Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bib-front shawl dress & Jane Austen Ball!

My mum and I dressed up for the Jane Austen Ball!

When I was living in Glasgow, my friend and flat-mate Rachel put up some lovely curtains in our living-room. From the first moment I saw them I thought to myself that they would make a lovely Regency-era dress. I eventually told her that I was secretly coveting them, and she very graciously gave them to me.

In the early 1800s there was a popular dress made out of shawls. I did not have many paisley shawls, but I thought these curtains would be a lovely approximation.

I also realised that many of these dresses seemed to have a v-neck bodice. I had recently completed a cross-over gown that had a sort-of wrap-around opening. I didn't want the same effect for this dress, so I thought I'd attempt a bib front/ drop front gown.

A shawl dress from the 1810s

A look at a bib-front dress. It conceals a front- opening dress

A fashion-plate of a shawl dress, 1812

I'm not positive if this is a bib-front dress, but it has that look about it. 

A portrait of a woman in a lovely shawl dress.

Another lovely example.

Another extant gown from 1800-1810

The Glasgow Uni Library had the famous "Patterns of Fashion" books by Janet Arnold, and I checked them out, as she had the pattern for a bib-front dress in one of them. I didn't have much practice at scaling up patterns, but I thought I'd give it a try. 

It was very difficult, and I ended up combining my attempted scale-up with my cross-over gown pattern from Sense & Sensibility, which, though not the most historically accurate, are good patterns for beginners. 

Bib-front dress from one of the "Patterns of Fashion" books by Janet Arnold.
The back of my dress

A close-up of the pleats in the back - all done by hand. 

Though I began the dress in Glasgow, it has taken me a very long time to complete it. When I was invited to a Jane Austen Valentine's ball, I thought it would be the perfect incentive for me to finish this dress! At the very end I did resort to a bit of machine sewing, though most of it was done by hand.

The more I reflect on my dress, the more I realise my own dress-making limitations. It did not turn out as I was envisioning it, and it does not fit at all properly! I think I must save up for a good dress-form, or try to make one with some expert or at least informed help. It was very difficult to try to fit it to myself, and to pause in my sewing and put on my stays and try to pin things. So I feel as though the dress is not a true success, but perhaps I can work on it and fit it better to my own figure and to the fashion of the period.

The difficulties of my dress notwithstanding, my mother and I had a wonderful time at the Jane Austen Ball! My mother wore a lovely early 1800s dress that my sister Heather had made several years before. And I also won a prize for the best costume, so I suppose the dress can't have been too bad!

With my mum. I'm so glad she was able to come to the ball with me! My niece Lexi fixed her hair -and she did a perfect job!

After winning my prize. Notice my green shoes? The colour may not have entirely suited my dress, but I bought them especially to go with any late 18th century, early 19th century dresses I might make myself. 

Extant shoes from the 1790-1810 period.

My shoes, which I think are a pretty good modern interpretation.

With my prize. 
Another highlight of the evening was one that we danced the same dance as the famous Netherfield Ball dance which is in the 1995 film version of "Pride & Prejudice". I've always loved that tune, and it is a lovely dance as well. I was even asked by a fellow to dance it, so that was quite thrilling!

Waiting for the dance.
I'm very grateful to my mum for getting these action shots!


  1. Great post! What a fun event!! And even though you had difficulties with your dress, it still looks fabulous--and much more authentic than anything else in those pictures :)

  2. Oh heavens! What gorgeous fabric! I didn't realize it had that pattern on the bottom. I think you did a wonderful job and good for you for trying the scaling up of a pattern - so daunting! I think you look great and I'm so glad you had a good time!

  3. You DID do a marvelous job, Mairi. Thanks for the other examples in this post. It was a thrill to see so many beautiful women! Dressed and moving as true women ought to -- and the men were just as lovely. Thanks for talking me into coming; it was a highlight event, was it not?