Making Regency/Empire underthings and a bonnet
Before I could start my gown project I had to make proper Empire underthings to get the right kind of figure for the gown. I already had a chemise that would work as a first layer. What I needed were the stays and a petticoat. Furthermore, I needed a bonnet to top up my outfit.
Empire underthings: the stays
I bought the Regency underthings pdf pattern by Sense & Sensibility patterns. It has a pattern for a chemise, stays and two chemisettes. They come in sizes 6 to 26D. All the cup sizes from A to D are included. Previously the size 10 has been quite good in S&S patterns so I made a crude toile in size 10 to test the pattern out. I’m normally B cup but have often noticed that the B cup sizes tend to be a bit too big. So, I went for the A cup.
Compared to my Victorian corset, the Regency stays were much simpler to make with much less structure. Basically, boning was needed in the front only to support the laces. The rest of the structure could be created by cording or quilting.
However, before adding the structure I needed the basic garment. I chose to use white cotton lawn for the lining, white cotton twill for the interfacing and white cotton shirting for the outer layer. That meant I had to sew a total of 12 gussets! This was not a very easy thing to do!
I had noticed that the instructions weren’t very clear what came to sewing smaller size gusset pieces. The instructions told me to make a slit and then make diagonal slashes to turn the seam allowances to the wrong side. However, my gusset pieces were narrower at the bottom than the space between the diagonal slashes! Luckily Jennie of the S&S patterns quickly answered my question concerning this and had just published a handy video on Instagram explaining that the diagonal slashes should be smaller in the A cup case.
After gussets were done, all three layers were finished separately and then basted together. Even though I had sewn the seams with my machine, I decided to make at least the eyelets by hand. This didn’t take very long even though I had never done this before.
I bought my 6 mm wide plastic boning at MakeBra here. 50 cm gave me enough for the four 10 cm bones. I was left with 10 cm of boning that I used to add bones to the front side of the side seams. I used my Dremel to sand out and round the ends of the bones.
In addition to the plastic boning, I added diagonal and horizontal cording that you can see in the picture above. The diagonal boning was easy to thread in. However, inserting the double cord to the horizontal channels proved tricky as the channels were closed at both ends. The suggested method of just pulling the cord through the top fabric with the help of a thick needle didn’t work for me. The fabric was simply too dense.
Finally, I threaded a strong silk buttonhole thread through the channel and used that to pull the cord through. This also meant that I could only break my thread after the cord finished the channel end which meant that the end didn’t have any annoying holes. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the starting end where the fabric ripped a bit. To cover the ugly holes, I embroidered little stars/flowers on top of the holes.
Then it was just binding the edges and doing little hand finishing at the tight corners to make the binding curve smoothly.
The resulting stays really look like Regency stays. I think that the front could be slightly smaller in width. Right now I have to pull the laces really tight for the stays to fit. However, I think that they will do their job and that’s what’s important. All in all, I can recommend this pattern for people interested in Regency or Empire look and need a proper foundation in the form of Empire Underthings.
Empire underthings: the petticoat
As I had the well fitting stays pattern, I decided to use it to make a bodiced petticoat to go under my dress. I kept the back pieces as they were, but lengthened the front pieces so that it could be gathered with a drawstring.
I found this free pattern for a regency petticoat and decided to use it to make the skirt. It is smooth at the front and is gathered at the back. I slit the back piece in half to be able to make a vent at the centre back.
With the petticoat, I did a lot of hand sewing. I finished all the bodice edges by hand and even did some of the seams in an old-fashioned way. After the first fitting, I saw that the back pieces (I had chopped the centre back piece in half.) needed a bit more length now that the bodice was over the stays. Thus, I added buttoning plackets and made two buttonholes by hand. Once more, I used real mother-of-pearl buttons to work as a closure.
I joined the bodice to the skirt with a waistband. I was expecting the waistband to need a drawstring but the waistband was so snug that there was no need for it. Finally, I just slit the back skirt piece in half and added a vent to make it possible for me to slide into the garment.
With this petticoat, my Empire underthings were finished. Sorry about the wrinkles! I decided to ditch my modern glasses for the photo shoot which meant that I couldn’t see anything. As I was looking for my shoes I accidentally dropped my neatly ironed petticoat on the floor and thread on it! And I didn’t even notice!
The Regency/Empire bonnet
I then went looking for a cheap straw hat to make the bonnet. Finally, I found a suitable one at the Recycling centre but don’t tell anyone that it is not real straw! Anyway, there are several good tutorials on how to turn a modern straw hat into a Regency/Empire/Victorian bonnet:
An very easy quide to making your own Victorian or Regency bonnet
How to make a Regency poke bonnet in ten steps
I did not follow any particular tutorial after getting the basic idea. What I did was first to remove the rim. This was very easily done as the layers of braiding that the hat was made of were joined together by a chain stitch. I only needed to make a slit at the centre back and then pull. I also removed an inch or so from the outer rim since I didn’t want my bonnet to be so big.
Then I started pinning the rim back but now in a shape that suited better for the period. I pinned the rim in place and hand-sewed the rim on. I used the cut-out strips from the rim to finish off the back neck edge of the bonnet.
Then I had to add embellishments. This was a good way to use little odds-and-ends that I had accumulated. I made a crude flower out of patterned ribbon and a bow out of some lace and used my hot glue gun to fasten them. I added white feathers from the Easter decorations that were due to be thrown away. A white fabric rose and an enamel flower had been waiting for a project for years and now I glued them on, too.
I finished the inside with white cotton lawn. The lining is basically a tube that is gathered at the crown. I glued it on to the inside of the bonnet and covered the hole in the middle with a piece of cardboard that I covered with fabric. Then I finished the bonnet by adding the pale golden ribbons.
I think I should have angled the ties a bit better since I feel that the bonnet is not properly secure when I put it on. However, I secured it to my hair with some antique hat pins I had bought a while ago.
Of course, I still am only in my underwear! Oh, the real Regency ladies would be horrified! This time I at least try to cover myself with a shawl!
Here is one final picture from the other side. You can see the finishing of the back neck edge of the bonnet here:
With all this work done with the bonnet and the Empire underthings, I still have to make the gown. The historical picnic is on Saturday and, unfortunately, it seems that the fabric I ordered for it will not arrive on time. Therefore, I am forced to go forward with my first fabric choice even though I already once ditched it as too modern. However, it’s better to have a not-so-historically-accurate gown than go in my underwear!
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I’m so grateful to see someone making this pattern with a small bust like mine 😀 I had the same problem with the gussets—I cut as marked on the pattern and ended up with a bust smaller than the underbust. I will try cutting the notches shorter for my second go at the mock-up! I will also try your method for lining my poke bonnet, which is scratchy without a lining.