Marti’s State Fair Regency Dress

Hello, Mr. Darcy.

This was the first year I have ever entered anything in the Minnesota State Fair.  I wound up entering rather late (I decided on the plan 3 weeks before the entry was due) and to my great surprise and excitement, I placed first in Historical Recreation.  The night before the  results were announced I had dreamed that someone had spilled spaghetti sauce all over the dress and it had been disqualified and a pair of reproduction bell bottoms had won.  Waking up to discover that I had won was actually a bit of a relief, lol.

This dress is by no means perfect.  Nothing made in 3 weeks is.  I chose Regency for a number of reasons.  The hat had been made over a year before in a hat class I took at Rose Mille in Stillwater.  Everyone else in the class made summer hats and I made a bonnet lined in silk.  I gave the hat to my friend Marti as a present, and we found her fabric for a Regency gown to complete the look.  And then the fabric sat there in my sewing room for a year.  Since I already had most of the fabric for the dress, it seemed like a good idea to finish this outfit.

I thought Regency would be easy to make and would be interesting, as I had never made a Regency gown before.  Easy?  Not exactly.  Since I had never actually seen a Regency gown before I really had no idea what I was doing, and the inner workings of the dress mystified me for a bit.  Also, setting in the sleeves was a real challenge considering how different the armhole openings are.  They were ripped out several times.

I used several different patterns.  The main two companies whose patterns were used were:

1.  La Mode Bagatelle

2.  Sense and Sensibility.

There were no requirements to use historical methods of sewing for the garments, so I constructed the outfit using my sewing machine and serger.  I serged all seams because linen is a massive PITA and tends to fray easily, velvet pills, and I was just not up to binding every seam, or doing French seams everywhere.

I based my documentation (which was apparently more lengthy than anyone else’s – I blame Masquerade documentation for that) outline on Twila’s tennis dress documentation.  Having something to view that someone else had done was INCREDIBLY helpful.  I can’t thank her enough.

I am going to post photos of the various parts of the garment, and include my documentation commentary for each below.  The garment itself was modeled after various portraits and fashion plates I had seen from roughly 1810.  There are links at the bottom listing where I got the various information I used in making the garments.  Note:  the model in the photos below is not the owner of the garment, and thus the garments are slightly big on her.

Straw hat made by hand using modern and vintage materials.

The hat was made completely by hand after bonnets seen in various museum collections. The “poke bonnet” was not yet in style, and this was a transitional style that bridged the turbans and loose “muffin” style hats of the 1790’s and the more rigid hats of the 1820’s.

The hat was made of a straw capeline and stretched over a wooden hat form and molded into shape. The back lower section was cut off and wire was stitched to the brim and the back flat circular section of the hat. Pink silk was hand-pleated and sewn into the underside of the brim, and a piece of vintage ribbon was used to bind the raw edge. Another vintage grosgrain ribbon was used on the inside to hold the inner portion of the hat to the correct size.

Vintage ribbon was then hand pleated and stitched along the inner edge of the outside of the hat, and vintage flowers were attached along the top. Long ribbons were sewn on at ear level to be able to tie the hat under the chin, and feathers and a bow were added for additional visual interest. All of the items used were typical of the period, and the overall effect was inspired by fashion plates of the time.

The hat has a tendency to buckle and curve outward due to it’s original shape being rounded. A quick ironing of the brim usually flattens it out again, but it is usually stored in a hat box for this reason.

Chemise and short stays.

The chemise was made using the Sense and Sensibility “Regency Underthings” pattern. It is made of a sheer cotton batiste fabric that was very common for both undergarments and gowns during the Regency period. It was constructed using gussets under the arms for ease of movement, and with a drawstring neckline so that it could be adjusted to fit under gowns with varying necklines.

I hand-sewed on a piece of vintage crocheted lace on the neckline, and this is historically accurate for the time period.

Although split-drawers were just starting to come into fashion at this time, I elected not to make a pair for this outfit as they are difficult to display on mannequins.

Short stays front.

The short stays/corset were also made using the Sense and Sensibility “Regency Underthings” pattern. I chose to go with a shorter version of stays because the owner of this garment is fairly thin and not very busty, and she did not need the support in the stomach area that the longer stays provide.  The stays almost look a bit like a modern sports bra, and were a transitional style in between the 18th century heavily boned stays and the curved body of the Victorian corset.

Back view of the Short Stays.

The stays are constructed of a densely woven cotton twill that is meant to mimic the herringbone pattern of “coutil” which is the cloth that most stays of the time were made of. Since all but two manufacturers in the world of coutil have gone out of business, I went with a suitable alternative. The stays are bound in double fold bias tape and have inserts on both sides that act as cups for the breasts.

The shoulder straps on the stays are meant to sit on the outside edge of the shoulders (the model in these photos has narrower shoulders than the owner), and the back of the stays are lower to accommodate the various necklines of the era.

I ironed on the inside of the cups a bit of fusible batting for comfort. I also used metal industrial grommets to lace the front rather than the period appropriate hand-bound eyelets as this garment will also need to stand up to repeated washings and the owner requested the grommets.

The stays are very comfortable and supportive.  

Bodiced petticoat, front.

The bodiced petticoat was made using La Mode Bagatelle’s pattern. It was listed on several websites of pattern reviews as being very supportive and comfortable. Some people in the reviews stated that they dispense with stays all together and only wear this garment under their gowns. Typically the gown is then closed in the back with buttons and a draw-string to increase the support.

Back of bodiced petticoat.

This petticoat is made of a lightweight cotton sateen fabric that has had tucks taken in the bottom so as to give more volume to the bottom of the dress. The top of the petticoat has a bodice piece that is bound in double sided bias tape and which sits farther out on the shoulders than the corset, and which is meant to sit very low in the front of the chest. (The model in the photos has a narrower ribcage and shoulders than the owner, and as such the bodice looks puckered. When it is on the person it was made for it sits smoothly and taut against the body.)

The petticoat ties in the back with one inside tie and two outside ties for ease of adjustment. The petticoat itself is typical of the time period in terms of shape. Towards the end of the Regency period the bodice portion of the petticoat disappears and is replaced with simple shoulder straps.

Drawstring overgown.

The drawstring overgown was made using Sense and Sensibility’s “Regency Gown” pattern which rather specifically features 1810 styling. I chose to go with a drawstring gown (which would soon fall out of fashion in favor of flat front styles) because it is adjustable.  

Back view of drawstring overgown.

The gown is made of a lightweight pink linen fabric and is lined in linen in the bodice area. The skirt portion is unlined, which was also typical of the time period. Many day gowns of the time were made of very sheer cotton muslin, and were not very warm. Because I wanted this to be able to be worn year round, I went with a heavier fabric.

The inner front lining of the bodice is two pieces which fold over each other tightly and are pinned in place. The neckline and front waist are then adjustable via drawstrings. I used ribbon for my drawstrings because the linen did not slide as smoothly through the channels.  

Smocked hem.

It was very common to see some sort of adornment along the hems of these gowns. More commonly you see embroidery and bead work, but smocking was also seen. I stitched a style of smocking called “honeycomb smocking” which is done from the front of the fabric, versus lattice and other forms of smocking that are done from the back. You often see honeycomb smocking on heirloom sewing items.

I sewed pink and green pearls on the intersections of the smocking. Pearls were used as decoration during the Regency Era, and extant garments exist with pearls and beads of many different colors. The smocking is bordered by a green and pink patterned ribbon that is Turkish in style, and Turkish (and Indian) designs were very popular during the Regency Era.

Back and sleeve detail.

The sleeves of the gown were modeled after a sleeve that I saw on an extant garment. There are piped bands that attach at the shoulder and on the cuff with gathered fabric underneath that forms a puff. Since the bodice of the gowns were typically bare and simplistic, people would create elaborate sleeves.  Sleeves were usually fairly form fitting, and these fit the owner far better than the model.

Front view.

The back of the bodice is typical in the lowered back shoulder seams and sleeves that are set closer into the center of the body. When the garment is worn on the owner (who has broader shoulders) the back seam is set higher than in these photos.  Within 10 years of the end of the Regency Era, fashion would change to move those shoulder seams up, and the sleeve seams out, reaching a closer approximation of what we consider to be traditional modern seam placement. The skirt is gathered in back at the waist between the seams to give a “trained” effect to or lengthier skirt.

Spencer Jacket front.

The Spencer Jacket was originally a man’s jacket named after the 2nd Earl Spencer, Charles. It was a military style with the tails cut off. In the 1790s it became fashionable for women to wear it, and it became the most common jacket worn by women in the early part of the Regency Era. A longer version of the jacket, the Pelisse was more commonly worn toward the end of the Regency Era.

The jacket was commonly made of wool or velvet, and I have chosen a sage green cotton velvet for mine, and it is lined in cotton for breath-ability.

Back side view of the jacket.


I used the La Mode Bagatelle Spencer Jacket pattern to make mine.

It features the traditional styling of the long sleeve with full sleeve head and more narrow cuff, “princess” style seam along the bust and set-back shoulder seams and inset back sleeve seams towards the center back. It also features the belt at the bottom which never functioned as a belt, and simply functioned as a waistband.

Whole ensemble.

I based my design off of an extant jacket that featured a stand-up collar and high-set lapels. I have piped the jacket in the pink linen, and there are bits of the ribbon on the lapels that match that of the smocked trim on the overgown.  The next time I make this jacket I will add more interfacing to the collar, as it did not stand up very well with the interlining I used.

There are caps on the top of the sleeve that mimic the points on the smocking of the overgown and which feature small gold buttons that are similar to others of the time period. The same buttons are featured on the lapels. The caps are linen in the pink linen and also piped. They are pleated into the shoulders. The cuffs of the sleeves also feature the same Turkish style ribbon.

Showing some ankle. Racy!


The jacket closes in front with two clasps with pearls sewn over the openings where they are attached to the jacket. The waistband closes with a snap. Usually such openings closed with hooks and eyes, but the owner of the jacket requested a snap instead.

If a lady got cold wearing an open front Spencer such as this one she could put on a “chemisette” which was a Regency version of a dickie, and this would give more cover to the neckline.  

Beaded reticule.

The reticule (or bag/purse) was made using scraps leftover from the pink gown and the Spencer Jacket. It is piped along the outside edge and has a channel sewn in the top to allow the ribbon to close the top. There are 4 pink tassels along the outside points, which was a common decoration in the Regency Era.

The reticule was made using the La Mode Bagatelle pattern, but reticules of this shape were very common and there are many extant examples available on the Internet.

I chose to embellish the bag with tambour embroidery and hand-beading, something which was starting to become popular and fashionable in the early 1800’s. I used a design I found in a beading book that was based off of an extant reticule from 1808.  

Ms. Bennett has had a bit too much communal wine.

In my documentation for the entry I included detailed instructions (with photos) on how to dress the mannequin with the clothing.  Also, I included a mannequin (pre-dressed, although they do undress portions of it to see various pieces) on which to display the garments.  If you are ever going to have one of your garments displayed anywhere, bring along your own mannequin if possible, or dress the available mannequin yourself.  It makes the garments fit better and display better.  There is nothing sadder than seeing your beautiful bustle dress on display looking droopy because someone who did not know what they were doing dressed a mannequin with your fabulous garment.

I really enjoyed the process of competing and would love to try again next year, in a different era.  I am thinking of entering my Eleonora, particularly if I make it all by hand.

I am also looking forward to making myself a Regency outfit.  I have some lovely chocolate brown duchesse satin silk that is crying out for some tambour embroidery….

Ms. Bennett rocks it out. As one does.

Links and Resources used for documentation (besides the lovely Twila’s examples):


Sense and Sensibility:

La Mode Bagatelle:

Information on the Regency Era:

Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion:

The Regency Fashion Page:

Vintage Textile:


18th Century Resources:

Jane Austen Info Page:


Greater Bay Area’s Costumers’ Guild Great Pattern Review:

Martha Pullen Heirloom Sewing:

Honeycomb Smocking Tutorial:


Abigail Snelling:

Hedgehog Handworks (tambour):

Thistle Threads (tambour and bead work):

The Dress in the case at the Minnesota State Fair with the blue ribbon.

6 thoughts on “Marti’s State Fair Regency Dress

  1. Annabel Mallia says:

    Just came across this entry. Have you made any other Regency garments? I have never sewed before and, strangely enough, bought La Mode Bagatelle and Sense and Sensibility patterns as you did. Any advice for a big-chested lady who’s not really Regency shaped? I hope drawstring is not too hard and suits me. So hard to tell.

    • Laura says:

      I have not made Regency before this particular dress. In making an outfit for myself I have been looking at doing the cross-front bodice, as I think it looks more flattering on a larger bust. However, that is only my personal opinion. Good luck! Check Jessamyn’s Regency page. She has lots of good information!

  2. Joan Coleman says:

    I am so excited to find your site. Congratulations on your ribbon.
    I am from Bay St. Louis, MS and we are going to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of a naval battle on December 13, 2014 against the British. Your outfit is exactly what I want to wear. Thank you for all the references and pattern locations.

  3. lcriding says:

    I found your blog as I’m looking to make a bonnet to go with a dress (that my mother originally made for herself). The town I live in is celebrating it’s 200th anniversary soon and we are encouraged to dress in period costume. Anyway I am extremely impressed at the attention to detail you have put in this gorgeous outfit. It’s no wonder you won first prize – you certainly deserve it.

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