Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Regency Ballgown Progress

This project is actually two-in-one, as I am making both a solid light blue day dress and a sheer white striped overdress for the upcoming ball.  The day dress is almost done now; I just have to attach the skirt to the bodice and add a placket and buttons.  Easy-peasy.

The overdress, on the other hand, is a little more complicated...
I started with Simplicity 4055 as my base pattern, and this time I made a mock-up of the bodice like a good little costumer.  Using scraps of quilting cotton, I cut a size 12 according to my measurements on the pattern size chart.  Like my half-completed apron-front gown (which I still need to do a proper blog post on), it turned out way too big in the back.  Unlike the apron-front gown, this time I added length to the shoulders of the front bodice, and subtracted that same length from the center back pieces, to get the correct period placement of the shoulder seams.

Fit is good across the front - extra fullness under the bust is pinned down.
Side seams line up correctly under the arm.
But I had to fold over about 2" from the center back to get the right fit.  I also adjusted the shoulder seams slightly.  
I tried this mock-up on my own body as well, with my roommate kindly holding it closed at the back for me. The fit was much better, so I made the proper adjustments to the mock-up and then took it apart again to use as my new pattern.

Adjusting the shoulder seam to the new angle
Trimming away the excess fabric
New pattern piece with center back marked with pins
I decided to cut out both the blue and the white bodice pieces together, to save time.  I lined up the selvage edge of the white fabric with the pins marking the center back line, because I want to use it as my finished edge on the sheer overdress.  I lined up the blue fabric edge with the pattern piece, which would later become the bodice lining.

I also wanted to use as little of the sheer striped fabric as possible, since I only had a little over a yard.
At this point I used the instructions on Historical Sewing's invaluable tutorial on matching stripes to cut out my side back pieces.  This method works wonderfully!  I was even more grateful that I'd bothered to make a mock-up, because I could easily turn up the seam allowances from where I had pressed them open when it was originally sewn together.

I love the flagrant disregard for grain lines!  :p
This may look wrong, but trust me - it works!  
Look at those beautifully matched stripes!
I sewed the first one perfectly, but had to redo half of the second one.  It was easy, though.  I will definitely use this method every time I need to match stripes!

Now I had enough sheer striped fabric left to make a fuller front bodice piece than the pattern called for (I had already cut off 30" of the full width for the skirt), so I cut the blue and white front pieces separately.

Cutting on the fold, I simply added fullness at the center front.

I then layered the white bodice front on top of the blue - which was cut according to my pattern - and gathered up the fullness with a series of tiny tucks between the stripes.  I ran a basting stitch by machine across the top and bottom of the tucks and gave them a light press to hold them in place.  They won't be sewn down, as I want to keep the sheer overdress looking as light and airy as possible.

The fullness under the bust will be gathered into the waist seam.  
The bodice of the blue dress went together fairly quickly, as I (for the most part) followed the original pattern directions.  I did make the sleeve band slightly shorter around than the pattern called for, but I have skinny arms so it should be ok.

Just for fun, I used only blue pins when I attached the sleeve to the band.  It's the little things.  
Oh, and before I put the mock-up/lining back together, I traced each piece onto newsprint paper so I have a proper pattern to use for future Regency gowns for myself.

I carefully sewed the delicate white sheer bodice together by machine, then flat-felled my seams by hand.

First I trimmed one seam allowance down to less than 1/4"
Leaving the other side the original width of 5/8"
Carefully folded the wider seam allowance over the trimmed one
And folded it back over the seam, keeping all the raw edges tucked neatly inside.  
I sewed each seam down with a backstitch for strength.
I knew going into this project that I wouldn't have enough of my sheer fabric to make full puffed sleeves like every single Regency gown seems to have.  Fortunately, I found this little gem on Pinterest:

I haven't been able to find the original source for this image, so if anybody knows where it comes from please let me know!  Anyway, I decided that I should easily have enough fabric to create a petal sleeve, which will look adorable on top of the blue gathered puff sleeve.  I'm making up the pattern for this sleeve as I go along.  I took the bowl-shaped piece of fabric left over from cutting out the sheer bodice:

 And cut it in half length-wise:

Cut both halves in half width-wise:

And switched them around so I have one shorter and one longer for each sleeve:

I rounded off the corners of the longer pieces, and draped one of each over the blue sleeve to see approximately how it will look when finished:

I will actually want the back piece to overlap the front piece, but this gives a good idea of how it will look.  To finish the edges of the sheer bodice and sleeves, I cut 1" bias strips from my solid white voile.  I would have used regular bias tape, but it was too stiff and opaque.  I want to keep the overdress as sheer as possible.

It may be hard to tell in this pic, but the bias strips I cut are much more sheer and drapey than the bias tape.  
The sheer striped bodice over the blue day dress bodice, with the neck opening bound with bias
The selvage edges meet at center back, just as I'd planned.  This will close with buttons and loops.  
I still need to sew the bias binding around the petal sleeve edges, sew them to the bodice, and bind the armhole seams.  Then I need to finish piecing the skirt and sew everything together!  The skirt is the complicated part.  But more on that later...


  1. Your progress is inspiring. I'm slogging along on a blue cotton print Regency dress. I'm going for the bib-front and things aren't going well. I can't wait to see this done!

    1. I still haven't finished my bib/apron front attempt. I probably should have started with something simpler. :p

  2. Yay! It turned out so beautiful. So glad my tutorial helped.

    1. Thank you! Yes, your tutorial was very well done and easy to follow. I have several of your pages pinned on Pinterest, for future reference. :)

  3. Thank you very much or those detailed photos and instructions. They will be a huge help on my little project. May I ask how did you finished the neckline on a white striped bodice? Is that a bias tape?

    1. It is bias, yes. I cut my own strips rather than using pre-made tape, though.