Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Regency Day Dress Made from Sheets

Many thanks to all of you who weighed in on my sheet choice dilemma two weeks ago; although many of you were in favor of the IKEA duvet cover, in the end, research seemed to back up the choice of the more colorful floral sheet instead. To refresh your memory, here's what I was choosing between:


ElleC helpfully pointed me towards examples of brightly colored, floral print cottons, especially the work of William Kilburn, and that was enough to convince me that it wouldn't be totally wrong to use the sheet on the left. Besides, there was more white in the fabric, and even though there are examples of  non-white-and-poofy Regency gowns, in the end the delicacy of the floral just read more stereotypically Regency to me.

William Kilburn's floral designs for cottons were definitely brightly colored!
An extant gown with a vaguely similar print from the Manchester City Galleries, circa 1795-1800. 

I used a frankensteined amalgamation of the two Regency era dresses in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion; it's the gathered bodice and skirt of the V&A dress and the back and sleeves of the Salisbury Museum dress, combined with the drawstring neckline and closure that was demonstrated on Sense and Sensibility's pattern site. Unfortunately, some aspects got lost in the frankensteining process, and the back is much lower than I intended. The problem with using Cecily as a model is that she has a larger (and less compressible) bust than I do, and that threw off the fit of the bodiced petticoat and the length of my shoulder straps, which in turn caused the bizarre sloping toward the back. This is especially sad since research shows that the backs of the gowns should be higher and smaller, and mine is exactly the opposite -- larger and lower! Ah well, now I know for next time, because you can bet your Regency britches that I'm going to be making another one! Regency dresses are so easy to make and comfortable to wear, and I'm already dissatisfied with my workmanship on this gown, so I'm itching to make another, better one.

From the Fyeahtheregency tumblr.

After all my dithering about how the bodice looked, I became pretty dissatisfied with the gown, and it turned into a fairly slapdash effort to finish it up before the Jane Austen Evening. It's almost entirely machine-sewn, even the drawstring channel, and I didn't even bother blind-stitching the hem. The whole thing is unlined, too, so at some point I'm going to need to go back in and either bind or overcast my seam allowances. Anyway, enough disclaimers. Here's what I ended up with for my tea dress!

These pictures were actually taken the day after the tea, since I was in a rush to get out the door on the day of. 
I need to fix the bodice of my petticoat, since it's not doing an adequate job of lifting and separating the little I have to work with. 
Wearing my fichu askew and untucked. You can see here that the back waistline is much lower than it should be. 
Better view of the back. There's a ribbon drawstring at the waist and at the neckline, along a with a few hooks and eyes to help hold it all closed. Like I said, the back turned out lower than I expected, so I actually had to unbutton the top button of my petticoat and tuck it down so it wouldn't show! 
Why do Regency dresses conspire to make the wearer look pregnant? 

The bonnet was also thrown together from materials I already had -- a thrift store straw hat that was originally part of my Ren Faire ensemble, bias tape left over from my hobbit maid costume, a long cream-colored ribbon from my one attempt at being a wedding florist, and fake flowers pulled off of another thrifted hat.  I followed this very helpful tutorial to cut apart, line, and re-trim my bonnet.

I sewed in part of a wire coat hanger to shape the rim of the bonnet. 

It was mostly hidden by the bonnet's ribbons, but I was also wearing a book locket! 


This outfit is technically part of my Historical Sew Fortnightly sewing queue, so here are the facts:

The Challenge: #2, the UFO challenge, although mine was more of an unfinished idea than an unfinished object.
Fabric: One flat sheet and half of a fitted sheet, twin size, 50/50 poly-cotton blend, apparently from JC Penney's at least a decade ago, if not more. It's been in my stash for two years, so I'm simultaneously stashbusting as well!
Pattern: An unsuccessful combination of two different extant Regency gowns from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion
Year: 1800-ish
Notions: Hooks and eyes, ribbon for the drawstring
How historically accurate is it? Not very. There's the anachronistic materials and construction, and even my attempt to at least use a period pattern was thwarted by poor fitting. At least I tried to do my research for the fabric print, even though I was still trying to make do with what I already had!
Hours to complete: About 12. Even though actually sewing the gown was easy, I spent a while futzing with the pattern pieces and the fit, as well as hand-sewing the inner waistband and the sleeve bands.
First worn: Saturday, January 26, to the tea portion of the Jane Austen Evening.
Total cost: $5 for the sheets, $5 for the straw hat, $5 for a white cotton voile shirt that I cut up and re-sewed to make a triangular fichu, and all the notions were leftover from other projects...all in all, $15 for a fake Regency outfit!


Even though my final outfit didn't turn out very historically accurate, it did provide a good reason to actually do a lot of research on Regency era textiles and extant gowns. So even though what I learned didn't necessarily make it into the gown, I at least know where I deviated from historical accuracy. And really, isn't that the goal of the HSF? To be encouraged to do research? See how I'm trying to excuse myself? Anyway, since this dress is already more costume-y than historical, and since I have a wooden katana from my college martial arts days, I'm thinking that I might actually try mixing up some fake blood to splash onto it, and go for a Lizzy Bennet of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies costume. Not sure when I would ever wear it, but when has that ever stopped me from making a costume?

Zombies are coming! Fly, you fools! Oh wait, that's the wrong story. 

66 comments:

  1. It. Is. Perfect. Omg I can't tell you how much I love it. Green eyed monster here...

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    1. You can make one too, and then it will be my turn to have green eyes!

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  2. How lovely! Befitting a Bennet sister, for sure.

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    1. Especially considering that they're always retrimming bonnets! :)

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  3. I'm in love with your bonnet and I want one!!

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    1. Awww thanks! It was pretty easy to do, just time-consuming.

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  4. Both costumes are fantastic. You would fit in and look perfectly at home strolling across the lawns in front of the Royal Crescent or taking the waters in the Pump Room. Your bonnet is genius. Don't be so critical both of your costumes look authentic and fabulous. I am in love with the turban which was the height of fashion! Congratulations on two great costumes and having the confidence to go to the event on your own. You should feel very proud of yourself.

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    1. Oh, a trip to the Royal Crescent would just set me up forever! If only I could convince Mr. Cation that we should go!

      Thank you for all your kind words about my costume...it's my habit to nit-pick my own work, but sweet people like you remind me to show a little love to it too.

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  5. You look SO pretty! I love the Regency era too. I actually did my highschool graduation assignment on the fashion of the Regency era. And I actually know why those dresses make you look pregnant!
    The whole style was a statement against the earlier fashions with very tight corsets and big gowns (think Marie Antoinette and you know what I mean), in the Regency era the bodies of women were to be free and natural, in there natural shape so to speak. That's why the waistline is so high, to give space to your stomach, hips and bum!

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    1. Wow, that sounds like an AWESOME assignment! If only my high school had been half as cool. Thanks for the information!

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  6. For all of the disclaimers, this turned out pretty nice! Very flattering, too.

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    1. Haha, I need to stop giving out so many disclaimers!

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  7. Who cares how many modern shortcuts you used? It's wonderful and from a distance all anyone will think is "Regency"! =) THAT is the goal of most costumers - leave the right IMPRESSION on your viewers. It's a beautiful success! And I LOVE your bonnet!

    The zombie idea is hilarious and would be so fun for Halloween - or a movie premiere. You should total start experimenting with paint for blood! lol! (Don't use the fake stage blood - it doesn't ever dry completely and stays sticky. It's really gross to deal with on clothing.)

    ~ Brooke

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    1. Oooh, that's good to know about stage blood. I'm not in a hurry to throw paint on this, but I'll keep it in mind for October! And yes, I'd agree that the impression is definitely Regency...one day I'll try again for a more accurate costume, but for now this will do!

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  8. YES to a version a propos for lizzy from P&P&Z. i think that would be absolutely the most brilliant mashup of everything you've got going on right now!!

    also, way to go on re-trimming that "bonnet." easy, inexpensive, and very regency-appropriate. how many scenes in the BBC P&P feature lydia re-trimming a bonnet? (only, like, ALL OF THEM.)

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    1. Hahahahaha oh man, I laughed so hard at that comment. Oh Lydia. And yes, P&P&Z would be an appropriate mashup of all my interests!

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  9. I'm sorry you're disappointed with the fit of the bodice. While I understand your point, the dress really does look lovely on you.

    The idea of splattering it with fake blood makes me sad. However, let it never be said that I discouraged someone from trying out the zombie look!

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    1. Awww, I would hate to sadden you with my fake blood! I have until October to do it, so I might still change my mind!

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  10. What a great job! You have serious skills.

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  11. very lovely, I think it is perfect for the event you attended. And pss. a little secret - on things that are costumes or actually formal type dresses I will wear rarely, sometimes once. I Do Not Finish the insides. who cares? usually in a rush to finish and the outside the most important. But I think it is too pretty to zombie-fy.

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    1. I guess if I were totally honest with myself, I'd have to admit that it will never get enough wear that it will matter whether the insides are finished or not! Thanks for the permission to leave raw edges :)

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  12. Despite all your problems it is very pretty! You look lovely and your bonnet is SUPER COOL!
    It's the empire waistlines and all the gathers that give the pregnancy illusion. I have a shirt like that too.
    I really like it, even though red was my choice.

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    1. I felt really bad for the red sheet when I started cutting, but I think it was the right choice. And if it weren't for an event like this, there's no way I would have voluntarily worn an empire-waist dress!

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  13. It's very pretty and I love the bonnet.

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    1. Thanks! I really do think the bonnet just makes the whole outfit.

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  14. The best fake blood apparently is chocolate sauce with red food colouring! Has the advantage of also being edible - & delicious!

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    1. P.s. sorry - was so excited about being able to share my tip for fake blOod that I never mentioned how AMAZING your outfit looks! Don't be so self critical - ok it may nor be totally historically accurate (not that I would know from looking!) but it certainly evokes the Regency era!

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    2. Haha thanks for the compliment and the tip! If I end up zombifying it, I think I would want something a little more permanent than chocolate sauce, but I will certainly file away that tip for sexy funtimes with Mr. Cation...not that blood is necessarily appropriate in that situation...

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  15. This is awesomeness! You so look like you could take on Lizzie in a katana duel in that frock... Just sayin... ;)

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    1. I'm gratified that you think so highly of my imaginary katana skills!

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  16. Love it! And I think I had that sheet set growing up.

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    1. Haha that's awesome! Apparently it was a popular sheet set, as someone else mentioned that they had had it too!

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  17. Your dress is gorgeous, and I really love your bonnet. Also, I think you would rock the zombie Lizzie B look at Halloween (you have such great ideas!). Just sayin... ;)

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  18. I love this dress! I bought the same sheet, still in the package, at a yard sale in Alabama last year. I hope whatever I end up using it for, it looks half as good as your gown!

    My sheet felt a bit itchy straight out of the bag. I hope yours is more comfortable!

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    1. My sheet was washed several times at least, because it's reached that lovely soft used sheet stage...maybe a couple of washings will soften yours up too! I hope you let me know when you end up using your sheet for something -- I'd love to see what yours turns into!

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  19. Your dress is gorgeous.......you did a fabulous job.....

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  20. Love your dress, and the zombie idea:) you did a lovely job.

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  21. I think the whole outfit looks really lovely!! Well done :) Historically perfect or not, it certainly does invoke the right image. The idea of the fake blood on such a pretty dress makes me a little sad, though deep down (ok, maybe not that deep) I think the zombie idea is awesome!

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    1. Thanks for affirming that it evokes the Regency look! I'll be honest, I'm torn, too, about preserving this dress or zombifying it!

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  22. Wow, you look stunning! I especially love the bonnet.

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    1. Thanks! I wasn't sure about the bonnet at first, but looking back at these pictures, I'm pretty stoked about it :)

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  23. It works for me! I think it would be GREAT for your next zombie walk, too! ;)

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    1. Alas, I'm not sure when I'll be able to go to another zombie walk!

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  24. This looks amazing on you! I LOVE it! Great job, girl!

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  25. Lovely. I think it turned out well and not many people will be able to see the imperfections you do.

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    1. I think you're probably right; I just had a very specific idea in my mind, and if I let go of that this dress is really just fine!

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  26. I wouldn't know historically accurate if (insert cliche here) but I think it looks lovely! Perhaps The Dreamstress can give you some tips on redoing the parts that distress you? The fabric is so pretty and the overall shape looks great! And that bonnet - WOW.

    But zombies are also cool, so if that's where you want to go, I know you'll rock it!

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    1. I doubt I'll ever redo this particular gown, but I'll make a new one one day and then The Dreamstress' knowledge will be invaluable! Thanks for your approbation of the overall look!

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  27. Really beautiful, Cindy - you look very period appropriate, even if you are not "technically" historically accurate... who cares, it looks amazing!! ^___^

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  28. I am so impressed, the print you picked is perfect, and I can't believe you made the bonnet! Love the dress, it will make a great Pride and Prejudice and Zombies costume!

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  29. Hi :) Just passing through....I think you do very nice work <3 You know what...My mom bought me the sheets, the ones with the simple white back ground and pink, yellow, and blue flowers when I was little. She bought 3 sets of them at JC Pennys in 1979 in southern California.

    She still has some of the pillow cases in her linen closet! They do get softer, and they wash, and last very, very well!

    :)

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  30. Apparently, I missed this somehow. Not that I read your blog - or any - very regularly recently, but I think I checked fairly often around that time...
    Nevermind. I wanted to say - do you think the back could be helped if you shortened the shoulder "straps" and pleated the resulting excess in the sleeves in the back/shoulder? It seems to me it has some "give" in that area that perhaps is partly to blame for the low back, and pleated sleeves like that are perfectly accurate.

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  31. ahh, love the print. you say it is from at least 10 years ago... much longer than that I'd say. I had the same sheets on my bed when I was 5... in 1984... I still have one of the pillow cases, so this dress should last you a good long while :). Even with the mixed pattern challenges, it still looks great. Nice Job.

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  32. Oh, and I was going to say, for future projects, I highly recommend sheets from thrift stores (they don't usually sell anything that is stained or looks nasty, just clean, worn stuff). They have already been pre-washed and you can tell which fabrics will wear best. They are great for petticoats, chemises, and linings, etc...

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  33. This whole using sheets thing . . . seriously??? Really!!!!!!! Honey, you are a woman after my own heart. I literally stumbled upon this blog this evening and I am feeling so good about it.

    YOU GO, GIRL!

    I am definitely going to have to bookmark, Stumble, FB, Google+ it . . . alla that stuff. You see, I recently purchased a sheet to make a skirt because I love the color. My girlfriend, who was with me, said she would recognize that it was a sheet, but chided me to "go ahead, make it, I want to see it." I was feeling some kind of way after what she said (but still have the fabric). I am going for it and making my skirt.

    I now have new impetus to repurpose sheets from thrift stores like you are doing. My goal is to wear Regency, Edwardian, 1950's on a day-to-day basis and I am not concerned with "historical accuracy" as I am about simply being comfortable and ladylike.

    Thank you for blogging and sharing with folk like me.

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  34. Beautiful dress... Well it may sound funny, but I had a bed sheet exactly like that, but when my daughter was about 6 months old she was carrying it around. She is now 6 years old and few weeks ago we left it behind she cry a lot every day and I would like to see if you can give me the information where to buy the fabric or if you have any left. Thanks

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    1. I bought this sheet set at a thrift store and as far as I can tell it was already several years old. However, I still have some of the fabric left over in odd-size pieces...did you want to buy the remnants?

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    2. Yes I would love to.. Tell me what's the cost and how do I pay you?

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    3. Yessel, please email me at cationdesignsblog [at] gmail.com so we can discuss it!

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