I am a great fan of the regency bib-front gown (sometimes called stomacher gown, drop-front, or fall-front gown). I find myself often making gowns last-minute for friends; and invariably, because of time constraints and trying to size something to someone who isn’t present, I opt for the bib-front. It's usually a situation where I can't have that person standing around for a fitting, so I make the gown that will most likely mold itself to fit her.
|As you can see, the back closes in front like a little jacket. |
The bib and front skirt panel are then tied to hide the jacket closures.
|ends should be tied in a bow, and tucked under the skirt front panel|
I drew my adjustments directly on it and then cut the muslin itself to act as the new piece. Here is a video I made back then about it. That very drawn-on piece of the side front is what I use today.
This pattern of mine is comprised of three pieces; a short sleeve that I often use and customized from a longer one, the back and the side front muslin piece. Those are the only things I cut from the pattern… the rest I improvise.
Of course, I am sort of limited in sizing, because I have no knowledge of upsizing or downsizing patterns, however I have added a little width to the back, and a little length to the arm piece to go up a size but that’s about it.
The beauty of this gown is that there is only one crucial fit, and that is the back width—and if your armseyes are good, and your front panels can be tightened, and if your wearer can put on the bodice like a jacket somewhat comfortably, then it will fit them. The bib front allows for A LOT of flexibility when it comes to breast-size and the variation in chest-circumference. The one dress pattern I have fits from about size 6-10. But what’s also amazing is that I used the same size for Sherry’s dress and for Tessa; Sherry has about a moderate B cup. Tessa is at least a D. Look how differently both girls are shaped… and then look how well the dress fits them.
Seriously. It’s an amazing gown. I make it CONSTANTLY and I’ve pared down construction time to ~ four hours depending on how intricate it is. MIND YOU, these are not historically accurate pieces because I cut corners and machine sew everything, but it is pretty and authentic looking and very practical. I don’t bother to cover the waist seam inside by whip-stitching the lining over it or such things… but you could if you wanted to. I did with my very first bib-front project; my green gown, which I draped entirely on my duct-tape mannequin. I used no pattern on this one, but made my own.
|Updated image (I've lost weight in this picture),|
the gown fits just fine in spite of going down 2 sizes.
|Construction of the bodice. The back piece was designed after an|
What’s really great is that if this gown is made in white muslin, it can be used for day or evening; washed, bleached and trimmed to your liking. Sick of a white gown? Just dye it. You can make overlays for it out of net or silk or velvet… pelisses, spencers, half robes and robes… or use the same pattern to make sheer gown overlays. It truly is the essential ‘little white dress’ of a regency wardrobe. I tell those who I make gowns for to get me 7-8 yards of muslin (yes, I cram at LEAST six yards of fabric into that skirt… but it’s not necessary. 5 yards total would probably suffice. I knife-pleat a most of it into the back to create that beautiful volume. If you saw it move and flare, you’d understand.
Because the bib is so non-crucial to the fit, I can really play around with it creatively—I even created a crossover front on one (see pics). All I do is cut two sets of each piece (2 backs, four side-fronts—only 2 sleeves, I don’t line the sleeve). I sew each set into a separate bodice, then lay them good-sides together, sew the whole neckline, from the bottom of one front flap to the other. I turn it inside out, press and then proceed to add on the sleeves of my choice. Then I just start attaching the skirt. I don’t ever bother to cut shaped skirts. I’m a great fan of the basic ‘round gown’, which is basically wide tube of fabric pleated up to the back of the gown. You can work in a train pretty easily with a simple ‘slow’ angle cut.
The skirt is an exercise in simplicity. Open up the fabric to its full width, sew the short ends together and make a big tube. First thing you do is fold it so the seam is on one of the ends; and that becomes the skirt back. For the length of the skirt, you measure from the chest line (under the breasts) to the top of the foot, and then cut your tube to the desired length; making sure the bottom is an uncut selvage if possible (so you don’t have to hem! Genius (or lazy?)!). Or, if you have to hem, do it before you close the fabric into a tube; you won’t have to worry about it later. Any variations you make to the length, train etc, happens at the top of the skirt.
Then while still folded and after you’ve done your length cut, I cut an 18” slit to about 6-8” in from the top front edge of skirt to create front flap panel. I turn in the edges on the slit and sew them down. I then attach a 3-yard length of white twill to the top edge of the panel—making sure I add in two symmetrical box-pleats to add some give and interest to the front of the skirt/bib-panel.
[Update, 2-15-2012]: It was requested that I explain in better detail how the skirts are pleated onto the bodice, and until I actually have the ability to make a decent video of my efforts, I decided to do a paper mock-up to show you how I do the skirts. So there are these silly little movies. Maybe they'll help you better visualize what I do when I'm making a simple round-gown.
Then you cut your bib on the bias… make it pretty, make it plain… play with the shape, give it a V neck… whatever. Add buttonholes to the top corners and then center it on the front skirt panel, sew it on and lo and behold… your front is done.
The back is the most challenging bit. You start by pinning the other edge of the slit to the bodice front panels; starting at least 6” in (depending your size… you will have to try on your bodice and figure out what works best on you… you want the side of the gown to hang just below your breast. You start pinning it down the bodice all the way around to the seam of back piece. Then comes the intensive process of pinning your knife-pleats. It’s also a treacherous sew on your machine; so have extra needles on hand!. Once you’ve done that… attach a couple of loops on the outside of the gown just at the bottom of the back seams where the skirt meets the bodice so you can thread your drawstrings through (or you can also sew a channel to the inside to lace your twill drawstrings through if you want to hide the ties) and voila… You’ve got a gown. Trim away. Most of the ladies I’ve made these for have opted to keep these gowns simple and to trim with a coloured ribbon at the waistline. I’ve done some marginal decoration on the bibs, but you can really glitz up a gown like this very easily.
Any regency gown pattern can be modified into a bib; the ‘mock bib gown’ in the Mode Bagatelle pattern takes very little modification to turn it into a real one. You just cut your backs on the fold so there’s no opening, and then cut the neckline wider, and split the front to make the ‘jacket’ part of your bib gown. It’s pretty easy and makes for a really versatile gown. I don’t think I would ever go with a back closing gown again.
RECOMMENDED FABRICS & QUANTITIES
For any regency gown, I always say go natural and go light. Also, go classy, NO huge prints, no victorian flower extravaganzas, lines in tasteful pattern.
For a day gown, look for: solids, small-print, roll print, small-dotted or subtle plaid cottons, white or solid coloured muslin. Sheer fabrics (above mentioned types) should be worn over a white cotton petticoat for opacity or doubled up with a coloured underdress. Fabric types: muslin (thick or sheer), lawn, batiste, cotton. I do not recommend synthetics with high-sheen or slippy, strange texture. Linen is fine as well, and even a light wool for a wintry gown.
Evening wear: Silk with decorated embellishments, voile or cotton sheers over coloured bases, subtle textures like embroidered dots or flowers. Some vegans don't use silk (although the pollution of the manufacture of synthetics could arguably be worse than the death of silk-worms, but it's all relative)... anyway, you can find some tastefully synthetic fabrics (non-shiny taffetas, other faux-silks).
Possible addition of a robe in velvet or silk to enhance a white sheer gown.
Yardage: As I said before, you can go with as little as five yards, or you can go crazy and put eight into your gown. But a nice, short-sleeved gown with a tiny bodice and reasonably nice skirts can easily be accomplished up to size 22 with five yards minimum.
PATTERNS AND LINKS:
For good measure, I have decided to add links to some bib-front patterns:
* Patterns of Fashion, Janet Arnold (scalable patterns)
* Reconstructing History Patterns:
Update: 3/2011 ~ I've been meaning to add in Katherine's little video on how to put on a bib-front. She is tying the ties INSIDE the gown, but that's how she chooses to do it--it doesn't pin down the waistline as well that way, but she's so skinny it doesn't matter. :) This video is precious, as is she.
Update: September 14, 2011
I've also added a tutorial on how to do the draw-string V-neck gown that I wore for the July 2011 Pittock Mansion Picnic. You can read about it on this post.