Drop-front Dress and Spencer

Last time I presented a number of GOWNS I have been making at work for our staff. I have written about it before, but it is a gift to be able to mix work and pleasure. Costuming is something I normally do for my own amusement, but now I have again moved out from my comfort zone over to the proffessional arena.

While exploring the shift-dress I also started on a couple of other garments. First, a drop-front gown, also known as bib-front, stomacher-front or apron-front, with a short spencer:

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I used every scrap of the same teal and gold sari that became an open robe.

The formidable Janet Arnold provided me with the pattern, the “Salisbury Museum” day dress, ca. 18oo.

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I omitted the double sleeve, but otherwise I used the pattern more or less without alterations. The original dress was constructed in a manner that was was quite common at the time: the lining was assembled first and then the outer fabric was sewn on top of it, neatly sealing all seams between the layers. I decided to use this technique. I machine stitched the lining, but hand-stitched the outer fabric. It was fun and it came together rather quickly.

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The bodice. The green cotton is pinned closed, and covered by the bib. (I am aware of the mis-matching greens, but I found a perfect lenght of the pea-green cotton in our stash. Of course they are never seen together.) The neck is finished with strip of the cotton, cut on the bias.

Pinning sari fabric to the lining . Then it was trimmed, edges folded in and whip-stitched along the edges.

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Inside view of the folded down bib. Nearly finished. The shoulders need to be covered with the sari-fabric and the skirt seams are only pinned. The tucker or fichu is of course optional. A chemisette could be nice too.

The skirt front fastens around the waist with ribbons, then the bib is turned up and pinned in place.

I pleated the fabric on the bib, something I regret, it took ages to keep the vertical stripes aligned…

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The woven pattern works well with the design, giving a rich effect, don´t you think? Caroline Bingley could wear this…

When I got bored with all this gauzy sari-fabric I turned my attention to some tailoring using a rich, dark green broadcloth. There was just enough for a spencer, like the one seen on Elizabeth Bennet:

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Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

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Again I used the same bodice pattern, but altered the front and drafted a collar.

Working on the standing collar. Pad-stitching interlining to broadcloth.

Then I folded the seam allowance to the inside, securing it with small but loose stitches. The green linen lining went on top of this.

But first I steamed the collar and allowed it cool on the ironing board.

A peek of the inside: green linen lining. I used yellow glazed cotton to line the sleeves.

On the dress form. I think the spencer was designed for a smaller bust…

I added some fullness to the sleeves. It does not show, but there are a couple of tucks below the bust, and some sturdy interlining along the front edges.

The standing collar.

A view of the back. Now I was reminded of the pins that still keep the skirt in place…

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And finally a full shot of the dress and spencer.

 

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!