Regency Gown Pattern Instructions

Looking for the Neckline Supplement instructions? Jump HERE!


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.

Pattern Layout:

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 bodice and sleeve pieces on 45" wide material. (The fabric fold is on the right.) The remaining fabric will be used for the skirt pieces. The long sleeve can be placed where the short sleeve is in the photo. (Extra yardage is required for long sleeves. See pattern envelope.)

Assembly Instructions:

  1. 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.

    I. Press bodice and set aside.

  2. 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.

  3. Skirt

    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 bac! k 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.

    Press the placket as shown so the left side overlaps the right and makes an even closure.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

Regency Gown Pattern Neckline Supplement

High Jewel Neckline:

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Sloped Neckline:

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High Gathered Neckline

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Sloped Drawstring Neckline

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Even a brief study of portraits, sketches, and original gowns from the Regency era reveals that there were almost as many different neckline and bodice treatments as there were women to wear gowns! The variations are fascinating to study and fun to reproduce. My Regency Gown pattern was based upon extant gowns from three museum collections and several key portraits from the mid-Regency period. I chose a neckline treatment that was not as extreme as some styles and therefore more wearable for today. I also chose one that was easy to sew for beginners and intermediate costume enthusiasts alike. But a single neckline is just a starting point. If you want to create an entire wardrobe of day and evening dresses for all seasons, it’s time to expand your horizons and add some additional bodice options to your repertoire!

It is very easy to use this supplement to change the look of the basic Regency Gown bodice. The new necklines given here will provide you with up to four different looks: a high jewel neckline, a gently sloping neckline, and softly gathered versions of each. [Note: The D/DD bodice front piece has both the high and sloping necklines drawn on it. The latter is in the form of tiny dots. You will use the same back neckline for both the high jewel and the sloping front necklines.] With these new cutting lines, you’ll be able to create cozy winter dresses as well as a variety of basic day gowns suitable for at-home occasions and visiting. The high jewel neckline is intended for use with long sleeves, while the gently sloping neckline will go well with either short, elbow-length, or long sleeves.

5/8" allowance on all seams. For gathered bodices over size 14, plan to add 1/4 yard to the basic yardage requirement given in the original pattern.

Instructions for Modifying the Original Pattern:

As with all my patterns, I recommend tracing the pieces you need rather than cutting them out. Because these guides are meant to be used as overlays, I advise using sheer interfacing or tracing paper. The long dashed lines show the original cutting lines for the basic pattern. Use these to help you line up the supplemental pieces on top of the original pattern pieces. [Note: The side back pieces of the original pattern remain unchanged.] You may want to anchor the overlay with weights or secure it with tape. Once you’ve done that, you can trace a brand new pattern piece that uses the new cutting line for the neckline of your choice:

Instructions for Making a New Bodice:

The photos immediately below show the stitching steps for the plain (non-gathered) necklines. Instructions are identical to the main Regency Gown pattern instructions above--only the necklines are smaller as shown.

High Jewel Neckline

Lining pinned to bodice.
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Closeup of lining pinned to bodice.
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Sewing lining to bodice.
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Curves clipped.
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Sloped Neckline

Plain sloped neckline and lining pinned.
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Stitching lining to plain sloped bodice.
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Plain sloped neckline clipped.
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Pressing sloped neckline.
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Plain sloped neckline curve.
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Once you have your new front and back bodice pieces traced, you are ready to follow the instructions given in the Regency Gown pattern to put your dress together (do make a bodice mock-up for a try-on first so you can double-check the fit of the new neckline!). If you are using the new center front cutting line to create a softly gathered bodice and do not wish to try the drawstring option explained below, you will cut one bodice front on that line from your fashion material, then cut the lining on the original center front line. Once you have your bodice pieces sewn together as shown in the original instructions, run two short lines of basting stitches across the center front of the bodice neckline and two unbroken lines of basting stitches across the bottom of the bodice, beginning at the original dot.

(Click thumbnail for larger image.)

Use the neckline basting stitches to gather the bodice to fit the lining when you are ready to sew the lining to the bodice. Use the basting stitches at the bottom to gather the bodice into the skirt front waistline. The finished bodice will have the gathers in front outside, while the lining inside the neck will be smooth (you’ll still need to follow the regular bodice lining instructions for the waistline area). This method is the same for either the high jewel neckline or the sloping neckline.

Pinning and gathering high neckline.
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Ready to pull up gathers.
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Gathers pulled up.
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Sewing gathers to lining.
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Gathered neckline sewn and clipped.
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Below is a dress made with the gathered high neckline.
Thank you to Marmee12, who made this beautiful dress to sell on eBay and shared her photos!

Click thumbnails for larger images.

Optional Drawstring Method:

Many, many Regency gowns closed with drawstrings instead of buttons. Buttons appear on a few early Regency gowns, but they seem to be more common after the 1810s. There are hundreds of examples of period gowns that simply tie in the back at the top of the neckline and at the waistline. Because ladies wore shifts, stays, and petticoats beneath their dresses, there was no fear of exposure should a gap appear between the ties! If you’d like to try this period-correct closure, follow the directions given below.

  1. After you cut out your gathered bodice front, cut out the lining exactly the same (not on the original center front line). Sew the bodice pieces together, then the lining pieces together, just as shown in the original pattern instructions. Now pin the lining to the bodice, right sides together. When you sew up the center back edge, stop your stitches one inch short of the neckline, reverse and remove the needle:

    Drawstring neckline pinned to lining.
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    Left: Sewing neckline casing for drawstring. Right: Stop sewing neckline casing.
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  2. Now turn the bodice so you are ready to sew around the neckline. Start just as you normally would, 5/8” from the top edge and 5/8” from the center back edge. Continue around the neckline to the other side of the neckline and stop at the end. Reverse and remove the needle as before. Turn the bodice so you can head down the back, starting one inch below the neckline edge:

    (Click thumbnail for larger image.)

  3. At this point, you can ignore the instructions for understitching. You will skip this step entirely. Instead, clip curves, turn the bodice right side out, and iron neatly. Now you are going to topstitch around the neckline from one center back opening to the other. [Note: If you are making a reproduction dress for an event, you’ll be topstitching entirely by hand, since any stitches that show need to be hand-done. Just take small running stitches. They will not show very much once the drawstring is pulled.] You should plan to use a very narrow drawstring or 1/8” ribbon to tie the neckline, so plan to have your topstitching about ¼” from the edge of your neckline (3/8” if you use a round cotton drawstring cord):

    (Click thumbnail for larger image.)

  4. Use a large, blunt needle (or a plastic canvas needle) to thread your drawstring through the neckline casing you’ve just created. Because you stopped your stitching during the lining-to-bodice step, you have openings at the very top of the center back edge for your drawstring to pass through. Leave enough drawstring hanging out to pull tight and tie (at least four inches on each side).

    (Click thumbnails for larger images.)

  5. With that accomplished, you can now proceed through the rest of the regular dress instructions until you get to the part where you attach the skirt. When you sew the skirt to the bodice, turn under both sides of the placket, since you will not have the overlap like you do with a button closure:

  6. After attaching the skirt to the bodice, you’ll come to the steps for securing the bodice lining to the waistline seam of the skirt. At this point, you will use bias binding to create another casing for a drawstring. Cut enough binding to go around the inside of the bodice (remembering that you’ll pleat or gather your lining at the bust to fit the inside of the bodice exactly). Turn up 5/8" of the bottom of the lining, then pin the casing to the lining all the way around about 1/8" above the bottom of the lining. Sew the casing in place on top and bottom, keeping your needle as close to the edge of the cashing as possible. Remember that you're only sewing to the lining--not to the outer bodice!

  7. Now whipstitch your bodice lining to the inside of the bodice at the waistline seam as shown in the original pattern. When you’ve finished, use your blunt needle to run a second drawstring through this casing, leaving enough hanging out on each end to tie (make it about eight inches on each end, since this drawstring will not be gathering the center front of the bodice).

  8. Hem and finish your gown, then put it on, tying the drawstring at the waist so that the gown is snug (but not uncomfortable) beneath the bustline. You’ll find that the center back of the dress "scrunches" in the middle, since there is no button placket overlap. This is normal and totally correct for the time period. Now pull the drawstrings for the neckline (with help if necessary), adjusting and smoothing the gathers as you go to make the front of the neckline look nice. Again, tie the drawstring securely at the center back. There you go! You’ve got a beautiful, period-correct option that makes for a nice variation on a theme.

    (Click thumbnail for larger image.)

Enjoy your new creation!

Appendix A

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!

Further Fun:

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.

Appendix B

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 th! e 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, 1998-2008.