Ok, I admit that it is not a very clever title, but it fits the subject matter perfectly!
First, some details. This 1812 reproduction gown is constructed from 100% cotton curtains from Ikea. Yes, Ikea. You never know where you’re going to run across fantastic fabric. In fact, these Matilda curtains were made in India, which is very fitting for a Regency gown, because cottons in the early 19th century were being imported from India. It is very lightweight, sheer gauze with a 1/8″ vertical stripe spaced every 1″ across the fabric and with woven in dots every 1″ vertically. I bought a package of two curtain panels, each 55″ wide by 98″ long.
The skirt for the gown is a two panel tube, 43″ long by 110″ circumference. The front is stitched flat to the waistband and the remaining fabric is tightly gathered into the back across 13″. Center front and center back are actually the middle of the panels, so that the two seams are lost in the back gathers. The gown opens center back with hooks and eyes on the bodice and a narrowly hemmed slit that extends 8″ down the center of the back panel. The slit is also lost in the gathers. The waistband is 1″ wide. It was cut on the cross and has long tucks taken all around it so that it has three stripes spaced close together.
The bodice pattern is taken from Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion I “c. 1806-1809 frock” and adjusted for fit and so that the entire front panel has a 2:1 gather ratio at the top and bottom (essentially, just more gathers than the original dress). What I really love about that pattern is the simplicity of the neckline. The bodice is cut separately from the straps, and the straps are cut on the straight grain, thus they fit really well with a wide square neck that stays square and doesn’t fall off your shoulders! GENIUS! Sometimes those historic tailors and dressmakers really amaze me with their sensible-ness. The bottom gathers are sewn to the waistband, but the top gathers are adjustable with a tie at center front. The ties are stitched to the armsceye seam allowance and can be tightened from center front then tucked inside the gown. The shoulder straps are folded in half with the fold towards the neck so that I didn’t have to finish that edge (another 19th century smart trick!). There is a stripe in the middle of each strap.
The sleeves are a conglomeration of various patterns… essentially they are just a normal Regency short sleeve pattern with about 6″ extra fullness at the top and bottom which is gathered into the armsceye and the sleeve band. The sleeve bands are cut on the cross, like the shoulder straps, and on the fold. They are placed so that the stripe runs around them. I wanted them to puff more, so after these pictures I took a few tucks in the underarm seams of the sleeves so they can’t hang as low on my arms. We’ll see how that looks next time I wear the dress.
With regard to inside finishing… The skirt seams didn’t need anything, because they are selvedge edges. The hem is 1″ turned twice and stitched down with a small running stitch (stitches every 1/16″ to 1/8″). The waistband is faced on the inside with a second waistband (without worrying about having three stripes running around it) that encloses all of the gathers on the top and bottom. The armsceyes are bound with self fabric bias strips. The few bodice seams are flat felled. The top edge of the back of the bodice has a narrow hem.
The best part about this dress is that it is the first entirely hand sewn reproduction garment I’ve made (I think). I’ve come pretty close in work I’ve done in the past, but I’ve always used a sewing machine for inside seams and things that won’t be seen. Not so with this one. There were two reasons for hand sewing it: 1-I wanted to have the satisfaction of it 2-I had a week to make the dress and a long road trip for about half of the week I had… you can’t use a sewing machine in a moving car as far as I know… but you can hand sew! So the second best part about this dress: I whipped it up in one week, with undergarments!
I hadn’t mentioned that part yet. To accomodate the wide, square neckline and sheer sleeves of this gown, I had to make three other new pieces as well! A sleeveless chemise to accommodate the square neck and sheer sleeves, an underdress/petticoat to add some opacity which also needed to have a square neck, and a new pair of stays in white (because my only other regency pair are pink… and that would have not been subtle at all!). To be fair and honest, I didn’t get all the inside finishing done on these four garments the first time I wore them, and I did use a sewing machine for the undergarments. I was saftey pinned into the stays… I was madly hemming the underdress the day of our final dress rehearsal… and the chemise had unfinished edges… but you couldn’t tell once I put the dress on! I still need to finish some of the undergarments, actually… so hopefully once I do that I can take some pictures of them and do a post detailing their construction! Also in the works is another underdress that can be worn under this white dress. It will be a nice medium Regency-like blue.