September 19, 2016

Inside & Out: 1810s Dotted Dress and Chemisette

All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by...Today's post details the construction of the 1810s dotted dress and chemisette featured in our most recent photo shoot, which can be viewed here: The Secret of the Sea.  (As well as four bonus photographs from our second shoot in the George Eastman House Gardens!) 

(Photograph courtesy of Maria M.)

The Inspiration

Typically, my garments are inspired by extant garments or entirely designs of my own; however, this dress was inspired by one in Miss Emma Woodhouse's wardrobe!  Emma (played by Romola Garai) sports a delightful, yellow floral print gown in my favorite adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, the 2009 BBC miniseries. 

Emma's pale yellow floral gown.
(Image via: An Old Fashioned Girl)

What I like most about the dress is the striped, sheer detachable sleeves.  They add such elegance to an otherwise simple day dress.  (I had the perfect striped sheer fabric in the stash for the long sleeves; however, based on the sheen alone, I could tell it was a cotton/poly blend.  So, for my dress, I ended up going without.  Though, if I ever come across a more suitable sheer fabric, sleeves will certainly be on the sewing list...)

Emma & Mr. Knightley
(Image via: The Enchanted Garden, Tumblr)

Our version, pretending that Hartfield is in the background...
All I need is a Mr. Knightly!
(Photograph courtesy of Maria M.)

The Dress 

A while ago now, I found three yards of a wide, dotted print cotton at a price I couldn't pass up!  Though a modern fabric, I thought it passed for a Regency Era appropriate block print.  I struggled with a pattern, because I had so little fabric.  I originally thought of a jumper dress, but then the puffed sleeves with detachable long, sheer sleeves look from Emma won me over.  

A similar dress, Costume Parisien, 1804
(Image via: SceneInThePast, Flickr)

Patterning the dress itself presented several challenges.  I did not like the look of my first version at all.  I had tried to make the entire bodice gathered with drawstrings and it was just a the second version then had to be cut from the bodice of the first as I literally had nothing to spare.  And I mean nothing.  (Note to self, minimum of four yards of fabric next time!)  

Several mock ups were made before cutting into the fashion fabric again.  I ended up compromising with a gathered center, which was literally a rectangle three times as long as the inside measure.  Some creative piecing and cutting layouts had to be worked out.  As for the sewing, some machined interior seams and hand finishings (and anywhere seams might show).  

Bodice in progress.  Originally designed to be added right to the pleated skirt;
however, due to skirt length issues (again not enough fabric),
a 1.5" waistband was added.

A look at the interior!
I'm very happy with how neat the inside looks.

Bias bound neckline of self fabric.
Slip stitched waistband lining of cotton muslin.

Only the two side and back pieces are flat lined with cotton batiste.

Here's the gathered center panel.  Notice that it too had to be pieced.
The top of the panel was folded over for a casing with two eyelets for the drawstring.

In the end, it did work out.  However, the fit is off, again.  When trying on the bodice in fittings, it seemed to fit fine; but when finished, I could barely get the back of the bodice to meet in the middle and top.  Oh, and there's the fact that something went wrong with the armseyes...I can barely move my arms higher than shoulder height.  I'm a little disappointed, but happy with the sewing itself.  I sure wish I could get better at draping, pattern making and fitting!  

The finished bodice, front.

The sleeves had to be pieced, as did the neckline bias binding.

The skirt features double-stacked knife pleats with the fullness concentrated in the back.
Because of the fabric situation, the skirt is only about 75" around,
which is less than my preferred skirt circumference.
Finished with a 4.5" white muslin hem facing (not pictured).

A note on the closure method:  The most common methods of closing the back (or front) openings of Regency Era dresses seems to be drawstrings, hooks and eyes, and buttons.  (And let's not forget about just regular metal pins!)  I chose to add three metal hooks and metal eyes (rather than my usual thread eyes) - one at the neckline and two at the waistband.  There is a small gap in-between, but based on examples I've seen, a sliver of white either from chemise, bodiced petticoat, chemisette or neckerchief is reasonable!

A very similar example with two metal hooks & eyes at the waistband!
Embroidered Regency Gown, c.1820
(Image via: Ebay, Pinterest)

The finished bodice, back.
Three metal hooks and eyes - one set at the neckline, two at the waistband. 

The Chemisette

Moving right along to my favorite part, the accessories!  For this project, I made a chemisette based off this lovely example in the Manchester Art Gallery Collection: 

Dress & chemisette, c.1795-1800
(Image via: Manchester Art Gallery)

My version was made from a dotted swiss lawn (body) and another fine cotton lawn (ruffle).  Hand corded neckline tie and 1/8" bias tape tie at the waist.  Entirely hand stitched using the proper 19th century techniques of rolled hems and rolled whipped gathers for the ruffle.

The ruffle is densely gathered, reminiscent of an earlier ruff.
Around 120" total, I was afraid it wouldn't fit around the neckline!
Also notice the hand cording for ties.

The ruffle was pieced from two 60" strips of the cotton lawn.

I'd like to experiment with cartridge pleating/gauging ruffles next...
Entirely hand stitched...
this project went together much quicker than I imagined it would, yay!

The back of the chemisette.
The shoulders were stitched with French seams to enclose the raw edges.

One final look with the in-progress bodice: 

And, voila, a completed 1810s dotted dress and chemisette!  Now off to start the next project...thank you for reading!  


  1. oh, Anneliese! Everything is just Beautiful!
    Your sewing is so perfect. I love the dotts...

    and of course, that particular "Emma" is also my favorite.

    1. Thank you so much, Christine! Your lovely words always brighten my day! Doesn't BBC do such a wonderful job with their adaptations! For Emma they just did everything right - the casting, the costumes, the soundtrack - one could go on and on :)

  2. Oh how I love this dress! It is so light and airy and lovely! The polky spots also add that little bit of fun that I love about your clothing! It looks so very wonderful on you and the chemisette is marvelous! I am so thrilled to see the pictures and your blog back up and running! What a horrible, gut sinking thing to have had to go through!!

    1. Why thank you, Gina! You always have just the right things to say to make one smile :) Regency fashion can be so much fun!

      And thank you for all of your concern for my blog catastrophe - here and on Facebook. It was really sweet of you - slowly but surely all of the pictures will be restored!

  3. Hi Anneliese! I love this dress. Can you tell me where you get the pattern for this 1810 dress. I am just starting to learn how to make these type of dresses and like to use patterns. Also, do you know anywhere online where you can get chemisettes to go under regency dresses? Thank you for your blog! So wonderful to see your talent inspire us.

    1. Hello and thank you for your lovely comment! I actually draped my own patterns for the dress and chemisette; however, I recommend looking into either the "Laughing Moon" or the "Sense & Sensibility" pattern lines for all things Regency! In fact, I believe the Sense & Sensibility Regency Undergarments pattern includes two chemisettes too. Happy sewing!