Due to an overwhelming amount of demand on my social media as I’ve been posting process photos of my new green Spencer, I went ahead and put together a little tutorial on the style of trim I’m using.
Rouleaux are, quite simply, thin, bias-cut strips of fabric sewn into tubes. You probably have quite a few bits of rouleaux in your wardrobe without even realizing it in the form of spaghetti straps, coat hanging loops, and other utilitarian elements. However, these tubes aren’t just useful, they can also be beautiful.
Rouleaux trim is simply taking a rouleaux tube and stitching it down to a garment in the shape of a design, creating a beautiful, wearable piece of 3-dimensional art. While it is relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) today, rouleaux trim is was very popular in the early 19th century, particularly in the 18-teens and ’20s. I would not be at all surprised to see it crop up throughout the 19th century, but until I have examples of that, I will withhold a verdict. Similar techniques, however, were certainly employed though the 1800s and early 1900s using soutache braid, cord, or other thin, flexible items to create a design. If you want your pattern to match your fabric however, rouleaux is truly the way to go. All the early 19th century examples of rouleaux I have seen have been made with matching fabric to the main garment. They have also all been outer garments like spencers and pelisses, rather than gowns. That doesn’t mean those aren’t out there, just that I haven’t seen them–always keep an eye out for examples, don’t just take my word for it!
I’m going to show you how I do this technique. It’s the sort of thing that there are probably many ways to do, but this is the one that works for me.
You can read all about the spencer featured in the tutorial photos here.
Preparing the Bias Strips
Before you can make beautiful, rouleaux-trimmed garments, you’ll need to start with a whole lot of thin, bias-cut strips of fabric. It’s possible that some in the 19th century were done with strips cut on the straight grain as well, since it is a more efficient use of expensive fabric. I haven’t had a chance to examine any of these garments up close enough to be able to see the grain of the fabric, but based on how neatly the extant examples of rouleaux trim go around curves and tight corners, I would guess that many, if not all, are cut on the bias.
Note: What is the bias, you may be asking yourself? Bias cut pieces are cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric, rather than parallel to the selvedge edge (the finished, uncut edge of a length of fabric).
You can find the bias of a fabric using a marked cutting mat, a set square, or any other device that will show you a 45° angle to the selvedge of the fabric.
From there, you can simply cut parallel strips based on your first angled cut. The width that you cut your strips is entirely up to you (within reason), depending on how thick you would like your rouleaux to be. If you’re unsure, do a test piece a few inches long first, just to get an idea of what size you’ll get. I ended up going with half-inch strips, which got me a nice tube about 1/8″ wide out of my lightweight cotton twill fabric. Your mileage may vary depending on the thickness of your fabric.
I used a rotary cutter along my ruler to get strips. You can also use your ruler to draw lines and cut with scissors, whatever floats your boat and gets your some bias strips.
Next, you’ll need to sew your lovely bias strips into one very long bias strip. (Of course this depends on exactly what you are doing. If one bias strip is enough to do your entire design, obviously feel free to skip this part.
In order to keep your bias flexible, and your tube thin, you will need to sew the pieces together with the grain of the fabric, rather than across the bias. To do this, line up your two strips, right side to right side, at a right angle. At this point, you may have edges that line up nicely because they were the selvedge edges of your fabric, and are therefore already little 45° angles. If not, you will need to trim the ends to 45° angles so that they line up as in the photo above.
You will notice that the corners of each piece hang over the edges. This is exactly what you want. Stitch from one inner corner to the other. You want a nice, small seam allowance for this. This angled seam with keep the bulk of the seam allowance distributed along the strip, rather than all piled up in one place.
When you have finished sewing all your pieces together, press the seams open very well. You want the extra fabric from the seam allowance to be distributed as much as possible, so the last thing you want is for it to fold up on itself.
Sewing the Rouleaux
If you like, and if your fabric is light enough, you can bypass this entire method by sewing a narrow seam allowance on your machine, and turning the strip right-side out using a rouleaux turner (these little tools look like a thin piece of wire with a loop at one end, and a little latch hook on the other, and can be found at most fabric/craft stores).
HOWEVER, there are several reasons why you may want to/be forced to make your rouleaux by hand. First of all, you may prefer to hand sew for the sake of historical accuracy. Second, your fabric (like mine), may be a bit too thick to turn right-side out once you’ve sewn your desired size of tube, even with the seam allowance trimmed very tiny. I nearly cried when I realized the several yards of rouleaux I had sewn wouldn’t turn the right way out, no matter how hard I tried. I had already trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/16″, and every effort to turn the tube shredded the seam allowance until the piece was useless. If I wanted to use this technique, I would have needed to make my rouleaux much wider, which would have completely destroyed the delicate finished look I was going for.
Luckily, I put on my thinking cap, and came up with this technique inspired by the rolled hem in order to keep all of you from pulling your hair out the same way I did.
Start yourself off by pressing the edges of the very end of your strip into the center on the wrong side of the fabric, like so:
At this point, I like to hand the end of my strip to my sewing bird in order to take some of the tension out of my left hand. Using a sewing bird or clamp to hold your fabric in place is a great way to help yourself if you experience pain while hand sewing, or if you want to avoid pain in the future, or just generally want to make your life easier. If you don’t have a sewing bird or clamp, don’t worry. You can put the end under something heavy, use a regular old clamp to clamp in to the table, pin it to the knee of your pants, pin it to the arm of a chair or couch. Basically you have lots of options, but I do recommend that you find a way to hold one end still while you work. It will allow your to work much faster.
Here is a video illustrating the whole process of holding the folds in place, stitching, and pulling tight:
Attaching the Rouleaux
Before you can attach your rouleaux, you will need to draw or trace a design on your fabric. You can draw it out with a pencil or water-soluble marker, trace it with tracing paper and a wheel, prick and pounce, or use whatever other transfer method may strike your fancy. I based my design on the pink spencer shown above.
Note: I stitched my rouleaux to both the fabric and lining. Since the fabric is a light twill and therefore has a slight stretch, I wanted to make sure it had the structure of the linen lining to support the heavy trim. Your fabric may be sturdy enough to hold the trim by itself.
Note: these instructions are for a pattern that allows the ends of the rouleaux to disappear into a seam allowance. If your design is in the middle of a piece, far from a seam allowance, you will need to begin making your rouleaux by folding up the short end of the bias strip so that your tube has a finished end, and doing the same at the other end of the tube.
From now on, your stitch pattern will be as follows:
This process of moving the rouleaux above and below the stitching line as your sew will help keep tension even along the rouleaux, and ensure that it sits directly on top of the line, rather than leaning to one side or the other. Be careful not to pull your stitches too tight, or you could end up puckering and shrinking your entire garment piece!
Continue to stitch in this pattern. Here is a video to help you:
Now that you have the basic process down, here are a couple more tips to help you at tricky parts of your design.
Tip #1: Tight curves
When going around tight curves, take smaller stitches through the fabric to help the rouleaux follow the pattern smoothly.
Tip #2: Sharp corners
When making sharp corners, make sure your last stitch in the fabric before the corner comes up precisely at the point of the corner in your design.
Tip #3: Close parallel lines
When sewing rouleaux designs, you will often find yourself travelling back along a line to create a double thickness of rouleaux. When this happens, it can become tricky to maintain the stitching pattern we’ve established above.
In this case, use the thumb of your off hand to press the working rouleaux up against the first line of rouleaux. Stitch down into the fabric, and then up through the rouleaux like so:
The first rouleaux will help support the second and keep it standing upright. Once the two lines diverge again, continue in the usual stitch pattern.
Once you have completed your design finish off your rouleaux and thread just inside the seam allowance of your garment piece.
Ok! You’re all ready to go and create beautiful designs using rouleaux trim!
As always, if your have any questions, or if your would like to request a future tutorial, feel free to comment below.
There’s nothing like a time crunch to make me productive. This time around, it was the crunch leading up to author Sarah Vowell’s visit to Locust Grove, where the interpreters were appearing in the 1820s to celebrate General Lafayette’s tour of the United States.
I was already well supplied with an elegant 1820s gown, but Brandon was in desperate need of a civilian coat, since his character, Dr. John Croghan, was acting as host for the evening.
By the time we got back from a lovely vacation back home in Northern MI, I only had ten days left to make the jacket.
The first parts of jacket tailoring are my favorites: my love of precise handsewing means padstitching is right up my alley. I find it so satisfying to watch the fold and curve of a collar or lapel becoming more defined the more you stitch.
Padstitching is followed by another favorite of mine–catchstitching, which is an (ideally) invisible way to attach non-padstitched areas of the interfacing to the fabric, while still allowing a bit of flexibility to the piece.
The trick to catchstitching is not to pull things too tight. The purpose of the stitch is not to nail the interfacing in place, only to prevent it from folding up inside the coat. It’s much better to leave things a little loose than to pull your stitches too tight and pucker the outer fabric. I usually try to leave a sliver of daylight between the thread and the interfacing, just so I know for sure that I haven’t messed things up.
The lovely thing about jackets of the early Romantic era, as opposed to the Regency, is the existence of a waist seam. The decorative pocket flaps on this coat just get basted onto the tail piece, and the raw edges are hidden away in the seam. It also allows for some much needed waist shaping that doesn’t exist in earlier cuts. Amusingly, since they are false flaps (i.e. there are no pockets inside of them), you then baste through the tails and the bottom layer of the flap to ensure your decorative flaps stay perfectly placed and never actually, you know, flap.
I also want to take this moment to shout out Renaissance Fabrics–this herringbone striped wool is so gorgeous. That sheen you can see in the light is in no way exaggerated by the photos, it has an almost satiny finish. Extremely elegant!
The pockets themselves have nothing to do with the flaps. Their openings are hidden in the seam between the back and tail pieces, which itself is hidden inside of a decorative pleat.
On the Saturday before the event the next Friday, Brandon helped me out by jumping on his 1898 Wheeler & Wilson treadle machine to construct the sleeves and sleeve linings while I worked on the tails and the front facings.
These photos show the tail overlap in the center back from the inside and outside before I put in the tail facings, which I apparently forgot to photograph. That’s what happens when you’re steaming though a project!
In order to help it keeps it’s shape, a jacket like this gets two layers of front interfacing: one inside the actual front piece, and one in the front facing (the piece of matching fabric that is sewn in the inside of the front so that it can come around and make the outside of the lapel.) In this case the front facing lines most of the front, and comes all the way around to help stabilize the upper back as well.
Although it was not called for in the pattern, I supplemented the chest area facing interfacing with two layers of cotton batting to help facilitate the “pigeon-breast” shape that was fashionable for men in the Romantic era. Basically, the more you can get your torso to be shaped like a cone, the better. Some men even wore corsets to help create the large-chested, small-waisted shape.
Since Brandon made the sleeves, I don’t have a lot of photos of the process, but rest assured that they did go in, and get lined! Due to the fashionable shape, the sleeves also have a good bit of gathering and poof at the top to help add to the wide-chested illusion.
The final hurdle on Thursday night were buttons and buttonholes. Luckily, I only needed to make 3 functioning buttonholes. Since we were using brass shank buttons, I tried out a technique I’ve never actually used before, but definitely like. You poke holes with an awl where the buttons need to go, put the shanks through the holes, and pass something (tape, ribbon, in my case yarn because it was all I had that fit through the tiny shanks) though the shanks on the wrong side of the fabric. Then you stitch your tape down to the fabric, and that holds the buttons in place, and keeps them from flopping around as much as they would if you just sewed them to the front of the coat. It’s a technique I’ll certainly employ in the future.
And that was it! I even got done in time to finish hemming a white cravat that I’ve had in my workbasket forever.
Here’s the finished look, I think he looks pretty sharp!
If you’ve read Leveling Up Your Regency Look: Part 1, then you’re all ready to start building your Regency ensemble. You’ve figured out which part of the Regency you want to represent, and you’ve thought about how time of day, social situation, activities, and character might affect the way you dress.
In this part, I will go through my best advice for building a Regency ensemble. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of garment construction and sewing here. For that you can look through some of the project diaries in the Regency section of the Projects menu above. In this post I want to talk about the details and steps that can help bring your Regency outfit to life. These are the things that can take the plain, white, empire-waist dress that is our cultural mental image of the Regency, and make it truly look like you just walked out of the period.
1. Start with the Undergarments
In Part 1, we talked about garment structures, and how they changed throughout the Regency period. All those varied bust and skirt shapes are not merely the result of a certain cut of dress; the dresses work with the undergarments to create the fashionable silhouette.
You can see how these two elegant ladies would find it very difficult to swap dresses without swapping underthings as well:
The first silhouette, from 1796, shows a natural waistline, with with a natural bustline somewhere around the upper arm. The skirt is full, and supported out away from the wearer’s body.
The second silhouette, from 1810, is drastically different: the waistline is high, and the bust more in line with the shoulders than the upper arm. The skirt is narrow, flat across the front, and clings much more than the first around the hips and legs.
So what all goes under there?
The under-most garment of all is your chemise. This is the Regency equivalent of an undershirt. It is a garment worn next to the skin, and is basically there to a) protect the wearer from any pinching or squeezing from her stays, and more importantly b) protect the outer garments from sweat and oils. It’s not a garment that adds much to the silhouette, but it is very important for keeping you comfortable.
Although sleeve lengths varied, chemises remained largely the same throughout this period: loose fitting, usually around knee length, with either a fixed or drawstring neckline and sleeve gussets in the armpits.
On top of the chemise come arguably the most important piece in your Regency wardrobe: the stays. Many people think of the “natural” look of the Regency being achieved without any shapewear, but not so! While many Regency stays are certainly more minimal than corsets and stays from other periods, they provide shaping that is absolutely essential to achieving your desired silhouette.
As the changing bust shapes and waist placement of the period make evident, there is no one pair of stays that will get you from 1790 all the way up to 1820. The stays of the early 1790s are very similar to what we see in the rest of the 18th century: conically shaped, but shorter than those from earlier in the century.
Through the 1790s and early 1800s, we see all sorts of interesting forms as fashion went through the shift from 18th century to early 19th. For the most part, these consist of stays with bust gussets which extend several inches below the bust in order to provide support underneath and help lift the bust. The gussets are the key here–they separate the breasts, creating a very different look from the smooth, uni-bust of the 18th century. The stays usually end in tabs around the waist, which help protect the wearer from being poked by allowing the ends of bones to spread away from the body, but not always. Nothing is settled in this particular part of the regency.
Finally, some time around 1805, we reach a corset style that will last, with some variation to accommodate currently fashionable silhouettes, all the way up until the Victorian corset replaces it in the late 1840s/early 1850s. This is what we now call long stays: a full-torso garment with both bust and hip gussets, corded, rather than boned, for mild support, with a stiff, center-front busk to keep everything from collapsing, and provide that all-important bust separation. Unless you are interpreting the very early Regency, you can’t go wrong with a pair of long stays.
There is no one female support garment ever that will keep everyone happy, but I like this one: it’s gives wonderful support to the lift-and-seperate look that was fashionable from the latter half of the 18-aughts up through the rest of the Regency period, the busk helps keep your tummy flat and contained, and it supports good posture. Plus the busk provides an excellent surface for impromptu percussion in those dull moments, but I digress…
If the idea of making stays scares the pants off of you, have no fear. Custom or pre-made stays are available from a number of vendors like RedThreaded. RedThreaded will even be set up at the festival, so if you want to try on her wears, or learn about stays from someone with much more specialized knowledge than me, go seek her out!
Finally, you will need petticoats: the amount and style of these varies a lot throughout the period, and usually mimics the style of the skirt. If the skirts are full and gathered, so are the petticoats, if they are flat at the front with an A-line silhouette, ditto. The farther you want your skirt to stand out from the body, the more you will need. If your aim is the narrow, drape-y shape of the early-mid 18-aughts, you may want only one, or even none. If you are in the early 1790s, you will probably want several full petticoats. If you are in the 18-teens, at least one petticoat stiffened at the bottom with tucks or helped along with a ruffle or two will be necessary to give you the A-line look, with more added as the hem gets wider later in the decade. It may seem counter-intuitive that adding more layers could make you more comfortable, but believe me when I tell you this: petticoats made from a sturdy material help keep your skirt from tangling between your legs, and for that reason, I would never be without them.
The high Regency waistlines mean that petticoats can’t support themselves by sitting at your narrowest point, instead, they either have straps, or small bodices, which can also help give you a nice, clean look under a more sheer gown.
As you are preparing to make your Regency ensemble, study the undergarments that go with the year you are trying to represent. Remember, especially in the early half of the Regency, there is a lot of overlap between different kinds of undergarments, so you may have several options. Think about what will make you the most comfortable while still creating the desired silhouette.
2. You aren’t making the pattern.
This is a favorite statement of my dear friend Amy: you aren’t making the pattern, you’re using it as a tool to make the dress you want.
There are quite a few Regency dress patterns available, both from the “Big 3” commercial pattern companies, and from smaller companies that specialize in historical patterns. Personally, I would always recommend working off of a pattern from one of these specialized companies, who tend to have a better knowledge of period construction and styles. If you must go with a more commercial pattern here’s my #1 thing to avoid: flat skirt backs. If the skirt of the gown has no gathering at the back, run away!
A few pattern companies to try, by no means a full list:
However, even if you are using a pattern, you don’t want to let it rule your life. The pattern is there to help you, not to force you to make a dress you don’t want. While there are Regency patterns available, there are many parts of the Regency that you won’t find an exact pattern for, and even if you can, that exact pattern won’t necessarily work well for your taste or your body. Make a mock-up or two, get comfortable with the shapes of the pattern pieces, and don’t be scared to make adjustments to make things look more like the dress you want to create. Look at extant dresses you like to see things like proportion and seam lines, and try to recreate these lines in your mock-ups.
Remember: a pattern is not the law, it’s only a guide, and changing it is allowed! When I like an adjustment I’ve made to a pattern piece, I transfer the piece with the adjustment to a new piece of paper, and put it in with the pattern, so that I can make that change–whether it be a higher or lower neckline, more or less gathering, or a narrower or wider back–whenever I like.
Don’t be scared! The worst you can do is waste a bit of mock-up fabric–use something cheap like muslin, or sheets from the thrift store–nobody dies! Play around until you get something you really love.
Now we get into the really fun parts: the pretties! There are zillions of ways to add personality to your Regency gown through trimmings. This is another place where you will really want to dig through fashion plates and paintings from around the year you would like to portray–you will find an endless variety of ribbons, trims, lace, contrasting silk, ruffles, ruching, appliqué, and other creative things I’m not sure there’s even a name for.
There’s far too much variety here for me to go into everything, so here are some of my favorite examples of wonderful Regency trimmings. As you can see from these examples, you can choose just one for a simple, elegant look, or mix and match multiple kinds of trim to create layers of detail. Always use your specific year research as a guide. Pinterest can be a wonderful way to find research, but make sure that you follow the links and ensure that information is coming from reliable sources like museums or universities.
Ok. I really have to stop now, or I’ll just go on sharing pretty trims forever. So, on to:
No matter how lovely your gown, or how perfectly shaped your undergarments, you’re bound to look (and feel) a bit naked without at least a couple additions to your outfit.
Hats from 1800-1801, 1807, 1812, and 1815
I’ll begin with the most obvious: a hat or bonnet. It would be very unusual for a lady in the Regency period to venture far out of doors with nothing to cover her head. Luckily, there are many options available to you. A quick search of Etsy for “regency bonnet” will turn up hundreds of items for your perusal, but as always, use caution in choosing. Consult your research, and remember, just because something is labeled “regency bonnet” doesn’t mean that it is suitable for the particular part of the Regency which you are portraying (or in some unfortunate cases, suitable at all). Find examples that resemble your research, and always trust sources from the period more than anything else.
On Etsy, Regency Regalia, and 1800s Millinery Shop have some lovely examples available–but there are many other shops that sell Regency bonnets as well, so don’t limit yourself to just the ones I can remember!
If you would rather see and try things on in person, Lydia Fast, and Shocking Bad Hats will be there at the Louisville Festival with their beautiful wears. My Lydia Fast bonnet is one of my most treasured possessions! Both shops also take custom orders.
If you are feeling ambitious, there is really nothing to stop you from venturing into the world of millinery (hat-making) yourself. It’s an enjoyable branch of sewing that can give your brain a welcome break from dressmaking. There are several patterns available from Timely Tresses, and Lynn McMasters. Making your own bonnet will allow you all the creative control you desire!
Now let’s talk about the plethora of other, less iconic accessories available to the fashionable Regency woman.
Since I’m afraid of going on all day, I’ll just do a quick run-through of some of the most commonly seen accessory items. As always, remember to base your accessories on research from you own particular year of interest.
Gloves–an absolute essential for the fashionable lady wandering about out of doors, or going to a dance. For day wear, I particularly recommend finding a pair of vintage kid gloves. If you can find ones that fit, there’s nothing more comfortable. They conform to your hands and fit like, well, a glove. They also allow for touchscreen use without the need to take them off every time you want to take a photo. For dancing, elbow length or longer is best. Try to avoid super-shiny costume gloves and seek out ones made of more breathable natural materials like cotton.
Shawl–as you can see from nearly every image above, shawls were a must-have fashion item throughout the Regency. Particularly in demand were the enormous wool shawls imported from (or copied to look like those imported from) India. In general, these have a large area of solid color in the center, surrounded by a border of intricate woven designs.
Caps–don’t let anyone tell you that caps are only for the old, or unfashionable! Also don’t let them tell you that caps are either a) only worn by married women, or b) required to be worn by married women. Caps are neither. There are images from the period of women in all stages of life looking absolutely lovely in caps, and just as many of women in all stages of life looking absolutely lovely without them. However, don’t let our modern prejudice bias you against this versatile piece of clothing! These garments provide a canvas for a wealth of detail: sheer patterns, lace, ribbons, flowers, pleats. Almost anything you can think of can be used to ornament the fluffy confection on your head. Caps can be worn by themselves indoors, or beneath a bonnet when venturing out, and they are a wonderful solution if you are having trouble getting your hair to behave. As with most items, caps vary widely over the course of the Regency period, developing to suit current tastes and coexist with the fashionable hairstyles.
Fichus–triangular scarves worn tucked into the neckline of a gown, or layered over the top to show off a sheer fabric or embroidered border. These are a nice, simple way to fill in a neckline for modesty, and protect your delicate complexion from a bit of sun. Very fine fichus can be seen both with day wear and evening wear. During the day, most women in the Regency covered their chest and collarbone area in some way. Fichus were particularly (though not exclusively) popular in the earlier Regency period, with chemisettes taking over the fashion a bit in the later Regency, though both styles appear concurrently for most of the time. I don’t mean to say that chemisettes were never seen in the 18-aughts, or that fichus ceased to exist in the 18-teens, merely that the bulk of fashion leaned towards one or the other at different points.
Chemisettes–to our modern eye, a chemisette is most similar to a dicky. They are a small garment a bit like a partial undershirt, which goes over the shoulders and ties below the bust. They appeared at some point during the early Regency, and gained in popularity throughout the period. They feature every sort of collar that you can imagine from a simple Peter Pan style, to piles of ruffles, either closed at the throat, or open down the center, and everything in between. Many of these collars are reminiscent of Elizabethan ruffs and whisks.
Ruffs–speaking of Elizabethan, if you’ve chosen to portray pretty much any part of the 18-teens, you can’t go wrong with a good ruff. The larger and more elaborate the better, especially as you get later in the decade. These could be either plain, embroidered, or lace, gathered or pleated, closed with a ribbon in front or back, or with an invisible closure. They could be worn with a chemisette, or on their own with a high-necked gown, over a spencer, or even on their own like a choker. There’s nearly no wrong way to do an 18-teens ruff–you can find period research to back up just about any style you can think of! A few also appear in fashion plates from earlier in the period.
Belts/Sashes–another item that appears throughout the period. A ribbon, or strip of matching or contrasting fabric at your waistline, either tied in a bow (front or back), or closed with a small buckle, adds a lovely touch to your outfit with very little effort or expense.
Reticule/Ridicule–a small bag, usually with a drawstring closure. They are generally made of silk, but there are also lovely netted examples and other varieties. They come in many shapes from a basic flat pouch, to fascinating 3-d polygons, and can be a wonderful canvas for embellishments like embroidery, ribbons, and tassels.
I felt that the next two accessory categories deserved their own sections, especially since most of us are much more likely to purchase them than make our own:
Luckily for us, shoes in the Regency are relatively simple: for the most part, women’s shoes are either slippers (flats), or boots about ankle or low-calf length. There is some variation over the course of the period as things like heel height and toe shape changed with fashion.
Slippers in general shifted from a long, pointed toe with a curved opening for the foot in the 1790s, to a more rounded point with a squared-off opening later in the period. Both leather and fabric uppers are plentiful. Looking through extant examples, you can find a staggering wealth of detail: brilliant colors, various materials, patterns, ribbons, rosettes, embroidery, bows. A little detail like contrasting ribbons, or clip-on rosettes can make a huge difference to a store-bought shoe.
Pink Slippers, 1790s, V&A; Yellow Slippers, 1810-1815, MFA Boston, Blue Slippers, 1815-1820, Kerry Taylor Auctions
Boots followed a similar trend of pointy to rounded toes over the course of the Regency period. The shafts also began to get shorter as the 1820s neared. Most (but not all) were made of either leather or sturdy fabric–generally Nankeen imported from China, and though as more utilitarian outdoor wear, they didn’t come in for quite the share of embellishment that slippers did, they can be seen in a wide variety of colors, and some do sport interesting details such as bows or fringe.
Boots with Red Laces, 1795-1815, The Met; Striped Boots, 1812-1820, V&A; Nankeen Boots with Bow, 1815, Museum of London; Leather Boots with Fringe, 1810-1829, The Met
Luckily, many modern shoes can manage a creditable Regency look, as long as you are willing to put in a bit of patient work to track down ones that look right, or a bit of work to add some period details.
If you’re ready to jump in with both feet, you can purchase beautiful reproduction shoes from American Duchess. They have some lovely stockings available as well. You can also purchase lovely boots from The Bohemian Belle, She will be at the Louisville Festival, and carries many other gorgeous Regency accessories, including stunning replica tiaras.
Which brings us to…
My favorite part about Regency jewelry is that it’s just as lovely now as it was then–I wear my reproduction pieces all the time in my every day life! You’ll see everything from simple strings of pearls, gold beads, or coral, to elaborate jeweled parures with intricate goldwork.
This is another place where I could easily fall down a rabbit hole of posting photos forever, but I’ll let you do that on your own. Here are just a few gorgeous examples, both extant, and in portraits. There is also jewelry to be seen in the portraits above!
Coral Jewelry, 1780-1800; Portrait of Mrs. John Halkett by Henry Bone, ca 1802; Portrait of a Lady by Charles Pierre Coir, ca. 1810
Portrait of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, duchess of Plaisance by Robert Lefèvre, 1818, Pearl and Diamond Earrings, ca 1800, Portrait of a Young Woman by Iosif Oleshkevich, ca 1810
Gold and Citrine Jewelry, ca 1820, auctioned at Christies; Portrait of Caroline Murat by Francois Pascal Simon Gerard; Gold and Paste Demi-Parure, ca 1805,Chateau de Malmaison
Luckily for us, there are some wonderful artisans out there recreating period jewelry. Here are just a few:
These jewelers are all incredible artists who put research and time into their work. Keep in mind though, they all work in multiple periods, so not everything they make was fashionable in every time period. They all show their research on many of their pieces, but always make sure that you can back up your jewelry choices with your own period research! Just because a lovely pair of earrings is pictured next to a portrait from the 1750s, doesn’t mean that style wasn’t also popular in the 1810s–if you rely on yourself, rather than others, to do the research, you may open up a world of new pretties for yourself!
Like most things in the Regency period, hairstyles varied greatly across the decades.
The early 1790s started out with the hairstyles that had come into fashion in the 1780s–a large mass of soft curls generally called a ‘hedgehog’, usually with looser, dangling curls at the bottom.
As we rounded the turn of the 19th century, the styles shrank, and the curls became softer and less structured. The bulk of the style moved from the top to the back of the head. The idea was to mimic the silhouette of styles seen in Ancient Greek art, which was much in vogue. Wrapped ribbons and scarves were the height of style in hair accessories.
Early in the new century, the long dangling curls began to disappear, creating hairstyles that sat on the back of the crown, close to the head. The curls remained soft, but where before they were dispersed all over the head, now they tend to be concentrated along the top of the head, leaving a more obvious upsweep of hair towards the bun at the back of the head. We are also just beginning to see the formation of the center part that will remain part of the style for decades to come. This style is soft, contained, and easily covered by the tight-fitting jockey hats that were very much in fashion.
Later in the 18-aughts, and into the early 18-teens, the styles were becoming more segregated, with the curls at the front and the bun at the back as two distinct sections of the style. The bun is at the point of the crown, and is large and quite flat. The curls at the front are more individual and distinct than before.
In the mid 18-teens, the styles moved higher, so that they sat atop the crown of the head, making the bun entirely visible from the front. They tended to be wider from the front and narrower from the side, although this is not a rule. The curls at the front were usually very small and contained at either side of a slick center part.
Towards the tail end of the teens, the buns underwent a brief flattening and widening before springing up with a vengence into the Apollo knot hairstyles of the 1820s and 1830s (if you don’t know what these are, do yourself a favor and Google it). The most obvious change, though, is the usual size and amount of front curls. The slick center part remains, but is longer–you can see the difference in part length between this and the portraits above. There are several inches here, only about an inch in the mid-teens, and a fraction of an inch in the late 18-aughts. Because more hair is included in them, the curls are larger and more substantial. Ringlets were popular, but in this portrait, rather than ringlets, each side consists of three rolls of hair, stacked one on top of the other, which create a widening effect and the illusion of a heart-shaped face.
As is always the way with fashion, there are no hard-and-fast rules here. I have given a general overview, but in period images you will find lots of overlap, and a huge range of styles based on varying interpretations of the norm, and on personal taste. As always, women found ways to tweak the styles in ways they felt suited them, and you can too.
Here are a few things to look at that will help you break down a style into bite-sized chunks:
Where is the bulk of the style? In other words, where is most of the hair?
If there is a bun, where does it sit? On top of the head? Right on the crown? On the back of the head?
Is the bun curly, or is it smooth? Twisted? Braided?
Where are the front curls? At the top of the head, or towards the sides?
Are there front curls at all? You can also find simple updos or side braids, particularly in the 18-teens.
How many curls are there?
What size are the curls? Large or Small?
How much hair is in the curls? Are they bulky, or wispy? It is especially helpful to look for part lines here, so that you can determine where the hair comes from.
Is the hair sleek and close to the head, or does it have volume?
Is there loose hair in the back? Curled or not?
It can be easy to become overwhelmed when trying to create a hairstyle you are not used to. Take a breath, and break down the hairstyle into parts. Separate your hair into the parts needed–generally one large back section for the bun, and two smaller front sections for the curls on each side of the face, then deal with each section individually. Most of us don’t curl our hair on a regular basis, so practice, practice, practice before you have to do it for real! How you wind a piece of hair around a roller or iron makes a huge difference in your final curl. If you want soft, fluffy curls, wrap the hair around the center of the curler or iron, so that each successive wrap stacks on top of the one before. If you want neat ringlets, start wrapping the hair at one end of the curler or iron, and wind it up to the other end like a coil, keeping the section of hair flat like a ribbon, with no twists.
As a rule, setting your hair on rollers overnight will give you a much better set than a curling iron can ever manage, so if your hair is difficult to get to hold curl, throw away the iron, and go for rollers or rag curls.
Experiment with product–a bit of mousse in the hair before you curl can make a huge difference, but different things will work for different people. I find that the most effective way of getting my hair to curl is a bit of mousse in damp hair, then rag curl it in the evening (use strips of fabric to wind your hair around, then tie the ends together to keep them in place), sleep on that, and let it down when it’s dry. Those curls would last me until my next shower without losing any shape or volume when I had long hair. I may have to write a whole post about Regency hairstyling, or I’ll go on all day here…
If you are interested in working with period styling products and other cosmetics, be sure to stop by LBCC Historical, who will also have a tent at the festival.
Nothing will make you feel like a real Regency lady like practicing a bit of deportment! Remember your posture–your stays will help with this, but keep your mind on it as well! Keeping your back straight will also help you enjoy yourself all day in period clothes without ending the day with a sore back.
Try not to hike up the front of your skirts. Taking slightly smaller steps will help keep your toes from catching your hem, and will make you appear more comfortable and graceful, especially if you are unaccustomed to long skirts. If there’s real danger of dirt and mud, gathering up the back volume of your skirt into one hand and holding it up and to the side will help more than anything. Since there is more volume there, it is more likely to hang lower than the rest of your hem, and as you walk, your feet splatter mud backwards, so you are much more likely to soil the back of your dress than the front.
Try a curtsy or two! Sweep one foot around behind the other and bend gently from the knees. Sink straight down, keeping your back straight, and bowing your head towards the person you are greeting. You don’t want to sink too low in this period, as the narrow skirts can cause ungainly bent knees to show. A slight lowering is all that is required for all but the most illustrious personages. A curtsy or bow is a mark of respect and acknowledgement for the people around you.
Finally, I saved my best piece of advice for last. It is so important, yet so easy to miss:
9. Don’t think of it as a costume.
Spending a happy day in period dress is all about attitude. If you think if it as a costume, your outfit will feel like something strange, unusual, possibly uncomfortable. You will focus on how it feels different from your normal clothing, and find it distracting.
So don’t think if it that way. For today, these are your clothes. They’re just what you’re wearing, nothing strange about it.
It may seem simple, or even silly, but changing this one little point of view makes all the difference in the world between wandering around in the 21st century while wearing a period costume, and truly immersing yourself in the period.
The less distracting you find your clothing, the more attention you will have left to enjoy all the fun of the Festival, or whatever Regency event you happen to be attending, so put on your clothes, know you look fabulous, and go have the time of your life!
Now that you know how to get started, and do the basic stitch, you may as well start embroidering things a bit more fun than straight lines. I’ll start you off with something nice and simple. For this tutorial, I just sketched out a little gently curved vine with small, rounded leaves. It’s a motif that appears often in embroidery from the early 19th century, so it’s one I’ve done a lot.
You can extend this design to create a simple, lovely border for hems, ruffles, handkerchiefs, veils, sleeve cuffs, or just about anything!
Step 1: Transfer your design.
The first thing we need to do is get the design transferred onto our netting. I do this in one of three ways.
With a water-soluble fabric marker. I would have done this for this tutorial, but the only one I could find in my house was a white one, which would be absolutely useless on my white fabric! This method is fast and easy to remove, but no good if you’re planning to use the piece you are working on as a period demo.
With pencil. This method is also quick, which makes it my go-to. Pencil is dark enough to see well as you work, but generally rubs mostly out by the time a project is finished, and only needs a quick wash to remove it completely. If you are someone who stresses a lot about being able to remove the markings, though, I wouldn’t recommend this for you.
With a basting stitch. This is the superior method I have found, but it also takes a good deal more time and patience than the other two, so I often rule it out as too time-consuming. You simply run a basting stitch around the design with a needle and fine white thread. Later, you can either pull it out, or leave it in and trim the ends, as the tambour-work usually obscures the basting completely from the front.
Step 2: Find your path.
One of the great things about tambour is how quickly it works up. The best designs for this style of embroidery are those that can be worked all in one continuous line, especially when you are just getting started. An efficient embroiderer can create even a complex design without ever cutting the thread. (Our next lesson will cover how to skip from one place in a design to another without cutting the thread, and without pulling out your previous stitches.)
Many designs are easy to work out, you can see the path you will take just by looking, but if you are having trouble I would suggest copying your basic design on a piece of paper, possibly blown up larger, and working out the path there before you begin stitching. Believe me, it’s very annoying to get through most of a design and realize you made a mistake, and can’t get where you need to go! The last thing anyone wants is more ends to weave in because you were forced to cut the thread prematurely.
Step 3: Begin stitching!
If you read Lesson 1, then you already know how to start your thread, and you’re ready to begin stitching.
Once again, if you have any questions, or requests for future tutorials (tambour or otherwise), don’t hesitate to ask!
The time has come! It is finished! Here we are, the final portion of my 1870s Ravenclaw-inspired outfit. You can read all about the gown that goes with this hat in my Ravenclaw Gown posts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
As soon as I decided I needed a hat, I knew exactly what kind I wanted. I absolutely adore these jaunty, curled-brim numbers. The first two images are where I got most of my inspiration.
I patterned the hat myself, since that’s something I’ve been wanting to practice more. Mostly, this was done through a couple evenings of trial and error using posterboard mock-ups. With each try, I adjusted the width of the brim, the curve of the crown sides, and the size and shape of crown until I was happy.
Mocking-up the brim was a bit of a guess, since the poster board doesn’t hold curl the way that wired buckram does, so I had to basically guess that it would actually make the shape that I wanted once it was wired, since I couldn’t get the center front to bend down at the same time as the sides were curled up.
I used the posterboard pieces as the pattern to cut my buckram. Since I couldn’t find double buckram anywhere (apparently it has gone from this world?), I ended up using some buckram interfacing to beef up the heavyweight buckram I had, Two pieces each on the crown sides and crown top, and one piece on the outside of the brim.
I just basted the buckrams together, making sure to hold the crown sides and brim in their curled positions while I pinned and sewed to make sure there wouldn’t be any trouble getting the shapes.
When the buckram is prepared, there is a piece of millinery wire stitched around each edge except for the inner brim with a modified whip stitch. Instead of just wrapping the thread around, moving forward each time, there is a stitch around the wire, then a stitch around the wire moving forward, then a stitch around the wire in the same place, then a stitch around the wire moving forward, you get the idea.
In order to protect the outer layer of fabric from the potentially damaging buckram and wire, there are several barrier layers put in place. Firstly, each of the wires is covered with a piece of bias tape.
Once the bias tape is in place, the three pieces are ready to become one.
The seam allowance on the inner brim is clipped all around so that it can bend up inside the crown and be stitched down.
Now that the wire is in place, and the hat is all once piece, it’s time to really finalize the shape of the brim. I did this by curling the brim sides around a rolled up towel, and steaming the buckram with my iron. Since buckram is stiffened with a starchy glue, it softens up with steam, and hardens again as it dries. Bending the wire got the edges of the brim where I wanted them, and the steam helped get an elegant curve into the buckram itself.
The second layer of protection is called mulling, and usually consists of a layer of flannel or other soft fabric all over the buckram form.
Finally, after all this, it’s finally time to put the outer fabric on! In this case, the hat is covered with dark blue velveteen, except for the inner brim.
The brim is clipped at the seam allowance and stitched around the edge. I don’t love using glue for covering hats, so velveteen is a great material for me, since stitches disappear easily in to the pile. I used concentric rows of stitches to make sure that the velveteen stayed smooth against the inner curve of the brim.
The crown top is nice and easy. The velveteen is simply smoothed over the form and stitched around the edges.
The crown sides are also simple in concept, but more tricky in practice. The seam allowances are all pressed to the inside, and then everything gets smoothed down and stitched in place, with the center back seam edges carefully butting up against each other, not overlapping. All these layers create enough bulk without adding any extra.
The inner brim is a bit more fun, since it is covered with ruched bronze taffeta. It is simply a long strip of fabric, three times longer than the circumference of the crown/brim seam, with a gathering stitch run along each edge.
In order to cover up all those raw edges, the brim is bound with blue taffeta bias tape.
The inside of the crown is lined with linen, with a few loops of hem tape in the seam so that I have a way to pin the hat to my hairstyle.
After that, it’s all trimming!
The hatband is made from bronze taffeta, twisted and folded in order to create something a bit more interesting than a plain band. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of futzing around to make something look artfully disheveled.
The join in the back of the hatband is covered with a sort of half-bow in the same fabric–one loop, wrapped in another piece, with one long trailing tail.
Finally, I played around with feathers for a long while before I settled on one Lady Amherst pheasant tail feather, curled on a scissor blade like ribbon so that it follows the curve of the crown.
I gotta tell you, I am completely in love with this hat. It’s so exciting!
Keep an eye out on my social media in the next couple of weeks! Next Wednesday, I’ll be doing a big, fun photoshoot with both this gown and my Adora Belle Dearheart costume. It’s going to be an exciting day!
Pant…pant…pant… It’s here! It has been six months since my last post about the Ravenclaw bustle gown due to more time-sensitive projects barging their way to the front of the line! When last we met here in Ravenclaw-land, I had just finished the underskirt, but that wasn’t the only thing going on the bottom half. Here we have…(drumroll)…the overskirt!
In the true spirit of bustle-era excess, I ask: why have only one skirt encrusted in intricate detail when you could have TWO?!
I started the overskirt by mocking it up in some very fun harlequin print quilting fabric that I had sitting around.
The mock-up was draped right on the dressform, just moving bits around and bunching things up until I was happy with how things looked.
In order to give myself a solid base on which to gather the polonaise (the puffed-up portion) at the back, I made an extra organdy lining to go inside the back.
The back piece is pleated into the side seams in order to give extra volume to the polonaise (the puffy portion) at the back.
I got the base of the skirt done pretty fast…
…and then had this thought that kept bugging me in the back of my brain. Wouldn’t those side seams look extra cute with a bit of bronze piping? So I tore it apart again.
Which wasn’t so bad, because I decided to put the trim in place before putting it back together so that I would only have to wrestle with one piece at a time.
The first stage of trimming involved figuring out the size and placement of the velveteen false turn-backs at the skirt front. I did this in the pretty non-scientific way of sketching a shape I sort of liked with a marking pencil onto the skirt front, and then cutting the velveteen to match, plus extra for hem allowance.
I had a slight crisis-of-faith after cutting the first one, and tried out a couple of other shape variations with fabric scraps before deciding that I did like the first one best after all.
I folded the edge under, and backed the edge with an offset piece of the bronze taffeta for extra contrast against the main skirt body, then set these pieces aside to attach later.
The rest of the overskirt decorations are the same as the underskirt, so I will only go through them quickly.
Binding the hems of what will become the pleated ruffle:
Piping and attaching a strip of blue taffeta to cover the raw edges of the pleats and appliqués.
And then I attached the false turn-backs. I stitched along the edge of the velveteen, through all layers, so that the edge of the bronze isn’t held flat against the skirt.
The velveteen is hemmed to the inside of the front edges several inches in in the hopes that it will provide some weight to keep the skirt from flying open when I walk, and to provide a bit of coverage over the white organdy if it does.
The piping on the side seams extends past the seam and all the way down the edge of the back piece. The swallowtail at the lower half of the back is finished with a backing of blue taffeta to make sure the white organdy lining doesn’t show.
The inner edges of the swallowtail got a row of pleats, and one of the blue bands to finish the pleat tops, but no velvet appliqués.
Gathering in the back and stitching the waistband in place:
This waistband was out to get me. First a thread broke about a third of the way through. Then I ran out of bobbin thread another five inches after that. Then when I got to the end, I realized that the gathers hadn’t made it into the seam in two places, and had to go back and open it up to get the raw edges back inside the waistband. It was a lot of drama.
The final step was to put it on the dress-form, play around with the bustle area, and tack the polonaise in place when I liked how it looked!
I feel like this has taken me for-absolutely-ever (not the six month break, just building it took waaaay longer than I had anticipated). Hopefully the bodice will be a bit friendlier. I can’t wait to see what it all looks like together, though! Wish me luck!
I never feel as if I’ve done much in a year until I go back through the blog and see everything all in one place. Somehow at once 2017 flew by, but completing Snow White and Luna seem to have happened years ago. I was actually surprised when I looked back at the beginning of the year and saw them there! Go Figure. Here I’m going to look back at what I’ve done in the past twelve months, and tell you a bit about what’s coming in the next twelve!
I’m absolutely thrilled with how this cosplay came out! I’m going to add some wires to the front at some point so that the collar can be shaped more. It looks good in these photos because this is the first time I wore it, but it has gotten a bit crushed now. I did enter this one in the costume contest at Cincinnati Comic Con, but no luck! I may try it again elsewhere.
Brandon’s Christmas present from 2016! I finished the pants and made the coat in January 2017. We do have plans to add another row of buttonholes to the jacket so that it can be worn folded open as well as closed. Still adore that blue stripe down the pants. I’ve seen fashion plates with a red one too, so I’m tempted…
The second legwarmer is actually finished now! No good photos of this one yet, but we’re waiting to do a photoshoot until Meredith’s (you may remember her as Margaery) new Hermione wig is done so that we can do photos together!
The problem with bucket list projects that aren’t for any specific event, is they get shunted aside for things that are more time-sensitive. But Ravenclaw is back in gear this month, expect progress soon!
In preparation for the best 1st Anniversary we could ask for (The North American Discworld Con in New Orleans), Brandon and I cosplayed as two of our favorite characters! (Though I didn’t blog about it, I made Brandon’s coat and altered his hat, while he made his trousers and waistcoat.) We won Best Workmanship and Best Overall in the costume contest, and the Hall Contest as well! We can’t wait to hear where the next one will be!
I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into the 18th century–an era which has interested but intimidated me for so long. It was so fun to make and wear, and I can’t wait to wear it again!
Regency Shirt & Waistcoat for Brandon
The shirt was a desperate need, as his old one was literally disintegrating more and more with each wear. It’s the first one I’ve made entirely by hand, and I really enjoyed it! I may be posting a blog about it in the next few weeks. The waistcoat was Brandon’s birthday present, which I made in secret, and had his in-character mother give him as a Christmas present at our Christmas event at Locust Grove in early December. He was so surprised–it was really fun!
Coming up in 2018
Number 1: finish Ravenclaw!!! I draped the underskirt on Thursday, and should be cutting today! It’s really happening!
It’s going to be a historical heavy year, with only two cosplays planned: A female version of Colonel Mustard from Clue (part of a group that should be really fun!), and Daenerys’ landing dress from Season 7 of Game of Thrones, which I knew I had to have the moment that photos started appearing. There are fabric swatches on their way so that I can start finalizing my plans!
Other than that, it’s all historical, all the time! I have two new 18th century looks planned (another jacket & petticoat, and a Robe à l’Anglaise), and a whole pile of 1816 plans. I realized I haven’t made myself anything new for the era I spend the most time in since January 2016, and that has to change! I have plans for dresses, spencers, petticoats. The biggest historical project of the year is one I’ve been planning for quite some time, and am finally ready to bring to fruition. A tamboured net evening gown over a colored silk petticoat.
It’s going to take forever, but I’m really excited about it!
All-in-all, it should be a fun year for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching!
When I left off, the dress still needed a collar and sleeves. The collar is a simple standing collar, which was very popular in the 1890s. It is lined with the same red fabric as the rest of the dress, and interfaced with canvas to keep it stiff.
The sleeves are two-part with bent elbows. They are fitted through most of the arm, with a puff at the shoulder that gives them an almost spiky appearance.
They have false cuffs–meaning that an extra piece of fabric was superimposed onto the end of each sleeve piece before construction. This is merely decorative–the cuffs can’t fold down or anything, as they are permanently attached to the piece, and sewn into the sleeve seams.
The sleeve lining is cut to fit smoothly into the armscye, while the fashion fabric is cut to create the large poof. There is a piece of wadded up stiff netting inside the puff between fabric and lining to keep it, well, puffy.
I ended up having to tear out and re-pleat, reshape, and otherwise adjust the sleeves seven different times before I was satisfied with the look, but it turned out worth it!
With all the pieces attached, it was time for lots of finishing touches. That started with finishing off the raw edges of the crossover pieces. The neckline and armscye edges are simply turned under and overcast, but the shoulder seam edge has a piece of heavy cotton facing to give the buttonholes more stability.
At this point, I remembered that I wanted to add a pocket to this dress–never underestimate the importance of having a pocket in any costume you’re planning to wear at an all-day event!
The pocket sits flat inside the bulk at the back of the skirt, with an opening in the center back seam. It is just under the bum-pad, so that any bulk from items is completely hidden in the extra volume. It is made of three pieces–one back piece, and two front pieces, joined above and below a slit that matches up with the slit in the skirt.
Here is the pocket on the inside of the skirt. The ties keep the bulk of the skirt contained in a nice tail, so that it doesn’t just flop all over the place.
I swear I also hemmed the dress, though I seem to have forgotten to photograph that part. There is a cotton hem facing out of the same material as the one on the shoulder.
The final task was also one of the most daunting: buttonholes and buttons. I don’t normally have an issue with buttonholes, but this particular dress required 47 of them. I did have a contingency plan whereby if I drove myself mad doing buttonholes before they were finished, I would close the lower half of the skirt with hooks and eyes, and simply sew buttons over the top, but I really liked the look of a row of silk-bound buttonholes marching down the skirt, so I pressed on. Adora Belle is a character whose clothes should be a pain to get off.
It was so satisfying to get the last few on!
I wrestled and fought with this costume a lot as I was building it, but I am so thrilled with how it turned out! The fit is great, the crazy closure worked out properly, and the way it moves makes me want to turn in little circles with joy! (You can see it moving in a video on my Instagram, which is also linked on the right.)
Disclaimer: I do not smoke, but you can find New Rule FX’s fantastically realistic cigarette prop (available in filter or non-filter varieties), here.
If you are interested in the wig I’m wearing, which is hand-tied human hair, and can be styled in almost any way you can imagine (I have so far used it for Snow White from Once Upon a Time, 1840s, and Adora Belle/1890s, and plan to use it in many more ways in the future), check out my day job at Custom Wig Company!
You can see pictures of this wig in action in other styles on my Facebook page or Instagram. You can also read more about the process of making one of these versatile beauties in my post To Make a Wig.
Slideshow of detail shots, including me being very excited about my pocket! Also my super awesome black and red clocked stockings from Amazon Drygoods.
Only ten days left, so I’ll be fully immersed in Brandon’s golden jacket until we leave. I am so excited!!! In ten days, I depart for a city I’ve always wanted to go to (New Orleans), to attend an event celebrating my absolute favorite book series (Discworld), and just as an extra bonus, it’s my first anniversary! What could be better?
Edit to add a few photos from outside our hotel in New Orleans! (Including Brandon in his Moist Von Lipwig suit!)
If you read this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a bit of a geek. You’ve seen me build Harry Potter cosplays, Game of Thrones cosplays, Once Upon a Time cosplays. You’ve heard me geek out about the wonders of historical garment construction techniques, and apply both sides of that geekery to the beginnings of a Hogwarts-themed 1870s bustle gown.
Well, I’m doing it again. No kind of costume makes me happier than when I get to combine my love of historical costume with the fun of cosplay, and I am now working on another one of these ultimate mash-ups. More than that, it’s a character from my all-time favorite fandom: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
The first four days of September this year will be the North American Discworld Convention in New Orleans–since that Sunday will be our first wedding anniversary, Brandon and I are splurging on a trip to celebrate our favorite fantasy world. Of course a big part of this venture is the costumes! We will be dressing as two of our favorite characters: Moist Von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart.
Brandon’s golden suit will be coming along shortly, but today I’m here to talk about Adora Belle. Miss Dearheart was played to snarky perfection by Claire Foy in the 2010 adaption.
But while I absolutely adore this movie, I didn’t actually want to use their Adora Belle design. With Discworld, I’d rather work straight from the source.
Like all of the Discworld books, Going Postal is a brilliant piece of satire: engaging, thought-provoking, and hysterically funny. It features the adventures of Moist Von Lipwig, the unfortunately-named con-man-turned-postmaster-general, after the ruler of the disc’s largest city, Ankh-Morpork, resurrects him from the noose in order to revive the collapsed and out-of-date postal service. Just as Lord Vetinari suspected, Moist’s endless bag of huxter’s tricks and boundless charisma are just the shock the system needed, but it turns out there’s much more to reviving the post office than delivering some letters, and Moist is soon at war with some deadly competition.
Adora Belle Dearheart (a name that will surgically remove any woman’s sense of humor), is Moist’s sardonic love interest. The daughter of the inventor of the clacks system (a telegraph-ish method of communication using towers mounted with semaphore arms or, later, light boxes that flash a coded grid), Adora Belle has even more of a bone to pick with the post office’s main competition than Moist does. The current owners of the clacks swindled her family out of their property and worse.
Terry Pratchett’s character descriptions tend to be short, but vivid. In Going Postal, Adora Belle is described as having “coal black hair plastered down and forced into a tight bun at the back, so that she looked like a peg doll.” Her clothing is very consistent. Unlike in the movie, where she wears black velvet, the Adora Belle of the books always wears grey. Moist comments in Raising Steam (the third book to feature these characters) “She had bought a most attractive and therefore expensive gown for the evening. It was still grey, of course, but with a kind of luster to it that made it seem almost festive” (Emphasis mine). In her first appearance in Going Postal, she wears a “tight, grey, woolen dress,” prompting Moist to realize “how well some women could look in a severely plain dress”. Which brings us to one of the most illuminating descriptions of Adora Belle’s general appearance. This one is from the second book about Moist and Adora Belle, Making Money, “The heels helped, of course, but Spike [Adora Belle] could move like a snake trying to sashay, and the severe, tight, and ostensibly modest dresses she wore left everything to the imagination, which is much more inflammatory than leaving nothing. Speculation is always more interesting than facts.”
Here ends the scholarly portion of this post, so let’s get to the actual design I went with. The “industrial revolution” period on the Disc is generally depicted with a late 19th century aesthetic. But, of course there are lots of different looks to choose from in the late 19th century. Sir Terry does give us one clue though. Earlier in Going Postal, Moist observes that “Bustles were back in fashion in the city for some inexplicable reason.” And if we follow Roundworld fashion history, that one sentence narrows us down to one period of less than ten years. It can’t be the 1870s, because bustles have already been in fashion at least once, so it must be somewhere in the second bustle period, about 1883-1890. I couldn’t really see Adora Belle in the full-on centaur bustles of the mid-1880s, so I decided to focus my research right around 1889-90, when most would still have been wearing bustles, but the more fashion-forward were beginning to deflate their rears into the sweeping A-line shape of the 1890s. It was perfect: I could keep the narrow, severe front of an 1880s gown, but lose the massive bustle for a more graceful volume supported only by a small bum pad to give my backside a bit of extra oomph.
Once I had that image in my head, I knew when to focus my research:
But it wasn’t until I found this gown, that everything really came together:
It was perfect! The sleek silhouette, the slinky train, the power shoulders. I loved that it was one piece, instead of a bodice and skirt–I didn’t want to break up the line of the dress. Without the embellishment, it was everything the books describe–tight, plain, severe, but still unbelievably sexy. I couldn’t have asked for a better piece of inspiration.
I was slightly tripped up about the mysterious closure–the only hint to it is a slight rippling on the left-hand side. Luckily, Janet Arnold breaks down a jacket that closes the same way in Patterns of Fashion 2. The dress is from the Fashion Museum in Bath.
It gave me a couple more little details that I think are perfect for Adora Belle. I like the idea of having her dress be very plain from afar, and then, as you get closer, little details start to jump out. This dress, instead of closing with invisible hook and eyes, has a row of little buttons along the shoulder and down the side–what could be more severe yet scintillating? It also has a little row of feathered embroidery along each dart to hold the extra fabric still. In tone-on-tone, this will be invisible until someone is standing near it, but give a nice bit of depth to an otherwise plain ensemble.
The Janet Arnold pattern was a godsend. I was able to use the jacket as a jumping-off point to draft the pattern for the full dress.
I sewed the grid interfacing into a mockup I could try on, and made further adjustments from there, but I didn’t take any photos of that fitting.
After much searching, a picked out a charcoal grey linen/wool twill from Fashion Fabrics Club. It took me a long time to find a fabric I was happy with, because I wanted as dark a grey as I could find, and I wanted it to have some texture to it–twill, herringbone, pinstripe, anything to add a bit of depth. I was very pleased to find the linen/wool blend because it looks and feels like wool, but will hopefully breathe as much as possible in the New Orleans heat.
The pieces are flat-lined with a plain red cotton, which helps support the twill. I didn’t line the skirt portion of the center back, though, because I wanted it to keep its fluid drape.
Testing out the drape on the back.
The front lining is done in two pieces, with a piece of hook and eye tape between them. This will attach to an overlapping lining from the other side to help keep everything in place.
There are two darts on either side of the front to help it shape around my waist. These will be accented with tone-on-tone embroidery later.
This is the ‘underlap’ for lack of a better word. It is a glorified piece of lining that gives the left sleeve and collar something to attach to when the dress is open, and is hidden by the front piece when the dress is closed. It is made of lining material, with a facing of the grey twill only where it is possible that it will peek out from behind the actual front.
Once the underlap was attached, we did a quick fitting, and I had to adjust the waist and darts a bit.
Conveniently, I had some vintage seam binding sitting around in my stash. I used it to finish the raw, open left side of the skirt. It will give some nice stability where the buttons are attached.
A piece of twill tape around the inside waistline of the gown helps support the fabric. The waist will be taking strain both because it is so tight, and because of the weight of the skirt, so it needs all the help it can get from the inflexible twill tape.
And then it was time for another fitting–this time to check my adjustments were right, test the placement of the closure, pin up the hem, and test a collar.
I’ll be back soon with sleeves, buttons, and other embellishments!
I finally have some real progress to share on the Ravenclaw gown! Things have been going slower than I had planned, but we are moving forwards (though things will slow down even more with Jane Austen Festival this weekend)!
The gown is actually three parts: underskirt, overskirt, and bodice, and I have now finished the underskirt.
The upper part of the skirt is very plain, since it will be almost completely covered by the overskirt, while the hem is heavily embellished.
I used the Truly Victorian 1870s Underskirt pattern (TV 201). The skirt is a great basic shape, and fits perfectly on top of Truly Victorian’s early bustles and petticoats.
The construction is quite basic: one front panel, one back panel, two each side back and side front panels, and a waistband (and a pocket, which is very exciting!). I flat-lined the entire thing with cotton organdy to help it hold its shape and volume.
Instead of shortening the skirt when I cut the pieces originally, I added a bit of functional decoration with three tucks around knee level.
The waistband is the last bit before the fun of embellishing begins!
The first component of the hem embellishment is a deep, knife-pleated ruffle in bronze-colored taffeta.
Instead of a hem, the ruffle is bound at the bottom with bias strips of the blue taffeta.
I used ye olde stitch-in-the-ditch technique to finish the binding, because there was no way I was going to hand finish the binding on ten yards of ruffle that’s going to be on the ground anyway!
If you and the people around you are interested in sewing, you may have seen a video a few months back of someone very cleverly using a fork to form pleats by sliding one tine under the fabric, twisting the fork so that the fabric wrapped around all the tines, removing the fork, and sewing over the newly-formed pleat. I got to go one better. When my husband saw me heading to my sewing machine with a piece of cutlery, he understandably asked what on earth I was doing. Once I explained the technique, he promptly took the fork away and headed out to the garage, where he fabricated these nifty little devices so that I can now make even pleats in multiple sizes without the need to waste time on measuring or pinning! They made pleating a breeze!
Brandon also helped me pin the pleated ruffle in place, so that we could make sure it hung at exactly the right point when the skirt was being worn.
Next came the velveteen appliqué shapes that go above the ruffle. I made a quick template out of paper, and cut out 18 shapes to fit around the entire skirt.
Placing and stitching the shapes:
I watched a lot of Bleak House while working on these appliqués!
You can see in the pictures above that the raw edges of both the ruffle and the appliqués are showing in the center, so I needed something to cover them up. I used a bias band of the blue taffeta with a row of brown piping along the top edge, where it will contrast with the blue velveteen.
If you’re interested, you can read more about making your own piping in my blog about making Luna Lovegood’s iconic pink coat, here.
I was able to machine stitch one side of this band to the skirt by sewing right in between the blue fabric and the brown piping so that the stitches disappeared into the seam between the two colors.
The other side had to be hand finished (more Bleak House!).
Voilà! I’m very excited about how the embellishments turned out! They really look like my sketch, which is so satisfying! But in full color, it’s even better!
The next step on this project will be the overskirt, and I’m salivating to see how it turns out, but it’s going to have to wait.
The North American Discworld Convention is happening at the top of September, and Brandon and I need costumes in which to celebrate both our first anniversary, and our favorite fictional universe. I’ll be taking a break from the Ravenclaw gown in order to work on our Adora Belle Dearheart and Moist Von Lipwig costumes, which will be inspired both by the book descriptions and by the fashions of the early 1890s. Can’t wait to show you progress on those! I both dread only having only 6 weeks to work on them (though both of us will be sewing), and think September can’t come soon enough! (If you don’t know Discworld, go find some now! Your life can only be improved by Terry Pratchett’s hilarious satirical look at life, the universe, and everything.)