Friday, September 25, 2009

Regency Hand-Sewn Drawstring Dress: A Tour of Stitches, Part 1

Over the springtime and summertime I engaged in hand-sewing a Regency-style drawstring day dress in a cotton.

The project was a sort of giant, fully sewn toile, a grand mockup, for I was less interested in having the perfect dress for events than I was in understanding what it might feel like to construct a day dress by hand. What stitches might have been used during the period, and how would the sewing process feel in the hands? What would the results look like? How would they wear?

I am indeed pleased with the results, a plain, untrimmed day dress in a inexpensive cotton print, which still manages to project some grace in its cut and in the texture the stitching imparts to the seams.

If you look at the Sense and Sensibility site, the Dress Diaries Livejournal site, visit the Regency portion of Katherine's Dress Site or do a simple search, you will find lots of information and numbers of dress diaries covering making this dress, so I will not reprise that here.

Photo: dress front

Instead, in the following posts I will lead a tour of the dress, discussing its construction and what I learned during the stitching process.

As always, click on the images to see a -- much -- larger view.

Photo: dress back

First, a grateful nod to my inspiration: the 18th century wardrobe handsewn by brocade goddess for her master's degree and museum exhibition, which was heavily documented on her blog, Rockin' the Rococco, and which I reviewed last fall.


I used several sources during the project, and uncovered additional details...some of which blew my ideas away...later. In all the research I tried to stick to formally published secondary resources or primary resources. Here is a resource list.

Printed Resources
  • Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790. Baumgarten, Linda and John Watson. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1999.
  • Costume in Detail: 1730-1930. New edition. Bradfield, Nancy. Barming, England: Eric Dobby Publishing, 1968.
  • English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century. Cunningham, C. Willett. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. Reprint of 1937 edition.
  • Everyday Dress of Rural America, 1783-1800: With Instructions and Patterns. Wright, Meredith. New York: Dover Publications, 1990.
  • Lady's Guide to Plain Sewing, The. Kannik, Kathleen. Springfield, OH: Kannik's Korner, 1993.
  • Lady's Stratagem, The: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery, and Etiquette. Grimble, Frances, trans. San Francisco, CA: Lavolta Press, 2009.
  • Nineteenth-Century Costume in Detail. Johnston, Lucy. London: V&A Publishing, 2009.
  • Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909. Hunnisett, Jean. Studio City, CA: Players Press, Inc., 1991.
  • Workwoman's Guide, The. By a Lady. Second edition. 1840. Accessed on Google Books.
Primary-ish Resources
I say "primary-ish" because I have no access currently to actual period garments. I drew instead on photographs and notation of garments for sale from well-known dealers, and comments from well-known costuming experts online.
I hope you'll find the tour as interesting as I found the construction process!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Three History Blogs to Put Fashion in Context

I certainly wish I knew her name instead of just her initials, BWS. I know she used to teach, and I know she desires that primary-source historical documents and art be made available to everyone. She has created four bloggy doors for us that open into the eyes and ears of the past:
In the three blogs about American women, the author writes about how their lives changed over the centuries. She pulls from paintings, prints, drawings, daguerrotypes, photographs, maps, logs, letters, advertisements, journals, interviews.... She considers the lives of the wealthy, such as Martha Washington, and of escaped or former slaves, groups portraits by period or artist, talks of mantua makers and seamstresses, mothers and their children, publishers and postmistresses.

Photo: 1771 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Portrait of a Lady. Los Angeles County Museum, California. (Reproduction at Contact the museum for an accurate image.)

Some of the sources she uses are easily available, but many are not, and the way they are grouped is immensely valuable for putting period fashion and clothing and how people lived in their clothing into context. The blogs focusing on the 17th and 18th centuries are heavier on the writing than the blog about the 19th century.

Photo: a midcentury seamstress and her sewing machine. Photo from 19th Century American Women: A Museum in a Blog.

In the garden blog, we walk through the gardens they walked through, understand their planning and growth and have a sniff at the flowers.