Ready for fun with JASNA in the City of Gardens!

With a new morning gown, glasses, fichu, and corset, plus almost a dozen items that I’m considering donating to the Soho Bazaar, you could say I’m on the final countdown for preparation for the Jane Austen Society of America Annual General Meeting (JASNA AGM) being held in my city of Victoria, BC, Canada this year. As a member of the organizing committee, I’m pleased to host people from all around the world.

With a theme of Sense and Sensibility in the City of Gardens, we are certain to please the over 700 attendees for this year’s festivities, which take place on September 26-October 4 2022, with the actual AGM on the weekend. The conference features tours, workshops, international speakers, education sessions, meetings, exhibits of really old stuff, shopping, an author signing, and really, something for everyone. Those attending can buy from a selection of my books at Jane Austen Books and seek me out for a signature!

To see enlarged image, click on thumbnail.

To see enlarged image, click on thumbnail.

I’ll be dressing up for the Saturday and Sunday of the AGM. The gown I recently sewed is from a pattern from 1808, and it took me nearly three years to complete it, doing some of the work in Mexico where I winter. That’s because I had to remake the bodice when it wasn’t quite right from the pattern, and I spent a lot of time thinking out the connections in a pattern that came with minimal instructions where I had to size it up for my bust especially, and interpret some of the instructions and their intention. But it goes on so easily, needing no real help from another person except perhaps to tie the back cords in a bow. The fabric choice looks truly Regency, but came from a bed sheet. Per my budget Regency bent, the whole thing cost under $25. The sheer fabric was free! I made a fichu from some of that sheer fabric as well.

My costume will be completed with Mary Bennet glasses, which you’ll see in the next post, which will show me at the AGM. I also bought a fabulous 1810 custom made corset from Redthreaded, shown here. She even fitted it at no extra charge (except shipping) at the last minute, knowing I had this conference to attend. What a great corset-maker!

The Soho Bazaar is sort of a jumble or rummage sale of goodies that are useful to the Regency lady, such as reticules, fichus, bonnets, and gloves. If you donate an item, you get a ticket for a free item up to three tickets. Items are sold for a looney or a tooney (that’s a dollar or two in Canadian money). It takes place before the fancy dinner at the AGM. When I went through my stuff, I had ten possible items, plus when I made my new fichu I miscalculated and made it too big, so when I remade it, there were two. Therefore, I have eleven possible items to give away that perhaps some Regency lady might like, and that’s not counting the possibility of throwing in some shoe roses. I’ll get my three tickets and try to fight off competition for a reticule that complements my purple gown. Or some really big feathers.

Next post will have my thoughts on the excellent speakers that I’ve signed up to see as well as the excellent costuming that I’m sure to find at the AGM. I’ve been told that nearly half the attendees dress up these days, at the very least for the formal dinner and ball.

Anyone who’s registered to attend the JASNA AGM in Victoria this year, please do approach me if you see me. I’ll have a special Suzan Lauder badge on in addition to my conference badge. If you ask me about prizes, I’ll either give you one on the spot or enter you for a draw for later. It should be fun as always, when I’m around!

PS Don’t forget to read my books! (This is a prize hint!)

Louisville JASNA Costume One: Familiar to Followers

An American flag coloured morning gown was suitable for the first official day of the 2015 Louisville JASNA AGM because I planned to be at sessions until about 4 pm, the end of the morning in the Regency period, at least in the city. Austen herself commented about rising at 9am, and many slept until 10am, since balls and social life ended in the wee hours the night before–kind of like it does for many people attending this conference!

We were overtaken today compared to our quiet little pre-conference activity days! Many, many glorious gowns and hats appeared on ladies, and a good half-dozen more costumed gents now hovered about them as they priced out ribbon. I had already been confused and intimidated about purchasing these unique, quality products. Can you imagine having Ms. Silk Reddingote in front of you, passing things to Mr. Custom Top Hat? The “Quality” has come.

I have a cold and a stomach upset of some sort, and since I’ve already been here three days, I’m tired, so I kept Regency hours. Regency ladies breakfasted at nine, took callers or made calls from 2-4, thus the length of the morning. The morning dress should cover the arms and chest during those hours, thus long sleeves and chemisettes, fichus, or lace tuckers were in order.

I wore the same outfit you saw in an earlier post, which I refer to as my “emergency” gown since I put it together in a few days for a Jane Austen Tea put on by my local JASNA in early September.

Here I am again, with more photos so you can see the back and my little “grown up lady’s” cap better. My ringlets turned out nice today. I cheated and used the tiniest amount of makeup, as I’m like Mr. Darcy in MP author Karalynne Mackrory’s book (ghostly complexion) otherwise!

louisville 15 friday louisville 15 friday backlouisville 15 friday sidelouisville 15 friday boot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One area of difficulty is I’d originally sewn nothing more than a no-fray finish on the top edge of the petticoats the first time, but lately, I added a narrow waist band with hooks and eyes to close it in back. It has back gathers to match any gown it would be worn with.

When I made the waist band, I measured myself under a regular bra. As you may recall, I’m using a bustier from years back when I was heavier as a corset. With the cups folded in and stitched down, its shape is good and it pushes the girls up well. Its boning is similar to a busk.

It turns out this bustier reduces my rib cage about an inch! I had to safety pin the petticoat to my bustier, and after about an hour, nearly tripped on it, as it was hanging a good eight inches low on one side! Two pins had become undone, as well as the back hooks and eyes! When I tried to fix them without being noticed, I jabbed myself instead! I returned to my hotel room to add more pins and close them with care this time!

The half boots have been enhanced since the other function, and coloured stockings were worn for fun. Please don’t ogle my pantalettes, necessary to keep the dark colour from being seen through two layers of super fine cotton skirts!

I got a generous number of compliments on various aspects of the costume, and several ladies were quite taken by those little boots. They’re a half size larger than my normal shoe size, so I could fit my custom orthotics inside, and save myself from knee pain. They also liked the little blue and gold reticule I got in Cottage Grove, OR on vacation last year.

It surprised me that many ladies wore their spencers or pelisses and hats indoors all day. It wouldn’t have been done in Austen’s time!

Judging from the vendor prices at the conference’s Regency Emporium, some of those big Lady Catherine hats with exotic feathers cost close to $500. I guess they want to get as much mileage out of them as they can, so “screw the idea of wearing just a lace cap indoors!” Similarly, a pretty spencer that took hours (or dollars) to complete should be shown off!

I think I may do the same tomorrow or one of the later days this weekend!

I wasn’t the only one in a cap, as several had lace or fine muslin versions. Some long-haired ladies had not done a Regency hairdo, and had a bare head with their hair down. This all takes time, and we have to cut corners to get to the seminars we waited so long for!

My favourite seminar of the day was on Regency plumbing and how it (and water systems) evolved before and after the Regency. The speaker, Janet Fahey is a P.E. like me! Not much was new to me, as toilets have always fascinated me, but it was a good seminar, and I learned about John Snow, the father of epidemiology, who effectively created the first spreadsheets.

I know, boring compared to big hats and silk riding wear! I’ll try to remember to take some photos for you all to see!

But I have to sew more lacy on my “emergency ball gown” before tomorrow night, so that’s it for this post!

Remember to comment here or on my Facebook page, or to approach me at the conference with a mention of the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment for give-aways of reticules, embroidered handkerchiefs, bling, and more. I have extra prizes, so everyone’s a winner!

Conference delegates, come by the Authors’ signing tables tomorrow at 3:45pm to say “Hi!” to me and Linda Beutler! Better yet, buy a copy of Alias Thomas Bennet from the Jane Austen Books booth at the Emporium, and I’ll sign it for you!

Also, watch for free and sale books from Meryton Press this week, as Managing Editor Michele Reed is at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN!

Tips for Faking Regency Costume Details #2

Clocked is a strange word. When I was young, when someone said “I clocked him,” I’m pretty sure it meant they hit him hard. I think it meant in the head, but I’m not sure. It’s not a word that I use in everyday conversation.

In Regency fashion, there are clocked stockings. This does not refer to anything resembling a clock as far as I can tell. It means stockings with a design on them.

Faking Regency Designs on Gloves and Stockings

Embroidered kid gloves, 1800-1830, National Trust Museums

Embroidered kid gloves, 1800-1830, National Trust Collections.

1775-1829 stockings, Victoria and Albert Museum

1775-1829 stockings, Victoria and Albert Museum

Embroidery or painting on stockings and gloves was an embellishment that was enjoyed by at least a few Regency ladies (and men), judging by the museum examples. Interestingly, an etiquette book of the time, Mirror of the Graces, frowns on clocked stockings. It looks like fashion won in consideration of a stuffy old guidebook!

Some of my stockings and gloves got a fake Regency treatment this weekend: I used fabric paint to apply designs. A stencil purchased for half price at Michaels was used in three different ways, by masking some of the areas with packing tape each time. Once I’d done all I could with the stencil, I decided to try a bit of freehand with the four colours of paints I had.painting accessories all

The floral designs on the white tights and the short and long white gloves were made with the stencil. The pink long gloves and the knee-high stockings are my attempt at freehand, loosely referring to photos of existing museum pieces (see below). Not bad for a non-crafty redheaded romance author!

Cotton fabric embroidered gloves, circa 1790-1810, bias cut for stretch, gold and sequinned scrollwork, pale pink, floss silk detailing.

Cotton fabric embroidered gloves, circa 1790-1810, bias cut for stretch, gold and sequinned scrollwork, pale pink, floss silk detailing.

Stockings, early 19th century Cooper Hewitt collection

Stockings, early 19th century, Cooper Hewitt collection.

Stockings, 1810, English, Kyoto Museum

Stockings, 1810, English, Kyoto Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

painting accessories closeup to show detailI didn’t bother with the coloured tights as for now, the colours don’t suit my gowns.

The pens tended to bleed in the fabric, and the bottled paints were a bit puffy. After the first items, I used the pens for light lines and not fill, and used a Q-tip to apply the paint so it was smoother. If I was doing this again, I’d consider getting additional colours, but these were all I found on sale the day I bought them at Michaels.

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How to Make Easy Back Gathers on Regency Gowns

One of my favourite tricks for faking Regency is to use drapery tape to make the back gathers for a gown. The tape must be the kind that makes all uniform gathers, and not pinch pleats. I had some 1″ wide tape I got in two meter-long pieces at a thrift store for $1 a long time ago. I used it to make the last-minute “emergency” gown for the JASNA outing I had a few weeks ago. Belt backing tape can be seen for the non-gathered part.gathering tape and waistband material inside paisley embroidered fabric for use as a skirtpaisley fabric gathered using drapery tape

There are two ways to use the drapery tape to make your Regency gathers in the back of the gown.

  1. The simplest is to machine sew the tape onto the gown. Take care not to sew on the strings. Gather using the strings, tie the strings, cut shorter, and leave in place.
  2. The second method allows re-use of the drapery tape and less bulk in the back of the gown. Hand-baste the drapery tape on, but do not lock the end of your basting thread, rather, leave an inch or so free. Once you’ve sewn your skirt to the bodice, the gathers are fixed, and all you need do is tug on the knot on your basting threads to pull them free and remove the drapery tape to use on another skirt.

You want to have at least three times the width of fabric as your final gathered amount, and 4-5 times looks pretty.

Depending on your fabric, you may want to leave a seam allowance above the drapery tape. Because my fabric (above) had a border, I ran the tape at the top edge, then hand-stitched it to the bodice.

If you’re interested in standard methods for gathering fabric, this video from Teach Yourself to Sew shows three different methods.

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To Zipper or not to Zipper–or To Fake!

When you get a vintage or other type of newer-than-Regency gown and wear it for a Regency gown, to be authentic, you should remove the zipper. Regency alternatives were ties, hooks and eyes, or buttons, or they were pinned closed by a lady’s maid.

In most cases, a replacement closure for the zipper is not necessary on the skirt, as the ribbon or belt holds the top edges together. The skirt is loose due to the gathers, and should overlap. The concern would be to ensure the bodice fit is snug.

There may be gaps between the replacement closures. In the Regency, so many undergarments were worn, the gap was of little consequence; however, some modern women balk at the idea.

ribbon ties on back of original morning gown suzan lauderMost often, Regency gowns used ties to close at the back, and this is an easy-to-install and inexpensive closure. Discount and craft stores have narrow ribbons in limited colours for under $2 a roll, and attractive cords are under $1 a meter.

In the absence of a lady’s maid, to fake Regency with modern modesty, retain your zipper and add ribbon or light cording ties over it at a couple of locations. At right, two are tied and the lower one is not, so you can see where they’re attached. Care must be taken not to catch the ties when using the zipper.

At 12″, mine were too long; 6″-8″ would suffice.

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To close the front of the “emergency” gown, I used hooks and eyes. This is not truly faking as they were common on Regency gowns. When hooks and eyes were used, seamstresses weren’t stingy, and used a lot of them.

Packages of individual hooks and eyes are inexpensive, and come in black, white, or steel in most stores, and some stores offer additional colours at a premium. They are fussy to sew on individually but are excellent in some cases, such as holding a short width or edges together.

For ease of installation when multiple hooks and eyes are needed, cotton tape with hooks spaced about every inch, and matching tape with eyes, is sold by the meter. I was lucky to get the tape with hooks on sale, but the tape with eyes was regular price.

An alternative to the tape with eyes (at half the price per meter) is a product intended for long rows of buttons, which looks like woven cording with loops every half inch or so. The loops appeared to align with the hooks, and for short lengths, they’re okay, but they’re just enough out of sync that, for longer lengths, I need to skip an extra one every so often.

As you can see, I used both types: tape on the crossover v-neck and individual hooks on the belt edge of the skirt. The installation was fair to both right and left handed openings!

hooks and eyes on emergency dressemergency dress closure

 

 

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As much as we like buttons these days, they were less common on Regency women’s wear. Jane Austen remarked in a letter to her sister Cassandra that buttons were quite dear. Men’s clothing most often had self-covered buttons, but ladies’ used metal, shell, ivory, stones, gems, and similar materials.

Mother-of-pearl buttons are okay if you can find them, as are buttons made with fine cording such as Dorset buttons. Don’t use plastic buttons unless they are an excellent fake.

Pearl and metal buttons, 1780 to 1820, Luckcock Collection, Birmingham Museum of Art

Pearl and metal buttons, 1780 to 1820, Luckcock Collection, Birmingham Museum of Art

Dorset buttons

Dorset buttons

You could put fake buttons and loops on the gown just as you did for the ribbon ties, and keep your zipper.

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Next post: I left all the hand-sewing for items like Mr. Suze’s coat to the last minute, and not much new is happening at the moment! I’ll try to take a photo or two of my ball gown as I complete it this week, but since I’ll be traveling prior to the JASNA AGM in Louisville, Kentucky on October 9-11, 2015, it will be a meager post!

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The best word EVER: GIVE-AWAYS!

On October 8-11, while I’m in Louisville, there will be a draw for daily prizes from my stash of reticules, Regency accessories, and other goodies. The Regency items are one-of-a-kind. Though they’re hand made by someone who’s not crafty (so less than perfect), I’ve signed each one and added my signature pagoda parasol.

There are two ways to enter:

1) Comment on any Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment post on road trips with the redhead, with your email address (username at host dot com), or

2) approach me at the JASNA AGM and ask for a Parasol in a Ballroom. I’ll collect your name and email address.

**The first person who enters either way whose initials are M.C. is an automatic winner of a velvet reticule with your initials embroidered on it!

I’ll attempt to deliver winning prizes from the AGM while I’m there, and blog comment prizes will be mailed. Good luck!

Regency men were not sissies, even in blouses and scarves.

1807 men's shirt from The National Maritime Museum

1807 men’s shirt from The National Maritime Museum.

A poet’s or pirate’s shirt will work well for a Regency man’s shirt, they say. I remember sewing a similar shirt for a boyfriend in the 70’s: long sleeved, loose body, placket at the front. Surely a few vintage versions in a light, flowing fabric still exist!

For months, I searched the thrift and vintage stores for a plain, white, light weight, long-sleeved, wider-collared shirt with a placket-style opening, rather than button-down. Long-sleeved white dress shirts of any type were rare, probably popular for job interviews.

All were button-down. At least half had a subtle pattern woven into the fabric that was non-Regency in appearance. A few had logos emblazoned on the front pockets. Military shirts with epaulets were constructed of mid-weight, crisp fabric, rather than soft and flowing, as were tuxedo shirts with their multiple pleats in front. The odd shirt was collarless, and I needed a collar to stand up and wrap the cravat around.

Man's linen shirt, 1790-1810. Augusta Auctions.

Man’s linen shirt, 1790-1810. Augusta Auctions.

Early on, I expanded my search to ladies’ wear size large and greater for that front placket shirt, but they were rare, and in addition to similar traits to those for men above, often had ¾ sleeves or ruffles in the wrong arrangement. Ruffles aren’t a bad thing, as the neckline of the waistcoat shows off ruffles.

The Blouse

This month, I gave up on the placket front and searched for a white dress shirt in Mr. Suze’s neck size, loose in the body, and simple in design. At Value Village, I found a ladies’ extra-large blouse that looked ¾ sleeved at first, but discovered it had button tabs on the sleeves. The cuffed long sleeves were scrunched up and could be easily let down.

I measured the collar, and it was just short of 17” around, so larger than Mr. Suze’s 15½” shirt size, but my measurement didn’t count overlap for buttoning. To ensure the sleeve was a couple of inches too long for me (the advantage of having borrowed his cool-looking jean and leather jackets in the past is knowing this fact!), I tried on the blouse on over my own t-shirt before purchasing it at $7.99.

It fit Mr. Suze perfectly in the neck and sleeve, and was loose in the body! Hooray!

The shirt was button-down, and Poor Mr. Suze lamented that it buttoned backwards—that’s how he discovered it was a ladies’ blouse upon trying it on. It had no top button, so I attached two 8” ribbons to tie it closed. The Regency shirt would close with laces or a simple set of string ties.

I could have sewn the front panel partly closed to make it emulate a placket-type, but Mr. Suze didn’t mind the buttons too much and, as the shirt was considered underwear in the Regency, no one was allowed to see it. Yes, you heard that right. Underwear.

The main modification to Regency for a plain white shirt is simple: since the collar is to be turned up so it is standing, the front points need to be trimmed back slightly so the line of the collar goes straight across. When purchasing, a wider collar is better so it looks good standing up.

Depending on how the shirt is made, you might be able to push the points into themselves and sew closed with top-stitching near the edge. Because of top-stitching on the blouse collar, I had to open a seam, so I cut the corners back. Don’t forget the seam allowance!

An optional but beneficial modification while you’re at the collar is to cut a slight curve out of the middle back to suit the head of the wearer, so the collar stands up and doesn’t crinkle. My curve was about ⅝” deep in the middle and tapered down, overall about 5” wide. The seam allowances in the curves were clipped and pressed inside. Rather than remove the collar and redo the seam, the opening was top stitched close to the edge, then a second row of top stitching, similar to the original, was added.

Ruffles can be added to the placket area where the shirt shows above the neckline of the gentleman’s waistcoat. A plain, straight piece of light cotton 3”-4” wide, with a simple rolled hem on three sides, will work.

I used scalloped border panels from a white pillow sham (the main area’s lace was for a cap and fichu in previous posts). The scallops had a finished edge, and I made a narrow hem on each end.tsrce shirt showing three ruffles collar reshaping and tiesEach ruffle started as 4” wide and 20” long. I gathered it to 5” long, which was plenty long enough for the V neck on Mr. Suze’s waistcoat. I covered the base of the gathers and sewed that to the button panel. A third ruffle was added later, as two didn’t seem like enough, but when the cravat was added, I realized it fills the centre area, so two would be fine. The finished ruffles should be pressed backwards at ¼” near the bases, so they prefer to stand rather than lay flat along the shirt front.

Similar to Regency ladies’ wear, men’s clothing had longer sleeves, extending over the base of the hand. If your Mr.’s tail coat sleeves are not long enough, you can also add a ruffle at the cuff of the shirt. It can be sewn inside the cuff so minimal fussing over finishes is needed.

If you want to use a shirt that will be reverted back to a dress shirt after the Regency occasion, the collar corners can be neatly pinned inside, as the cravat will probably hide the pins, and the back curve ignored. Neckline ruffles can be basted to the inside opening of the waistcoat instead. Sleeve ruffles can also be attached with basting, but make sure the stitches are not obvious on the outside.

The “Scarf”

The mystery of how to make a cravat or neck-cloth covers Regency costuming pages all over the Internet. There are three commonly suggested designs: a rectangle, a rectangle with tapered ends, and a triangle. Most sites explaining the triangle use the same wording, which is so poorly described that people have wound up with huge rectangles instead!

Suggested sizes for a rectangle are 50”-80” long by 4”-10” wide, but I found the finished length should be at least 60”, and the finished width no more than your Mr.’s neck length. Tapered ends on a rectangular shape make the tied cravat tails less bulky.

Another design uses a long, low isosceles triangle. The two short sides are 50” long, and the triangle is 10” high, with rolled hems on the cut edges. To wear, it’s rolled to a width to suit the wearer’s neck length. This is a very long cravat, but well-suited to complex tie styles or multiple wraps, as it has far less bulk at the ends.

White or off-white were the most common colours for a Regency cravat, and the only colours acceptable for a ball. Various ideas on fabric stiffness abound on the Internet: some say pliable, some suggest starch. From my experience making one cravat, if the fabric can keep a neat shape without collapsing, but not so stiff that it’s uncomfortable or won’t drape a little, it should work.

A Fabricland $1.99 remnant of light but not super-sheer white cotton at 53” wide was the source for Mr. Suze’s cravat. A 9” wide panel was cut the full width of the fabric. It was folded lengthwise and the ends tapered starting 8” back, with the tapers in opposite directions as seen in the photo. A blanket-type seam closed and bound the edges, with a 4” gap left halfway along the taper of one end. The cravat was turned inside out through this gap, pressed flat, and the opening sewn closed. The finished width was just under 4½”, as any wider made no sense with the length of Mr. Suze’s neck. Some sites suggest a rolled hem, which is better for heavier or stiffer fabric, but doubled up has a more finished appearance.tsrce cravatWith a basic tie style, this cravat is barely long enough. If I can find a longer piece of fabric, I’ll make another. This is why I suggest no shorter than 60”!

The cravat is tied over the shirt collar but inside the waistcoat collar. The easiest style is to start with the middle of the length of the cravat in front of your neck, cross over at the back and pull forward, cross one end over the other in a half knot in front and snug up, tidying edges around your neck and fluffing folds of the panel that falls down vertical in front. A simple pin can hold the front fall in place.

Tea in a Teapot has a summary from an 1818 satire on the cravat called “Neckclothitania” that appears on several other blogs as well. The complicated tie styles have been attempted by some modern costumers, with varying degrees of success. I think the author would be suitably amused that his work was taken with such a degree of seriousness!

The Art of Tying the Cravat by H. Le Blanc (post-Regency, 1828) is an interesting read via Google books (free e-book). It has additional designs for the neck-cloth knots, and the illustrations are below.plate-b-the-art-of-tying-the-cravatregency cravatYour Mr.’s cravat tie style should be no more complicated than he is comfortable with creating. A man confident in making a full Windsor on a regular basis, or who plays with knots—boat owners often are often hobbyists with knot-making—can fuss all he wants with styles from the links. For the rest, there’s no shame in simplicity.

 

 

A gentlemanly way to top off a blouse and scarf

Bicorne hat, Costume Parisien, 1819

Bicorne hat, Costume Parisien, 1819

Top hat, Costume Parisien, 1809

Top hat, Costume Parisien, 1809

Regency men wore a variety of hat styles, but a simple top hat was most common in art work. The bicorne was also popular, particularly for formal situations like a ball, and is favoured for faux-military costuming.

A top hat can be had for as little as $10 for one-size fuzz-covered plastic at a party store; $25 for a magician’s silk hat or one-size felt coachman’s hat (too tall and costumey) at Dressew; or as much as $200 and up for a vintage collapsible opera hat or actual beaver fur top hat on eBay, and you have to pay over $300 for good condition.

In vintage stores during my shopping trips, I saw two vintage felt top hats. A hat in great condition but a small size was $125, and $165 could get a hat showing a little wear but otherwise in good condition. These had superb shape compared to an inexpensive felt hat, were lined, had hat boxes, and silk hat bands.

Mr. Suze settled for a $35.99 (including shipping) wool felt hat from eBay. The sides of the pipe part are straighter than a milliner’s top hat, but its brim shape is nice, and the quality is excellent for the price. It came in small-medium-large-XL sizes, not one size fits all. It didn’t come with a hat box for that price, so it will go to Louisville in the rectangular box with Styrofoam inserts that it was shipped in. We’ve already accepted the requirement to take the giant suitcase from my set of three, which has only been used once before!

I don’t recommend magician’s collapsing satin hats. Back in May, I purchased one at Dressew as the first item for Mr. Suze’s costume, and presented it to him with an entreaty to consider a costume when he’d been resistant beforehand. The collapsible option seemed practical for travel, and the top hat looked well enough when open. However, it had a heavy metal frame inside to facilitate the collapse and easy “snap of the wrist” restoration of its shape for performance. As a result, it fit small. On my small head, it was acceptable—that is, if you don’t mind having a wire frame in your skull! But the hat perched atop Mr. Suze’s normal-sized head. It was returned the next day.

Beaver hats of the 18th and 19th century.

Beaver hats of the 18th and 19th century.

To show you the results, Millie wore one of Mr. Suze’s blazers, as her shoulders were too narrow for the shirt to hang properly. Mr. Suze is not this big around, as he fits inside the blazer, and the sleeves are also under the shirt! Similarly, Chili has a hat under the top hat.tsrce mens shirt with cravat, crystal stick pin, and top hatI sacrificed a ruby-red Swarovski crystal stick pin I’d used on my turban as it’s perfect for Mr. Suze’s cravat, and none of my other stick pins were right. It was also stunning on the turban, but I have a hat pin I’ll use instead.

Next post: Trousers, boots, and accessories for your Regency beau! Watch for it as a second post this week! YES! Double post week for the Gentleman’s Thrift Shop Regency Costume!

A Grown-Up Lady Brings Tea Cakes to a Tea Party

I tore apart all my gowns. Not all, but the ones not torn apart need to be torn apart to be Regency. My ball gown is nearly completed, and some adjustments were planned for my morning gown, but I was better with the stitch ripper than concrete finished designs when I decided it would be fun to dress up for my local JASNA’s Jane Austen Regency Tea Party last Saturday.

I quickly faked Regency. So quickly, I forgot to take photos of much of the construction for this blog! The finished product will have to do!

Suzan Lauder costume JASNA tea Sept 15My Emergency Regency gown:

A Value Village purchase, a $7.99 length of paisley-embroidered super-fine cotton  targeted to eventually become an entire gown, became a skirt by gathering one long side at the centre (back). It was left open in front as it had trim along all four edges, so this was a Regency look I desired. The petticoats skirt from my morning gown was worn under it, as other possible underskirts were coloured with no trim, and this one was white with lace trim along the bottom, again, looking quite Regency! Coloured with lace would have been pretty.

A $9.99 navy silk blouse from Value Village was hemmed to bodice-size (like making a spencer). The ruffle at the neckline was used to make puffs at the tops of the long sleeves, and a front opening was added. I sewed a rolled edge on the neckline, but it  wasn’t pretty, so some sale Venetian lace from Dressew ($0.50 per meter) was added to the neckline. I liked it enough to add more to the sleeve bottoms.

The bodice was sewn to the skirt, except at the gathers, where I pinned, as it was too heavy for my machine. Hooks and eyes were used to close the front (more about that in a later post).

I also wore a fichu (the event was 2pm-4pm, still “morning” for Regency, hence arms and chest are covered), pantalets rather than another slip (the petticoats are sheer, but it was a warm day), and got away with my black bustier due to the navy bodice. The bustier gave a much better Regency silhouette than did the Balconet bra and waist cincher I wore to the Jane Austen Tea at Starling Winery in June. My half-boots and the first Capote hat I made for the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment were also included, as was the Moorish-looking reticule and brisé fan.

I’ll have to rip the skirt apart again, but the top was planned to go with another skirt from a spaghetti strapped evening gown skirt with tons of fabric, so it got me ahead on another project. This project took about two days, much faster than assembling either of the other gowns, due to lace issues, and scissors that Mr. Suze used that now need to be sharpened, and it’s a long story.

I also made a Regency snack in that time! The 1820 cookbook I have on Google Books wasn’t too useful, so I cheated, but I’m sure this type of tea-cake is time-tested before Austen’s era. Here is the recipe:

Tea Cakes, from A New System of Domestic Cookery by A Lady (Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell), 1833

Rub fine four ounces of butter into eight ounces of flour (I interpreted this as cutting unsalted butter into all purpose flour with my pastry cutter); mix eight ounces of currants (I only had 5, but it was plenty!) and six of fine Lisbon sugar (Whoa! Schweeet! I used regular granulated sugar.), two yolks and one white of eggs (I beat them slightly first), and a spoonful of brandy (What size spoon? Muahaha! Tablespoon!). Roll the paste (I worked with my hands to mix first) the thickness of an Oliver biscuit (Who?) and cut with a wine-glass. You may beat the other white and wash over them; and either dust sugar, or not, as you like. (I like! A big pinch per cookie.)

That’s it, the whole recipe, plus my comments, of course! I guessed, and baked them at 350F for 10 minutes. I got a couple more than two dozen, which allowed for taste testing! They were a bit more browned than I’d like, but the taste and texture were very nice! In retrospect, I’d make them a bit thicker (they were the thickness of a thick cookie) and bake at 325F for 8-10 minutes.

As for the mystery of how thick to roll them, one of our gentleman Janeites brought Bath Olivers! Oliver was a doctor in Bath, and invented Oliver buns, but found his patients gained weight from eating them. He developed Oliver biscuits for weight loss. They’re like a thick, doughy water cracker, to be eaten with cheese.

Other members brought sweets like Regency-style gingerbread cake, plum cake, pound cake, custard, jam tarts with a lard-based recipe for the crust, Regency-style tiny chocolate tarts, caraway-seed cookies, and Jane Austen’s silhouette-shaped sugar cookies. We tried Regency beverages including negus, spruce beer (non-alcoholic, like root beer, and in cans, from Montreal!), ginger beer, lemonade made the way Jane Austen would have made it, and elderflower cordial. There was a savoury mixed-meatball that sounded a bit gross, some Stilton, and other Regency treats on hand, as well as modern additions of tea sandwiches, devilled eggs, and chocolate cookies. I ate a salad for dinner that night!

In addition to the clothing mentioned above, I was the only one who wore a lace cap, or as christened in an earlier post, Special Headwear for the Grown-Up Lady, which details the Regency cap and shows some pretty museum examples.

The Lace Cap, Measured in Nails

The cap pattern was from The Workwoman’s Guide, by a lady, available on Google books; it’s worth having a peruse through for all the interesting information, including cuts of meat, carpentry, and other household knowledge. Descriptions are in the text of the book, but drawings are at the end.Bonnet Diagrams from The Workwoman's GuideMy cap for the Tea in June was made from Fig. 6 through Fig. 8, Simple Dress Cap or Bonnet, since it looks like many Regency bonnets. The instructions use nails as a measurement. My head circumference in comparison to the drawings suggested 1-3/4 inches per nail. I tend to wear small hats, and I have short hair. I made a little mock-up to be sure, and the length of the back panel was reduced to remove an ugly poof and allow gathering per the original pattern.

Last week, I made another to see how big one would be if it were made using two inch nails (somehow there’s a joke in there!). Without lace ruffles at the edge, it’s big on me, so I feel two-inch nails is size large. You can see the difference below in the fit on the wig head.

Lace cap, 1.75 inch nails (size small) with lace edge trim.

Lace cap, 1.75 inch nails (size small) with lace edge trim.

Lace cap, 2 inch nails, no lace edge trim, so fits medium to large.

Lace cap, 2 inch nails, no lace edge trim, so fits medium to large.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make it easier for others, I drafted the adjusted pattern with notes, and the pdf is for anyone’s use: Simple Dress Cap or Bonnet Adapted from The Workwoman’s Guide (1840) by Author Suzan Lauder

Next post: Probably more of Mr. Suze’s costume: In addition to last week’s post, his boots, top hat, watch, and walking stick are ready to go. I have materials for trousers/breeches, shirt, cravat, and whiskers, all easy to make. We’re searching for a watch fob and he’s done! My lace issues may mean it takes longer for my gowns! Getting down to the wire for Louisville!

What quality of Regency dress do you get for $33.95?

If it weren’t for that elusive short-puffed-sleeve dress that was only a ribbon from Regency, I could have stopped shopping for a gown in February when I found my wonderful white dress for use as a morning gown.

Why did I continue for four more months? What made me keep seeking out a long gown in a pretty print, or similar in a smooth silk for a ball gown, that needed nothing more than to gather its extra fabric at the back and tie a ribbon about its empire waist? I believed in its existence, that’s why.

Several of the overview web sites listed in the “Cheat Sheet” post implied I’d find it with ease, and I was determined to! I saw many dresses that were close. Too short, too small, too much trouble removing panels of non-Regency trim, and mostly, polyester knit. Drat. Double drat.

In addition, some key accessories were found later on: my shawl was found in May, and the fan, half boots, and better ball slippers in June. I was still trying to find a better fan, a real pagoda parasol, and some better gloves to the last minute of the planned deadline of the end of June!

The quest for Mr. Suze’s outfit started in March as well, so I was searching for tailcoats, poet’s shirts, riding boots, and collared vests beginning in March. (I found three tailcoats that were perfect, except two were too large and one was too small. $35-$65.)

Some have suggested I spent far too much time shopping when I could have sewn a gown for the same cost.

My reply? Not the same gown, nor anything near as nice for $33.95, and my morning gown would take a substantial amount of time and skill to sew.

Morning dress and camisole.

Morning dress with matching belt; camisole.

The amount of time spent shopping was not that much by the time I found the white Prairie wedding dress from the ’80’s in late February. Though I started in summer 2014, I only went every three weeks or so for a couple of hours at first, and December, January, and half of February may have been three visits total, due to other commitments and vacation.

It took a while to acclimatize myself, but my early purchases were far more than a gown: the accessories alone made the time spent worthwhile, never mind ribbon, lace, no-sew tape, and items for future gowns. The the final months were not as productive, but by then, few items were remaining.

Matching waistband with Guipure lace.

Matching waistband with Guipure lace.

There is no way anyone could make a gown anywhere close to this quality for less than triple the cost. The photo above shows the generous amount of fabric in the skirt, sleeves, and integral petticoats. There’s the delicate camisole that came with the dress, and the matching belt.

Sleeve detail with lace on cuff and pin-tucks the length of arm.

Sleeve detail with lace on cuff and pin-tucks the length of arm.

Bodice with pin-tucking, lace panels, and high collar trimmed with lace.

Bodice with pin-tucking, lace panels, and high collar trimmed with lace.

 

 

A great deal of work went into pin-tucking on the bodice and sleeves, and pleats on the cuffs and lace panels on the skirt.

The sheer Swiss dot fabric is so fine, you can see the petticoat lace detail through it.

The sheer Swiss dot fabric is so fine, you can see the petticoat lace detail through it.

Petticoats of fine fabric with high-quality Guipure lace edging.

Petticoats of fine fabric with high-quality Guipure lace edging.

 

 

 

 

 

The fabric in this gown would cost $80-$120. The Swiss dot fabric is super-fine, as is the batiste petticoat: like Regency muslin. As mentioned in the previous post, the gown is cool to wear on a hot summer day with a light breeze because of the breath-ability of the delicate fabric.

 

 

 

 

Two rows of Guipure lace and fine pleats on the skirt.

Two rows of Guipure lace and fine pleats on the skirt.

 

The lace alone is worth at more than I paid for the dress: at least 8 metres of 1″ wide Guipure bridal lace on the gown and another 3m of ¼” wide scalloped Guipure lace on the bottom of the petticoats. The former would be around $8 a metre, and the latter would be $1 a meter at a discount place like Dressew.

Lace goes over bodice from front waistband to back, and forms a gathered ruffle at top of sleeve.

Lace goes over bodice from front waistband to back, and forms a gathered ruffle at top of sleeve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the costume is shown below, since you couldn’t see a few of them in the previous post.

Everything else worn at the Jane Austen tea, except knee high stockings. Photographer forgot them!

Everything else worn at the Jane Austen tea, except knee high stockings. Photographer forgot them!

Because the dress had a gathered front, it would be pre- or early Regency. I thought about modifying it, but it would require sewing.

Instead, I chose the sage shoes since they have a slightly pointy toe from the same period. To coordinate with the shoes, green ribbon was used in the trim for the pantalets and lace cap (hastily machine-sewn the morning of the event, but more on that in a later post!) and for the waist ribbon on the gown.

In conclusion, those who’ve suggested the dress was not worth it should consider that the entire costume was the cost of a simple dress with lesser-quality fabric and no lace, and petticoats would be extra. If my time prior to the purchase of this dress was split between all the items, the effort would be no more than the time to make a dress of the level of detail I purchased.

But that was not the point of the Experiment! What’s more, it would fly in the face of the guidelines I shared when we started.

My learning experience was crafted not to get the best deal on a gown, but to get the best gown I could for a good price, without making it.

The intention was to share this experience, warts and all, so others might feel empowered to wear that Regency costume they’ve dreamed about for the next Austen-related event, and to let them know they have options. We should all be able to feel pretty and pretend we’re in another time in history!

Isn’t my dress exquisite? I’m so proud to wear it!

I feel lucky to have found it, even if the ball gown proved to be difficult so far. But I’ll probably peek at the dresses every time I pop into a thrift store to see if they have a medium-sized tailcoat! You never know!