I created this pattern after viewing three extant gowns belonging to museum collections in Virginia, D.C. and Denmark. I chose gowns that really had a more “modern” look to them so that the resulting pattern design would be more wearable and less “costume-y.” The gowns I studied all had very high empire waistlines (right below the bustline) and relatively slim skirts, pointing to the mid-Regency period (1810s). This pattern is perfectly suited for early 1800s impressions if you create the extra full skirt back and for late 18-teens impressions if you just add the extra trimmings seen in that time period (ruffles at the wrist, tucks in the skirt, ruffles at the hem, cording, etc.). If you don’t need a costume or would just like to make a dress that works in a modern setting, I recommend making the gown skirt plainer by substituting the skirt back lining piece for the skirt back piece. This will create an A-line skirt without any gathers in the back. If you add about two inches to the length of the bodice all the way around, you’ll also give it a more modern empire waistline. There are many, many ways you can alter this pattern slightly for different looks. For dozens of photographs and tips, be sure to visit the Sewing Tips section!
This pattern may be used for either a day dress or a ballgown, depending on the fabric and sleeve type you select. Long sleeves are for day dresses and come down to the knuckles when hemmed. The short sleeves may also be used for day dresses. Women often wore detachable undersleeves to keep from catching a chill. You may use the long sleeve pattern to create an undersleeve. (See sleeve instructions.)
For day dresses, cotton, muslin, voile, Irish linen and lightweight wool are a few good choices. If you are not striving for a more period-correct gown, you may wish to use challis, crepe or another type of rayon blend. These fabrics hang very nicely. For ballgowns, silk, silk taffeta, voile, organdy and Irish linen all work well. Ballgowns can be trimmed as much or as little as you wish. Regency gowns were often lavishly trimmed with braided cords, ribbon, embroidery, tassels, ruffles or a combination of all of these. The most common places to trim are the neckline, cuffs, waistline and hem of the gown. Fabric piping also looks wonderful at the neckline and waistline. Do note that an authentic gown would be sewn entirely by hand with interior seams neatly finished to prevent fraying (using flat-felled or French seams). However, you can also use a sewing machine for all interior seams and use hand stitching for hems and buttonholes.
As always, I recommend making a mock-up of the bodice out of inexpensive material prior to cutting into your fashion material. This will allow you to check the fit and make any adjustments before you make your gown. Please see www.sensibility.com/pattern/whynot.htm for fitting tips. No two women are alike, and it’s a rare lady who is totally “standard” in size! Fitting a toile may seem like an unnecessary extra step, but you’ll be so glad you invested the time to get a perfect fit.
Miss Petites, please visit THIS LINK for fitting help!
5/8” seam allowed unless otherwise indicated on pattern piece.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are using the older version of this pattern (1998 copyright date), please see the Oops! page for corrections! Thanks!
Here is the suggested layout for the ballgown on 45” wide material.
For a day dress, the long sleeve can be placed where the short sleeve is in the illustration.
- Bodice (Note: In the photos, the lilac fabric is the dress lining.)
- A. Pin the bodice back and side back pieces together, matching at the lower back edge. Stitch.
- B. Clip curves and press seam toward the side.
- C. Run gathering stitches in bodice front, following lines indicated on the pattern.
- D. Pin bodice front and back pieces together at shoulder and side seams. Stitch. Press seams open.
- E. Repeat all of these instructions for the bodice lining.
- F. Pin bodice to lining, right sides together. Stitch from back opening all the way around the neckline to back opening, leaving 5/8" free at the bottom of each back opening.
Left: Lining pinned. Right: Back view of lining pinned to bodice.
Stitching bodice to lining, leaving 5/8" free at bottom of back closure.
- G. Grade seam allowances and clip curves.
- H. Turn bodice right side out and understitch lining as far around as possible and down the back closure. [Click HERE to see a video clip demonstrating understitching!]
- I. Press bodice and set aside.
- Sleeves (Note: Short sleeves are shown. Instructions for long sleeves and optional undersleeves are given below).
- A. Run gathering stitches on tops and bottoms of sleeves, following lines indicated on the pattern. Pin sleeve band to sleeve, pulling gathering stitches to fit. Stitch.
- B. Sew sleeve seams together and press open. Press under 1/4" of the sleeve band.
- C. Pin sleeves to bodice, right sides together, matching notches and seams.
- D. Pull gathers to fit. Stitch. Clip curves, turn sleeve inside out and press. Repeat for other sleeve. Set aside.
Bodice with sleeves.
- Long Sleeves: Assembly is the same, but you will press under the cuff only when you have determined the hem width after trying on your dress.
Optional Undersleeves for Short Sleeved Dress: If you plan to make detachable undersleeves, you will be finishing your short sleeve sleevebands now, so you can ignore the sleeve finishing instructions found below. Zigzag or narrowly hem the raw edge of your shortsleeve sleevebands. Turn the sleeve band to the inside so that it covers the sleeveband seam allowance completely. Press. Now fold the sleeveband back out and mark four to six evenly spaced horizontal buttonholes on the part of the sleeveband that will be folded inside. (In other words, you will be placing buttonholes beneath the fold line made when you pressed the band.) Make the buttonholes, cut them open, then fold the sleeveband inside and whipstitch it in place over the seam allowance inside. You will now have four to six buttonholes inside the each sleeve around the sleeveband. Cut out two undersleeves, using long sleeve pattern but omitting the cap of the sleeve. Stitch sleeve seams. Turn under a narrow hem along the top edge of each undersleeve and stitch. Using the buttonholes you made in the sleeveband as a guide, mark where you will place four to six buttons around the outside top of each undersleeve. Sew buttons in place. Now your undersleeve will button into the sleevebands and will not slip down (as undersleeves with drawstrings are prone to do). Go ahead and try on your bodice with the undersleeves buttoned into the sleevebands. Undersleeves should come to the knuckles, but they can be hemmed shorter if you prefer. Mark and hem each undersleeve to the appropriate length. Remove undersleeves and complete the rest of the gown.
- A. Cut skirt lining opening for back closure as indicated on the pattern. Sew skirt lining front to skirt lining back at side seams. Press seams open (or French seam). (Note: The skirt lining is fitted exactly to the bodice once the bodice front is gathered. If you wish to add a waistband to your dress, cut it as long as the skirt lining is wide at the top.) Repeat these instructions for the skirt. (The skirt back pieces are wider than the lining, allowing for extra fullness to be pleated or gathered.)
Clipping skirt back opening.
Optional Skirt Back Addition for Extra Fullness: If you wish your dress to be even fuller in the back, first cut out the skirt back piece, cutting the center back open all the way to the bottom, since this will become the side back seams. Next, cut an additional back panel. Simply lay the center of your back piece on the skirt fabric (to determine proper length), and cut a rectangular panel on the fold to the width desired (no more than twelve inches from fold, or it becomes difficult to gather.) Now cut a placket opening in the center back fold, following the marks indicated on the center back pattern piece. Sew this new panel to the skirt back pieces at the side seams. Run gathering stitches as indicated on the pattern, leaving 1" for the placket closure. The rest of the pattern directions are the same. (Important note: These instructions are slightly different from what is in your pattern. The pattern instructions call for you to use the skirt back lining piece instead of the skirt back piece. This is a mistake! If you want extra fullness, you need to add to the skirt back piece. Thanks!)
Cutting out an extra panel for the skirt back, using the lining to determine the length.
- B. Pin skirt lining to skirt, wrong side of skirt to right side of lining, matching seams and back closure. There will be extra skirt fabric, which you may ignore for now.
Skirt and lining pinned. You can see the "extra" skirt material at the top, unpinned.
- C. To make a placket for the center back skirt opening, cut a piece of fabric on the bias twice as long as the back opening and two inches wide.
Placket piece cut on the bias.
- D. Pin placket to right side of skirt back opening, catching the lining as well.
- E. Stitch placket to skirt and lining, starting with a 3/8" seam allowance and gradually coming down to the edge of the fabric at the center of the placket. When you reach the center, gradually come back to a 3/8" seam allowance as you finish the seam. Finish the raw edge of the placket by turning it under and hemming it or by zigzagging/serging the edge.
- Press under 1/4" of the free edge of the placket or finish with a zig-zag stitch.
- If you are making an unlined skirt, press the placket as shown so the left side overlaps the right and makes an even closure.
- F. If you are making a lined skirt, hem the edges of the placket by narrowly turning under twice and hemming, then turn under both sides of the placket to the inside of the dress and press neatly. (You will not have the placket overlap like you do with a button closure):
- Attaching Bodice
- A. Pin bodice to skirt and lining, matching center fronts, side seams and back closures and leaving bodice lining free. Pull gathering stitches in bodice to fit. For skirt back, you may either gather or pleat the remaining fabric to fit between the side back seam and the skirt closure.
Back skirt fullness pinned. Bodice lining (lilac) is kept free. Photo on the right shows how the skirt fullness is placed between the bodice side back seam and center back closure.
Bodice and skirt pinned, with bodice lining kept free.
- B. Stitch bodice to skirt. Run zig-zag stitches around seam allowance or use "Fray-Check" to prevent fraying. Press seam allowance up toward bodice.
- Finishing the Dress
- A. Turn under the bottom of the bodice lining fabric and pin in place above the waist seamline. Whipstitch the lining in place. Turn under the pressed edge of the sleeveband and whipstitch in place.
Left: Bodice lining turned under and pinned. Right: Whip stitching bodice lining in place. Below: Whip stitching sleeveband in place.
- B. Mark buttonholes horizontally and 1.5" apart on the overlapping back flap of the bodice. Four or five 5/8" buttons will usually fill the space. Clip buttonholes open, then pin the bodice closed and mark where the buttons should be sewn. Sew buttons in place. If desired, also sew a snap or hook and eye closure in the placket.
- C. To hem the dress, try it on and have someone mark the hem for you. Some clipping of the fabric may be necessary to even out the bottom edge. Turn up and hand stitch the hem in place. Press. Lining should be hemmed to almost the exact same length, save 1/4" inch. This hem may be machine stitched.
Finished dress, front and back.
Enjoy your new creation!
Additional Suggestions for Gown Embellishments
Overskirts: Adding an overskirt is an easy way to enhance the elegance of your gown. You can use sheer materials, such as voile, organdy or lace, over a colored lining for a more dramatic effect, or you could experiment with an underskirt (lining) in one color and an overdress (sleeves, bodice and overskirt) in another. The dresses illustrated below were drawn by retired paper doll artist Kim Brecklein* from my gowns and demonstrate how an overskirt can be added for a completely different look. I have made several ballgowns with sheer sleeves and the same sheer material over a colored bodice and skirt. The effect is charming.
Trim: Besides sewing a flat ribbon trim around the hem, sleeves or neckline of your gown, you can attach narrow crocheted lace to the inside of the neckline and sleevebands, whipstitching or straight-stitching it in place. Two-the three-inch-wide crocheted lace also looks wonderful sewn around the outside of the neckline and beneath the sleevebands. For those who enjoy heirloom sewing, entredeux is beautiful around the hemline of a gown and in the sleevebands. A ribbon bow at the center front of the bodice (see illustration above left) adds a lovely touch. Once you have finished your basic gown, it is fun to experiment with embellishments. Each type of trim can add a new dimension to your gown!
Be sure to visit my Sewing Tips section, where you will find photo instructions that demonstrate adding a train to the gown, making the gown button in front, making a drop-front ("apron") bodice and more!
* While Kim is no longer creating paper dolls, I do offer Kim's beautiful "Penelope" Regency doll printed on cardstock. See the the Doll Page for more information.
What About Underpinnings?
If you are aiming for the total Regency look, you will need to create the proper undergarments before you begin on your gown. I have available a Regency Underthings Pattern that will give you a chemise and short stays to go under your gown. I also have available a page of instructions for making the Regency Gown pattern into a bodiced petticoat if you prefer that instead of stays. Go to my Bodiced Petticoat page for directions with photographs (note that you can use these instructions to create a full petticoat to go over your chemise and stays as well--you'd simply omit the darts and boning in the petticoat).
If you are over a "D" cup, I would not recommend my short stays, since they will not provide you the needed support. Instead, I highly recommend the Regency Stays pattern by the Mantua Maker. This pattern is available directly from the Mantua Maker, who also offers the needed busk for the center front. The pattern does tend to run a little on the small size, so I strongly recommend that you make up a muslin toile for a try-on (as instructed in the directions) and that you begin by cutting the pieces out a couple of sizes larger than your measurements indicate.
I've been asked many times about patterns for Regency aprons, and there is one that was created by White Fox Trading Company, but it is difficult to find since White Fox closed down. Regency aprons are truly easy to make and really do not require a pattern. All you need to do is to cut a rectangle of material large enough to cover the front of the bodice (with slight gathers if you wish and enough room for a hem all the way around the top and sides). Next, cut a rectangle the same width and as long as you wish for the apron skirt front (plus room for seam allowances at top and sides and the hem at the bottom). Cut straps wide enough to turn under and long enough to go from the front bib of the apron down to the empire waist in the back. Cut a waistband that will go around your empire waist and either tie or overlap in back. Finally, cut two rectangles for the skirt back that match the skirt front in length and that will just meet when the apron is tied or hooked closed in the back. Sew the straps to the front bib, then sew the front bib to the waistband (matching center fronts). Sew the skirt pieces together at the side seams, then sew the skirt to the waistband, matching center fronts again. Sew the shoulder straps into the back waistband. Finish all the edges nicely (lining the waistband to enclose all the raw seams), and that's all there is to it!
Have fun with all your Regency sewing adventures!
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Regency Gown Pattern copyright Mrs. Jennie Chancey, 1998-2006.