of the peices. Just lovely!

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