My Two Big Bodacious Costuming Goals…it’s not the destination, it’s the journey

SideWireDressformOne of the major reasons I haven’t been sewing garments, besides that elusive muse, is because I’m changing sizes. Losing weight (on purpose) is wonderful and requires a concerted effort. However, it becomes nigh on impossible to make a waist or a set of stays or anything with much of a fit when I don’t know what size I’ll end up. I know where I’d like to end up, but liking is one thing and getting there is another. (At my age my metabolism is nearly in a coma, so a little intake goes a very long way.)

But that itch to sew and create is back at long last, so what to do?

An 18th Century Gregorian Reflecting Table Telescope

18th Century Gregorian Reflecting Table Telescope

Rather than follow the HSM, I’ve decided to think in terms of dreamy costumed events I’d like to attend and set my sights accordingly. And if I’m going to chart a new course, why not lift my eyes and shoot for something grand and just a bit insane? Why not, indeed.

So, resolutely jumping in way over my head, I’ve chosen two very big Biggies – one I’ve known about for a while and one that I’ve just discovered: the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, and the 18th century evening (Les Fêtes Galantes) at the Palace of Versailles, France.

Neither of these is going to happen any time soon. 2018 sounds like a good target, although there is a slim chance (no pun intended) I could be ready for Bath by next fall. We shall see. Heaven knows I’ve done crazier things.

Here’s my current catalog of acquired and/or finished items for each event.

  • Bath: period boots, stockings, chemise, stays, petticoat, fichu. Multiple outfits required. Have patterns for gowns, caps, bonnets, turbans, overdress, redingote, spencer, cape, mitts and reticules. Lots of fabric, too.
  • Versailles: not a thing – zip, zilch, nada, rien. Single outfit required. Have pattern for chemise. Have fabric for pocket hoops.

And so, as you can see, I’ve a lot of sewing ahead of me. Fortunately, the garments on the “to do” list have quite a lot of diversity – I don’t think I’ll get bored. And I hope the enticing goal events will help keep me going when I get frustrated and/or stuck – which is likely, considering this is all new territory for me.

Since I’m currently shrinking (and, hopefully, not re-expanding) I think my best bet for now is to stick with things that don’t require a close fit or a specific size.

For the festival in Bath that means working on the cap, bonnet and reticule(s). The cap I’ve been fiddling with has become a veritable thorn in my side. The cotton organdy is way too stiff and heavy…it’s more like a bonnet than a cap. So I’m going to start over and use a fine linen this time. The former cap may actually become a white summer bonnet with some trim added to spice it up a bit.

Remember this? I do. Grrrr...

Remember this? I do. Grrrr…

For the “do” at Versailles it means starting with the chemise, since that’s the only pattern I have at the time. If I’m going to do 18th century French fashion at Versailles I want to do it right: inside-out and bottom-up. In that spirit I’ve just ordered some 3-ounce handkerchief linen (WLG119) from Wm. Booth, Draper – enough for a chemise and that pesky late Georgian cap.

Who knew my muse would come back with this? I’m really hoping I don’t have to make another set of Regency stays, although worse things could happen and likely will – I’ll need to make myself a set of 18th century stays, after all.

After that will come a set of pocket hoops. I’m planning on using the pattern from J.P. Ryan and already have fabric for them.

JP Ryan #14 - 18th Century Pocket Hoops Pattern

JP Ryan pattern #14

But first, the chemise. And so the games begin.

The Embroidered Reticule Gets Its Start

It seems like the weather has been conspiring against me. Once I decided on the fabric color and the design for the embroidered reticule, I went shopping for floss and chose some complimentary colors. Easy enough, sure. The only thing left to do was transfer the Ackermann’s design to the fabric. And that took until today.

I tried a pressure transfer paper, but everything came out thick and blurry. I could draw the design free-hand, but I want an exact replica so no go there. I don’t have a light box any more (it’s been gone for years) and the local quilt shops don’t have one I could use. Nor do I know anyone who has one. And it’s been grey, overcast and rainy for days – not enough light to trace it. Grrrr.

But, at long last, today the sun came out for a few hours and I did the old tape-it-on-the-window-and-trace-it-while-you-can-still-see-it method, which worked without a hitch. Now it’s in my favorite embroidery frame (a souvenir from my class at the Royal School of Needlework in England) and ready to start getting gorgeous.


A Curious Thing of Beauty

I recently encountered this dress and it’s another one of things that’s made my mind pause. I love it when that happens, when something so arrests my attention that my brain logs in with question after question, because that’s when I start learning.

This is from The Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, and dated to “about 1800.” There is scanty information, however it comes with a provenance, handed down through family. And it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

Fairly wide cuffs on the sleeves. Cuffs?! Did some ancestor “update” the sleeves for wear at a later time? On the other hand, those sleeves look wide enough to have been meant for cuffs all along. And look at the back of the bodice – I can see the classic elements of a period armscye, but arranged slightly differently. (The sleeve inset looks quite comfortable, actually.) And is that a matching chemisette under the bodice, as opposed to a double layer? That would make sense, as having a convertible neckline would render the dress usable for both day and evening wear.

Whatever’s going on, I like it. And I’d wear it, as well. Although I think I’d stick to a traditional sleeve. See what you think.

French, about 1800. Cotton mull* with silver embroidery. Accession number 47.1280a-b.



 *I wasn’t sure what cotton mull is/was so I went to It is a super fine quality of cotton cloth woven as plain weave. The cloth is bleached and finished to give a soft feel.

Another source (Fabrics, by Ann Landry, second edition, 1985) mentions that although it was once used as primary dress goods it “is now almost entirely confined to use as an underlining fabric, and for experimenting in draping styles, e.g., toiles.”

A Spark, an Embroidered Reticule and It’s Back into the Fray

(photographer unknown)

So. The spark has presented itself and I am gingerly taking up its energy, hoping to nourish it into a flame.

I think I mentioned I have a very dear friend who has a Very Big Event coming up soon. I want to make something for her but hadn’t been able to decide what. She likes “old-fashioned” things, things that are feminine without being too “frou-frou” and things that are utilitarian. She also likes to “dress up” on occasion. However, I don’t have enough time to create a large piece. It has to be of reasonable size and effort for me to meet this deadline. So I spent some time trolling through Pinterest and my favorite historical fashion blogs when, rather suddenly, it all came together, all at once.

Don’t you just love it when that happens?

On my friend Nessa’s blog, Sewing Empire, I found some inspiring Regency embroidery designs from Ackermann’s Repository and further sleuthing lead me to one published in 1821.

Regency handkerchief embroidery patterns

It’s feminine without being too much and I’m sure the recipient would be thrilled, but only if I take the “Love” out of it (literally, not figuratively). Perhaps replace it with her initial(s)? Although it was originally a design meant for handkerchief embroidery, I immediately thought of a reticule – a little something for special occasions, a decorative and utilitarian yet also manageable project for the amount of time I have.

Next step – choose the fabric. It is often tricky finding appropriate colors, but I found three high-quality cottons that fit the bill: a steely grey-blue, a deep maroon, and a rich mustard. Now it’s just a matter of choosing.


I’m leaning toward the mustard because it’s a classic Regency color that “goes” with almost nothing else yet manages to “work” with just about everything. (Accessories weren’t all matchy-matchy back then: your reticule didn’t necessarily match your shoes, which didn’t match your gloves, which didn’t match your bonnet.) As a color it’s a bit risky, but I think I’m safe.

She does love a surprise…

Your Weekend Wow!

Here’s the question: Do we no longer use beautiful parasols because we no longer promenade? Or do we no longer promenade because we no longer use beautiful parasols? (Place cursor over each image for more information.)

Your Weekend Wow!

(Life has been coming at me like some B-grade ninja movie and keeping me on my toes, so I apologize for the non-existent posting. But I finally have the trim for the HSM #12 projects and hope to be back working on them soon.)

This elegant pelisse is from the Museum of London as part of their “Expanding City: The Pleasure Garden” exhibit. While the pelisse is authentic, the hat is a fanciful work of art and is not a historically accurate piece. Remember the Marie Antoinette sailing ship hat? That was a Museum of London exhibit, as well. A little artistic license can be fun, as long as it’s understood as being just that.

Here are the curator’s comments:

A pelisse or pelisse-coat, a kind of women’s outer garment which could be make in everything from the lightest silk to heavy fur. It was worn over a gown but could look like a gown itself, especially when floor length like this garment. The pelisse was made for a trousseau in 1823 for the wedding of the grandmother of the donor.

Unfortunately, there is no other information. I’d hazard a guess that it’s made of silk, also lined in silk. The piping and soutache work are lavishly done. And I adore the “bow” ornament at the back.

original front

original half side

original side

original back

original back detail

original bodice detail

original front detail

original reticule

And if you’re truly curious about that fanciful sattelite-dish affair of a hat, here’s a close up shot. Just remember, while it is a truly impressive example of artistic millinery, saying it’s historically inaccurate doesn’t begin to come close.

original the salletite dish affair

HSM #12: Two Parts – an Update

HSM #12, Part A: The Late Georgian/Early Regency cap is coming along nicely. I ended up doing some machine sewing after all because my hand stitching isn’t even enough to look good on the cotton organdy. Organdy, as I’ve discovered, loves to disclose faults and forgives little. Sewing it is proving a challenge in and of itself. I need more practice before I can hand sew without it looking like I dashed it off in 20 minutes.


Practice, practice, practice!

With the front brim and back horseshoe sections together it now looks like a proper cap.

The back of the cap is self-lined. I cut the pieces at a 90-degree angle, which gives it an optical illusion for a little variety.

Cutting the lining piece at a 90-degree angle creates the optical illusion of a checked weave.

Cutting the lining piece at a 90-degree angle creates the optical illusion of a checked weave.

The next step is to secure the edges all around with straight-cut binding. However, I’ve decided I want to add just a bit of narrow bobbin lace and that must be done before the binding is applied. So the search is on.

IMG_0140HSM #12, Part B: As I mentioned before, I want to use this opportunity to “re-do” to actually do the two challenges I couldn’t complete earlier in the year. Another accessory I need for my period dress is a nice fichu, so that will be my make-up for Challenge #4. I have some ultra fine and soft netting in my stash: not silk due to 1) allergy and 2) expense. But it behaves, looks and feels like silk (without the infernal itch). I’ve never sewn on anything this fine before, so another steep learning curve lies ahead. I’m searching for some fine, elegant lace with which to edge each side of a large square. The color is somewhere between antique white and off white and winter white and finding something that’s not a harsh, pure white might prove difficult. Oh, well. It’s a challenge, after all.

Your Weekend Wow!

Working on my HSM challenge cap puts my mind on All Things Regency, so this weekend’s selection was an easy choice.

Formal Dress, French, 1800-1805. White cotton gauze on which is a powdering of small floral sprays and a border design composed of vine and a modified Greek fret worked in a chain stitch with fine red and white wool. Center back length: 235 cm (92 1/2 in.). Accession number: 22.665. (Clicking on the link will lead you to the museum site, where you can view a large and expandable view of each photograph. The embroidery detail is fabulous.)





HSM #12 – A Chance to Make Up for HSMs #1 and #4.


I can’t believe it – it’s time for HSM #12, the last of the year. Being her Wise Self, The Dreamstress recognizes that we all hit tough spots and struggle here and there along the way. And so she kindly has offered HSM #12 as a chance to catch up for lost time or amend errors made along the way.

HSM #12 is Re-DoIt’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.

I did not complete HSM #1 (Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.) or HSM #4 (War & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear.  Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace.), so I’m hoping to rectify both of those in a single month. Wouldn’t that be great? Twelve months and twelve challenges met – what a nice way to close out this sewing year.

My Re-Do for HSM #1 is a Regency cap of white cotton organdy. The pattern is from Miller’s Millinery, #2012-2.

It features a lining, and is intended for use in cold weather and drafty old houses. Rather than line mine in flannel, like the original, mine will be self-lined. And it will be sewn entirely by hand, in keeping with the time period. The organdy is stiff enough to hold some shape without being too rigid. I chose the shape because it mirrors the shape of the bonnet I’ll be making:

My Re-Do for HSM #4 is still in the planning stages, but the cap will keep my fingers and my brain well engaged for the time being.

Two Regency Surprises: The “Other” Lazy Lacing Corset and Stockings Tied to Pantalettes

One thing that seriously impacts/inspires/limits/challenges my sewing is the fact that I have to dress myself. No spouse, significant other, understanding neighbor or eternally patient lady’s maid…I must get in and out of these undergarments and clothing on my own, or risk getting my 15 minutes of fame by appearing on the front page in the midst of arrest for indecent exposure. (Frankly, not my first choice.)

This is especially problematic with my Regency long stays. I have to put them on over my head and wriggle in like an armless tube worm donning a spandex sheath dress. By the time it’s on I’ve worked up a sweat. It’s particularly annoying when I’m sewing and fitting as I go. Each stop to fit takes up an hour or so when you count getting into and out of the stays. Sure, I could just leave the silly things on…but have you ever tried spending the day sewing while wearing Regency long stays that keep you firmly lashed to a ginormous wooden busk? I tried it once and didn’t last long.

This has made it to the front of things in my mind because there are a mere six weeks left in the year (no, I don’t know how that happened either) and I have promised myself I will finally finish a somewhere-around-1800 dress for myself before New Year’s Eve. I’m not demanding a certain color or style…I just want one that fits my uneven sloping shoulders and doesn’t leave the girls served up like an all-you-can-eat buffet. However, the thought of wrestling those stays on and off a dozen or so times does not exactly bring to mind hours of joyful sewing.

But there’s more than one way to support the girls, Regency style. I ran across this on Pinterest. It’s not new, but it’s new to me and perhaps it’s new to you, too. In any case, it’s worth sharing. The French term for this method is “lazy” lacing which would indicate it’s perfect for the single costumer who must manage on her own. It looks positively simple and lightning fast. (You may have to adjust the sound, as the recorded volume is rather low and her son is “helping” with background mommy chatter.)

According to the videographer, this method and style was patented in 1796 and used throughout the early 19th century. She made hers based on one in an 1810 fashion plate and I can see a center busk sewn in place.

This looks like the perfect short stays for me. It’s long enough that it comes to the wearer’s high hip, instead of mid-ribcage. The shoulder straps attach in the front and cross in the back so they won’t fall off the first time I reach for something, which is currently a problem. They are wide and flat, so they won’t dig. Best of all, because they cross independently of each other, my uneven shoulders would be easily accommodated. I don’t know if a pattern already exists, but I’m on the hunt. If anyone knows of a pattern for short stays just like these, please let me know. It may take a number of trial muslins to get the right fit, but I think it would be worth it to have a set of stays that I can whip on in about five minutes without assistance.


The other surprise discovery is this Walpole cartoon, published in London in 1799.

"The Virgin Shape Warehouse", satirical drawing, London 1799. Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection - London. Publish'd Sepr. 1st, 1799, by S.W. Fores, No. 50 Piccadilly, [1799]

“The Virgin Shape Warehouse”, satirical drawing, London 1799. Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection – London. Publish’d Sepr. 1st, 1799, by S.W. Fores, No. 50 Piccadilly, [1799]

Look at those stockings – they caught my eye immediately because they are supported by the pantalettes – I think it’s too early to call them “drawers” – seemingly attached (buttoned or tied) at the outside edge. No less than three of the caricatures are wearing stockings in this manner. Only the seated figure appears to have her stockings supported with garters secured above the knee. The skinny woman’s stockings are simply falling down. In addition, the four pairs of pantalettes hanging up on pegs all have ties dangling from the outside edge of the hems.

This is new to me and it’s a much bigger surprise than the alternative corset. Social satirists keep their metaphoric fingers on the pulse of society’s practices and trends so I have no reason to disregard the stocking treatments as a figment of Mr. Walpole’s imagination. Although holding my stocking up in this manner would probably feel less secure and even a bit less comfortable, varicose veins run in my family and being able to wear stockings without a tight band around my knee, whether above or below, is a fantastic option.

This also belies the notion that women didn’t really start really wearing pantalettes until the 1820’s or 30’s.

So there you have it: two new ways to look at Regency dress. Speaking as one who is more than happy to color outside the lines, I love it.