Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Regency Regalia (going to the Ball)

It’s been such a busy month here, and with my sewing sphere on the ascendant in the house of Stitchitybits, I haven’t had headspace to even think about documenting the chaos. But now that the rush is over I am finally sitting down to make a retrospective list of achievements. In the midst of juggling family commitments and the interspersed peckings at housework-never-done, I so often feel like a big fat underachiever (aspirations consistently unfulfilled). But this month my list is BIG, and the state of my household tangle well demonstrates the magnitude of my makings! The thing that has really pushed me off my comfy chair and into the sewing room has been the production of Regency era garments for the inaugural Regency Subscription Ball, held at the iconic Paragon in Katoomba. This was (I think) the first of many events oganised by my very talented friend, Lorna McKenzie from TheTailor’s Apprentice.

The females of my establishment, and many of my significant-others, are all Jane-ites [Austen, that is]. Many a school holiday was spent tucked up on the sofa consuming Lizzy and Mr Darcy et al, drinking pots of tea, and quietly stitching. And our affections have not been limited to the iconic P&P. Not only have the Austen classics been read and re-read with fervor, but works by the sisters Bronte, Mrs Gaskill and others have been well-thumbed by the bonnet-drama damsels. From time to time we have toyed with the notion of attending the Jane Austen Festival events that are held throughout the year in Canberra, but have generally been prevented by, among other things, the lack of a suitable wardrobe!

It was in a moment of excited whimsy that I pounced on tickets for Lorna’s Regency Ball, knowing that there is nothing like a deadline for producing results.  As with most things, I had good and great intentions of starting this body of work in a timely way. It turns out that I obviously work better under pressure. Thus, the latter part of the month of September was [quite delightfully] fraught and frenzied in the pursuit of something to wear. 

In anticipation of one day making it to the aforementioned Jane Austen Festival, my dear Pollyanna had procured a set of La Mode Bagatelle Regency dress patterns (she is a Jane-ite also). The patterns include several different styles of dress, including a bodiced petticoat, a gown with two bodice options and optional train, chemisette, false sleeves, spencer, beret, muff and reticule. Sounds good . . . The work of deciphering which styles were most suitable, and the configuration of undergarments and underpinnings and the difference between fabrics for day-dresses vs those used for evening gowns was the work of an entire day.  Polly undertook much of the prep work herself; tracing off pattern pieces and working out what went with what. I actually found it a bit hard to dive back in to dressmaking, having to challenge my left brain to talk to the right and vice-versa.  The ease with which I could once understand the ins and outs of a pattern, and conceptualise all of the steps involved seems to have diminished just a *little*, whether through something-to-do-with-my-age, or just plain old lack of use! 

But I got there in the end. The first garment off the production line was the Regency petticoat; a bodice top with drawstring neckline, sporting several rows of boning to (hopefully) support the bust, and a shaped skirt with front, back and side panels. Sizing for the bodice was a bit tricky (the DD isn't included in the smaller sizes), and despite being hopeful, yet not entirely confident, that my ample bits would fit inside, I pressed on. But I was right. My ample bits were overly-ample in the end. But it was perfect for my Anna-Lou, and made a welcome beginning for her own Regency garb.

So I went back to work and re-drafted the bodice front, adding an extra inch and a half to the depth across the bust and grading it up to meet the back section. I had a good length of pretty hail-spot voile tucked away in the cupboard (serendipity), and I teamed this with a lovely, soft self-stripe cotton to complete petticoat v.2.  Which actually looks good enough to wear as a day dress.

Starting to taste the success, I then moved on to the main course; a Regency ball gown. Again, I re-drafted the front bodice pieces to add *ample* depth to the bust sections. And then I was into swathes of delustered satin and the (slightly) expensive trimmed net lace.  The dress consists of a cross-over bodice with inset sleeves. I used a lace overlay on the front and back sections, and cut the sleeves just using the satin. The shaping on the sleeves appears very strange at first, and not at all like modern garment designs. Most of the ease is allowed in the back portion of the sleeve, which does allow for some exaggeration of arm movement in the finished garment. The sleeve that I chose to use has pleats from just below the shoulder and running around the back edge. There are also a number of pleats around the mid-section of the arm, covered by a separate arm band. The main skirt uses the shaped-skirt pattern pieces from the petticoat, but the lace overlay is cut using the round-gown pattern. I cut the lace in one straight piece, placing the hem of the skirt along the scalloped lace edge. This was then gathered and placed over the completed satin skirt. The skirt and bodice are then joined together, and the back opening is closed using hooks and eyes. And it was a perfect fit. :)

Time was really ticking by this point, and I still had a flouncy shirt and a gentleman’s vest to make (two days to *And I still hadn’t worked out what to do with my hair!!* The shirt is cut from off-white voile, giving it an ever-so-slightly-aged look. It did turn out beautifully, but is absolutely voluminous, and not a pleasant garment to iron, what with all its gathers and frilly bits. Love these gargoyle buttons by the way.

I used a very basic long vest pattern instead of the more tailored and shaped Regency style. Mostly, because I knew I would be running out of hours to do much more. This $5 piece of remnant furnishing fabric was just the ticket, and my Mister and me were inadvertently so very nicely matchy-matchy.  

In the middle of all the shirt and vest sewing I also re-worked the hail-spot petticoat to make it into a suitable gown for Anna-Lou. She did conceive high hopes of sewing a gown herself, but time, the eternal enemy, and the fact that I was hogging the sewing machine, prevented any such scheme. So I cut simple sleeves from one of the pattern’s sleeve options, and stitched them into the already completed petticoat. The skirt was embellished with several rows of pin-tucks, and sweet little grosgrain bows were placed on the waist band in line with the front bodice seams. Then it was hooks and eyes, and eyes and hooks all of Saturday morning and into the early afternoon.

In my final frenzied flurry I cut a strip of russet crushed silk and sewed it into a long band. Using my trusty foam head, I wrapped it around and pinned it together, shaping the remainder into ruched pleats. Then it was quickly hand-stitched to hold it all in place and finished with some remnant feathers from my old feather-duster and embellished with a pretty pearl brooch. I think I have encased more than one pin within the folds, which just made me brave in wearing it.

Another piece of silk, quickly cut into a bag-like shape, was whizzed around on the sewing machine, threaded through with a cord and prettied-up with a flower and a bow.

All this by 4:15pm on Saturday. I’m sure that no Regency lady headed for a ball would ever have managed a hasty 20-minute stint in the dressing room, but there we were, dressed and primped and powdered, and ready for stepping out (though I had lost my petticoat in pursuit of Anna's gown *blush*). 
It was certainly a night to remember. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (Mrs Bennett would be proud); the assembly rooms were resplendent, our dance cards were full, the dinner was excellent, and the company unsurpassed!
There are some wonderful photos and a description of the event on Lorna's blog  - Head on over and have a read (and see if you can spot me and mine). 
And now it's back to my socks!
Evie xxx

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