Regency-era Underthings: More Adventures in Historical Sewing

14804383309_d00acd2a35_z
Here’s a sneak peak at my new Regency era outfit (with a poor attempt at a turban to cover up my lack of long hair).
If you remember I’ve been slowly working on historical costume sewing. I’ve made progress but until now no finished product has been blogged.
For those unfamiliar, the Regency time period in terms of fashion spanned about mid 1790-1820s. Think Napoleonic era or Jane Austen movies. Columnar skirts, very high waistlines, lots of white fabric, bonnets, “classically” inspired, ability to swoon over Mr. Darcy.
(novelist Jane Austen, 1775-1817)

(The cast of the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, aka, the best Pride and Prejudice evah!)

Of course if I’m sewing historical costumes this means that Dixie Victorian, my historical-sewing-accuracy-nazi alter ego, must reappear. *dun dun duuuunnnn*
She usually pops up while I’m making key decisions regarding garment design or construction…
Dixie Victorian: Wait, you’re not going to sew that corset by machine are you? You know they wouldn’t have had sewing machines for at least another FIFTY YEARS???
Dixie DIY: Yeah, but I don’t have time to sew a bazillion yards of cording all by hand. It’s just underwear, no one’s ever going to see it.
Dixie VictorianYou will see it. You will know. And you will hate yourself for it.
A little bit later:

Dixie Victorian: Is that plastic boning you’re using for those stays? You know they make synthetic whalebone nowadays and you can buy reed on the internet.

Dixie DIY: Yeah, but I don’t want to wait a week for that stuff to be shipped. I want to finish it now and I already have this plastic stuff.

Dixie Victorian: So you are both lazy and impatient. You disgust me.

Jeez, woman! Calm down…
Besides, there’s one thing so much more important than accuracy to worry about when sewing Regency garments: bewbs.
Allow me to explain: as a small busted, pear shaped lady attempting to dress in the soft, feminine, almost childlike fashions (actually, in the late 18th century this style was what little girls wore, and then their moms stole it from them) with that high empire waistline I run the risk of looking at best pregnant and at worst like a 12 year old girl. No, scratch that. At worst I look like a pregnant 12 year old girl. And no one wants that.
The solution? Up the bewbs! I once read that the idea was to put the chest “on a platter” as it were. For me that’s a very small platter but I am determined to look like I at least have something, uh, to be served.
And how do we go about getting that… effect? Why, with the sexy sexy Regency underwear, of course!
14968020286_fb1eb0825b_z
…Uh, or not… Yeah, that’s not in any way sexy but it does the job, right? Yes? Maybe? I hope?
Let’s begin with the shift – the undermost layer that just looks like a big long woven t-shirt with a drawstring at the neck.
I used the Sense and Sensibility Regency Underthings Shift pattern with a pima cotton batiste from The Common Thread. I made a size M and machine sewed most of it. I machine flat felled all the seams (great instructions on how to do that with the sleeve gussets) and finished all hems by hand. There’s a little ribbon that runs through the neck binding to adjust the shape.

**********

Now for the “stays” – what they called a corset before corsets were a thing.
Normally when you imagine a corset you’re thinking of the victorian style – cinched in waist that makes an hour glass shape. Laces in the back. Busk with hook and eyes opens at the front. Steel boning.
Regency corsets were much different. No steel (not invented yet). No opening bust (also not invented yet). Straps (which are just as annoying as bra straps that slip off your shoulders, even in 200 years no one’s fixed that problem). And this style wasn’t designed to make your waist smaller – it’s all about THE LIFT! Which is the goal, right?
The stays I’m wearing in the previous photo were not my first attempt. I started with the “short stays” from Sense and Sensibility patterns. They’re kind of like a lace up bra only even more uncomfortable.
For Short Stays Version 1 I cut (I think) a size 12 with b-cup bust inserts. Disaster. The girls kept sliding down into the depths of the stays never to be seen again. And digging your fists into your shirt to fish them out isn’t very lady-like. Massively failing at the prime directive of Regency styling.
14804346750_b08fd2ce5a_z
(Short Stays version 1, the case of the missing bust. I cut off the binding and took out the bones for version 2)
So I went for a different approach. Version 2 I cut two sizes smaller (to my under bust measurement) and cut d-cup inserts. More like modern bra sizing in which the band size is based on under bust. Better, but the cups were probably a bit too big (they lacing pulls too tight at the top).
14804329639_98e792c937_z
(Short Stays version 2, with dreaded under-bust poof)
There were more issues. The bottom of the stays dug into my sternum and the short-ness did nothing to curb the bulge of fabric at my waist created by my shift. Even with the over dresses that pouf of fabric didn’t go away, only adding to the pregnancy vibe.
Defeated, I decided to try the more traditional “long stays.”

14968012066_5a35b87beb_z
(no poof, yay!)

These are from Laughing Moon patterns and consist of straps that tie on in front, drawstring gathers over the bust for “containment,” hip gussets, lacing in back, cording for support and wooden busk in front.

14987904191_e50c07902c_z

My busk is actually a paint stir stick. It’s there to support your front (no slouching, ladies!) and to “lift and separate.” Seriously, they used to call this style a “divorce corset.” Because in the year 1800 you couldn’t divorce your man you could at least divorce your bust (can I get my right one to pay my left one alimony??). Now, I need my bewbs to stick together but at this point I’ll take what I can get.
***Funny story – this corset uses cotton cording (the kind used inside piping) which produces a surprisingly firm result. Unfortunately it requires MILES of it.
I bought enough cording for the corset but then used some for piping on another project so I needed more. Then I used more of it, didn’t have enough. Back to the store again.
In the span of a few weeks I had gone to Joann Fabrics so often for this stupid cording that the lady at the check out counter literally said to me, “More string? I hope your not tying up your sister or something with all this.”
*deep breath*
The corset has twill on the outside and muslin inside with cording sandwiched in between. Machine sewn because sanity. There are more skilled and patient costumers than I who hand sew these things. There should be a shrine dedicated to them.
If you’re wondering where Dixie Victorian is at this point, well, I think I scared her off because screw accuracy at this point. I just wanted to stop crying after sewing so much endless cord…

 

Oh, and then there’s the two dozen eyelets sewn BY HAND. By now I’ve probably sewn near sixty eyelet on this and various other unblogged historical projects. Tiny blanket stitched holes haunt me in my dreams…
14968037406_792913b5f8_z

(I could have tightened the stays more, they’re kind of loose, but I was alone and didn’t have anyone to help me)

In the end the stays do their job well enough and I’m proud of myself for sticking with it. AND no waist pouf! And no wandering bewbs! Success!
Well that’s enough for one post. Next time I’ll talk about the dress…
  • Accordion3

    Wonderful post, loved hearing about you channelling a sewing demon.

    Does this garment have a purpose other than to frustrate you?

  • Tracey Walker

    You are both hilarious and talented

  • Thewallinna

    It’s so cool! I admire your patience with different corset versions, cording and hours of hand-sewing eyelets! I think it’s such a shame that corsets have to be hidden under garments. Yours is so pretty!

  • Hello again Dixie Victorian! These posts make my week and are utterly brilliant. I am amazed at your patience to try all those versions of corsets, and the finished result is so pretty! I can’t believe you’ve got a paint stick in there!

  • Roseana Auten

    Your humor matches your skill.

  • sallieforrer

    This is hilarious and fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing Dixie!! Keep ‘em coming!!

  • Maria Shell

    Dixie- this is a great post. Funny and informative. What a great read.

  • Oh, goodness! What a project!

  • I am sooooooo impressed! I just don’t have the patience for something that’s just worn for fun. Even my most laboured over Halloween costumes are mostly super glue.

    Also, you look so perfect as a Jane Austen heroine I think we need to recast Sense & Sensibility….

  • Thanks Heather! I never thought of myself as perfectionist until I started doing this stuff, it’s crazy.

  • Haha, thanks, yeah and the pattern is specifically designed to fit a paint stick. I guess because it’s the most readily available wood stick shape, lol.

  • Thanks! It almost makes me want to run around and scream “look at my underwear!!”

  • Thanks! I started historical sewing because I was getting in kind of a sewing rut. I wanted a new challenge to get excited about. Well, this certainly was a challenge. Maybe at some point I can go to some costuming events and wear my garments but until then they’re just for fun and learning and of course, frustration. ;)

  • cawmags

    Really enjoyed your post. What an achievement! The corset is actually rather beautiful!

  • Susan Menta

    Just what I’ve been waiting for- the return of Victorian Dixie!!! That bitch is strict! But I think you have her under control. Oh and next time you need piping, talk to Susan, the owner of 1000’s of yards…. Great job on your underthingies. We’re gonna have to have some kind of costume party so you get to wear it:)

  • lisa g

    the cording does look amazing though! i wouldn’t have near the patience or perseverance to do all that, so you can tell Dixie Victorian to just bugger off. hope you have an outing to show off all your hard work!

  • Haha this is great. I love seeing your process, and I completely agree with you that that version of pride and prejudice is the best ever!

  • Thanks Melissa! I kind of imagine her popping up like that all over the place. She’s sneaky like that…

  • Thank ya! I really like the actor who plays darcy in the most recent movie version but the 1995 miniseries is definitely the best over all. plus it’s like five hours, more time to enjoy it!

  • thanks, I’ve been looking for local events that I could wear the outfit in. there’s lots of civil war reenactments but early 19th century stuff isn’t as popular.

  • omg I did! she has a giant spool of it. I’m totally using it for a future project that needs infinitely more cording. i’ve gone insane from all this cording! next time the alamo drafthouse has some sort of jane austen related special movie event I’m totally dressing up.

  • Paula Whelan

    Love this pattern. I have one T-shirt dress that I wear in the summer. I have had it so long (and it was 2nd to begin with) that there is a hole in the back where I have a chronic itch. It has pockets, which I find useful as I don’t carry a purse, so I will add pockets to this pattern.

  • slauditory

    This was a really interesting post. I’ve never thought about how complicated old timey underthings can be. Also, the inner Victorian popping up made me laugh. :D

  • I applaude you for sticking with it! The final version is awesome and fits really well! When I got married, I decided to make a wedding dress with a pattern from 1811. My inner accuracy persona also came out and I decided I needed the complete undergarments to wear underneath. I purchased the same Sense and Sensibility pattern to make the chemise and stays. They looked gorgeous, but the cups were hilariously too big. I might have stretched them a bit while sewing in the gussets. Anyway, I ended up just buying a long slip and wore modern undergarments. My hand sewn eyelets never saw the light of day!

  • 60 handstitched eyelets?? You’re insane and I commend your dedication. ;) It does look really pretty, though, I really like the cording and those gussets…

  • Dixie Victorian must be so proud! This is a really amazing look inside a super cool garment… I mean SUPER cool. It’s so fun to sew historical stuff sometimes (minus the miles of cording and bazillions of hand stitched eyelets). That’s kinda why I love 40s stuff. It’s all “How can we do this as cheaply and efficiently as possible with the least amount of resources” lol!

  • Thanks ;) One thing I like about 40s (and 50s and 60s and so on) sewing is that it can very easily blend with modern clothes. Unfortunately I can’t run around in this garb on a daily basis and feel comfortable, lol. Another thing about 40s, even when you take into account the efficiency of resources the pattern designs were often more creative than most RTW clothes we have available now.

  • Haha, yeah, I did a Renaissance style bodice that had the eyelets as my first test-project. They’re tedious to make but I’m surprised at how strong they are for just being little stitched holes. Thanks

  • Oh my gosh, I bet that gown was beautiful and I have a huge respect for you for attempting the stays but sometimes a good old modern bra is just better, lol. Do you know the name of the pattern you used?

  • Adriane

    Your comedic sensibilities really shine through in this post :) Oh, and the garments are nice, too!

  • It was so long ago and I did a terrible job of documenting the process on the blog, but I am pretty sure I used the Regency Dress pattern from Sense and Sensibility. Here’s a link to a few pictures, but they don’t show too much! I was too lazy to hire a photographer. http://www.neoknits.com/2008/01/im-officially-mrs-db/

  • WOW. Just wow!!! Well done! You have WAY more patience than me :)

  • This is super cute! The pattern is no longer available?

  • Hey Carole, I’m currently (like, right now as I type this) migrating my blog to a new server so certain files (like the pattern) may not be available for a few hours. If you try again tomorrow it should probably work.