I’ve been fantasizing off and on about making the twins wee little Regency style dresses. I kept talking myself out of it, but the idea kept popping back up to the surface like an old beach ball that just won’t quite sink.
I do have some white fabric in mind possibly, but my mother recently destashed a piece of somewhat vintage cotton with a lovely woven check and (don’t laugh) tiny old-fashioned selvedges. With selvedges like those, it just had to become something quasi-historical, and these aren’t the kind of colours I would wear myself. So.
Although my fantasies kept taking me over to this pattern from Virgil’s Fine Goods, in the end I went ahead and drafted my own, based on the Danish example linked in this post from the Oregon Regency Society. Partly because I was impatient but mainly I’m also cheap. Although I would love the period instructions for hand-sewing that would come with the Virgil’s pattern, which would I’m sure explain that everything I did here is wrong. But I knew I didn’t have time or inclination to fully hand-sew these dresses.
Anyway, I followed the pattern for the above dress pretty roughly, with several modifications due to the small scale and rapid growth rate of small children. I added gathering via drawstrings to both the front neck and the “waist” of the dress, for maximum adjustability.
Due to fabric limitations, I made the skirts from a single width of the vintage cotton, which in the end didn’t leave much extra gathering at the back, unfortunately. I really wish I’d had enough fabric to do at least two full-width panels for the skirts.
In theory, as the twins grow the drawstrings are loosened and the dresses keep fitting for a lot longer. If I’d had more fabric I would’ve added more length and put in some tucks for growth, too, but as it is they’re already ankle skimming on Tris. Which, I’m not really sure what the correct length for Regency children’s dresses should be—I’ve seen paintings with the dresses very long and others fairly short. Given the nature of children’s growth, I suppose some variation is inevitable anyway. I could also make drawers for underneath as they get taller.
I also made the sleeves puffy, again to accommodate future growth.
My “plan” was to have one version be as historically accurate as I can handle (meaning machine-sewn seams but everything else done by hand, and the other a quick ‘n dirty version with serged seam finish. In the end this actually doesn’t make much of a difference since the bodice seams are the least of the hand-sewing that was involved. But I did hand-overcast them in the second dress.
The most unexpectedly labor-intensive part was rolling the casing for the top drawstring. I knew I wanted to use the 1/4” stay tape for my drawstring, but I wanted to keep the casing as narrow as possible, and if I didn’t want visible machine stitching on the outside I definitely had to roll it by hand. It turned out that this was doable, but required sewing the casing with the tape already in place, and due to the narrowness, I had to check at EACH stitch that I hadn’t caught the tape with my needle. This took forever. And ever. That being said, I’m very pleased with the look it created.
I was a lot less pleased with the casing for the waist seam of the first dress, which I machine-stitched to the seam allowance since it didn’t show. I’m not sure if it was just that my casing fabric was a bit stiff, or if it was too many layers of machine stitching, but the whole seam is stiff and doesn’t gather nicely. I can’t imagine it’s too comfortable against the skin, either, but the twins are fairly stoic about their clothes for the most part, thankfully, and haven’t seemed bothered. For the second dress I used a lighter fabric for the casing, with one edge stitched to the seam allowance and the other to the bodice. This is a bit nicer feeling but does shift the gathering a little higher on the bodice—only by the 5/8” width of the casing, but when your bodice is less than 3” long that’s a fairly big shift.
The dress opens in the back and I cut the edges of the back bodice on the selvedge, and of course the skirt is the full width of the fabric again so the entire back seam was selvedge as well—yay to no finishing required, and an opportunity to show off that lovely vintage selvedge, although I have no idea if it’s actually accurate for a Regency time period. This is an easy closure for a kids’ style, but it does tend to leave a bit of a gap at the back, so I should probably make them some kind of little shifts to go underneath. Feel free to place bets on whether that actually happens.
My biggest departure from historical accuracy (other than the machine sewn seams) would probably be that I decided to put elastic in the hems of the sleeves. I considered both gathering to a band (harder to adjust) and adding drawstrings again, but I also wanted these dresses to be comfy to wear for toddlers accustomed to modern clothing, so I went with elastic. It doesn’t show and doesn’t look particularly different than a drawstring would, I think.
After all this work to make the dresses adjustable, I wound up having not quite as much fabric for the skirt length as I had hoped. While they’re long enough now, I had hoped to have a few extra inches of length to put tucks in that could be let out later. I also would’ve liked to have more fullness for the back of the skirt. But, such is life, and I think I made pretty good use of the two yards of fabric.
While they’re not as long or as full or as “historically accurate” as I might have hoped, I think they still turned out pretty cute. And Tris has actually requested to wear one instead of regular clothes at least once, so I’ll call that a major win!