I’ve been a bit slow about publishing recently, and there’s a good reason for that! This project has been taking up my whole life! I think it was worth it, though.
This project is the culmination of a couple of things I’ve been thinking about trying for a while. First: I wanted to make a spencer and petticoat set that hooks together at the waist, like this one circa 1815.
In the soggy heat of a Kentucky summer, a little trick like this can save me a layer on my upper body, plus it’s a fun little teaching moment at events, as most people don’t realize that women wore separates like this during this period.
Second: I wanted to make an outer garment trimmed with rouleaux (thin tubes of fabric). Rouleaux trim was a little journey of discovery for me, and you can read my tutorial on how I did it here.
This is a selection of the inspiration for my spencer. I copied much of the rouleaux pattern from the spencer at bottom right because there are lovely clear pictures of it, and it had a similar feel to the fashion plate at the top left, which I particularly liked. I went with back details from another spencer, combined with the same motifs as the front and my shoulder caps were inspired by the fashion plate on the upper right. My spencer will someday soon have a tasseled belt as in the center fashion plate, but I haven’t had a chance to finish it!
I started the process with the Period Impressions 1809 spencer pattern, which I have long since modified until I have a basic spencer that fits me nicely. It’s a great base pattern for making Regency outerwear.
The pieces are put together using a technique I love, where the lining and fashion fabric are sewn together simultaneously. You put the two lining pieces you want to sew together right side to right side, and the two fabric pieces right side to right side, and then put them all together so that one matching pair of fabric and lining pieces are together, and the other matching pair are on the outsides. Then you sew all four pieces together, and when you open up the fabric and the lining, the seam allowances are sandwiched between.
You can find lots of pictures and information on how the rouleaux were made and applied in my tutorial, so here is a little gallery of the process.
And here are a few of the back rouleaux details.
Just in case there weren’t enough little tubes of fabric involved in this project already, there is also quite a bit of piping: on the edge of the color, on the center front edges, and between the bodice and the waistband.
The shoulder decorations are just petal shapes with piping around the edges, which are appliquéed onto the top of the sleeve. There is a rouleaux bow at the bottom, and I’m planning to add some little tassels hanging from it when I get the chance!
Some of the trickiest bits of decoration were the rouleaux designs on the cuffs. It took a while of staring at a photo to realize that every other loop is made while laying out the pattern in one direction, and then the gaps are filled in as you work your way back up, so that both ends of the piece end up at the top. This also got topped with a rouleaux bow, and like the shoulders will one day have some dangling tassels. I had to lay out the design in kitchen twine first (first photo) so I would know exactly how to proportion it and how long each rouleaux piece needed to be.
The waistband has a row of piping along the seam.
To finish the front edges, I sewed on a piece of piping with an extra long seam allowance, and used that allowance to encase all the other raw edges on the inside.
Finally–closures! The front of the spencer closes with hooks and eyes. There are also 9 hooks inside the waistband for attaching the separate petticoat.
Petticoats are a nice, quick little project–if you’re deperate for an extra outfit for an event, but don’t think you have time for a new dress, try adding hooks to a spencer and whipping up one of these! I plan to make a couple of these, and put waistband hooks in all my spencers, because it’s just such a nice little trick to have a walking outfit without any added heat or bulk.
The petticoat is made the way I make most of my 1816 skirts–the back piece is a rectangle the width of my fabric, and the front piece is narrow at the top to fit my front underbust measurement, and as wide at the hem as I can make it. The front waist edge is slightly shaped to help the skirt stand out in a nice bell shape without too much pulling at the sides or awkward clinging.
The whole thing is gathered onto a matching waistband.
I worked eyelets in the waistband to correspond to the hooks on the spencer. There are two at center front, one in each side front, one at each side, one in each side back, and two at the center back. These two overlap on a single hook at the center back of the spencer, which keeps the petticoat closed without the need for any additional closures.
I wore this outfit during the day at Christmastide, and just about died of happiness. I’ve been working on the spencer since August, and it took so much longer than I anticipated. I gave up on a couple of other things I wanted to do in order to get it done, and I have no regrets! I am totally, completely in love with this outfit!
Sorry I won’t have a separate post about the bonnet–I started it ages ago and didn’t take any photos of that part of the process, and then it languished for a long time because I wasn’t happy with the brim. I finally pulled the brim off and drafted a new one, which I love! All the decorations came out of my stash, too, which made me happy! The veil is a scrap of lace left over from my wedding dress!
Here are a few progress photos of covering the bonnet.
And here are photos of the full ensemble at Christmastide at Locust Grove!
And here’s a little video that Brandon took, which shows everything really nicely! I’ve never felt more like I stepped out of a period movie! (In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m REALLY excited about this outfit!) I can’t wait to wear it again!
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2019 is full of things that bring you as much joy as this project has brought me!
The Jane Austen Festival in Louisville is fast approaching! Are you looking to amp up your Regency costuming experience? Maybe you love the festival, but have never dressed up. Maybe you made a dress last year, and are now intrigued by the whole idea and want to know how to make it more authentic. Maybe you’ve been inspired by the outfits you’ve seen at the festival, or in photos, but you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’re coming for the first time, and just want to jump in headfirst.
Whichever, if any, of these describes you, I’m here to help!
On the surface, Regency era clothing seems simple: empire waist dress, hair in bun, bonnet, slippers, done. And that’s all fine! I’m not here to tell anyone they can’t have fun in the basics. Costuming for an event like the Jane Austen Festival is all about finding an outfit that makes you feel comfortable and happy so that you can enjoy yourself! But if you’re ready to dig deeper, there’s so much more to Regency fashion than the basic sketch. I’m here to guide you through and help you get the most out of the time that we all have left to get ready for the Festival this year!
1. Which part of the Regency?
While technically the actual Regency of Prince George for his father, the infamous Mad King George, lasted from 1811-1820, for the purposes of fashion, we usually look at a larger period. Using a broader definition of the Regency, from around 1790-1820, makes particular sense when we’re talking Jane Austen since, though her publishing history all lies within the political Regency, several of her books were written, and are probably set, earlier.
So we’re looking at a thirty-year period from 1790-1820. Fashion, even if the basic forms remain similar, can change a whole heck of a lot in thirty years, as any three decades of the 20th century can tell us, and there’s no one item of clothing that was fashionable through all thirty years, except maybe your stockings and shawl.
We begin in the early 1790s, when the fashionable silhouette still has as much in common with what we think of as 18th century fashion as it does with any part of the early 19th. The waist is still more natural, expanding into a large volume around the hips, with a large “pigeon-breast” created by a voluminous handkerchief wrapped around the shoulders and stuffed into the front of the dress.
Despite the silhouette, however, you can see how this fashion is moving away from the stiff, heavy under-structure of the mid 18th century, and towards the lighter, more diaphanous fabrics we associate with the Regency period.
As we move through the decade, you can see how wide ruching at the waist, or a wide sash, both of which cinch in the fluffy volume of fabric above and below the waist, begin to create the appearance of a higher waistline. As fashion moves forward, this separating band between skirt and bodice will grow smaller and smaller until it creates the empire silhouette we all know and love. Hairstyles, however are still the fluffy confections with dangling curls that we have been seeing since the 1780s. Keep an eye on those turban-like headdresses, though. Those are coming forward in time with us.
By the time we hit the late 1790s, the silhouette has come to distinctly resemble our basic mental picture of “Regency.” Here is the empire waist, the bonnet, the short Spencer jacket. But here we can also see the continuing influence of the 18th century. The skirt is still heavily gathered and voluminous, though some of the under-structure and padding that gave it its shape even a few years ago are gone. There is still a hint of the pigeon breast, which will hang on for several more years before a new bust shape takes its place.
Now we come into the early 19th century, and the Empire silhouette really starts to come into its own. The skirts, while still full and gathered all the way around the waist, have less and less support underneath, so they have become drapier, and more column-like, with elegant trains or ‘sweeps’ at the back. The hair is shrinking down as well, though it tends to retain the frizzy curl of the late 18th century, reworked into a different shape.
As we continue on into the 1800s, the skirts are becoming narrower in the front, with the volume beginning to concentrate at the back. This trend will continue through the rest of the period. You can also see examples of small hem decorations. The woman on the left has a braid of fabric around her hem, while the woman on the right seems to have embroidery. Notably, one of the dresses has lost its train, making it more convenient for walking. The busts are losing the rounded, pigeon shape, and beginning to migrate higher in order to make way for ever-higher waistlines. The hair is small and contained at the back of the head.
In the late 18-aughts, the trend of “lift-and-separate” as the fashion for bust shape is really beginning to take off, though you can still see a natural amount of chest and collarbone above the bust. You can also see that the skirt volume has completed its migration to the back of the dresses, creating an elegant sweep even without the added length and weight of a train. Hemlines have risen enough to show most of the foot. We are also seeing much more pattern and color than we have in the gowns up until now. These ladies are demonstrating both an evening look with very small short sleeves, and long gloves, and a walking dress with long, narrow sleeves topped by sleeve caps that mimic the short sleeves.
As we move into the early 18-teens, you can see that the bust has risen considerably above where it was even four years ago, and is beginning to encroach on the collarbone. This lift is created by the long stays of the period, and will become even more pronounced as the decade goes on. The waist, however, has not yet migrated up to meet the higher bust line. The hem of the skirt is beginning to widen towards an A-line shape, but there are still minimal petticoats underneath, so it retains its fluid drape. The front of the hair is growing slightly more elaborate, but most of the hair is still concentrated at the back of the head, so we cannot see the style from the front.
Now we come to the part of the Regency in which I usually live. As the 18-teens move along, embellishments become more and more elaborate, with hem decorations ranging anywhere from a single ruffle to an elaborate confection that nearly reaches the knees. Long sleeves were very fashionable for day wear, and sometimes for evening dress. The narrow sleeves with larger cap were still around, especially on outerwear, but even more prevalent were large, loose sleeves, gathered in at the wrist, such as the extremely elaborate ones on this fashion plate. For Louisville in July, I absolutely love these sleeves. Made from a lightweight cotton, they keep the sun off while acting like an enormous fan on your arm. Day dresses are often made with high necklines, accented with elaborate ruffs or lace collars.
Waistlines are as high as they can get without actually migrating above the bust, and in order to make this possible, ‘the girls’ are hoisted as high as a good pair of stays can get them, with virtually no flat collarbone/sternum area between bust and neck.
See how the skirt appears stiffer here than in our 1812 example? The volume continues to grow at the hem, and it is now supported by several layers of petticoats stiffened with tucks or ruffles and starch. Hemlines are rising still more, and dresses in this part of the Regency often show the entire ankle. The bow at the back of her waist is highly fashionable in the mid-18-teens, and her hairstyle is now sitting on the crown of her head. This fashion in hair also affected the fashionable bonnets, which had to grow high crowns in order to accommodate the style.
And here in the late teens, the Regency style is cresting its wave, and about to move on into the lower waistlines, wide shoulders, and enormous, bell-shaped skirts of the Romantic era. The waistline is still high in the late-teens, but won’t remain so for long, as the fashion began to move lower and lower over the next several years. The decoration is still elaborate, but the hem is widening yet more, and dropping down to cover more of the leg, though shorter styles remained in vogue for dancing. The bonnet is growing even more, and the brim is not only wide, but very tall and open, creating an oval frame around the face. Underneath, the hair is still high on the head, and the styles are getting wider.
The change over the course of the Regency period is gradual, with one style leading gently into another, bit by bit, but over the course of thirty years, these gradual changes add up into a vast difference in style from one end to the other. Compare our first image with the last one: the two are vastly different, and yet clear, minor changes, year by year, led from one to the other, and both looks are beautifully appropriate for the Jane Austen Festival, although the last image is from two years after her death.
You can see from this timeline how important it is to narrow your look down to a specific point within the broader Regency period. A gown from 1792, with a spencer from 1812, and a hat from 1818 would all look very strange together, because each of these pieces of clothing co-developed with one another as time went on. The 1812 spencer is perfectly suited to complement an 1812 gown. A dress from 1790 looks beautiful with its own understructure of false rump and petticoats, but very odd with the minimal underskirts of 1808. A tall 1819 hairstyle would be destroyed by the neat little hats of 1804.
Though it may seem limiting, narrowing yourself down will make coming up with an outfit much easier. Looking at images from the whole of the period can get extremely overwhelming, but once you have picked a year, or at least a small period of 3-4 years, it will become a lot easier to make decisions. It will also ensure that each part of your outfit complements the rest, and you will look like you stepped right out of a fashion plate.
There are many ways to pick which bit of the Regency you would like to interpret. The most obvious is to pick the part that you find most attractive, or that you think will look best on you. If this doesn’t help, start by thinking about your favorite Austen book, when was it written? Published? When does it take place? Would you like to bring to life the heyday of Jane’s youth in the 1790s, or would you prefer to live for the weekend as one of the public who first got to enjoy her works in the 18-teens?
Once you have figured out when you want to be, there are several other factors that will help you in creating the perfect outfit.
2. What time of day is it? What sort of activities will you be doing?
Throughout the course of the Regency, day and evening dress differ. Women tended to be mostly covered from neck to feet during the daytime, while evening dress tended towards lower necklines, and more bare arms. Fabrics also differ. Day dresses are mostly cotton or linen depending on status and the exact time period, while both silk and cotton were fashionable in the evening. As with everything, there are no set rules that apply to the entire period. Use your chosen date or date range to guide your research.
Think about what you might be doing–if you are planning to attend the ball, do you want to dance, or simply to observe and play cards? If you are dancing, you will need to think about how your dress will affect that. Is there a train that needs to be pinned up? If you are interpreting a part of the period where shorter hemlines were in vogue, I would advise that you take full advantage of that for your evening gown. If you do not plan to dance, explore the wonderful world of “evening dresses”, “opera dresses”, and “dinner dresses” to provide the event with a bit of variety. Not every dress worn in the evening needs to be a ball dress.
For daytime, a walking dress or promenade dress is the obvious choice for strolling through the shops of Meryton and taking tea with friends, but it is not the only choice. Are you a sporting lady? Consider the fun of an archery dress, or the elegant simplicity of a riding habit.
If you are interpreting the mid-late 18-aughts, you may want to wear a short sleeve with long gloves for day time. If you are looking to the 18-teens, consider a long, loose sleeve. Remember the two part sleeves from earlier, with the narrow long sleeve topped by a puffy short sleeve? Those long sleeves can simply be basted to the band of the short sleeve, so that they can be removed if you would like to wear the dress with short sleeves for evening-wear.
Plenty of people won’t want to make two different dresses for day and evening, especially if you only dress in Regency clothes once or twice a year. Don’t worry, there are plenty of options to make a single dress do double duty. Many Regency dresses have low-necklines, with the necks filled in by any number of things during the day. In the very early Regency, this might be a large square or triangular handkerchief. Later on, you could wear a light fichu (a smaller, usually triangular or modified triangle-shaped scarf that either tucks into, or sits atop the neckline of your gown). Later still, the chemisette comes into fashion. This is an undergarment much like a dicky which closes around the neck, and ties under the bustline, worn with any number of interesting collars or ruffs. It’s relative, the habit shirt, also has sleeves, and is lovely with a jumper-style gown.
In the evening, simply remove your fichu, chemisette, etc… and you have a whole new look.
The same thing can also be achieved with an outer garment. During the day, you can cover your bodice with a spencer (short jacket) or pelisse (long coat). These can be made of light materials so as not to add too much heat, and the pelisse can be left open down the skirt front. Both can add a lot of fun to your outfit. By changing out fichus, chemisettes, spencers, and pelisses, you can have a different outfit for each day of the festival out of a single gown.
Ok, you know when in the Regency you want to be, and you know what time of day or activities you are dressing for. What more planning could you need?
3. Personalize it!
Don’t just stop at “What year?”, “Day or Night?”–you won’t really feel comfortable in your outfit unless it feels like ‘yours’. Think about your Regency persona–this can just be an interpretation of your own personality, or you can choose or make up a character to be while you’re dressed up. Ask yourself some questions:
What class are you from? Are you a Bennett? A Bertram? A Smith? Or are you a Mrs. Hill? Wealthy, poor, or somewhere in between?
What do you like to do? Would you rather lounge around in a morning dress à la Lady Bertram, or traipse about the countryside?
What is your personality like? Are you a Mary, or a Lydia? Introverted or extroverted? Plain, practical clothing, or daring frippery? Perfectly appropriate to any occasion? Likely to make a gaffe?
What are you attracted to? Piles of ribbons, oodles of ruffles and lace, or sleek, clean lines?
How old are you? Does this affect how fashion forward you are? Are you nostalgic for the past, or do you still love to keep up with the latest styles?
What do you (or your character) want to show the world? Are you Lady Catherine, determined to project power and control? Fanny Price, always happier to fade into the background? Mrs Weston–suddenly thrust into a higher rank of life, or Miss Elliott–desperate to embody a level of wealth you no longer possess?
There are no wrong answers to these questions, simply use them to direct your research and help you narrow down an idea of what you, or your character, might have worn in this period. Looking at portraits and genre paintings from the time is a great way to get a sense of what people of different classes and personalities were wearing.
Look at the paintings below. What do the ways the subjects have chosen to be portrayed make you think about them?
This part has been a basic overview of the period, with some tips on how to make your outfit specific to the period, and right for you. Next time, we will look at some of the details that make a Regency outfit really come to life!
If you’re like me, you’ve read a lot of historical fiction, or possibly historically-inspired fantasy books. Inevitably, somewhere in these books, a woman gets a new dress. The dressmaker comes, takes measurements, shows her swatches and sketches, goes away, and a day or two later, the dress arrives, lovely, and perfect, and above all, finished. Now in my case, when I was young, I dreamed of reaching a skill level where I could work that fast (yes, yes, I know, the dressmaker would have had apprentices to help as well, but twelve-year-old me does not care). The older I got, and the more I sewed, the more I was baffled. I could sew fast. I could sew neatly. I didn’t actually start using a machine until I was 18, so I had years of hand-sewing experience. But there was still no possible way I could complete a garment, let along a ballgown, (even with help) in 48 hours. If you’re someone who knows anything about the differences between period and modern construction, you’re already laughing at me.
Over the years, especially since I started interpreting, I have added to my repertoire of hand-sewing skills, but nothing has shone light on the mysterious speed of historical seamstresses and tailors like the Burnley & Trowbridge workshop I attended in October. I signed up with two of my dearest friends, Amy and Melissa, almost as soon as the workshop was announced last winter, and the three of us planned for months and then trekked across the Appalachians to Williamsburg, VA. There were several times over the months between signing up and going when I considered dropping out for purely financial reasons. Even minus the hotel, gas, and price of admission, this was going to be an expensive project. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I stuck with it.
The workshop was led by Janea Whitacre, who is the Mistress Milliner and Mantua Maker at Colonial Williamsburg. Over the course of the three day workshop, she taught each of the (approximately) dozen women in the workshop how to make a Regency pelisse from the ground up. We started by ‘cutting on the person’ (draping on a body, rather than a dress-form), and stitched everything using period techniques that have fallen out of modern dressmaking, but suddenly explain how it was possible for a skilled dressmaker to produce garments so quickly. Everything about period construction is centered around a single goal: sew the smallest number of seams possible, mostly by not sewing the same seam twice unless absolutely necessary.
Amy draping my bodice.
Sewing my bodice.
Melissa and I were very excited about our finished bodices!
Thanks Angela Burnley, for letting me use these photos!
With machines to help us, sewers today are rarely troubled by the idea of bag lining, where the same garment if made first of lining fabric, then of fashion fabric, and put together afterwards. But think how silly that would be if every seam had to be sewn by hand! You’d have to make the same garment twice! The period techniques we learned for lining are like magic tricks. You put your fabric together in a way that boggles the modern sewer’s mind, sew a single seam, and it all comes out stitched and lined! For example: did you know it’s possible to sew a lined sleeve with a single seam? You just fold the sleeve with the right sides together, fold the lining with the right sides together, stack the two pieces on top of each other, sew down the length of it once (though 4 thicknesses of fabric), turn the fabric right side out and, voilà! the lining is inside. The seam allowances are all going in one direction, but here’s the thing: who cares? When did it become more important to have seam allowances open than to sew efficiently?! The old finished product looks just as good, keeps the lining from twisting around inside the sleeve, and halves the sewing time. And it could be done on a machine, if you want. There’s literally no downside.
My Completed Sleeve
No need to worry about putting things in backwards when Melissa sets your sleeves right on you!
If you want to learn how to line a bodice in half the time, you’ll have to attend a workshop yourself, since Janea is a thousand times better at explaining in person with the real pieces in front of her than I could ever be trying to put everything in a single blog. I’m telling you: take one of these workshops, they are more than worth the price of admission and the travel time. The first couple of hours were worth the $165 I paid. B & T only have a couple of their workshops for this year up, but keep checking back.
But I suppose you want to see the concrete item I got out of this, and not just hear me geek out about all the tricks. So here you go:
Each of us brought our own inspiration images to the workshop, and I was working to reproduce this extant piece:
I’ve been wanting to try reproducing it for a while, and I’m so glad I didn’t get around to it until now.
When I was originally planning this project, I wanted to make it out of this silk from Renaissance Fabrics, but sadly, in the two intervening years, they ran out (shocking, I know). It’s incredibly difficult to find really interesting striped fabrics like this, and finding one that had stripes and florals was pretty much a pipe dream, but luckily, Renaissance also had a lovely cream, fawn and sky blue striped silk faille that worked very nicely. It even picks up the colors of the original piece.
Most of my process shots are from after I returned from the workshop. As you can imagine, everything there was happening way too fast to get many pictures in. By the time I left, I had a completed bodice and the sleeves and skirt were set and pinned in place, ready to be attached. The bodice seams are all sewn by top-or-prick-stitching (I chose prick) through two layers of fabric and one of lining, then covering the seam on the inside with the other lining piece and quickly slip-stitching it into place. Since I wasn’t lining my skirt, I got to learn about a fun little thing called a mantua maker’s seam, which allows you to sew a fully finished seam like a french seam with just one row of stitching. The Fashionable Past has a quick tutorial here.
The first thing I did when I got home was to sew the sleeves in place. Since the material is very thick and pulls hard against the pins, I basted it before doing the final prick-stitching. As you can see, the fullness is controlled by pleats, rather than gathering, since these are much easier to set on a person.
The skirt was attached the same way:
After that, I had to take a break for a while in order to finish the company dresses for the Jane Austen society AGM. You can read about Heather’s here, and Meredith’s here. When I got back to the pelisse, it was time to finish the front edges and hem.
At this point, life got in the way again as I rushed to complete holiday gifts. But once the holidays were over, I could finally buckle down and finish this project, which was now spread out over three months.
Not unlike the project itself, this post is not getting away from me, so I’ll wrap it up here, and there will be a special 2nd edition of this post on Wednesday, where you’ll get to see collar, trimming, buttonholes and the finished product! Here’s a sneak peek:
These next two posts might be pretty short. I was in such a rush to finish things by AGM (the big annual Jane Austen Society conference), that I didn’t take as many pictures as normal.
I’ve been doing a lot of sewing for the past month, but you may have noticed, not as much writing. Not only did I have two complete Regency outfits to finish, I also attended the Burnley & Trowbridge Company’s pelisse workshop. More on that when I’ve finished the project, but I learned so much there may be brain leaking out my ears.
My big projects have been dresses for my boss and one of my coworkers to wear to the AGM, where we sell hairpieces, take orders for wigs, and help people with their Regency styling. Both of their gowns were styles I’ve never tried before, starting with my coworker Meredith’s green pinstripe crossover.
Meredith was a bit leery of Regency style, and wanted something very simple and sleek. Like me, she’s only about 5 feet tall, and was drawn to the elongating v-necked crossover styles she found in her research. She requested plain long sleeves and no extra frills whatsoever–which I realized is a new challenge for me. I do love my ruffles.
My first picture, though, is of the one and only extra frill I did add:
I just adore the fabric she chose–the stripes are so tiny that from a distance, the dress appears a lovely shade of seafoam, but the pattern becomes apparent as you get closer. Everybody at the company wants pinstriped dresses now–including me!
Here’s the bodice, ready to go, with the trim in place all along the neckline to the waist seam. I made the neckline nice and high for modesty and day-time appropriateness sans chemisette. I suppose she could wear one, but there wouldn’t be much room for it.
Since the skirt crosses over and is open in front, it needed to be hemmed on the sides as well as the bottom. The dress is made of very fine lawn, so I used french seams on the skirt in order to finish them. I pressed the first seam allowance open so that it would fold more neatly when I made the next seam.
The skirt extends a few inches beyond the edge of the bodice so that the two front panels overlap as much as possible–we don’t want any peeking petticoats when she walks! (Especially since I haven’t made her any petticoats!) The top edge of the skirt has a very narrow hem until it disappears under the lining.
The waist is closed with a narrow sash made of a bias strip of the same material. (Fun Fact: Always seam together bias strips at a 45 degree angle–with the grain of the fabric–it breaks up the bulk of the seam and helps it disappear so that the join is almost invisible.) The sash is tacked around the waistline to keep it in place. There are also hooks on the upper neckline corner and on the inner skirt corners.
And that’s it, really. No ruffles, no frills, just nice, clean lines. I love the way it looks on her (sorry about the wrinkles, we didn’t get around to taking pictures until the last day):
Obligatory plug for my awesome job: Meredith has a blonde bob in real life–this gorgeous ginger Grecian is the same wig she uses to cosplay Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter. Custom, hand-tied, human hair wigs may be expensive, but they sure are versatile! Case-in-point: I’m about to go style mine, which has already served me very well in 1816 and 1822, into a style from the 1790s!
I’ll be back next week with more about Custom Wig Company’s AGM style! In the meantime, like my new Facebook page to see updates about current projects and events, and follow me on Instagram (@fabricnfiction) for event photos, projects, and cats trying to “help”.
Like many girls who grew up in the ’90s, I first heard the word ‘milliner’ in Felicity’s Surprise, the third book associated with the colonial American Girl doll. Right around the time I was reading those books, my family took a spring break vacation to Colonial Williamsburg. Being, at 8, just as much of a nerd as I am now, I read everything I could get my hands on about colonial America. As if my encyclopaedic knowledge (as in, I’m sure I literally read any related encyclopaedia articles in my spare time), wasn’t enough, my mother also dressed my four-year-old sister and I in lovely handmade colonial dresses for the trip. I was in heaven. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around how amazing it was that there was a place in the world where everyone acted like it was 1775.
We strolled the streets of Williamsburg, eating rock candy and dressing up my two-year-old brother in a tiny tricorn hat, until we reached THE MILLINER. I knew all about milliners–I had read Felicity’s Surprise! I chatted away with the reenactors, thrilled beyond my wildest dreams. I would be totally embarrassed, except that as a reenactor myself today, I know how much fun it is to interact with people who are really excited about history, especially kids (if you’ve never taught four thrilled seven-year-olds an English Country Dance, you’re missing out). So, I talked all about sewing to the ladies there and they told me how maybe one day I could be an apprentice, and I wish I could find them and thank them, because they made one little girls year that day. In fact, I pretty much forgot that this wasn’t real, and when I realized I wasn’t actually going to move to Williamsburg and become a milliner’s apprentice, I was crushed. Like I said. Big nerd.
BUT. Now I am a grown-up! It’s my turn to millin (I really wish that was a verb)! So after completing my spencer, it was time to create my very first bonnet (because who doesn’t like a matched set?).
I used Lynn McMaster’s Regency Hard Crown Bonnet Pattern (view B). There are places where the instructions could be a bit more explicit, but I doubt this is an issue for anyone who’s made a buckram hat before. Even as a newcomer, it didn’t take too much head-scratching to figure it out. I’d definitely recommend it.
The first step was to create a poster board mockup, which made me feel like I was back in kindergarten making paper bag hats. When I was sure that the mockup fit, it was time to cut into the buckram. This made me pretty nervous, until I realized I had enough of the stuff to make a whole second bonnet if everything went really wahoonie-shaped (Terry Pratchett, anyone?).
With buckram pieces in hand, I settled down to wire them. It’s oddly satisfying to stitch millinery wire around the edges of this heavily stiffened fabric. This step also included sewing the back seams of the brim and the crown side piece, and stitching the top of the crown to the sides. The buckram was a little unruly until I had it stitched about a quarter of the way around, and it’s tricky to find a good way to hold something so 3-dimensional while you’re sewing, but soon I had a funny-looking mesh fez. I definitely tried on pieces of the bonnet at every stage of the process. I’d lie and say it was to check the fit, but let’s be real. It’s because it looks hilarious. I realize now that this might have been the time for selfies…oh well. Guess I’ll have to make another bonnet.
Once the form was wired, both both pieces got bias binding, and then covered with flannel, which smooths the silhouette of the bonnet and protects the outer fabric from the scratchy buckram and wires.
Finally, the bonnet got to start looking pretty as I stretched taffeta over the crown:
Somehow I missed taking pictures when I covered the brim, so I’ll skip straight to the fun part: decorating!
Okay, so I lied a little. I did have to sew the brim to the crown before I could start decorating–but now it looks like a bonnet! What a relief when the two pieces actually fit together without too much drama, beyond the inherent struggle of shoving a needle through all those layers.
At this point I started straying from the pattern. Instead of binding the raw brim edge with more of the taffeta, I edged it with that lovely velvet ribbon from Renaissance Fabrics (I bought the taffeta there too). Unfortunately, I took this picture late at night, and the flash made everything look magenta. Just for good measure, I put a strip of velvet ribbon around the top of the crown as well.
When I was at Joann picking up fabric glue and other sundries, fate led me to walk past these adorable little felt roses, in the perfect color to match the bonnet! I made some of the green ribbon into flowers using this tutorial from What A Beautiful Mess, et voilà! The rest is history.
The only thing left was to line the inside, which is a bit of a letdown from the fun of decorating.
There’s definitely some ripples and bumps, but sometimes even a perfectionist likes me has to admit that this is just my first try, and I’m really pretty thrilled with the results. Can’t wait to show you pictures of the whole ensemble in action at Indiana Frontier Experience!
P.S. The next bonnet won’t be until this summer sometime, but I’ve decided I’m going to leave the beaten path and try to recreate this gorgeous thing:
Let me tell you about the beginning of my Regency wardrobe.
Almost two years ago, on the first of July, 2013, I moved from my childhood home in Petoskey, MI to Louisville, KY. I was moving down to become the second full-time employee at Custom Wig Company (as in, just me and the owner, Heather). It was a big jump. I had been doing contract work for Heather for a few years, business was growing, and she decided it was time to have four hands working all year round. I was lucky enough to have a bit of extra cash for the move and a wonderful boyfriend who was willing to take the leap with me, move to a new city, and take our chances on this job.
Not long before we moved down, Heather sent me an email: some relatives were taking her and her husband on a vacation to the Caribbean, and she was going to be gone the week of the Louisville Jane Austen Festival. It was happening only three weeks after my move, so it was up to me, but could I please, please, pretty please man a table, all by myself, in a new city, for a company I’d only really worked for for a few weeks. I agreed. Oh, she told me, and you’ll need Regency clothing.
Great. I love Jane Austen, and I had worked in the costume shop at my university’s Theatre department. I knew my way around garment construction, and had a solid background in fashion history. How bad could it be? Well. I ordered patterns and fabric for both Brandon (yes, he likes Jane Austen too, how lucky am I?) and myself, trying to time the orders so they would be delivered right around our arrival in Louisville.
Nothing went quite as planned. First, half of the patterns never turned up. Whether they were delivered to the wrong house or taken from the porch before we arrived, I’ll never know. Then, the fabric came, and instead of the lovely cotton lawn I’d ordered for my dress, they’d sent a horrible striped waterproof canvas. By the time I’d borrowed some patterns and gotten the right fabric, I had only a week to make chemise, short stays, dress, breeches, shirt, cravat, waistcoat and frock coat. After almost no sleep, very little food, and a lot of mental support from Brandon, I got everything but the shirt done in time (Brandon had a shirt he’d used for Renaissance Faire that wasn’t perfect, but was good enough once the waistcoat and cravat were on).
Since then, the two of us have become Costumed Interpreters at Locust Grove, a local historical site, and I’m constantly adding to our 1816 wardrobes, working for ever-more historical accuracy (for example, I no longer walk around during the day with chest, arms and hands uncovered, as in the picture above). My most recent addition was a spencer (short jacket) made from maroon cotton twill, with military detailing. It wasn’t based on one specific piece of research, but was inspired by many extant examples and fashion plates like these:
I started with maroon cotton twill for the body and black silk batiste for the piping, both from Farmhouse Fabrics. The velvet ribbon is from Renaissance Fabrics. I originally intended to do all the trimming with the ribbon, but ended up buying a maroon braid to do the bulk of it instead, since that was easier to support with research.
I used the Period Impressions 1809 Spencer Pattern, which I modified to make it more appropriate for 1816. I removed the peplum, which was overly large, made a waistband that went all the way around and added some simple sleeve caps and a more interesting cuff to dress things up a bit. I got lucky and a size ten fit me almost perfectly right off the bat, I only took in the curved side back seams a tiny bit at the bottom to prevent unsightly gapping.
Once the lining was sewn and fitted, it was time to start with the main fabric, which means–decorating! I very carefully measured and marked where the braid would go on the fronts to make sure it would line up in the end, and I’m really happy with how it turned out! Since I’d already done the lining, putting the rest of the bodice together was a piece of cake. This sturdy twill sews like a dream!
In order to put off the moment when I would have to make the sleeves, I piped the collar next. I had never made piping before, but I got out my handy-dandy rotary cutter and went for it. I overshot the yardage I would need a little (ok, a lot–there’s enough silk left to make Brandon a new cravat). I got the cord stuck in the seam in a few places, but I managed to take out those stitches and fix it without too much trouble. There’s a few lumps and bumps, but I can live with them.
But now the sleeves, the dreaded sleeves. It isn’t as if there weren’t plenty of plain-sleeved spencers in 1816, but I had to go and decide I wanted sleeve caps. I made another copy of the sleeve pattern, cut it up and modified it to make the puff. I went through several mock-ups before I got a shape and size I really liked (my first try was enormous!). When I was finally satisfied with the muslin version, I used it as a pattern and cut into the twill with baited breath. After the obligatory left-sleeve-in-the-right-armhole debacle and a lot of shuffling the gathers around, everything turned out all right!
After that, the cuff was no big deal. Just a rectangle of fabric, sewn in half lengthwise, then pleated to fit the wrist opening, basted in place and attached. I wanted to at least use some of that lovely velvet ribbon, so I added a strip of it to mask the join.
Now, it was just a matter of finishing. I sewed the lining to the fabric (with piping down the front–that was the scariest bit of piping), cut a waistband and sewed that on (with more piping, ’cause I was on a roll!), added hooks and eyes, and I was finished!
I’ve decided I like making spencers. It’s a fun item to tweak and play with. Since the bodice is such a basic shape, you can make pieces that look very different by altering parts of the pattern. I’ll look forward to making my next one, but that won’t be for a while. So many things to do! My next project will be (drum roll) a bonnet! All the supplies have arrived and I should be starting it this weekend.
I was bad and didn’t order a swatch of the taffeta first, but miracle of miracles, it matches the spencer fabric exactly (thanks, Renaissance Fabrics!)! The green is a double sided silk satin ribbon that is even more beautiful in person, and look–the velvet ribbon gets to join the party! Hopefully this doesn’t end up looking too Christmas-y, as I’ll be wearing it for the first time at the end of April. Whatever happens, you can see it here.