Sunday, December 6, 2009

Romantic Gown ~ Sense and Sensibility Pattern Review ~

I recently had the opportunity to use the Romantic Gown Pattern from Sense and Sensibility to make several dresses for a sweet customer. I have long admired this pattern but never used it until this project. I thought I would review it in case anyone else may have been wondering about it. Not that my thoughts may be particularly helpful, but, well, it’s a post worthy topic. :) And anything post worthy is most welcome since I've been rather neglectful of this poor wee blog as of late.


Sense and Sensibility’s Romantic Gown Pattern, available from

General Description of Style:
This pattern contains several style variations on the typical mid 1820’s - mid 1830’s style dress. The dress is styled in the transitional fashion popular at the time, falling between regency era fashion and Victorian fashion. The gown features a slightly elevated waist, large “leg o mutton” sleeves that are puffy at the top and narrow at the wrist and long full skirts. The pattern also contains a pattern piece for short puff sleeves, suitable for evening wear. There are no skirt pattern pieces. Since skirts of this era can be simply rectangles, directions are given in the pattern for measuring and cutting rectangular skirt panels which are then gathered, pleated or gauged and secured to the waistband of the dress. Variations of style include directions for both front and back opening dresses, different neckline shapes and a collar suitable for the V neck dress. Instructions are also included on how to make a sleeveless “jumper” with the pattern.

Historical Documentation/Accuracy:
The pattern pieces all have a good shape for a basic 1820’s-1830’s style bodice and sleeves. The basic style is documented with photographs of original garments and fashion plates included in the pattern. The skirt instructions are good for a basic rectangular skirt. However, another style appropriate for this time period is a skirt with a smooth or lightly gathered gored front with a gathered back with gored side pieces. This style would probably be more appropriate if you are going for an earlier look. It is easy to measure and cut gored skirt pieces for yourself but the instructions do not include this style.
One thought I had was that the curved side pieces of the bodice back could come in towards the center of the waist more. Rather than having so much space between the two curved seams at the back bodice edge, it would look nicer if, perhaps, there were only a few inches of space between them as I have seen on the majority of the original dresses I’ve seen from this time period. The sleeve seams are called to be matched to the side seam of the bodice. I prefer to match the sleeve seam to a point on the front of the bodice, so the inner sleeve seam is running down the inside of my arm instead of under it.
The construction methods offered in the pattern seem a tad modern. I can’t say if they are inaccurate per se, but I like to construct my own dresses a bit differently with the lining and fashion fabric treated as one and seams overcast or left raw as per original dresses. The instructions call for sewing up the lining and fashion fabric separately and then sewing them right sides together and turning them. I prefer to use a turned self facing for opening edges (front or back) or piping for around the neckline and openings rather than using the method called for. The instructions also call for a center front or center back placket in the skirt. I like to use a center back skirt opening for a back fastening dress but prefer a dog leg closure on a front opening dress to avoid a seam or placket in the center front of the skirt. The instructions also call for the top of the skirt to be gathered along the raw edge and stitched directly to the waistband or bodice. A period method would be to turn under a little of the top of the skirt and attach the folded, finished edge of the skirt to the bodice with small whip stitches. This method makes a very smooth, low bulk waistline rather than having all the gathers or pleats bunched into the waistband.

Although no pattern for piping is provided, the online instructions for this dress do have a link to instructions on how to make piping. Very small self-fabric piping is a very nice period correct touch for bodice and sleeve seams.

Physical Characteristics:
The pattern is printed on heavy white paper and is clearly marked as to size and pattern piece. The pieces fit together well and seem to correspond well to the size measurements given on the size chart. The pattern comes with a thick stack of instruction sheets that clearly explain and illustrate the construction methods given. The pattern envelope is white paper and is illustrated with a group of ladies wearing the different style gowns contained in the pattern.
Technical Characteristics:
One very nice thing about this pattern is that it clearly explains how to make and fit a muslin mock up of the bodice before you cut into your dress fabric. This step is absolutely critical in getting a proper fit and so many patterns leave out this very important step.
The pattern also contains vintage illustrations on how to gaage a skirt. Gauging is beautiful and period correct and it is nice to see this addition and alternative to gathering or pleating.
Final Thoughts:
I would definitely recommend this pattern to anyone interested in making a dress in the 1820’s to mid 1830’s style. The sleeves are a little small for fashionable 1830’s appearance but could be made larger by enlarging the head of the sleeve in length and width, tapering down to the original pattern lines at the lower arm and wrist. In Janet Arnolds Pattern of Fashion 1 there are several diagrams for full gigot sleeves which were at the height of fashion in the early to mid 1830’s, and those can easily be scaled up and used in place of the sleeve pattern included in this pattern if desired.

I made the pictured gowns in the front opening style with the original pattern darted bodice. The bodice is attached to a two inch wide waistband and the skirts are gathered to the waistband and are made of three panels of 45” wide fabric. I set the skirts with a dogleg opening which opens to the left side. Self fabric piping was used at the neckline (pattern “jumper” neckline), armscyes, and on either side of the waistband.
Another lovely pattern by Sense and Sensibility! I think it is a lovely base pattern from which many serious costumers could create beautiful, appropriate gowns, combing outside research on fit and construction and additional style details with the information contained in the pattern. As is, the pattern creates a very passable dress and would be a wonderful and practical style to wear for everyday.


  1. Sarah, my Past Patterns 1830's pattern has the lining and fashion fabric treated separately, they are not sewn together and then flipped though, rather they are basted together at several points and then piped at the neckline and sleeves etc. Different than Civil War construction, but I liked how it looks with all of the seams out of sight! Also, the curved back seams are further apart than I was used to. A whole different look with so many variations that are appropriate!

  2. I LOVE S&S's Romantic era pattern! I am wearing my dress that I made from it right now and am planning my next. ;-)

  3. Sarah! What lovely gowns! I love the colors that your customer picked! They are just beautiful! I have the pattern but I have not used it yet! I just might do that during Christmas vacation :)

    I really appreciate this thorough review! It really touches on everything and would help anyone who is just starting out with this pattern or even a beginner in sewing.

    If you don't mind me asking, how much did you charge per dress? Also, did you find that the sizing was good? I am used to making custom patterns for reenacting so I wonder what you found also :)


    I feel the same way! I have not posted on my blog very much at all and feel as though I have fallen off the band wagon very quickly :) I have some pictures that I could put up soon though so we shall see :)

  4. Mrs. G, thanks for the information about the PP instructions! I was curious as to what their research was about treating the lining and fashion fabric. It is so hard to accurately judge construction techniques based on pictures, which, unfortunately, is all I usually have to go off of. :( That method would be very nice to enclose all raw edges on the inside of the bodice. I like flat lining and piping because of the sturdiness of the seam, but this other method is very practical as well. I don't particularly like full bag lining as the pattern calls for since it leaves a rather floppy, unstable edge around the neckline and openings. I had to topstitch the overlap edge on these dresses by hand because the lining kept wanting to peek out, due to no facing or piping to keep the lining from showing at the opening edges.

    Bethany, I do think the fit is fairly good, although it seems a bit roomy. If you are making this to wear over a modern bra I think the fit would be fine. For wearing over stays the fit could be taken in a little since the stays support the figure so the bodice itself is not under much stress, which can be done at the mock up stage. I always have to take up the shoulder seam a little on S&S patterns to avoid a too-low-cut armscye. I am probably going to make another dress like this soon in a gathered style for my etsy shop, so I will make it in what the pattern says is my size and will be able to compare the fit better.

  5. Sarah, I know what you mean about bag lining, I don't think that would work very well for a gown for just the reasons you describe. The PP methods seems a nice compromise. I don't set in any sleeves anymore that aren't rotated, that would seem odd to me now to do them like "modern" sleeves, how did you end up setting them? Rotated or not?

  6. They are all lovely, I love all the fabric choices.

    I feel this is a style that is very adaptable to our modern lifestyle. It looks easy to wear, comfortable and it's still stylish...almost 200 years later!

    Frankly, I'd like to see more women wearing something like this. It could be adapted to a shorter skirt for a tunic length and worn with jeans and be adorable!

    This dress would look good in any length.

    Time for the fashion designers out there to return to history for 'new' ideas, I think!

  7. Very nice and detailed post. I love the dresses, very, very pretty.

  8. It was fun to read your review--I used this pattern to make a dress for my daughter's first violin recital (a homeschool "Share Fair", so not terribly formal, but needing something nice). You can see her version here: and if you go to the previous post some other photos of it that are closer-ups.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!