For a long time, I have adored Mr. Darcy and the characters from Jane Austen’s novels. As a fashion obsessed history nerd, I have also fallen in love with the fashion of their time.
The reason for my learning to sew was that I, too, wanted to wear the beautiful clothes I saw in pictures and films. Because medieval clothes did not require advanced sewing skills, I started there. Then I went on to Regency fashion, using “Reconstructing History” patterns. As an impatient, penniless student, I chose to sew my Regency underwear out of old bedsheets, on the machine. In the corset I used plastic boning. Recently, I improved the chemise and corset.
The white muslin dress is the only part of the costume that I have bought fabric for. It is mostly hand sewn. In the hopes of making it my passport to a formal historic tailoring education, I made an effort to show my abilities, with correct materials, precise pleats and invisible stitches. As I lacked experience within all other fields of tailoring, I was not accepted. I have enjoyed my dress at picnics though, feeling beautiful, but awfully cold. Two years ago, I made removable sleeves for it and a matching bonnet, out of an old sun hat and fabric leftovers.
Last year I made a Regency outfit for my husband. I used both bought and homemade patterns to finally achieve a costume that comprised of a cotton shirt with cravat, fall front knee breeches in moleskin, a satin waist coat and a woolen frock coat. The shoes, stockings and hat were bought. Researching men’s clothing awoke cravings for outdoor clothes for me, so after completing Christian’s outfit, I decided to set for a spencer and hat. I used the green velvet from our old sofa!
Regency fashion reflects contemporary events. The French Revolution got rid of the “suppressors’” fashion and a new style was born. The Napoleonic war inspired military decorations. I suppose the popularity of the second Earl of Spencer explains why the accidentally-created spencer became the fashion. My outdoor clothes are good representations for my thesis; both the hat and the spencer are feminized (and of course) “unpracticalized” uniform pieces. The spencer is completely hand sewn. It closes with hooks and eyes, and a drawstring at the waist. I almost went mad when trying to attach the ribbon to the deep nap of the velvet, which continually pushed the ribbon in the wrong direction. The inside of the spencer is lined with cotton leftovers. The hat gets its structure from cardboard from old notebooks. The pieces are hand sewn and glued together.
I have not made exact copies of historical pieces, but translated my favourite things from the Regency era to what might pass for contemporary and what suits me and my purse (and after I saw Vanity Fair, I could not refuse the stylish hat, even though it should go with the trainless dresses that came later). The outside is always prioritized before the inside, where I cheat as I like when I sew for myself. This is a philosophy that actually seems to have been practiced even then. My primary aim, though, has always been to create something that I would want to wear, and I succeeded!
More in Susanna's dress diary