Busy days

I thought I´d remedy my irregular posting by sharing a handful (!) of garments I´ve made lately. No, they are not for me. (If you came to this blog hoping for breeches and tailcoats do not bother to read the following.) I detoured from my usual gentlemen´s tailoring and have spent many hours (mainly at work, but I confess, one or two weekends at home while watching The Crown) on something quite different: various ladies garments. These ladies, who are yet to be recruited, are female members of our educational staff, and they need to be dressed in Regency fashions for the Jane Austen film costume exhibition this summer. The storage is bursting with 17th century garments, but nothing later, so I had to start from scratch.

Now, how do you sew Regency costumes for people you’ve not met? The magic words are the Shift Dress or Round Gown. It is the perfect type of dress that can easily be adjusted with drawstrings, as long as the back and shoulders have a fairly good fit.

Emerging in the years leading up to La Revolution Française the informal muslin dress offered a relief from the very formal court gowns of the era. This type of gown was all the rage in the 1790s and actually became the quintessential Regency dress. They were often in white or pale muslins, but it was not unusual with printed cottons and colourful silks. The silhoutte became slimmer after 1805 or so, but variations of the round gown were in use well into the 1810s, thus covering most of the Regency era. Read more about the shift dress and its different terminology here.

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Inspiration: a 1790s chemise dress. The waistline is slightly raised. Notice how her son is wearing a similar style? Madame Seriziat, by Jacques-Louis David, 1795, Musée du Louvre.

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Inspiration: Silk (?) chemise gowns now with the high empire waist. Portrait des demoiselles Flamand, by François Dumont, l’Aîné, Musée du Louvre.

I had very little time to search for a variety of fabrics, but I think I managed to find some decent striped and printed cottons, suitable for day dresses. The castle interiors are quite grand, though, so they can´t be too plain. I constructed the pattern from scratch with great help from Janet Arnold and Cassidy Percoco, and endless research online.

What about male staff? Of course there are men among them, but that is another post.

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One of the striped gowns, dolled up with some bows. I was still trying out the design and have changed it since, the cotton tape gathers at the side and is tucked in the side opening.

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White chemise gown in striped linen. Our photographer took this picture as reference. I snatched it from him, because his camera is better. (Obviously.) Photo by Jens Mohr.

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Very sheer linen. (Closeup of one of the unlined sleeves.)

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It will probably need a fichu…

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The fitted back. I hope it will look better when ironed.

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Blue striped cotton. I decided it was better looking with a softer contrast so I turned the fabric inside out.

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Playing with the sleeves and adding a longer sash. The round gown/chemise dress tend to have rather few embellishments, and if there is something it is often found on the sleeves.

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We had a historically themed christmas party, and my co-worker E., right, used the blue striped dress, with a fichu and a turban. L., the elegant lady to the left, is one of those talented people who can throw together an outfit in no time and look just perfect. (The party was in the Royal Armoury, at the Royal Palace. Yay!)

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The dress above got a twin, this time in pink. To avoid unnecessary bulk I made the front of this one narrower, about 40″ or 100 cm. (The mannequin is a smaller size so there is still a lot of fabric.)

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Wheat-coloured stripes.

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I am afraid I stuffed the mannequin too generously.

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After these gowns I got bored. Now I know how to make them properly. They were often worn with an open robe, so I decided to try my luck. First, a rather grand one, made from a semi-old sari that has been in our stash for ages. It is a sheer mystery-material with gold thread woven to create a grid pattern. The golden border is perfect along the front edges. The front consists of two lengths, pleated and sewn to the back piece at the shoulders. The pleats are also stitched to a waistband. The back skirt is pleated and sewn to a separate smooth back piece.

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Green open robe. (I am aware that the grid pattern isn´t aligned, but historically they didn´t seem to bother with that particular detail.)

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Green open robe. My fingers were freezing so it was difficult to take sharp photographs.

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The front is gathered to the small back. The edges are not finished.

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Different mannequin with better fit.

Then I made a pink one, in a modified version. It has three quarter length sleeves and the front is gathered with drawstrings, so that the size can be adjusted to the potential person(s) wearing it. The lovely printed cotton is manufactured by Duran textiles.

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Seen here over the white linen chemise.

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I am rahter pleased with how the back turned out.

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Terrific print!

Conclusion: sewing for imaginary people is difficult (What if nothing fits?!) but sewing this type of ladies garments is so much quicker than endless tailoring and pad stitching. I am now being creative with one or two new gowns, and they will be completely different!