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Sewing Journey: Regency-Inspired Costume

Sewing Journey: Regency-Inspired Costume

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I looove efficiency. When I finally got the bodice of my fit-and-flare dress to actually FIT, I began envisioning ways to reuse that bodice pattern. My first idea was a Renaissance-inspired overdress which will appear in the blog soon. My next idea was a Regency-inspired dress that would allow me to fit right in with the Bennet sisters’ crowd. This project proved to very education, although not the least bit efficient! Of course, our fabulous historical seamstresses out there will note all the ways that this dress is NOT historically accurate. The project might, however, provide costume inspiration for all of you planning ahead for Halloween…

There were a number of significant changes that had to be made to the original pattern to make it Regency-ish. (To see the original dress, check this post.) Firstly, I had to extend the skirt. I measured myself from a couple inches below the bust to about the top of my foot to find the skirt length. Accordingly, the skirt panels were extended as far as the fabric would allow. This may be a good time to mention that I started this project mid-day and without a trip to the fabric store. I decided to use coordinating remnants of fabric I already had, a decision that made my life cheaper but more stressful.

The next significant alteration stemmed from my choice to close the back of the dress with buttons instead of the original zipper. This did make my life significantly more complicated, but I wanted to try it! Besides, I don’t think they had zippers back in Regency times… Anyway, I widened the back panels slightly to give me more fabric to play with when adding those buttons.

I further flouted the pattern by not making a separate lining for the bodice. Instead, I cut 2 of each bodice piece and sewed both layers together at the same time. Since this dress would primarily be a costume, I assumed that using pinking shears to cut the pieces would be enough to keep the raw edges from fraying too badly. This strategy didn’t end up saving me much time, because I had to finish the neckline and back with bias tape. (Thankfully, the arm holes would later be attached to sleeves, as seen in our next major pattern deviation…)

Ah yes, ANOTHER pattern deviation was the mandatory addition of sleeves. (Apparently, sleeveless just wasn’t a thing for Regency ladies.) Of course, my original pattern did not include sleeves, so I turned to this excellent to tutorial on puff sleeve creation and attachment. (Thankfully, I had a cap sleeve pattern to use as a starting point. Although I can’t find the source of that pattern, I would recommend trying the sleeve from the free Sorbetto pattern.) I followed the tutorial’s direction for enlarging a sleeve into a puffed sleeve. I traced and then cut this new sleeve from scrap fabric.

Next, I loosely gathered the sleeve into a “puff” and pinned it into my original fit-and-flare dress to test it out. I concluded that the sleeve would need to be larger to allow for hemming and adding elastic around the arm.

First sleeve on the bottom, larger second sleeve on top.

I used the bigger sleeve pattern to cut out the real sleeves! I sewed the sleeves closed, ran gathering stitches where they would attach to the shoulder, and added a hem large enough to fit a band of thin elastic. Check out my high-tech ironing tool!

I sewed the sleeves to the bodice according to the tutorial, and Ta-da! I added the elastic after taking this picture.

I hope you are not toooo tired of pattern variations, because here is the biggest experiment! How does one add a button placket (?) to a dress that’s supposed to have a zipper? Again, Seamstresses, please don’t throw things at me! I kind of winged this, but it was a slow, thoughtful kind of winging it to be sure. Firstly, I added a bit of iron-on-interfacing to the skirt and bodice where the future buttons and buttonholes would probably be.

A significant break from placket-making was provided by the necessary addition of the skirt. I first tried the bodice on and marked where I wanted the empire waist of the dress to fall. I gathered the skirt and pinned it so that the seam would fall on this line. You can see from the 2nd picture how much extra bodice length there was left over.

Back to winging-the-button-placket. I rolled the open edges of the back panels under and stitched them closed. I then experimented with how to overlap the back panels to allow for the buttons. As this pattern was not designed to be used with buttons, the back does not line up as neatly as it otherwise would.

Plans for the back were taking shape! I turned to professor youtube for this tutorial on making button holes using my sewing machine’s button hole foot! Much practice later, I nerved up to try it on the dress. See those adorable vintage buttons that I planned to use? Surely, they justified this process somewhat?!

Some time and stress later, we had buttonholes!

Because of the overlapping bodice needed by the buttons, the skirt had to overlap too. I pinned the skirt closed in a way that seemed to hang nicely. The skirt was taken in a couple inches in this process.

I closed the skirt seam up to about an inch below the last button hole. I did a little hand sewing to close the rough edges near the buttons and holes.


At this point, it was late in the evening on the second day of sewing. I had a dress, but no headgear! Thankfully, the lovely experts behind teacinateacup demonstrated how to turn a straw hat into a bonnet! But what is the doily for? That, and my excellent seam binding technique, are my contribution to the hat’s design!

I cut a piece out of the brim and glued seam binding over the raw edges. I left extra binding hanging from the ends.

I made ties by folding lengths of seam binding in half and sewing them closed. I left one end of each tie open.

Some clever glueing allowed me to attach the ties to the hat and then cover the edges with rolled-over excess binding.

That fabulous vintage doily just happened to match my dress perfectly… So of course it had to be added to the hat! I first glued a band of binding around the hat. I then pinned and sewed the doily to the band. I admit to being quite proud of the result! I’m not sure if the Bennet sisters would wear such a bonnet, but I’m sure they would agree that I am quite clever!

The ensemble was completed just in time to be worn the next day! I was super thrilled with the outfit, despite its many historical inaccuracies. On that note, I apologize to all the Bennet relatives out there who will agree that the only person vulgar enough to wear this much red in a day dress would be Lydia! (Guess I have more in common with Lydia than I thought! lol)

It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon by the San Francisco Bay! I really didn’t need the shawl, but thought it added to the look!

This building used to be a gatehouse to a large estate. Although it’s only a tower, it has a great castle-y vibe!

Photography credit goes to my long-suffering grandmother, who agreed to take pictures for me! (And be seen with me in public…) She is one of the blog’s biggest fans! I snapped this picture of us perusing an educational placard along our walk.

This project offered so many excellent learning experiences, and I feel my sewing knowledge has grown a great deal! In future, I want to try a historically-inspired pattern from the era, preferably one that already includes lovely things like sleeves and button plackets! This pattern from Sensibility.com may be my next project, as it is apparently learner friendly, comes with lots of sewing tips, and can be modified in various ways. Now I just need to find more matching doilies…

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