Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Regency Shawls - Finding a Simple Solution

Planning an outfit for an event that is to be held in high summer can be problematic. Especially when, as it is today, quite chilly out and very rainy and windy. Today, a warm wool or velveteen spencer sounds like a good idea. But will I appreciate that in mid July? I doubt it.

I have been thinking about appropriate outerwear for the Jane Austen festival and decided a while ago that a shawl would be the most versatile and pratical piece to use over my gown. I can take it on or off as needed, it definitely adds to "the look", it can be worn in various ways for maximum visual flexibility and, looking at various period images, it seems shawls were very popular pieces.

I have a wool paisley shawl I got on ebay years and  years ago for Civil War reenating. I briefly considered using it, but decided against it because 1) I personally do not prefer the look of a big trinagular shawl paired with a slim, empire-waisted dress and 2) my shawl design is just not appropriate for the early 19th century. From what I've read, early paisley desings were more cone shaped and less elongated and swirly than later paisley designs. My shawl is also fairly loud and busy and I prefer something plainer and simpler.

Looking at the fashion plates at the University of Washington Fashion Plate Collection I found a variety of images depicting long, narrow rectangular shawls from the 1806-ish-18-teens period. I'm not sure if I can share images from their site on my blog, but if you click the link you can browse through their collections to your hearts content. :)

Vintage Textile also had some helpful photos of original regency era shawls. This silk gauze shawl from 1810-1820 is magnificent, and would definitely be ideal for summertime. I love the simplicity of the design and the simple bands of ribbon and colored blocks with a floral design at the edges.

This wool shawl, c. 1810, is also a lovely example. I was suprised at the dimensions of this shawl in particular. It is only 9.25" wide, and quite long. It has a plain red wool body with borders and edgings in beautiful, ornately woven panels.

You can also see several examples of period images of shawls at the Regency Fashion Page - Shawls

And a few other examples at Jane Austens World; Shawls:

I love the color and the strong greek key border on the shawl above. This design was also popular in the 1860's, so it is very fascinating to see it so popular 50 years prior as well!

Since I don't have much money to spend on our outfits (and David's is ending up costing the most; ironically!) I want to, if possible, create a shawl from materials I already have on hand. Something that would work well for my simple day dress and the white dress I hope to make before the festival. Nothing fancy or loud. I have some lightweight tropical wool in a pale blue/gray plaid, with thin stripes of red and white and black. I have had it for probably a year or so with the intention of making it into an 1860's dress one of these days. I thought the color looked well with my green cotton dress, so I cut a long strip of it, about 90" x 16" and, if all goes well, that will become the main body of my shawl.

I cut two smaller bits of wool to fringe out. Here is one part of the fringe with the horizontal threads pulled:

And here are the two pieces of fringe, finished and knotted:

My current plan is to sew the fringed bits to the end of the long wool strip. I have just enough gray silk left from my 1860's ballgown to sew a few bands of silk across the ends of the shawl and to bind the long edges of the shawl for a plain border. If I feel ambitious, I may attempt a greek key design on the border/bands with either black chain stitch embroidery or black soutache. Looking at the fashion plates whilst on the search for shawls I realized that most gloves I'm seeing are elbow length. The only longish gloves I have are pale gray leather, so they will match my shawl! I don't know if that is a good or bad thing. . .was matching, contrasting, or complimenting colors "in"?



  1. Nice fringing, Sarah! I just knew you'd come up with something clever.

    The look was somewhat matchy-matchy, but not overly so, if that helps. Keep looking at the fashion plates, and your eye will begin to pick it up. They liked jewel tones, and this was the period before aniline dyes, so the colors were all made from natural substances.

    Very best,


  2. Love the fringe! I think I'll copy you for my next shawl. Can't wait to see the final version!

  3. Sarah

    Can you get hold of fabric paints? Then you could paint a block design on the silk strips. The shawls I have seen often had a rather 1930's look about them.

  4. This one is lovely and priced VERY reasonably: http://cgi.ebay.com/New-Jacquard-Paisley-100-Pashmina-Shawl-Scarf-/320688240663?pt=US_Scarves_Wraps&hash=item4aaa823817

  5. Intresting reading this. I'm trying to decide on weather I need a spenser or not or if I should just have a shawl. I found this pretty lace 'wrap' http://www.very.co.uk/future-medieval-embroidered-mesh-wrap/918119468.prd?browseToken=%2fb%2f1590%2fs%2fbestsellers%2c0%2fo%2f2%2fr%2f100&trail=1589-1590 but suspect it might be more victorian than regency in style.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!