Regency-era Underthings: More Adventures in Historical Sewing

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!
…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.
(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).
(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.”

(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.


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…

(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…