My First Regency

I’ve been wanting to make an English Regency gown for a long, long time now. They’re just so simple and elegant, and need I say I’m a big Jane Austen fan and that it’s always been a fantasy of mine that I was actually born far too late in the history of the world?

Until now, my costuming focus has always been on the renaissance period, bar the odd 1920s or Titanic-era outfit for a costume party. And I have absolutely nowhere to wear my beautiful Regency gown after it’s completed, since I don’t currently belong to any Austen fan group, but I have a few ideas on how to change that.

Several years ago, I purchased the Folkwear Regency/Empire gown pattern, and since then it’s been sitting, waiting—somewhat wistfully, I’m convinced—in a plastic bin with tons of other as-yet-unused patterns. I also purchased the Butterick Empire/Regency pattern when it was available, not that it compares in the least to the pure lines of the Folkwear pattern. Then two Christmases ago, my mother purchased the La Mode Bagatelle Regency Lady’s Wardrobe pattern for me, and I decided it was time to actually use one of them. Still, it took another year for me to get off my tushie and do anything, because I had to refresh my Renaissance Faire wardrobe. I’m still obsessed with ren-wear, always will be, so any other period work will most likely always get pushed aside for more important ren-wear projects. But, my new wenching attire completed, there’s time to work on a Regency wardrobe. While I was snowed in with the rest of the world in the Washington, DC, area in January I got in gear and cut out the Folkwear pattern for the gown with a short train and long puffed sleeves, which will be tacked up. Ready to go!

Underpinnings: Foundations should always come first, and through February and March I searched high and low for a good historically-accurate pattern for a pair of Regency stays. Having a full bust and curvy silhouette, it’s going to be important to wear a full-length corset to smooth and lift. The Mantua-Maker pattern looked the most likely, but I’m not an experienced corset-maker, aside from boned Renaissance bodices, which are an entirely different animal from a Regency corset. They press the body into a specific shape, rather than simply supporting and streamlining the natural form.

I wanted to start with something that wouldn’t take a lot of effort on my part to fit and alter, and I also wanted something I could make with a front lacing closure, rather than a back closure, because I get dressed alone, unassisted—no maids, willing husband, boyfriend, or roommate to help out—and back-lacing corsets without any other opening suck. Been there, done that, hated it.

The Mantua-Maker pattern looked the most likely, despite some of the sewer reviews that say it’s a bit difficult to work with. But I’ve decided to hold off on making the full Regency corset for the time being, because in my lingerie drawer was hiding the perfect garment to achieve the correct silhouette (with a few minor alterations) that closes in the front with modern hooks and eyes. I’ve had this long-line strapless-convertible torsolette (at left) for YEARS, purchased back when my cups didn’t runneth over quite so much as they do now (ahem). It still fits around the torso, but there was definite spillage of my DD-cups over the torsolette’s B-cups.  If the store where I purchased it still sold the same style, I’d buy a new one and not worry about the alterations, but it’s not available anymore.

It really has the exact same lines as a Regency pair of stays, aside from a lower back and a front closure. It’s comfortable, too. But the cups were a problem, because they did nothing to shape my bust into the correct lift-separate-and-swell. Instead, my lovely bosom was compressed and flattened. Bust gussets were the answer! I clipped each of the existing cups down the center and on both sides, cut out some triangle shaped pieces of white satin, and hand-sewed them into the trimmed openings, then ran a simple stitch all the way around the upper edge of the altered cups to bring the flare in a little bit, simulating the drawstring effect shown along the top edge of the pair of Regency stays at the Kyoto museum.

Worked like a charm!

So now I’ve got something to wear under my gown, both for day and evening. It’s most likely I’ll save this “corset” for any Regency evening event I attend and use a pair of short stays for any daytime wear. I recently purchased the Sense and Sensibility Regency Underthings pattern by Jennie Chancey and will make the chemise and short stays after the gown is complete. The Folkwear gown pattern calls for drawstrings, which will make fitting over any undergarment a lot easier. I’ll use the “corset” for fitting purposes. And the cotton I purchased for the gown isn’t sheer in the least, so an undergown and chemise won’t be strictly necessary.

The fabric is a beautiful, if not truly “period” looking, quilting cotton found at a local crafts/sundries store. It’s got a soft yellowed-cream background with an allover paisley pattern executed in dashes and dots rather than complete lines, with beige, olivey-sage, and lavender being the primary colors. Really pretty! I’ll use a sage grosgrain ribbon to trim the waistline and possibly to decorate the pinched-up sleeves.

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