Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible. Edwin Land

I dont normally do this but seeing as I have now graduated University I thought it might be nice to put my upcoming projects in order!

I have a very exciting opportunity to work with a museum in July and I have been asked to wear a costume to the event. I promise in the days to come I will be able to discuss this in more detail but for now I will leave you with a hint of what is to come.

Chemise a la Reine: Louise Augusta. 1780, Jens Juel.

The second project is this lovely giacca from 1788.

c. 1788 Abiti del Passato

c. 1788 Abiti del Passato


20132302115234FOTO 393-800

c. 1788 Abiti del Passato

20132302115138FOTO 388-800

c. 1788 Abiti del Passato

And for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath I will be working on this spencer from 1790

c. 1790 Abiti del Passato

c. 1790 Abiti del Passato


“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Last Monday I was sitting on a train staring out the window thinking about the upcoming week when my phone went off. A very talented friend had messaged me and mentioned he would be signing at the London MCM Expo | London Comic Con and after four years we should probably meet up to say Hi again!

As the train pulled out of Clapham Junction I sat there staring out the window like a zombie when I thought (out loud mind you) “OH! Hang on ZOMBIE!”

As in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

click here to continue the bloody tale . . .  Continue reading

The Genesee Regency Gown: Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art . . .

When I was planning my gown for the Regency Society of Tennessee’s  tea I found a photo from the Greene Collection at the Genesee Country Village & Museum.  I fell in love and had to make it happen!

The museum website describes the gown as a  ” … dress, from the same time period (1815-1820) is also entirely hand stitched icy green plain weave silk. It has a very high waist and very long tubular sleeves which would have been worn slightly ruched on the arm. The skirt is in 3 panels and slightly gathered in front and pleated in the back.

It has a Vandyked neckline of little triangular tabs in the sleeve, forming a gorgeous cap effect which is accented with little white ribbon bows.

The stitching on this dress as well as the fact that it is made of silk indicates that this would have been considered a “good” dress and would have been worn for special occasions.”

The gown was made from a beautiful mint cotton swiss that I purchased from The Lace Cottage  where I take my heirloom sewing lessons and the little bows on the puffs are made of silk.  The triangles that line the neckline are individually folded vandyke points and were the most challenging part of the costume.

Based on extant gowns that I have been able to study I decided that the sleeves were most likely detachable sleeves.

I would also like to say thank you to Travellers Rest Plantation & Museum for graciously allowing me to take photos on their historic site.

The Ceres Frock

With baited breath I waited in the queue alongside my peers chattering excitedly, today would be the day we would discern what the next four months of our life would be dedicated to. For better or for worse the threads of our fates have been assembled and one by one plucked to appear before the lecturer who held the ends. When it came for me to learn my fate I was able to sigh in relief, I recognized this image! Anyone who has researched the Regency period would know what the costume from La Belle Assemblée’s 1818 issue looked like.

And yet even as I found myself relaxing into the embrace of familiarity I was not so unmannerly as to recognize that the task that lay before me would be long and daunting. But we were no longer first years and the road we must travel is unforgiving and yet so very rewarding. We were no longer children making toiles, this time we had to make the entire piece. Just looking at my costume I started to feel overwhelmed by the details.

I decided that the only way to defeat my apprehension would be to divide the work, break it down into pieces and work through it one at a time. The first thing I did was to draw a sketch of my costume, front and back. Armed with this I went fabric shopping. A very expensive amount of time later I returned with a plan. Since the embroidery makes up for a good half of the dress it would need to be completed first.

The most important part about this dress is the story behind the embroidery around the edge of the skirt. According to the 1818 description it is a “Ceres frock, with a very broad border of wheat ears in straw, worked on tulle. . .” In an earlier post I wrote about the making of the stays for this dress I briefly discussed the Early 19th century’s return to the Classical World. Ceres was worshipped as the Goddess of agriculture, grain, and the protector of fertility. It would only make sense that the dress for November 1818 would be dedicated to the Goddess of the Agriculture in thanks for a good harvest.

The first point of action was to draw up a pattern and to create a sample to present to my tutors for approval. After presenting my plan to hand embroider seven metres of English Net (and receiving quite a few stares of disbelief in return) I was given the all clear signal and began in earnest to embroider.

I worked out the technical bits so that I could try to plan ahead for any outcome. I divided my seven metres of net and came up with room for ten equal patterns. Each design would require thirty two leaves so I would need a total of three-hunred and twenty leaves. To save myself time I bought a trim and cut out each leaf I would need.

I decided that a gold cord and a cream cord would serve best as the vines.

With that plan I began to stitch.

In the beginning one half of the design took me nearly two hours because I had not yet worked out the way I would go about attaching everything. I was slow and afraid of the net and afraid of the gold metallic thread.

The more I worked at it the more I picked up a method. To start with I pinned the smaller vines which were doubled (one gold, one cream) on and stitched them. I then took the longer cords which were tripled (one gold, one cream, one gold) and stitched them on. To save time I would then attach the leaves before removing the frame to the other side of the design.

I was now able to do one entire design in 146 minutes ( 2 hours and 26 minutes including finger and snack breaks). Once the embroidery was complete I used a small stitch to attach the edges together leaving an opening down the back for the fastening of the gown.

After the embroidery was complete the next step would be to attach the lace at the hem. I spent days combing the markets and fabric shops of London looking for the perfect trim. The one I finally fell in love with continued the wheat pattern from my embroidery.

By far this was the most difficult part. I needed to attach seven metres of lace to seven metres of easily torn English Net. Setting my machine to .5 I proceeded with great caution. Eventually I was able to backstitch and snip the threads. I now had an embroidered overdress.

The next step would be to find the pattern I wanted to make up the dress which proved nearly impossible. In the end it was a combination of my studies of extant pieces, Janet Arnold, Jean Hunnisett, and Norah Waugh. Once the toile was complete I moved on to cutting into the silk dupioni I chose for my top fabric.

Once happy with the fit I dismantled the entire dress and stitched it properly. Now that the dress was complete I put it aside to focus on the next stop: The turban.

The only millinery project I have ever worked on was creating a drawn bonnet last year for a project so I was very apprehensive about how to start this project. I made a base out of buckram and used an antique silk scarf to cover the base.

In order for the turban to match what I eventually do to the hem of the dress I attached swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls in a random pattern.

I made a small tube and wrapped it with a ribbon to match the one worn in the picture. To finish the turban I attached an antique Edwardian ostrich feather.

I decided to attach a small hanging jewel to the turban based on this extant piece that recently came up for Auction in France.

My hair colour no longer matches the colour of the fashion plate to make up for that I attached small curls of hair to the inside base of the turban. I also created small earrings that match the ones worn in the design.

With the kind advice of Natalie Garbett I discovered Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion: 1795-1815. Suddenly the Henrietta Ruff was not such a terrible foe! I started off by following the extant example and creating a wire frame.

I then handstitched a row of lace to the frame and covered that with a second layer on each side. I stitched the points together to make sure they would stand out.

I used a small gathering stitch to make sure the bottom would hold. During the frame process I made five loops out of the wire to attach the collar to the dress.

I cut five ribbons of equal length and stitched them to the inside of the bodice.I then pulled them through the loops of the collar, tied them into a small bow, and tucked the edges in.

The collar is now firmly attached to the dress.

To finish the dress I decorated the hem and the bodice with small swarovski crystals and fresh water pearls in order to catch the stage lights.

I mentioned previously that the turban had to have curls attached as my  hair was no longer the same colour as the design!  I embroidered and hand stitched a reticule to go along with the dress as a lady would need a proper place to store her small items.

And what of the ladies shoes? I couldn’t find any that I felt would match my design so I created my own. Using a pattern I created from an extant pair of unmade Regency shoes I own. They were very straightforward. I created the base and the outside from deer hide courtesy of Tandy Leather Factory  and used leftover silk to line the inside.

I purchased a pair of kidskin gloves elbow length opera gloves, an antique pashmina, and as a final touch a small antique spangled fan. The only thing left was the show!

I would like to thank the ladies I wrote asking for assistance during the course of this project. Instead of a single reply answering one question I found myself taken underwing and generously offered an interminable  amount of patience, support, and advice. Without your kind words of wisdom I fear I would never have made it through this project with my sanity intact.

I have learnt so much during this project about myself and what I am capable of creating. I realize that I have a long way to go before I can name myself a mistress of my craft and yet every journey must have a beginning.

“‘Tis an easy matter, you see.–To be dressed in the fashion, you have only to undress.” – The Lady’s Monthly Museum, February 01, 1801, pg. 126.

 A combination of Period Costume for Stage & Screen by Jean Hunnisett and Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh

Fabric and Materials:
 Cotton drill, cotton cord, bias tape, and wooden busk.

Start Date: October 2011

Finish date for Stays (not including eyelet and binding): October 2011

Complete Date (binding and eyelets) : December 2011

The shapes and sizes of costumes have changed drastically throughout history, from the late 15th century farthingale to the massive panniers that dominated the 18th century. Keep the many changing shapes of the Victorian era in mind and consider this: without the correct foundation the garment is just a pieces of fabric patched together into a meaningless shape.

The classically influenced fashion associated with the early 19th century is no different. By this time the French Revolution has swept the Ancien Régime aside in favour of adopting a more neoclassical fashion associated with the early history of man. Fashion is an ever-changing facet and even this simplistic style changed to keep up with the current events of the time.

Honouring the tradition of casting off all affiliation with the scorned Ancien Régime the early 19th century stays are nothing like the restrictive Grand Corps of the French Court.

Keeping my own golden rule of costuming in mind (foundation first) I set about to create the shape I wanted my costume to take. I drafted the stays based on a combination of the Jean Hunnisett and Norah Waugh patterns.

The first thing I did was to create a toile. After fitting it on my mannequin and making a few alterations I decided that perhaps Regency stays would be much easier than 18th century stays, something I might come to regret later when I reached the gussets.

After I was satisfied with the toile I cut the pieces out. I used two layers in order to “sandwich” the cord.

The first pieces I tackled were the gussets. The most important thing I learnt from the gussets was to make them NEAT (which I did not do very well on the first few but I did learn!). I made sure to stitch all the way into the side seam and then using a backstitch go back about  half an inch. Next time I will know to cut the threads as I go along.

Eight gussets later I moved onto the center front which would prove to be extremely trying. Using my research from photos available online and  my private photographs taken during my museum visits I drafted my own design for the cording.

When inserting your cording it’s best to think ahead, I took to my drawing board and planned out which pieces would be inserted first. I assure you, there was a method to this madness! Drawing the cord through was a learning process and was very finicky at times. The first step is to tape the edges. I researched the best way to draw the cording through online but it’s really just a trial by error experiment. What worked for others failed miserably for me and in the end I used a very long theatre hairpin which worked wonderfully.

I decided to sew the busk pocket in last so that I could fully utilize the space it would take up. In order to make no mistakes I started by sewing one channel under the bust on each side. Starting at the top with the first channel I pulled the cord through from the busk space. I pulled the cord so that it stopped right at the edge and would be caught when I stitched the busk pocket in. I then continued on until I got to the diagonal cording lines. I repeated the same process: one line at a time, pull the cord through, halt at the edge, repeat.

The next step was to sew the busk pocket and to very carefully catch the edges of the cord. After I placed my busk in I realized that I had a slight problem, my busk was a few inches too long. To remedy this technical error I had to sand down the edges.

The part I found most frightening was cutting into the center front to attach the gussets. If you will recall I cautioned you to keep the threads cut and to keep the gussets neat and this was why!

I ended up hand stitching the gussets in at the due to my fear of somehow placing them in wrong. But costuming is like  learning to walk, you will stumble and fall but you will get back up and keep going. I did place two gussets in wrong and I did have to unpick them. But! I learnt my lesson well and the other six went in with no difficulty.

I added another cord in the sides based on extant piece I was able to study.

The corset went together very well. After attaching the sides I inserted the gussets using a machine stitch and then I hand stitched the points in.

The next step is to cut the cords and to attach the straps. After this I tried it on for the first time.

At the first fitting I was able to figure out where the straps would need to fit in and where to place the eyelets. The next process would be to bind everything.

Which eventually became the hardest part. I started off by binding the edges first and I realized that in order to make everything on the inside neat, I would have to find it all. I closed all seams together and then covered them with bias binding. The gussets were then trimmed down and bound with bias binding then stitched down.

The end result looks a little something like this!  I decided to use peach silk ribbon to tie the bows together in order to draw everything together. One of my favorite books as a child was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. One line has stayed with me throughout the years and when costuming I keep it in mind: . ” . . . For Maria was one of your true aristocrats; the perfection of the hidden things was even more important to her than the outward show. Not that she did not like the outward show. She did. She was a showy little thing. . .”  And when I create the small things mean as much as the little things.

I am extremely pleased with how the stays turned out. Even though the bust gussets proved to be the most difficult part (other than the binding) I am glad I did them. They helped to achieve the overall shape I had hoped to accomplish and they offered the support I needed.

As I explained in the beginning, foundations are the most important part of costuming. For the Regency period here are the undergarments I created in order to achieve the shape:

The first layer is called the chemise or the shift. It serves as a protective layer so that the lady does not perspire into her corset. It offers no shape and so it ends above the knees. It is usually unadorned but I have seen extant examples that have their owners initials embroidered just above hem in small cross stitch. My chemise was made from fine cotton and has a square neckline with a drawstring.

The next layer were the clocked silk stockings that I purchased from Dressing History. Even though the stockings reached mid thigh I embroidered a pair of garters so that I would have a complete set of undergarments. They read: “Halte là, On ne passe pas” which translates to stop here, you can go no further and are based on an extant 18th century pair.

My shoes went on next. I made these based on an extant pair of unmade Regency slippers I own. I altered the toe to be a bit more squared and I used leftover silk from my dress to line the inside.

Finally the stays are next! I created a pair of long stays because I wanted to maintain a smooth line from chest to hip in my costume and I felt that short stays would not accomplish this desire. Unlike the Victorian era corsets, these were quite enjoyable to wear. They were very comfortable and even though the wooden busk served as a gentle reminder to conserve a proper posture they are completely different from the uncomfortable 18th century stays (which force a proper posture upon the wearer).

The bodiced petticoat came next. This served as another protective layer that kept the dress from clinging in a most unbecoming manner. I decided that since my dress had a small back with a large gathered train I would need a small bum roll. This was in order to help make sure the dress would freely flow unhindered by the shape of my own body.

The bumroll was made of leftover silk and very easy to create. It also proved to be very helpful in encouraging the dress to fall smoothly instead of becoming encumbered by my derriere.

When worn it looks a little something like this.

The Early 19th century and the Regency brought about a great reformation in the manner that the Arts were perceived. This great change effectuated an awareness and respect for the past so vast that women and men adorned themselves accordingly. In their long Grecian gowns, ornamented with antiquated heralds of days long turned to dust the fashionable followed suit in the footsteps of our ancestors.