Guts: 1790s Wrap-Front Gown Details

I was very bad throughout the construction of the voile roundgown, and didn’t take nearly enough photos nor update this blog on the gown’s construction. My excuse is that I was so embroiled in The Battle of the Machine Tension that sewing any small part of the gown was so exhausting that I would collapse in a heap afterwards, thus no blogdates…but that’s pretty lame.

At any rate, here are some photos of how this thing works, as promised.

The Kyoto Costume Institute book calls these late 1790s dresses “roundgowns,” because they closed completely in front and did not use stomachers nor petticoats. The other main feature is the rising waistline, inching its way up towards the bust rather quickly in the last years of this decade. The first versions of this style show the waistlines somewhere between natural waist and empire waist, with usually a cord or a sash tied around. I imagine that eventually women got tired of being in-between, and the waist was raised all the way to the signature empire waist of the Regency Era.

For the sake of costuming versatility, and to keep my bustline neatly under the crosspieces of the Open Robe, I chose to raise the waist completely up. I maintained the cross-front style popular in the 1790s, and went for the deep v-neck with the gathered bustcups, wearing the gown over Regency stays (non-transitional) with an attached petticoat: a conglomeration that might drive historical sticklers mad, but in the end it all came out rather charming and able to be worn as both 1790s and Regency by simply changing the accessories and hair.

I used bits and pieces of commercial patterns, blended together, as well as making other parts of it up. The bodice back is from the Simplicity Regency dress pattern; the bodice front from a modern dress pattern also from Simplicity. The bodice is lined in lightweight muslin, the bust cups shaped with darts instead of gathers.

When the gathered voile skirt was stitched to the bodice, I decided not to fold under the lining edge to cover the raw seam allowances. The turned-up gathers would have been visible from the outside of the gown, through the voile. Instead, I sewed the bodice layers as one, and ended up with raw edges completely inside. Those edges were trimmed and hand rolled upwards, then covered with a piece of bias tape.

The armscyes were also hand-finished, with both bodice layers and sleeve seam allowances double-turned and whip-stitched on the inside. The cap sleeve is unlined.

The skirt of the gown is unlined voile. Originally it was gathered all around, but as that was unflattering, I pulled the front pieces straight again, from the sideseams. Like a fool, I cut off the excess, only to realize that now there was no “cross” to my cross-front gown, and so I sewed those pieces back on. This created two vertical seams in the front of the dress that are not ideal, but not so very bad. I will know for next time!

The gown closes like so:

The right side laps across the body, closing at a button sewn to the sideseam. The crossing piece has a reinforced buttonhole made from a small bit of bias tape.

The left side laps over the front of the body. This piece has a button sewn on the inside. It attaches to a buttonhole at the sideseam of the gown. This buttonhole is stitched into a small piece of bias tape, and the bias tape is sewn to the bodice on the sides and top, leaving the bottom edge open.

The inside button on the cross-over piece is passed threw the buttonhole flap from the top, and allows for a hidden closure.

Why did I use buttons? In my sewing experience, I have found buttons to be the most secure of closures. The other best option was hooks & bars, but often they are dark in color (would show through voile), heavy in weight, and can come unclipped if constant tension is not kept. The buttons I used were small, very flat, lightweight, and clear in color. Period? Not so much, but FUNCTIONAL!

You’ve already seen the photos from Le Societe’s de PiqueNiques Picnic event (click here if you haven’t!), so you saw the gown worn under the yellow linen robe, accessories being a huge head of hair and picture hat. I wore the gown again the next weekend, to Gaskells, and brought it forward in years by tying a long gold ribbon around the bustline (secured by a number of thread-loops), and dressing my own natural hair in a Regency style, with a scarf tied around it. Voile, instant decade-hopping!


  • Lauren

    June 24, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    Very nice! I love the detail shots. I really should do dress diaries, but I always forget to take construction shots. Sigh…. Maybe someday I will take the time to do so.

  • Lauren Stowell

    June 25, 2009 at 2:27 AM

    Hahaha, thanks Leimomi 🙂

    Hey Lauren! Yeah, dress diaries are a bit hard to start on. I like to think of them, and the blog, as helping other costumers to figure things out, since I'm always surfing dress blogs to see what others have done and how they've done it. Still, it IS hard to stop yourself, fetch the camera, snap the photo, upload, resize, write about, and post…hrm…makes me think I have too much time on my hands, LOL

  • M'lady

    December 30, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    Oooh, a regency crossover front dress. I keep looking these up. Trying to adapt the crossover half robe in patterns of fashion (page 44) so its longer….which is a little scary for a novice clothesmaker-lots of erm…trial and error. (I have nightmares its gonna come undone!?!) Maybe I will use a button then add a sash over the top.

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