Thursday, 19 February 2015

1815 Ball Gown

So, as some of you will recall, my January: Foundations entry was 1815 undergarments for a ball gown, which was to be worn on Valentines Day at a Regency ball here in Halifax. The ball was Saturday evening, and as of 4 am on Friday morning, my gown looked like this:

Promising, right?

There was some discussion on my facebook page as to whether or not I would get it done (I'm pleased to report that people seemed to have faith in me), and although I determined that I would, I knew that it would likely be without sleep. But hell if I was going to miss the only regency event before I leave Nova Scotia, especially after putting so much work into the ensemble already!

I put the bodice away at this point and got 2.5 hours of sleep before a full day of classes on Friday. I stitched much of the skirt during lectures and at singing practice, and when I got home around midnight I still had a couple of skirt seams and the cartridge pleating to do before I could even attach it to the bodice, let alone think about sleeves or a hem. Part of what was taking so long is that the sheer and fragile silk prevented me from leaving seams unfinished, even for one event.

I worked through the night along with my roommate Breeze, who was also making her gown (by machine, which was smarter - but I can't bring myself to machine sew historical stuff, especially when the fabric is nice). By about 11 am the skirt was on and both sleeves were finished and set in. We went to the mall to get flats for the event, since neither of us had period or even period-ish shoes, and hurried home as fast as we could. I put on everything and we marked my hem. By now it was about 3:00, and we had to be ready by about 4:45. I pinned the gold binding around the hem while Breeze curled my hair and put her own into a bun. Then I put the gown aside and we used just about every bobby pin in the house to do each other's hair. At 4:45 we packed everything up - just in time, because our ride was out front.

On the way to the event I stitched my hem, and the gown was finished.

It is made of a sheer white striped silk organza base, with figured stripes of gold silk cut from a larger length of silk organza as trim. It's completely hand-stitched using silk thread, with lapped seams on the bodice and felled seams on the skirt, and a cartridge-pleated CB section. There's a linen lining in the bodice for strength, and linen tape to lace it up the back.

It is worn over a cotton chemise, cotton short stays, a cotton petticoat, and a cotton drop-front undergown (see my January: Foundations post for these).

Here are some photos taken at the event by Dianne Grant:

My back hem got a little hiked up here - woops! It is actually level...

I'm so proud of Breeze's hair! And she did an awesome job on mine.
I'm wearing the gown with vintage ivory kid gloves and a lot of pearls (and we won't mention the shoes ever again). Oh - and fun silk clocked stockings (from AD) which only show when I'm dancing, or when Breeze and I are being silly.

The evening was wonderful! In the 72 hours before the event, I spent only 2.5 hours sleeping, but somehow I had energy to dance and enjoyed myself very much. The excellent food, researched and made by some wonderful NSCC (I think?) students, perked me up a bit too.

The Regency skirt-hike, or "wedgie pose"
Here are some close-ups of the gown fabric, and of the eyelets in back (which are covered by trim but which are all nicely bound in silk thread and deserve a photo).

Okay so I don't actually have any close-ups. But they exist! And they're tiny and even! =P
At the end of the night, it took about 10 minutes to extricate all the bobby pins from each other's hair, and no wonder:

I will leave you with this stunningly elegant piece of admirable decorum, in the form of a selfie taken at the ball:

We would do so well in the Regency.

And now I'm working on my entry for February's challenge, "Blue," which is a new 1860s corset! Updates on that soon; I'm still in the fiddling-with-the-pattern stage.


  1. What a beautiful dress and such clever use of that gold figured organza for trim! Looks like it was wonderful event, we need more of these in the Kingston, ON region!

    1. Thank you very much! You know about the Queen Charlotte Ball in Toronto every January, right? It always happens just after I leave the city for school, but I'm told it's great. =)