Thursday, October 29, 2020

The backwards gown: from one century to another

 This was really an enjoyable project that originally didn't even make my list of "things to do this year" but I'm so glad I did, because I think I'll wear it MORE in its altered form!


Before and after! 

This Regency gown was made back in 2018 from a thrift store bedsheet. I still love the gentle maroon floral print, and it's extremely comfortable on me even though I've gained a significant amount of weight. When I drafted this gown, I did actually add a faux-pleated back to try to suggest that it was transitional around the turn of the century, and I made the sleeves longer than, say, a gown from 1810 would have had, although considering the accessories I styled it with at the time, it was looking much closer to 1805-1810.
 So when we did another socially distanced outing with just a few of us this summer, we were sort of aiming for somewhere between 1780 and 1810. I could have left this gown as it was, but have been pining for 1790s-wear as I have been envying my friend Emily's delightfully versatile costuming from that decade.

To that end, after digging up some accessories, I started trying to think what would make it look more 1790s. After eyeballing some fashion plates and portraits, I seized on the following two images:

This first was identified as a "Chemise a l'Anglaise, illustration from October 1795." Long, loose curls were a trademark of the 1790s, as were loose scarves as turbans and sashes. I loved the print of this gown...while it's not floral, it gave me an idea of what my gown could look like if styled differently. Note the below-the-elbow sleeves.

This lovely painting of Hortense de Beauharnais, attributed to Jacques Sablet (Musée Fesch - Ajaccio, Corsica France), had another element I was looking for: a way to add length. Again, you see the curly hair, turban, and sash! I still had some scraps, and I mean SCRAPS of this bedsheet, and it ended up being just barely enough to add extensions to the sleeves, and a ruffle all the way around.  The sleeve extensions were pieced on with an eye to length rather than pattern matching, given how little of the fabric I had left, but I will leave you to determine if you can find the seam here in a minute!

I got so excited collecting up my little accessories! I dyed the shoes and added the trim back when I made the gown, so that was all ready to go. A while back I had made this scarf/sash out of a beautiful cinnamon/gold shot taffeta remnant, with big, beautiful gold tassels found at the thrift store. Also, I had a giant curly soft wig from Amazon that I've used for 1780s hair in the past, but left down, I felt it could work for 1790s. Throw in one of my favorite brooches, a quizzing glass replica from Etsy, some gloves, and a cell phone case designed to look like a book, and I felt quite ready to perambulate the countryside. 
My lovely fellow walkers! Sara's grass-green Regency gown was so fresh, Emily's classic white gown has had so many great accessories matched with it, and Christine's stunningly embroidered 1780s gown looked perfect among the flowers.

Christine orchestrated us for individual pictures in the flowerbed next to the Art Museum.

Here you can see my JUUUUST long enough ruffle!

The finished alterations in motion! We were playing a Game of Graces in the park, and I'm not at all competitive, no! (Sadly, I lost the hair ribbon, which was tied like a turban, early on, and nobody thought to tell me, so the rest of the pictures are without it).
I am a bit askew from running in the heat, but here you can see the longer sleeves and the ruffle, giving it that nice, naturalistic flowing shape of 1790s. 

Christine really took some beautiful photos with her phone!

Next time I'll have to make sure my sash is actually sitting just under the bust where I wanted it, and my turban is firmly SEWN into my wig for the day, but you get the general idea! It was nice to re-wear a gown instead of frantically trying to finish something new for a little half-day walk, and now this gown will be useful for quite a few transitional-era events, hopefully!

Chronologically, my candy-striped robe a la anglaise should be up next in entries, but I will be saving it until I get a professional photo back from a recent shoot! So most likely I'll post about my blue and gold 'bizarre silk' mantua soon. A dream project if ever there was one!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Purple Regency day dress (Laughing Moon #126)

    This, I think, was my first finished gown during "The Great Pause" as I've taken to calling the recent plague. When my work at the local library was put on hold in late March (we then opened for curbside service in May and have gradually fully reopened since), I gleefully thought I would be doing SO much sewing at home, but it didn't take long for the existential dread to set in and cripple my productivity. Finally, I whipped out this pattern (won at the Costume College raffle last year if I remember correctly), ordered some fun fabric from the Andover collection of cotton over at Thousands of Bolts (cannot recommend enough for late Regency through Victorian...they have a themed collection just called "Historical" if you have a good eye for prints at unbelievable prices), and knuckled down to do something.

Firstly, the booklet of instructions for this pattern is *excellent*. I don't know how any intermediate sewist could mess this up because they so thoroughly cover each step with pictures. It was so nice to have that to keep me on track while my brain seemed to be wandering around outside my skull. 

I decided to take the very short puffed sleeve option and marry it with the very long sleeve extension, another plus about this pattern being that you can mix and match multiple Regency style options!


As usual, I made no mockup because I like to live dangerously. I did measure my arms though because they are quite disproportionate to the rest of me and have occasionally caused problems. No fear though! The bodice and more importantly sleeves turned out perfect the first time.
Here's the long-sleeve option (shockingly plenty long for my fat-at-the-top yet spidery-long arms).  I love that you can just lightly baste in the sleeve extension, and then just as quickly take it out for summer-wear with a seam-ripper!

A close-up of the fun fabric. I realized suddenly I didn't have anything to secure the back ties with for a loop, so I picked apart this weird piece of trim and got a really nice silky cord off it! Easy loops ...I don't like cotton self-loops, they just look too casual and give too much friction for my liking.

My friend Emily invited me out for a walk in the fresh germ-free air, so I whipped up a quick chemisette as the brisk spring day was going to be chilly (thank goodness for those long sleeves!), put on my bonnet, and grabbed my quizzing glass in case I needed to inspect anyone, haha.

Walking under the pine trees, with a Regency wedgie (I had long johns under this for the chill, and bitterly regretted not wearing a petticoat because the dress stuck to the underlayer constantly, lol).

Excellent front-wedgie too, alas. We were taking turns being dramatic with Emily's shawl in the breeze.

I stopped by the local Regency/Victorian house museum for a few outdoor pictures can see my antique brooch, and I got a lovely pair of opal and pearl drop earrings from The Lady Detalle! My front curls are NOT my own hair, which won't hold a curl to save its life...they are "side-swept clip in bangs" from Amazon. You can roll them in those foam rollers, dip them in boiling water for 30 seconds, let them completely dry over a couple of days, and voila! Permanent clip-in curls! I have used them for Regency, plan to use them for 1830s, and actually also used them for 1700-1710 just by clipping and pinning them in a slightly different way. Very versatile DIY hairpieces. 

Enjoying the Spring flowers just off the road near my house.

"We must allow her to be an excellent walker, I suppose."

I think this was my favorite shot of the day that Emily took at Forest Park...I match the blooming red bud trees nearby!
All in all, an extremely satisfying, quick, painless project, and I expect I'll use this pattern for many years to come! Super impressed by it and I highly recommend it to anyone who has their sewing basics down and is looking to make an accurate silhouette without much fuss. You can do all kinds of variations in fancier (or plainer) fabrics with more or less trim. It even has an option to add a train for ballgowns. VERY worth the money and I'd have bought it even if I hadn't won it (but thank you, whomever donated it at Costume College!). 
This was exactly what I needed for a kick in the rear to start sewing again. I went on to do THREE new 18thc silk petticoats, a lovely candy-striped Robe a la Anglaise from fabric I won from the "Fancy Styles Fabric" Instagram giveaway, a re-make of a 1790s gown (adding a ruffle and sleeve extensions),  an Edwardian plaid skirt (working on the matching jacket right now) annnnnnd my favorite, a 1700-1710-ish Mantua out of my Holy Grail 'bizarre silk' fabric. Still to come! :)