With the recent rise in popular recreations of Regency Era based dramas and the steady fan base of Jane Austen, these costumes will never fall out of favor with historical costumers. There are multiple groups that get together for afternoon tea or a lovely garden party. The Regency Era fashion is arguably the easiest historical era to dip your toes in.
I personally started with the most complicated, the Victorian Era. As a beginner dressmaker, I was overwhelmed with how pleating, and fitting worked yet I plowed through and made some passable garments. I recommend the Regency Era because one does not even need to know how to alter seams to get the dress to fit. Simple lines connect the gown together and the fabric needed is not expensive.
What makes this Era different?
This instruction uses modern methods and tools to make a finished garment that has the correct silhouette and basic design of the Era. During the 19th century there was a resurgence of Naturalism and the fashion of the time reflected this.
The waistline migrated upwards on the woman’s body and so the Empire Waistline became popular. When the industrial revolution kicked off, the upper middle class became obsessed with Greek philosophy and a return to nature. This meant that the gowns of high fashion reflected this. A structured white gown made out of cotton was considered the ‘little black dress’ of the time. The Regency Era, for a bit of context stretches from 1795 to 1837. There is some argument that it is from 1811 to 1820, during the time that King George IV was actually the Regent for the previous King. However the dictates of fashion lasted for longer than these 9 years.
For undergarments, these became less restrictive. A simple pair of stays, even short stays became popular. A shift and finally a petticoat finished off all that was needed to create what women wore underneath their final dress. Another reason why this Era is popular for beginners is because even these undergarments are not needed to wear this style of dress.
There will be suggestions for further accessories and how to alter a basic jacket at the end. This will help dress up your creation and take your dress from good to ‘wow! You really nailed it.’ No Regency Era costume is complete without something to complement the dress. It’s like pairing the perfect pair of pumps with a well fitted black dress.
3 to 4 yards White cotton fabric (I thrifted a queen size top sheet with a lace detail)
Straight pins or clips
1 yard Twill tape (1/4 inch and 1 inch width)
4 yards of the smallest width of elastic
When selecting a cotton for your dress, what is common of the Era is a soft almost transparent gauze white. You do not have to stick with this, if you find a beautiful fabric or thrifted sheet at the thrift store, go for it. This is your creation and with the advent of Bridgerton, bright spring colors are perfect.
Always wash your fabric. If you bought it from a fabric store, the fabric is not washed when manufactured so if you sew your garment with out washing it first, you run the risk of it warping later on. If you bought it from the thrift store, they don’t wash what is donated so always do this even with other garments you purchase.
There are also tutorials on how to determine the straight and cross grain in your fabric. How to rip your fabric to get a straight edge which is essential in this project. I found that my dress ended up a little off just because I trusted the fabric cut instead.
There are great tutorials on how to do this.
Measure from top of shoulders to the floor with a tape measure. I was 56 inches, add 5 inches for the hem and for sewing the top of the shoulders together. I wanted to keep the lace hem of the sheet, so I only added an inch for seam allowance.
Cutting and Construction
Fold the sheet in half and cut down the middle leaving you with a 88 inch panel if you have the queen size bed sheet. Leave the second panel for the gathered panel in the back of the dress. If you bought your cotton from a fabric store, you should have a front and back panel. So the panels will be 56 inches by 22inches. Fold the front and back panel in half and cut out an L laid on it’s side shape. See Picture for shape.
If you’re using the bed sheet, fold in half and then half again, then cut the L shape into the top. Unfold the panel once and cut down the middle. Now you have the front and back panel if you are following along with the bed sheet. Take your back panel, deepen the back and fold in half.
Now take your back panel and cut down the middle. Most gowns of the Regency period had back closures. I went with ties because it’s more common for the period than buttons. You can also put in buttons if you prefer. This was used later in the period. Micarah Tewers has a basic video tutorial on how to cut out this collar.
Sew the sides up, right sides together. Stop 10 inches from the top to leave room for the arms. Sew the top shoulder seams together. I used the standard 5/8th of an inch seam allowance so I can easily go back in and overlock the raw edges later.
The Elastic insertion
Do a fitting of your garment and make sure that the bodice, the top ten to twelve inches can cover your entire top half and stop just below the bust. I wanted the earlier second panel to be a back panel for the skirt only and have a more fitted bodice. Measure from the top of the front of the dress, 9 inches down and sewed in the ¼ inch twill tape to act as a channel for the elastic. Then roll the collar of the dress inward and insert elastic into that channel. You can also use delicate ribbon in the collar instead for a more historically accurate version.
Some advice on pushing your elastic through the casing. Use a safety pin attached to one side of the elastic and then you can easily push the elastic through the casing. With my collar, I found it impossible to get around the curves of the collar, so I sewed my elastic in with the collar. I hand sewed my collar with a slip stitch. You can also stretch the elastic as you are sewing on a machine, just use the zig-zag stitch when doing this.
The insert for the back of the skirt
Measure from the waist twill tape down the bottom of the skirt and cut off the excess. Gather down this panel by basting two rows of stitching along the top. Pulling on the bottom row to gather up the panel. Sew right sides together into the two back panels of the dress. I used 1 inch twill tape to cover the raw edges of the back panel and to stabilize the back of the dress.
Sleeves are only as complicated as you make them. A simple sleeve is easy to pattern and make. The part that I do not particularly like is attaching them. This is one of the issues I have always had because I tend to rush through sewing them and end up with them not fitting correctly. My advice would be to take your time and maybe even consider hand sewing them in.
I took measurements of my arm. First around the top of my arm. Around my bicep and finally from the top of my shoulder to my bicep on the outside of my arm. This gives me a basic measurement for my puff sleeve. I added a couple inches to the bottom of my sleeve for seam allowance and a couple more inches so I can puff the sleeve at the top.
Do not worry about making the sleeve too big, you’re going to be inserting elastic at the bottom of the sleeve anyway. Roll the bottom of the sleeve inwards, sew a straight stitch and insert the elastic like you did with the collar.
Easing the sleeves into the garment is one of those moments for me that means I’m finally getting to the end of the most complicated part of this dress. Turn your sleeve right side out. Your dress will be inside out. Insert the sleeve into the armhole. So the sleeve and the dress will be right sides together and the sleeve will be inside of the dress. Start at the bottom of the sleeve and match up the seams. Then pin the top of the armhole with the middle of the sleeve. Pleat and pin around the sleeve and sew this down. If this seems a little confusing, this video tutorial might help.
Finishing the dress
Hem the bottom of the dress. You can either do a rolled hem or fold up the bottom by half an inch, press this and then fold again then sew. Sew in the back closures of your choice. There are some great tutorials on how to sew in buttonholes.
I opted to sew in three ribbon ties for the back closure. Also, I added a blue ribbon around the waist as a sash. And the dress is done!
No Regency Era costume is complete without accoutrements. I thrifted a green jacket and cut off the bottom to reflect the short jackets that were in style. Turned up the new hem and it served to complete my outfit. Eventually I will get around to fixing the buttons on the front of the jacket but it works for now.
An added accessory for head wear is a bonnet because they were in style at the time. These contraptions covered the hair but I don’t particularly like this style. I went with a straw hat that I had laying around. Stockings and flats were the rage. Just a basic flat ballet style shoe without the ballet toe completes the outfit. You can add an optional long scarf for a bit of warmth over the shoulders. There are a ton of scarfs at a local thrift store, the scarf in picture is just one I keep on my dress form to add a bit of my own style.
I have made many Victorian Era reproductions and have to say, this was the easiest gown I have ever made. There was a sense of frivolity and fancy that the Regency Era personified. This dress is a nice addition to my costume closet and I hope it serves the same purpose for you.
Happy sewing and remember, even the dressmakers and tailors of yore adjusted and altered their garments multiple times to fit the changing fashion.