Monday, August 1, 2011

The gathered/ruched crossover regency gown

I have been slaving away these past weeks on a new gown of a different style than I usually wear, and I wore it Sunday and it was so great, I can't help but pat myself on the shoulder for it. NO COSTUME MALFUNCTIONS! That's really something if you know how often I am afflicted with costume-issues.

The gathered/pleated gown.

This picture is THE BOMB. No double chin showing to boot! Thanks S-2!
 I’m sorry I didn’t take any progress photos. I don’t have a decent camera except the one of my phone and in the darkness of our cave-like cabin the images simply would not turn out nicely. So I opted instead to do my little drawings and to take pictures of the final product outdoors.

The ‘base bodice’

I started by draping the ‘base’ bodice. This gown probably could be made without a base bodice, it would be a lot more challenging and harder to build if I didn’t have the base upon which to hang the outer fabric. It also helped determine the shape of the gown. You could use a standard front-opening regency bodice pattern to do this, but I chose to drape it on my dress-form for a good fit and also because I wanted a particular shape. I didn’t really want the wider neck of a standard day-gown. I also just wanted a good fit on the back. I wanted the back neckline to be right up to the neck, and the shoulders straps to be wider than usual.

So I got a piece of cheap muslin to pattern with and laid it on the back of my dress form. I used my hand to smooth it down flat on one side of the back so there were no wrinkles or rumples, and then drew out the back piece, using the center back as the ‘fold’ side. I cut it out and then put it back on the dress-form. I then moved onto the side/front, leaving my newly cut back piece sitting in place for reference and shape-matching.

Using the same piece of muslin, I wrapped the half of the dress form, pressed the fabric flat where I wanted it, and then starting at the back, I matched the curve of the notch in the back piece and then drew the waistline, arm-hole, shoulder strap and then the front flaps. I made sure the shoulder met the edge of the shoulder of the back piece, and was lying correctly along the shape of the dress-form/body without rumples or creases.

Please keep this in mind as you drape; modern dress forms have the breasts in a more natural location than the position you would need for a regency silhouette, so when I cut my pieces, I let the front flaps hang a bit diagonally down over the front of the form to compensate for the higher regency position of the breast. It’s hard to explain, but that’s how it works.

I recommend, if you aren’t confident about draping on-the-fly (like everything else I do), that either you leave the flaps long and adjust when it’s on you, or you can make yourself a dress form with the proper silhouette by using one of these methods with your regency stays on underneath (which would be really advantageous to have if you make yourself a lot of regency-period costumes). Either that, or you go with the sides and back pieces of a regency bib-front pattern, which can be easily adjusted with wider shoulder straps and higher back.

Once I got those two shapes drawn out on the muslin and cut out as pattern pieces, I cut them in the actual fabric with a ¼ inch seam allowance all ‘round (the center back on the fold). I cut four side/fronts, two backs on the fold, and then sewed each layer of the bodice individually. I hand-sewed everything on this project (I know, really?! Me??? Hand-sewing? Who knew!) But I discovered that hand-sewing is not quite as messy as machine sewing is, it takes less room if you’re working off of a dress-form, and you can relax and watch Doc Martin while you’re stitching away instead of being hunched over a sewing machine squinting at your needle-threader. Aaaanyway, I stitched the curved notches to the back, and then pressed them, and affixed the shoulder-straps to the back. When I had both layers completed and pressed, I laid the two layers good sides in, and sewed all the way around the neckline, from the bottom corner of the front flap, around the neckline.

Does this look familiar? Yes, because I it’s the same thing I did with the bib-front bodice. Only this time, I pressed and folded-in the raw edges on the armseyes and bottom of the bodice, and whip-stitched those closed so they look tidy.

The next step was to create the drawstring channels. I was deliberately loose and careless on this step, and sewed with wide, often irregular running stitches. The first channel follows the neckline from the top of the front-flap around. The second channel goes along the bottom edge of the bodice. I snipped four tiny holes at the edge of the front flaps and buttonhole-stitched around the edges of them so there was a nice, neat access to the channel. I also added two hooks and eyes to the front-closure to keep the sides from separating, which happens a lot with drawstring gowns. A hook and eye will solve any unseemly gaps. I strung some very fine twill tape through the neckline and around the waistline channels and voila. The ‘base’ for the gown was done.

The Gown

A rough-cut measure. Everything was done
'by-eye' on this project. I'm comfortable
experimenting. Lots of people aren't;
there's nothing wrong with that. :)
I then fitted my base-bodice onto the dress-form (tying only the top drawstring), and got my gown fabric. The bodice base I made from very light-weight cotton, almost handkerchief-weight. The gown fabric should also be something delicate and light, because with all the gathering and pleating, with a heavier fabric it could get really bulky. The fabric I used was five yards of sheer patterned voile. Five yards is plenty of fabric for a regency gown, although I’ve been known to use up to eight for when I’m in a pleating frenzy. But even a full figured girl can have lots of volume with five yards.

Anyway, I started with the front by laying the cut edge of the fabric (still folded at this point) at the top for the shoulder, and pinning it there and then dropping the fabric down to the ground. There, I cut the length off below the hemline so I can hem it up later. The front is one panel of fabric. I then unfolded the fabric to its full width and marked the center where it was folded.

I cut down about 12” down the center-front. I then rolled the cut edges in, and began to whipstitch the roll into place. That will be the front opening.

The next step is among the trickiest of parts, because what you need to do is pin the side of the dress so that you can cut the armseyes and insure that the side seam of the skirts is in the right place. So I had to center the edge of each side of the front fabric to the middle of the arm and pin it to the top and bottom center of the arm opening; all the while watching that I wasn’t dropping the hem or pinning it too high. Then I wrapped the fabric onto the shoulder and chest and smoothed it along the shoulder edge to the top of the shoulder and locked the area around the arms in place with pins, leaving the rest of that panel of fabric free. Then I was free to affix the armseye. I cut out the half of the armseye covered in fabric, turned the edges in, whip-stitching the side to the shoulders of the base-bodice. I did leave an inch or two of the fabric loose at the bottom of the armseye where it will be stitched to the fabric of the back of the gown, so I can seam them together.

Once the edge of the arms were sewn into place, I did a wide running stitch along the top edge of each cut shoulder side, and then gathered it up tightly to fit the width of the shoulder. I affixed the gathered top to the seam on the bodice shoulder with a strong line of double stitching (watch not to sew through your drawstring!!), being sure to pull the gathers down tightly. I then did the same to the other side.

I drew this twice because I thought the way I drew it above
looked weird.
The front is done at this point (except the last bit with the drawstring at the waist, but that comes close to the end).

Now it was time to tackle the back. For that, I drew out two lengths of the fabric, which left just enough for the sleeves. Opened the first panel up to cover one half of the form, and did the same thing I did with the front; I began by fixing the edge of the fabric to the bottom of the armseye to insure it would match with the front piece, and pinned it in place. I also was careful insure that I left enough of an allowance at the top to fold under and cover the raw edges of the gather on the shoulder and leave a clean line. Once that side was determined and the edge of the top was measured, I got into one of my pleating frenzies.

In this case, I used the pattern of the fabric to help me. There is a thick latticed line that runs vertically through the pattern with a wavy pattern between. Placing one latticed line against the next, I began to pleat along the waistline of the bodice, pinning as I went along, and angling each pleat towards the shoulder, gradually making a sort of sunburst. This is arduous work, but well worth it, and makes for a stunning garment. Once that half was pinned in place the stitching began. :::GROAN::: Holy Hell! What did I get myself into? You could probably make this much simpler if you’re not willing to go through the process of pleating all that material down. You could cut a back to the shape of the bodice, and then sew your gathered or pleated skirts to the bottom of it, that would work too, or do bigger pleats and cut away the excess on the inside once it’s affixed. Either way, that’s what I did on July the 4th. I hand-stitched down pleat after pleat after pleat.

That texture is incredible, I still can't believe how great it looks. :)

Note: I did NOT sew the pleats down to the base bodice. The outer gown hangs completely free of the bodice except at several crucial points; the shoulder seam, the neckline and the armseyes. That’s it. I slid my hand underneath the fabric and carefully inserted the needle from underneath to begin and then did a running stitch upwards, all the while, holding the fabric up from beneath to keep from snagging the fabric of the base bodice. This is NOT necessary, you can very well affix the whole back and side/back to the base bodice as much as you please (avoiding your drawstring with care), but since I want more draw-stringy flexibility, I decided to keep them separate.

I then folded the fabric edges along the neckline under (after trimming), and whip-stitched them to the base bodice. I then seamed the skirts together from under the armseyes to the hem with a simple running stitch (hopefully not too messy). I simply folded one edge onto the other in a tidy line and stitched it down. When that was done, I flat-felled the seam inside just so it looked tidy.

I then pinned the other side of the back to match, and started by seaming the center neatly together, and connected the skirts with another running stitch down the center of the back. I finished that seam within. I then sewed all the pleats down on the other side of the back (which was somehow harder to do on the left side), affixed the neckline and covered the raw gathered edge of the front shoulder with the folded edge of the back. I seamed the other side together from the underarm to the skirts and voila; most of the gown was done. I sewed a simple narrow rolled hem and then cut the sleeves. I used an old self-cut pattern from my old gowns for the sleeve, and found they are much too large. They will have to be taken in and fitted better to my arm later on. But you can always cut the sleeves from any number of patterns. These are elbow-length sleeves, and I’m pretty sure you can find nice patterns for those in the Mode Bagatelle pattern or whatnot. Or you can attempt to drape your own.

The very last step after all the hemming and such was to add the drawstring to the gown layer to fit all this gathered and pleated fabric to my empire waistline. The first step was to put on the gown and put pins to mark the places in the front where I would want to drawstring to rest. I then got some inch-wide twill and inside the gown, I started at the center back. Using the line of the underbodice back, I stitched the tape down inside the gown. I stitched each long edge, leaving a channel for the drawstring. When I reached the marking pins on the side and front, I simply followed along this pin-marked line. I did not stitch the twill channel to the edge of the front opening. If I had, I would not have been able to have the small crossover of fabric I was hoping for. So I left about 2 inches on each side of the opening, and then added a small hook and eye so when the drawstring was closed, I could secure the crossover just by hooking it.

That’s it. That’s my latest gown project. It was FUN but a LOT OF WORK! I’m fairly sure there are a lot of ways to make a project like this much easier, but leave it to me to find my own inventive methods. All in all, this has to be my favourite Regency gown of all. It FITS ME, which is perfect! For once something was made for my shape and my shape alone! Yay for draping! I had no costume malfunctions on Sunday at all, and usually I always do! This gown gave me no trouble at all. The only downside was that the crossover occasionally widened to reveal the little top bow on my under-bodice. Big whoop! I love this gown!

Also, for an addendum: here are photos of the little dresses that I draped on the two little girls. The only challenge of draping these was that their little arms were not detachable and that made shaping the side-front pieces a bit challenging.

The bodices are made as most regency bodices are made, except that I made them back closing, and chose drawstrings at the neckline and the waist to insure a proper fit (with hooks and eyes to keep them from gapping too much). I also made the front bodice panel wider than normal so it could be tightly gathered. The only error here is that I forgot to add a seam allowance to the waistline when I was cutting them, so the bodices are remarkably short .. but still precious. I threw together a couple of bonnets for the girls and voila... cuteness off the charts! Although I have resolved that as much as it was nice to allow the girls to pick their own fabric, next time it’s going to be sheer white gowns with silk sashes. Squee!

Today's not SO much of a mumbly Monday because in spite of being exhausted, and that I twisted my ankle today, I am still glowing from a wonderful weekend. :)


Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, it's fabulous. Well done!

babe kingsford said...

Such cute kids dresses. I was looking for a pattern for something like that for aneighborschild. I grew up wearing a very similar styledressall summer to play in soooo comfy

Annabel said...

I love your site. I have never sewed before but really want to try. I am not very Empire shaped, having a large bust and small waist, but think that this cross-over style would suit me. Thank you for your clear instructions. I'm encouraged to try but without the tucks; too ambitious I think, but so pretty. A lovely gown that really suits you. May I join your mailing list please?

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