Regency Spencer – Laughing Moon #129

Regency Spencer

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress
This historical costume project came about as an attempt to salvage another historical costume project.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress
Let’s begin with the dress that inspired the jacket. Warning, this post is long so if you’d like to skip to the discussion on the jacket, continue down until you see more jacket photos.

I sewed this white Regency gown years ago but due to a massive fail on my part, it lingered in the Drawer of Shame ever since.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

See, I bought this thin, semi-sheer striped cotton destined for a sheer dress gown. I’d already made Laughing Moon #126 and loved the fit and imagined I could use this fabric with that pattern. However, that pattern is an apron front dress and were I to make it with a sheer fabric, the entire interior bodice structure would be exposed. Hmm, how to work around this…?

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress(the dress looks deceptively fine in the front…)

Rather than lining the bodice (which would ruin the sheer effect I was going for) I chose to convert the entire bodice to a back-closing design with drawstrings. To do that I needed to widen the back pieces so they could be gathered up by the drawstrings at the waist and neckline.

But I didn’t cut the back pieces extra wide. Because I forgot. Or something. I don’t remember. Instead, I cut the back like normal and didn’t have enough fabric left to cut new pieces. Ugh. Without the extra width, the drawstrings couldn’t do their job leaving MASSIVE gaping in the center back.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress(but the back reveals a fatal error!)

To salvage the dress, I lined the bodice to permanently fix the gathers in front and attached three hooks and eyes in the back. So much for that sheer bodice design I was going for…

But this solution still resulted in gaping. Because of course there would be gaping. The original dress is designed with a close-fitting back and if you split that back in half, the fabric will strain at that point.

It looked awful and unwearable and showed all the undergarments in the back.

(Some Spencer inspiration. My jacket looks similar to the right-side portrait from 1799.)

Enter 2018 and the new solution: SPENCER!

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

Why didn’t I think of this before!?? Spencers were a style of cropped jacket unique to the Regency period of about the 1790s-1820s. They were often worn over gowns when it was too warm for a full coat.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

Luckily, I had plenty of this black cotton velveteen leftover from other projects and I read somewhere that velveteen was used for Spencers in the early 1800s.

I used View C of Laughing Moon #129. I liked the “tails” in the back which would cover more of the back bodice of the dress and the high collar gave the jacket a military feel. Laughing Moon says this design is good for 1798-1809 which pairs well with my jockey-style bonnet from around the same period.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

I ordered a black taffeta from Silk Baron for the lining. I liked the idea of the shiny silk contrasting with the velveteen, but the black on black still makes it easy to match the jacket with dresses and accessories.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton DressI find that Laughing Moon patterns fit me well right out of the envelope and this was no exception. The only problem is that the armholes are a tad snug but I bet that’s because the velveteen seam allowance is so bulky where it is gathered.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

The only change I made was to shortened the sleeves by about 1/2″. They’re meant to be quite long but even so, they were super long.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

The sleeves bell out at the wrist and I like that I can roll up the cuffs if I want to show off more silk.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

The button came from a swap. I originally attached two buttons for symmetry but the “faux” button was droopy and looked unsymmetrical despite the buttons being stitched in the same place. I took the extra button off.

Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

Sewing this pattern proved more challenging than I expected. I knew I’d have to do plenty of hand sewing here and there but I struggled with the points near the collar and with the pleats in back. I had to do some extra hand sewing and clipping to make sure everything layed correctly.
Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton DressSewing the velveteen proved challenging as well. While not as slippery as silk velvet, the pile on this fabric makes it difficult to sew without the layers shifting. I used a walking foot and a long stitch length to accommodate this finicky fabric.
Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton DressFor this outfit, I’m wearing my Regency undergarments, the dress, Spencer, my silk bonnet, a coral bead necklace and an extra long pashmina shawl (made by stitching two long shawls together at one end).
Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton DressIn the end, this jacket turned out fantastic! The cut is perfect for this era. I love the contrast between the sleek silk and the heavy velveteen. The whole outfit looks straight out of a French fashion magazine.


Velveteen Regency Spencer and Cotton Dress

Mid-1300s Kirtle and Veil

Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

There’s nothing like a strict deadline to motivate you to finish a project. That’s what I gave myself for this newest historical costume. To celebrate my birthday I decided to visit the Medieval Faire near Austin and of course, I needed clothes to wear.

The Faire I went to is themed more toward the European middle ages than the Renaissance so I went with something in the middle – the 14th century. Plague times, yeah! Woohoo! What, no cheering for the bubonic plague? Ok, whatever…

Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

The distinctive features of this era of dress are full-length gowns (called a “kirtle”) with gores in the skirt to add fullness, no waist seam, with a broad neckline, and a bodice that is tightly laced to the body.

This time period was a transition between the looser garments of the early middle ages and the highly supported bodices of the Renaissance period (and what we like to think of as early corsets).

Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

This fabric sat in my stash for years(!!!) with the intention of becoming a kirtle but never got around to it because the idea of drafting a kirtle pattern from scratch seemed so daunting. You have to get the fit just right so that the tight lacing supports the bust but also doesn’t gape.

I’ve seen people use this tutorial in which a helper squeezes and pins fabric around your torso to make a bodice pattern. But I don’t have any costuming friends nearby who could do this for me.

Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

Instead, I went with what I knew – flat pattern drafting. I took measurements. A ton of measurements! Both vertical (shoulder to bust, underarm to waist, shoulder to wrist, etc) and horizontal (high bust, full bust, underbust, shoulder to shoulder, etc) and using those, I drew a “curved-front-seam” bodice pattern.

The bodice section is lined with white linen, same fabric as the veil. I didn’t line the sleeves or the length of the kirtle to save fabric and reduce layers.

All of the structural seams were machine sewn with finishing done by hand. All hems are hand sewn.

Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

The 3 dozen or so lacing eyelets are all sewn by hand (and if you’re wondering how long it takes to sew 3 dozen eyelets by hand… it’s about a season and a half of “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

The lacing opening and neckline are faced with red twill tape for strength and durability.

Kirtle insides close up

I finished the skirt gores’ seam allowances by flat felling by hand. I haven’t yet finished the other seams because of time.

Underneath my kirtle I’m wearing an 18th-century linen shift (minus the sleeves, I ripped them off because I didn’t like the way they fit).

I’m wearing some simple brown leather flats which are the closest thing I own to appropriate medieval shoes I own.

As for the hairstyle, I followed the basic idea of this tutorial with twin braids at the top front of my head that are pinned behind and under the veil.

The veil is a big linen circle with a hand-rolled hem all around. It is folded over my head twice – once at my forehead, bobby pinned behind my ears – then folded again around the top of my head and pinned to the braids and crown with little straight sewing pins.

The “correct” way of doing this would actually be to wrap my head in a white linen cap, then layer the veil on top and pin the veil to the cap (easier to pin fabric to fabric than fabric to hair). But I didn’t have enough time to make a cap and the veil stayed on well enough on its own.

Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

This was my first costume from this period and I wasn’t expecting perfect historical accuracy. It served more as an experiment to see if it could be done. I’d say it was successful for the most part.

One major anachronism – my fabric. I used a linen blend, which, while blends weren’t a thing in the 1300s, linen was used for kirtles although it was a lot less common than wool. But I live in Texas where wool is hard to come by and I’d rather wear cool linen over wool.

But the other problem is color. Firstly, linen didn’t take dye as well as wool back when only natural dyes were available. I doubt that this deep red could have been achieved on linen. Also, dark reds colors were more expensive as they required rarer dyes or longer dye time. I’m not dressed as a princess but I’m not a poor peasant farmer either. I’m not sure a middle-class, 14th-century lady would be wearing bold red.Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

Things I would change if I made another 1300s costume:

  • Make a cap to go underneath the veil. And make a wimple, which is like another veil that goes under the chin, pins to the back of the head, and tucks into the kirtle neckline.
  • Use 100% linen fabric rather than a blend, in a more muted color.
  • Inset the gores higher up, nearer to my waist. I inserted my skirt gores at hip level because that’s where my lacing eyelets ended, but now I realize it would probably be more accurate to have the gores higher, and it would also likely make the skirt seem fuller.
  • Make the sleeves a little longer. As I was wearing the dress the sleeves felt short on my arms.

I made this kirtle purposefully unfussy with front lacing rather than fancy buttons so that, in the future, I could wear an overdress on top. I hope to make/buy some accessories to go with it like a belt and maybe a pouch or two.

Mid 14th Century Kirtle and Veil

Historical Costuming: 1840s day dress and bonnet

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

After what seems like years I’ve finally finished my 1840s costume. I completed the dress months ago but the bonnet languished unfinished until recently.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

Underneath all of this, I’m wearing my Victorian undergarments (including four petticoats!), silk stockings and brown leather ballet flats (not exactly period accurate but close enough for now).

Let’s talk about this dress:

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The pattern is Laughing Moon Mercantile #114 with some minor adjustments. I made View B but with the flat back of View C. I added velvet ribbon on the sleeves based on some extant dress which I can no longer find online. The sleeves of View B are actually three layers (difficult to see in this print), the uppermost layer is pleated three times, hence three rows of ribbon.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The rose print fabric came from Joann. Is it period accurate? Not exactly, but I have seen red and white cotton extant dresses from the time period.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

I also had to sew several more rows of gathers in the center “fan” front at the waist to rein in all that excess fabric. From other reviews I have read, this seems to be a common fix.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

Other than that, the dress fit me quite well out of the envelope with the exception of some ripples on the back. Not sure if that is due to my corset or if I simply need to slice off some of the length in the back.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

If I were to make this pattern again in View B I would choose a much thinner fabric. The fabric I used was too thick at the armhole seam (this style has very dropped shoulders). With added piping, that seam had 5 layers in it!

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The skirt is cartridge pleated. I did this so long ago now, back when I was a beginner at costuming. If I were to do it again, I’d make my pleats smaller and tighter.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The dress closes in back with hooks and eyes so you need help to put it on.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

This “coal scuttle” bonnet is what kept me from finishing this costume. It seemed a daunting task to create an entire buckram and wire framed bonnet from scratch but it wasn’t that difficult to sew when I actually sat down to do it. The pattern is Timely Tresses’ Ada Gray mid 1840s bonnet. It’s mostly hand sewn.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The main fabric is ivory silk taffeta from some website I don’t remember now. The ribbon is also from Timely Tresses. The feather and vintage velvet flowers are from Etsy. The body of the bonnet is lined with linen and gathered white lace. The bravolet (the little skirt in back) is lined in net.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

The date I was going for with this outfit is 1847 which is right around the time Texas joined the Union. These pics were taken on a short overnight trip to Leakey, Texas on the Frio River in the Texas Hill Country. I might be able to wear this outfit to some kind of Texas history event but for now, it’s just another fun costume to have.

1840s Day Dress and Bonnet

1880s Bustle Dress Costume

1880s Bustle Dress

This might be my most elaborate costume make to date. And I finished it justintime for my event at an art museum where these photos were taken (so ignore the buses and cars in the background).

To summarize, I’m wearing a cotton chemise under this Victorian corset, a steel lobster-tail bustle with ruffled petticoat, an underskirt, overskirt, bodice, bonnet, along with silk stockings and costume lace-up boots.

1880s Bustle Dress

Also, my mother-in-law was kind enough to let me borrow this vintage crochet handbag to house all my anachronistic necessities. Thanks MIL!

That’s quite a lot to talk about so to make this post easier on my I’m going to use the Historical Sew Monthly format for this outfit.

1880s Bustle Dress

The Challenge: After my last outing with the DFW Costumers Guild in November, my friend Susanna thought it would be a good idea to come back again for a Victorian themed event in February. “Sure,” I said, “that would be fun.” Next thing I knew she was ordering patterns and I had a new deadline to sew half a dozen pieces for a brand new costume in a little less than 2 months.

1880s Bustle Dress
(my friend Susanna and I)

Material: For the underlayers: cotton muslin. For the dress: gray with orange pinstripe wool – I thought it was wool but it’s actually a rayon poly blend and it’s too late now to fix it, silk velvet for the trim, cotton muslin for lining. For the bonnet: buckram and wire, leftover blue silk from my Regency bonnet, silk velvet, poly satin ribbon.

1880s Bustle Dress

Pattern:  Truly Victorian everything: bustle, petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice. And a Lynn McMaster’s pattern for the bonnet.

However, I heavily altered my bodice to resemble this extant dress by shortening the hem, narrowing the sleeves, and creating a buttoned vest effect in front and changing the lapels. The skirts are mostly just like the patterns except I added big velvet chunks on one side of the underskirt mimicking the extant gown.

1880s Bustle Dress

Year: about 1888.

Notions: metal buttons, feathers for the bonnet, steel boning for the dress and the bustle.

My inspiration dress had gigantic buttons on it. These bronze buttons were the closest thing I could find that would match the style although they aren’t as large.

1880s Bustle Dress

How historically accurate is it? Well, the materials aren’t entirely accurate but I did so much hand sewing on this thing: buttonholes! Hooks and eyes! All that velvet!

I give it 3 out of 5 Typhoid Fevers…

Hours to complete: All of them. All the hours. Ok, really, I worked on this whole get-up for around a couple hours every day for three weeks. Nearing the end, I was feeling burnt out and my interiors look quite sloppy. I wanted to be finished with this monster.

First worn: Last week at the Caillebotte exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX with the DFW Costumers Guild.

Total cost: Ugh, the not-actually-wool alone cost about $100. Velvet was $32… all together this thing was at least $250. Le sigh. I can’t complain. I did decide on my own to pursue this hobby…

The only thing I don’t like about this dress is that the white lining peeks out from behind the vest panel and inside the sleeves. I didn’t think about that possibility as I was sewing, I should have used the self-fabric instead. Oh, and I should really redraft the collar because it didn’t quite work out the way I had envisioned and on the day of the event I had to sew it closed. While wearing it. Can you imagine a needle that close to your neck!?

1880s Bustle Dress

Even though I am incredibly proud of myself for completing this costume I am quite happy to be done with it. I’m ready for a few months of normal, modern garment sewing. I miss finishing a project in a day!