Monday, July 9, 2012

The little black dress Regency style - Jane Austen Festival Bath 2012

Early 1800s black round gown Museo de Traje
While hunting through my stash for some silk to make an early 19th century waistcoat front, I uncovered 5 metres of black silk organza that I had totally forgotten about, it will be perfect for a Regency bib fronted gown, similar to the round gown on the left.

Did I want to make a Regency mourning gown for a Festival though? Well, why not, 'In the midst of life we are in death:' I could be mourning any of the Royals as Elizabeth Grant amusingly mentions in her memoir's. 

“While we were at Ramsgate the old kings delirium had become so alarmingly violent it was supposed his bodily strength must give way........So my ‘careful’ mother, fearing black would rise, bought up at a sale there a quantity of bombazeen....What was to be done with all the bombazeen? We just had to wear it, and trimmed plentifully with crimson it really looked very well”. (1811-1812). ‘Memoirs of a Highland Lady’ by Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus.

So a black gown I will make. But what trim to use to brighten up the black? Red? Pink? Silver? Gold?

Silver! Why? I have a small piece of a prettily  embroidered black saree fabric in my stash.  A burn test of the fabric suggests polyester of some sort. The hand beading is glass bugles and silver wire, they are so pretty, all that effort on such a nasty fabric!

Solution? Cut out the embroidery and applique onto my black silk voile. 

I think this will look beautiful under the candles in the Assembly Rooms and Roman Baths on the night of the ball.

This is another bib fronted gown, for my 'little white Regency dress' I use the Hungarian Chicks fabulous tutorial. For this gown I am using Janet Arnold's POF bib fronted gown from 1798-1805 for inspiration, a good friend made the same gown and wore it to our Regency dinner party a while back and I was inspired to give it a try.

The bodice pattern was so tiny, but the skirt pattern was fine, it is draping nicely.

Once again I adapted my Sense and Sensibility Elegant Ladies Closet bodice pattern. This time I added the side seam piece into the bodice front and altered the back to be square and cut it on the cross (bias). I also altered the sleeves to have a gathered elbow and removed the sleeve dart. I can do so much with Jennie's pattern, I love its adaptability especially as the Regency shape is already excellent.

Close-up of decal on back of bodice

Another view, further out, looks good, yes? Its not crooked, just badly put onto Ermentrude!

Here it is pinned together to see what it looks like before I start hand stitching the appliques onto the skirt. The skirt is almost transparent, hmmm, might need a black under petticoat.

Back view with train, skirt only pinned to bodice, lovely train shape
I've completed the bodice, including the bib front and hand stitched applique. I also used the silver scalloped edge of the saree around the neckline.

Bib front with its applique and silver neck edging
Back view with applique and silver neck edging
I've decided that the skirt is too see through, so I added a separate underskirt in black linen, I've attached it to the bodice, but it hangs separately from the overskirt.

Linen underskirt

Voile overskirt, now I'm respectable <grin>

To get to the above I did these steps:

Adding lining to front skirt at the waist

Gathered the bib front waist

Gathered the back section of skirt, 20 " into 1 1/2 "

Attached unlined back skirt to bodice and pleated

 Attached the underskirt to the back skirt waist

Train unlined
I am happy with the underskirt and the look of the gown. Not much more needed, the bib front waistband, hemming and adding silver applique to the sleeves and skirt.

I have finished the gown as much as I can, I fly out on Saturday so what is done, is done, I would have liked more trim, but no time, I still have other projects to complete. I will take photos in Bath and add them on my return.


  1. I thought black for mourning was more of a Victorian thing? Anyway, I say go for it! It will make a stunning dress for you!

    1. My research tells me it came into vogue at the beginning of the 18th century, but no way near as involved as the Victorians who took mourning to an extreme fashion and etiquette level.

      However, I shall 'go for it' as you recommend and will post my progress :)

    2. The civil war ladies were pretty serious in their mourning rules and rituals as well... but i guess that technically still is withing Victorians rein... so not a contradictory statement.

    3. They were indeed, must have been in black or various stages of mourning all throughout the war with all the men and boys fighting and dying.

  2. When Princess Charlotte (daughter of the soon to be George IV, who was currently the Prince Regent) died in 1817, they published mourning fashions in Ackermann's Repository. Then Queen Charlotte (Princess Charlotte's grandmother, wife to King George III, and mother to the Prince Regent) died in 1818, and they published another set.
    Here is a link for the fashion plates in that time:
    Whilst they are all "dark", I think some of them are quite fashionable, with pretty trims!


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