Friday, April 15, 2011

Brainstorming My Wardrobe for the Jane Austen Festival

With Civil War reenacting starting up full swing for us in the next few weeks I have had to put my sewing for the Jane Austen festival on the back burner. So far, no progress has been made since my last post on David's breeches. I did finish ordering the linen I will need to make his shirt, cravat and waistcoat (maybe two if I have time) but no sewing has been done.

Having some close deadline projects these past few weeks, which has meant sewing every day for at least a few hours, I have realized that I really cannot sew as much as I used to. With my three boys right now it is hard to find time to devote to uninterrupted sewing. If I do sew, they know I am not watching them constantly and they do things. Like flushing blocks down the toilet. Or spreading oatmeal all over the downstairs floors. You get the idea. So at this point in my life, my children need my attention a lot more than I need to be sewing.

Having realized that, I came to the conclusion that I really don't need multiple new dresses to go to the Jane Austen festival. Yes, I can get a little carried away. :P I'd pull out yardage from my shelf and each one would mentally become a regency style dress. I have been so worried that what I have already wouldn't be up good enough to wear to the festival and that I would be scorned, laughed at, mocked, ignored. All very silly illogical ideas, of course, but its how I felt. David asked me a few times why I was making new dresses since I already have several drawstring dresses from the popular Sense and Sensibility drawstring dress pattern. And, he's right. I do have those dresses. I could wear them. They don't fit very well since I made them when I was pregnant with Malachi, but I already have them. They are made. Clean. Ironed. Hanging in the closet. Ready to go.

I also have the dark green cotton regency dress I recently made, that fits well over my new stays and is definitely wearable. So, I have decided to bring that dress to the festival and, if I have time, make the era-hallmark "white dress" so popular at the time. The white dress will be useful for the dance at the festival and if I make it versatile enough it can be worn during the day as well.

The date David and I are shooting for is roughly 1806-ish, give or take a few years. I have been spending a few spare moments here and there researching gown styles of this period. Here are some of the dresses that have inspired me:

The first one is this dress from Sense and Sensibility's Vintage Image Section:

I love the simple style and the gathered bodice. I like the neckline shape of a wide shallow square and the straight front of the skirt, as well as the sleeves, which are short sleeves with detachable undersleeves. I also like the tucks. A lot of white gowns of this period, especially evening gowns, seem to be ornately embroidered. Needless to say I do not have time for that. I do like making tucks as they add a lot of visual interest, body, and are quick and easy to do.

The next two pictures are from the Nineteenth Century Fashions - A Compendium page. As you can see, they are similar to the dress from the Sensibility site.

This one has the wide, square neckline that I really like. It also has slight gathers across the front of the skirt, with a full gathered bodice above that. I like the sleeves, as well as the waistline sash. The embroidery is so beautiful but, as I mentioned, I will probably do tucks if I do any embellishment at all. I would not make the train as I cannot see it being practical for dancing or for using as daywear. If I am not mistaken trains on dresses were starting to go out by the early 1800's anyway.

This one has a similar wide, square neckline (hey, are we noticing a pattern here?) :P and it looks to have a similar bodice design to the dress from the Sensibility site. I really like the embroidery/trim around the neck. I think I like the flat bands around the neckline better than a softer, gathered-on-a-cord edge look that a drawstring bodice gives. It is neat, tidy and simple. I like the plain long sleeves. This dress has a fuller skirt, probably more so than what I would want as overly full skirts on regency dresses just make me look pregnant.

Soooo. . .here is the fabric I have to use for this dress. And yes, that is the price tag with the price I paid for the yardage. :) I have only about 5 yards left since I used a small portion to make undersleeves for an 1860's outfit. 5 yards should be enough though.

What I am thinking of doing is taking these two patterns from Janet Arnolds Patterns of Fashion 1 and combining them to get the look I want. There are features in both dresses I like. I will be making the gathered bodice, flat neck bands and back opening of the dress on the right. I will be using the skirt and the sleeves from the dress on the left. I think the dates on both these dresses are close enough to make the style work.

So, with the dark green dress I already have, plus this one, I should definitely be set for a weekend of visiting, shopping, taking tea, strolling and dancing. :) I'd like a few accessories - like a bonnet, a shawl, some passable shoes and a cross necklace. But I need to research more before deciding on anything for sure. . .right now I'm contemplating the Lucia bonnet pattern from Timely Tresses but I have almost no clue when it comes to appropriate shawls and such. Agh! Less than three months left to get all this together!



  1. Dear Sarah,

    In my humble opinion you are making some very sound decisions indeed. Like you, I need to watch my boys a good bit. Boys are...curious, adventurous, and most seem to have a bit of devil-may-care-i-will-do-it-whatever-the-consequences in them, but do do most humans, I suppose. In any case, welcome to the world of short sewing moments :]

    Your dress plans are most reasonable, and knowing you, the tucks and so on are going to be tasteful and sweet. See Jenni's blog (you know Jenni) for ideas on accessories, for her time period is closer to yours than mine is.

    Also see for loads of pictures from the excellent Napoleon exhibit, all on fully accessorized models. My bet is that you will do a bang-up job with less effort than you think.

    Hugs and very best, and there are so many of us anxious to meet you and to enjoy your company this summer,


  2. Your dress is beautiful! Really like both inspiration ones!

  3. Sarah, what a lovely design you have chosen! You will look positively gorgeous in it. And two dresses are as many as I have. You won't be out of place at all. The people that I've met involved in this festival are all extremely nice, and you will fit right in. Paisley or silk shawls would work. Do you have a paisley shawl from 1860's reenacting? It might pass just fine for this.

    Also, do you own a pair of gloves? That would be something you could make easily if you don't.

  4. I hear you about not having enough time to sew cuz I'm constantly watching kids. I guess its a trade off....Sewing a nice new peice of clothing and then having to deal with the aftermath of the boys...I have 4. I have all these Ideas of stuff I want to do and they end up with all the rest of them in the pile of soon to be created. LOL...good luck with the sewing!

  5. Sarah,

    I just wanted to say that the "Madame" above is me. I was somehow signed in to the Bluegrass Regency email instead of my Living with Jane one.


  6. Oh, I was thinking of going to the festival this year! But I don't sew at all and was just going to wear a modern dress which I thought was acceptable so I hope people aren't too judge-y. I would say that I'll say hi if I see you, but I've only commented a few times on your blog, so I doubt you would even know who I was!

  7. Oh, I will add my voice to those above! I have four girls, and even they - girls! - manage to do some incredibly 'creative' (i.e. destructive) things if left to themselves for any amount of time at all!

    My sewing 'season' is closing.. chicks in the brooder, more to come, maybe some calves.. sew in winter, 'farm' in summer! :)

    Your project looks lovely; I can't wait to see what you end up with!

  8. Wow! You are so talented! I am learning to sew but I can't even sew a straight line properly.

    Have you seen this book:

    I saw it at the library and just had to have a copy!

  9. Some different (official site i think) lovely photos of the Regency exhibit that you should enjoy... at Wow!

  10. I think what you have chosen is lovely and practical. I can't wait to see the finished piece :D

  11. I really like that second dress.

  12. Thanks for your advice and encouragement ladies!

    Kelly, please do say hi if you see me! I will feel very much an outsider since the only person I have actually met who will be attending the festival, at least that I know of, is the lovely Teresa Sanders and I have only met her once, and that was for a brief time last week. :) I am really excited about personally meeting some really wonderful ladies I have known online; the visiting aspect of the festival is one thing I am looking forward to the most!

  13. Those were two I thought were nice in the book too.
    I'm still leaning towards -from previous page- wrapover (for ease of dressing) or maybe the open robe over my mini disaster bedsheet dress.

    Slowly working my way through reading all your blog ;)

  14. I'm actually making myself a bib front dress now...using the S&S pattern. But I'm having my usual problem....if the neckline isn't high the bodice falls off my matter how much I add to the 'straps'. I'm wondering if there's some way I can do some loops to attach to a petticoat.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!