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Fancy Fabrics Challenge 2014

The Hand-Sewn Silk Regency Ballgown

Outside the Assembly Rooms in Bath, England, where Jane Austen actually danced!

As soon as I found out I was going to be in England for the Jane Austen Festival’s Grand Ball, my immediate thought was, “Oh, I have to make the most elaborate gown I have ever made!”  And after at least 50 hours of hand sewing (this dress did not come within a foot of my sewing machine), I think it’s safe to say I succeeded!  😉 This pink silk ball gown was made entirely by hand, including all the bodice smocking, ribbon flowers, ruffled ribbon, and pearl decor.  Every single item was stitched and attached by hand, and the interior is almost as nice as the outside – all French seamed when possible, or bound by silk bias binding when not possible.

I designed the pattern myself, as I’d sewn oodles of Regency dresses in the past and knew what to expect in a pattern.  I drew from a number of period fashion plates for inspiration, though the final design is entirely my own work.  

The bodice is undoubtedly the most intricate part of the gown.  It is tucked/smocked in the bodice, and has similar smocking on the sleeves.  In the “diamond” of each smocking pattern I stitched a tiny ivory pearl, and at the edge of the sleeves I added the most dainty English netting lace you’ve ever seen.  So dreamy!  

The ribbon rosettes at the neckline were made from double-faced satin ribbon, and making all the flowers alone took several hours by hand. You will see the rosettes repeated near the hemline, spaced evenly between the scallops of the lace overlay and the scallops of the gathered ivory ribbon trim.

The skirt is full and overlaid with a delicate ivory lace, though the overlay is split at the center back to reveal the pink silk underneath.  This gave it a lovely effect when dancing!  The wide peach ribbon at the empire waistline ties in a big bow in back, right beneath the gold and “pearl” cameo buttons.  

At the very bottom of the hem is the tiniest Venice lace edging you’ve ever seen, stitched with almost invisible stitches to the silk hem.

All in all, this gown was an utter dream once it was finished, and I just hoped it would be as wonderful to dance in as it had been to sew!

When the night of the Grand Regency Ball arrived in Bath, England, I took a horse-drawn carriage through the historic town streets to the Assembly Rooms wherein Jane Austen actually danced in the early 1800s!  While many ladies wore stunning dresses, I have to say (totally in humility!) that my gown was definitely the most detailed dress there.  I had a number of people tell me that I had the best gown in the room.  While I won’t go that far, I will at least say this – every single hour of sewing late at night for months leading up to the event was completely worth it!  All the blistered fingers, tired eyes, and seemingly endless hours all were forgotten when I was twirling away in the ballroom under the crystal chandeliers, dancing to the music of Jane Austen’s day in a too good to be true evening.

I hope you all enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed sewing it!  For more details on the gown, you can read my blog post here: http://www.edelweisspatterns.com/blog/?p=4310

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  1. NinaLBoston | | #1

    A most beautiful creation!
    I can only imagine what fun it was to pick out all the different fabrics, trims, etc. that went into this beautiful gown. Thanks for the link to your blog with the video. In the photos, the skirt does not look very full -- maybe it's the Empire waist, or your long legs. But I can see from the video that your movements were certainly not hampered by the skirt's cut.
    After having recently read "Persuasion," I appreciate all the details that went into making this an exceptional period gown.

  2. User avater
    pattylynn50 | | #2

    We call clothing from yesteryear "historical period costumes". Made for fun, enjoyment and imagination from a time when ladies' dresses were more romantically inclined. Now imagine if you WERE in that time; the patience needed, the skills required to master such intricate and delicate hand sewing techniques, frills and embellishments using just an idea in your head - no mass produced patterns, no specified darts, no professionally made sewing tools and in most cases, JUST ENOUGH FABRIC (not being able to afford extra in case mistakes are made). A young lady needing a modest yet fashionable gown to present herself at the ball in hopes her gown stood out among the rest..

    It amazes me to see the intricate details that has done in order to re-create this gown and especially to read the maker CHOSE to hand sew the silk fabric. This Regency Ballgown is perfection and truly deserving of winning. Good luck!

  3. KatrinaAriana | | #3

    Thank you so much for your kind words, Ladies! I really appreciate it! It was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime project, and while it took so much time it was definitely worth it.

    Nina, I'm glad you watched the video! Well, I don't have long legs (I'm a whopping 5 ft. 3 inches), but the skirt is much fuller in the back than it is in the front. While there are no gathers at the front of the skirt, there is a lot of fullness in the back that is covered up by the lace overlay. Regency gowns were typically very narrow in comparison with other eras around that time, so it's not the "pouffy skirt" that one might imagine in a mid-Victorian gown or later into the 1800s. :)

    Thanks again so much for the comments! :)

    Happy sewing,
    Katrina

  4. User avater
    shaunpollock | | #4

    this is fantastic

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