All’s well that ends well, Shakespeare wrote, and so it was with sewing my Regency patterns. I started with a muslin chemise and short stays and finished a long-sleeved, lined morning gown. Here’s what I learned in the process.

What I Learned

I'm wearing my homemade Regency gown (© 2016 D.H. Morris)

I’m wearing my homemade Regency gown (© 2016 D.H. Morris)

1) Adjusting the bodice shoulder line would be practical. In the photo at right I am wearing my finished gown. A quizzing glass hangs on a long chain around my neck and I’m carrying a red reticule. Had the weather been a bit cooler, I would have draped a lovely red and orange paisley shawl over my arms à la mode. Very Regency.

Observe also the fine, gauzy material tucked into my dress bodice in the front and back. I’ve seen portraits of Regency women wearing a similar fashion, presumably to keep their necks warm. I figured this was both practical and modest, as befitted an older lady.

The gown is remarkably comfortable, but the straps are almost “off shoulder.” This was the style during Jane Austen’s day, as can be seen in the image below of Marguerite, the Countess of Blessington, whose portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1822. The next time I sew a Regency gown, I plan to adjust the bodice to fit better over my shoulders.

Maguerite,_Countess_of_Blessington by Lawrence c. 1822 (Source: Wikimedia Commons PD-1923)

Marguerite, Countess of Blessington by Lawrence  (Source: Wikimedia Commons [PD-1923])

2) A polyester or cotton/polyester blend might prove very serviceable, since it shouldn’t wrinkle like 100% cotton. I assume all of the ladies’ gowns in the Masterpiece Theatre version of Pride and Prejudice were based on authentic Regency styles. But were the fabrics 100% cotton? I wonder whether those muslin-looking dresses were cotton blends, for the ladies’ dresses never looked wrinkled.

3)  Innovation is a good thing. When I was finishing the short stays I had the devil of a time keeping the bias tape in place around the arm holes. Pins didn’t work well and so I chose paperclips, which kept the bias tape snug while I basted it to the short stays. They worked surprisingly well, as you can see in the photos below.

Use of paperclips to keep the bias tape in place around the stays' arm holes (© 2015 D.H. Morris)

Paperclips kept the bias tape in place around the stays’ arm holes before basting (© 2015 D.H. Morris)

Bias tape basted around the arm holes of the short stays (© 2015 D.H. Morris)

Bias tape basted around the arm holes of the short stays (© 2015 D.H. Morris)

4)  Adding an interlining between the “fancy” fabric and the muslin lining would help stabilize the material for sewing buttonholes. My Janome sewing machine has a buttonhole attachment that makes a first-rate buttonhole. (I knew better than to rely on my hand-sewing skills for making buttonholes.) After marking the fabric and testing the buttonholer several times on a mock-up of the bodice back, I set about making the buttonholes. The first one was perfect. “Yes!” I thought. “It will only take a few minutes to finish these four buttonholes.” However … the second one did not sew properly, and the third one was a complete mess. I had to take out dozens of tiny stitches without shredding the fabric. Yikes! What a job.

The back of my Regency gown (© 2016 D.H. Morris)

The back of my Regency gown (© 2016 D.H. Morris)

I figure the problem was that the machine’s “teeth” — the feed dog, I think it’s called — could not grab the muslin lining sufficiently to do a proper buttonhole. So, rather than undo the bodice back, I decided to use velcro. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but there it is. Those buttons in the photo are sewn on top of the upper bodice. Strips of velcro are sewn underneath. The velcro works beautifully, but next time I plan to insert a piece of interlining to fortify the material before making actual buttonholes.

5) I can sew a gusset when I need to. Who knew?

Unsung Heroines of the Regency Era

Jane Austen's house in the village of Chawton (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Jane Austen’s house in the village of Chawton (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Until I began sewing my Regency clothing, I never thought about the challenges of working with long lengths of fabric and wonder how Regency era servants and modistes managed it. I had the luxury of laying out my fabric and pattern pieces on a six-foot-long, sturdy, composite worktable. Where did Jane Austen lay out her fabric? On the dining table? On the floor in the hall? I’ve not yet had the good fortune to visit her house in Chawton, but it looks large enough to have a longish hall, as seen above. A photo of the bedroom Jane shared with her sister, Cassandra, can be found in this lovely post on Jane Austen’s World (18th-century toilette). It’s hard to imagine there being sufficient room there to lay out fabric for a gown.

When I consider the care and ironing my Regency gown and chemise require, I have a sincere respect for the unsung heroines of the Regency era: the women (I am sure they were nearly all women) who washed, ironed and repaired the clothing for the ladies of the house. Lizzie and Jane Bennet would never have looked so elegant had it not been for the hard work of the below-stairs staff.

Thanks to Jennie Chancey of Sense & Sensibility Patterns for providing great service, easy-to-cut pattern pieces and excellent instructions. I truly could not have done it without her! She inspires me to try my hand at another Regency gown … maybe next year.