I've had a few occasions that required Regency dress lately so I decided that I really needed to make a new Regency gown. My current Regency gowns include a wool worsted winter gown, a silk ball gown and the first reenacting gown I ever made of dotted Swiss which was machine sewn. It's time for one based on research rather than one simply made from a pattern.
I've always been enamored by the wispy white muslin Regency gowns--particularly those that have whitework embroidery of some sort. I had been fortunate enough to come across a pair of antique white muslin curtains with a tambour embroidery. The curtains were quite large--measuring 90 X 90 inches. I used part of one to make a lovely 18th century tambour work apron which you can see in this post.. I was still left with one untouched curtain and most of the 2nd one so it seemed like I had plenty of fabric to use for a gown.
Here are some examples of existing extant embroidered gowns from the Regency era:
1804-05 French origin V&A Museum
Unknown origin--believed to be British
Napolean and Empire exhibit
Unknown European origin
Kent State Costume Collection
Early 1800's Boston Museum of Fine Art
The first consideration is how much embroidery you have, the size of the embroidery and where you would like it to appear on the gown. This curtain panel had embroidery on the bottom edge only. I decided that I wanted the embroidery to be around the skirt and on the sleeve as in the very last picture above. This sleeve style is representative of an earlier gown ca.1800-1805. I decided to use the Sense and Sensibility pattern, going with the bodice from the Butterick pattern with drawstrings and a higher neckline.
The curtain fabric is very sheer so I felt that I could use the full 90 inch width since it wouldn't be too thick when gathered. The first quandary was where to place the seams. The pattern I was using has side seams with no center front or back seam. I really wanted to keep the seams to a minimum since it would disrupt the embroidery pattern so I decided to simply have a single back seam. First I folded the curtain in half and I placed the front pattern piece on the fold and the back piece with the center back at the selvedge edge. I cut one single piece connecting the two--marking where the front side seams would be. The extra fabric was to be worked into the back.
I still had half of the first curtain left over so I placed the sleeves on that hem after determining the length they would be, then I used the scraps of the remaining part of the curtain to cut the bodice out.
As this fabric is extremely sheer, I made tiny French seams first in the sleeve then the center back, leaving open at the top about 6 inches for a placket.
Since there was a center back seam, I just turned the seam allowances in for the back closing which is what appears to have been done in the extant example.
I decided that the bodice needed to be lined so I just used some bleached muslin from Joann's and cut the bodice pieces. I placed the curtain fabric on top and treated the 2 layers as one, stitching them with felled seams. The sleeves were not lined. They were stitched in and the the seam allowance was turned in then the seam allowance was secured with a running stitch.
The skirt was gathered to the bodice and stitched and the center back of the bodice was folded in twice and whip stitched on the inside. The bodice/skirt seam was covered with 1 inch wide woven cotton tape which was stitched to create a casing for the silk ribbon. The neckline was also turned in and whip stitched to form the top casing.
Outside of bodice
Close-up of sleeve embroidery
Bottom of skirt
Close-up of skirt embroidery
Because the skirt of this gown is very sheer, I made a strapped petticoat. I used the skirt from the pattern and added a waistband to fit just under the bust gussets of my stays. I stitched wide cotton twill tape in the back and tried it on with my stays on to adjust the length of the straps which were then stitched in place in the front. Antique mother of pearl buttons were used as closures.
Since I was feeling motivated, I decided that a new dress required a new bonnet so I pulled out my Lynn McMasters soft crown bonnet pattern. I found some red silk in my stash and went to work. Since I knew I'd be stitching the silk to the crown form, I decided to us heavy pellon rather than buckram for the form.
The bonnet required cockades or bows at the side to cover the raw edges of the pleats so I decided on red and white cockades.
I trimmed the width of the ribbon and made smaller cockades to wear on my walking boots. They are attached with shoe clips so they can also be worn on my white flats. I also made a larger reticule so I could carry my necessities for the day.
It was a lovely day to wear my new gown and accessories to the DAR costume exhibit.
I'm very pleased with the results of this the lightweight curtain ended up making the perfect gown for a hot day in Washington DC!