Jane Austen Picnic

A very late post about the Jane Austen Picnic we held in Armidale last October. It was a first event to bring together people interested in costuming in the region, and there was a fair amount of interest on Facebook, but unfortunately the weather was cool and threatening rain that weekend. However, about 35 keen souls ventured to Central Park despite the clouds, and we did have a good time!

We were delighted that my friend Fiona, an accomplished musician, brought two of her musical friends to entertain us with music while we enjoyed our picnic lunch.

The rain held off long enough for us to enjoy a short promenade around the park and a picnic lunch. As the first rain drops fell, we retreated to a nearby community room where we engaged in tea duelling – directed by our Steampunk friends, Kat and Pete – and dancing.

All in all, a lovely day despite the weather, a chance to spend time with old friends and new ones, and a perfect way for me to celebrate my birthday eve! It was especially lovely for me that Lauren and Jeremy made the long journey for the weekend.

Three ladies in Jane Austen and Victorian costume chatting in a park.

Exchanging the latest ‘on dits’

Group of ladies and a few gents in Regency costumes promenading in a park.

A promenade in the park

Rear view of a group of people in costume promenading in a park.

Following the graceful promenade in the park.

A group of people in historical and steam punk costume on the steps of a rotunda in a park.

The group portrait in the Victorian Rotunda

A close-up of a woman in a white Regency dress playing a harp

Lissa, one of the musicians who generously came along and entertained us with beautiful music.

people in costume eating at an elegantly-set picnic table in a park

Our elegant picnic table

Kat and Pete in Steampunk costume directing Angie and Richard in Regency costume in tea duelling at an elegantly set table

The serious art of Tea Duelling

A group of eight people in Regency costume dancing inside

Dancing in our wet-weather venue

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Corset/Stays Making Day

I’m organising a Corset/Stays Making Day for our new local costume group, on Saturday 28th October. (See the Facebook event for more details. Download the ‘What to bring‘ guide.)

Corsets or stays are the critical underpinnings of women’s historical and steampunk costume – but are very difficult to fit when you’re working at home alone without assistance! (As I have found multiple times in recent years…)

This won’t be a formal workshop, but the day is intended to get a good start on fitting and making a corset or pair of stays for each participant’s chosen historical era. We’ll work together and share experience and ideas and help each other with fitting mock-ups and cutting and sewing corset pieces.

I’ll be taking along my patterns and books, and my own stays-in-progress. As well as helping others, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to borrow another pair of hands and eyes to help fit mine!

This may only be the first of these sessions, as several of our group can’t make it that day, and others may need more than one day’s assistance to finish their corsets. (Plus, there are three stays/corsets I want to make from different eras!)

I collected several photos of extant stays for the Facebook event header. These are great inspiration – although I doubt that any of mine will end up looking so beautiful!

Three extant corsets



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Muslin round gown and open robe

I cut out the muslin gown months ago, but ran out of time to finish it before JAFA in April. I’ve used the same adaptation of the Sense and Sensibility drawstring dress that I summarised here, and which I also used for my handsewn blockprint day dress. However, I did make the sleeves shorter this time, and perhaps it’s that, or the white muslin that changes the look, but this is my favourite of the dresses I’ve made.

Muslin Gown Front

I did cheat and machine sew skirt seams and other hidden seams, but all visible stitching is done by hand.

I also made an open robe to go over the dress. The fabric is a quilting cotton, with a geometric print which may not be entirely historically accurate, but is in the general spirit of the times. As with my earlier open robe, I adapted the Sense and Sensibility pattern, basing the bodice front around the bodice lining piece, but adding a little width to the upper sides, and cutting it lower at the bust. I used the 3/4 sleeve pattern, cut a little bigger as usual (as the pattern is tight in the upper arm otherwise).
Pattern pieces laid out

Lauren came up to visit for the weekend of our Jane Austen Picnic, and we had Saturday together for sewing and photographing before the Sunday event.
Crimson print open robe over white muslin gown  Back view of crimson printed open robe


Lauren and Bron in Regency dresses

We had a bit of fun with photos, taking a stroll around the (very dry) paddock! Lauren is wearing her muslin gown, with a front-closing bodice and apron-front skirt. (She may blog about it one day, but she’s currently flat out and shortly going to head overseas for 6 weeks, so it may be a while!)

I’m very happy with the dress and open robe, and particularly the dress. The open robe isn’t especially historically accurate, as the skirt comes around more than most of them did, but it’s in the spirit of the times and looks a little more flattering on my short, round shape. Although I’m interested in historical accuracy, the events I attend aren’t reenactments, so I can lean a little more towards personal preference.

I’ll post about our picnic soon. And now that this outfit is done, my next project will be another go at stays – one day I’ll get great stays that really work for me!

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JAFA 2017 – finally!

We went. We had a great, flat-out, full-on time. We didn’t take many photos – and yes, it’s taken me almost 6 months to blog about it!

Life just gets in the way of costuming . . . and it may surprise no-one that I didn’t get all the things finished in time for JAFA that I mentioned in my previous post. Oh, well . . . there’s always 2018!

So, here are a few photos.

At the fashion parade on the Friday night, I wore my somewhat rushed, trial version of a  1797 fashion plate (I’ll blog about it in full when I’ve made a better version.) Lauren wore her yellow muslin dress with a stunning velvet spencer with sleeve details and piping.

Bron in a recreation of a 1797 fashion plate

Photo courtesy of Steven Shaw

Lauren, fashion parade, JAFA 2017

Photo courtesy of Steven Shaw

Here we are together:

At the ball on Saturday night, Lauren wore her mauve satin bib-front gown, and because I didn’t get the opera gown I’d hoped to make done, I wore my white muslin dress and blue open robe from 2016 again. We’re photographed here with Lauren’s dashing partner, J (who has totally got his Mr Darcy look perfected!) and J’s sister.

Photo courtesy of Steven Shaw

And yes, my aprons were very handy . . . because every Baroness should wear an apron with her tiara!

At the picnic, Lauren wore her new spotted dress, with a brown and cream satin bonnet. There was a great photo somewhere of her and J leading the promenade, but I can’t find it.

And here’s a lovely view of the dress, when JAFA’s Dancing Master, John, invited Lauren to lead the opening of the Waverley Ball with him on Sunday evening – after she’d kicked off her shoes and couldn’t find them quickly!

Photo courtesy of Steven Shaw

I did wear my new hand-sewn block-print gown, but didn’t get any decent photos of it.

Next up, a Jane Austen picnic in my home town – more coming soon!

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Counting down

It’s only a week until the Jane Austen Festival Australia starts. I’ve been flat out with another project for the past few months and only squeezing in JAFA sewing for a few hours here and there, but I’ve (mostly) cleared this next week to sew. Five days, really, since I fly to Canberra on Wednesday. Of course I already have a number of outfits that I’ve made for last year and 2015, but would like to have some new things, too, and to expand my skills.

Lauren came up a couple of weeks ago and we did achieve some things – both on our respective PhDs, and in planning and sewing. A big thing for me was starting a couple of buckram and wire-based hats – I’ve not made one before so it’s all new. I bought three Lyn McMasters patterns and so we worked using those. And watched Sense and Sensibility while stitching!

Lauren and I bonnet making

Some of the plans I made in December have shifted and changed. So here’s an update of where I’m at – I’ll post more detailed posts on each project when they’re finished.

Morning Robe

A morning outfit for Breakfast with the Bennetts on Sunday morning.

1816 Fashion plate - Morning dress

Ackermann, Morning Dress, May 1816

I’ve made the robe, and it’s all finished except for the sleeve frills, and the sewing on the metres and metres of frill – which I have started.

Morning Robe in progress  Morning robe frill detail

I have a bodiced petticoat cut out, which I may wear under the robe, with a chemisette. Or, I could wear the first muslin dress I made, back in 2015, which has frills edging a v-neck. I’ll have to check how well it goes under the robe.

I have hopes of making the cornet, too – how delightfully over the top it is!


Red polka-dot dress

This dress wasn’t in my original plan, but I bought the book for the DAR Agreeable Tyrant Exhibition, and fell in love with the dress. 

Polka dot dress 1810-1815 Polka-dot dress 1810-1815

Spotlight happened to have a suitable red-spotted muslin, so the dress is now underway. I’m not trying to make it an exact copy – the extant dress has been altered a least once, anyway – but my version will be inspired by it. I have the bodice sewn up, the frill ready to be applied, the sleeves cut out, and I’ll be cutting out the skirt today. My existing chemisette should work under it, and I have coral beads to make the necklace.

I also have fabric for a red twill spencer to go with it, and a half-made bonnet in crimson satin that needs finishing. I’m not sure whether I’ll wear this dress for the Saturday, where I can wear it all day, or for the Sunday promenade – but Sunday has three outifts (morning dress, promenade, and Waverley Ball) so I wouldn’t get to wear it as long – I’ll decide when I see how it looks on me!

Pink Overgown

1798 fashion plate

I’m planning to make the pink overgown on the left, to wear on the Friday (Georgian) evening over my muslin dress. I have some satin in a salmony pink, and Lauren helped me to work out how to drape the pattern while she was here. Now I just have to make it – but as it doesn’t involve layers of frills or much decoration, it shouldn’t take too lone – I hope!

Blue Opera Dress

Blue opera dress from Ackermann, 1817

This is the big project, and yes, I have made a start. I haven’t cut out the dress (that’s on today’s list of tasks!) but I’ve starting making the flowers and have made good progress on the hat – I just have to add the side piece, do the lining, bind the edges, and add All The Decorations.

Blue satin opera hat in progress

I have the blue satin fabric and after much hunting in town and online I found a suitable lace for the frill. Ideally, I’d like to make a satin slip to wear under it, but if I run out of time I’ll wear one of my cotton petticoats.

There are a couple of other things I’d like to make, but time is pretty tight, and I’ll be doing well to get these all done. Just as well there is a fine tradition of last-minute stitching at JAFA . . .


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JAFA 2017 Planning

With the Jane Austen Festival Australia now less than four months away, it’s time for some serious planning!

Dresses from previous years I can wear again:

Newly made since JAFA 2016:

I can get by with what I have, but of course I’d like some new outfits! As I learn more about the fashion of the period and how to make it for me, I’d like to extend my skills – and use up some of the fabrics that I have accumulated!

I have a number of projects in mind, most based on either extant costumes, or fashion plates.

Blue opera dress from Ackermann, 1817

An Opera Dress, from Ackermann’s Repository for March 1817. The bodice may be a challenge, although I think I’ve worked out how to do it. All those flowers and greenery may be a challenge, too – I may tone that down a bit as I am a short person and I don’t want to overload it. The hat . . .  I have no idea yet how to do that!

Blue redingote from Costume Parisen 1817

A gorgeous blue redingote from Costume Parisien for 1817. The plate describes it as being merino – i.e., fine woollen cloth – but I do have a fine-wale corduroy of a similar shade of blue, so I plan to use that. The hat is glorious, but my hat-making skills are currently pre-novice (I’ve never made one!), and yellow is definitely not my colour. So, much though I love the look of the yellow with the blue, if I attempt that hat, I will have to come up with a non-yellow contrasting colour.

Teal gren block print gown from Museum of London

I’ve loved this dress from the Museum of London ever since I first saw the image on Pinterest. I’ve now tracked buyambienmed.com down the museum record , which includes a slightly more detailed photo of the bodice front. It’s an apron-front dress – the bodice front buttons at the shoulder. I’ve emailed the museum asking if they have higher resolution photographs or more construction information. I’ve also just ordered a block-print cotton voile from ebay which, although not an exact match, is similar in colour and style:

Block print cotton form ebay

I’d also like to make an outfit for the Sunday Breakfast with the Bennetts, which I can easily change a layer or so to wear for the picnic and promenade. But I am so far undecided. There are some possible inspiration plates, from 1815 and 1817:

Fashion plate from Ackermann's Repository October 1815

I love the jacket of this one (Ackermann 1815)  but the frills at neck and on the cap do seem to be channelling our dear Mrs Bennett! (I see myself more as Mrs Gardiner, the sensible aunt . . .)

Ackermann Promenade dress August 1815

This Promenade dress from 1815 has been on my list since the first JAFA I attended. I have some blue and white striped cotton. I have a ruff, partly made . . .

Walking Dress August 1817

I rather like this Walking Dress from Ackermann August 1817 – perhaps I could use it as a base with an long jacket over the top for breakfast, and then drape the scarf for the promenade if it’s not too cold. Or wear the redingote over it if the weather is chilly – April in Canberra can be unpredictable.

I also have several lovely saris just begging to be made into evening dresses . . . but with a PhD to finish during these next four months as well, I’m not sure how much I’ll get done! there’s always 2018 . . .!

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HSM10 – Heroes: Linen Apron

The Historical Sew Monthly Challenge for October is to make a garment inspired by our historical hero, or our historical costuming hero.

I have so, so many heroes in historical costuming; from the very first Janet Arnold book I bought in the 1980s, through hundreds of costume curators and costume makers who share their knowledge so willingly, through to  Leimomi the Dreamstress herself, who through the HSF/M and her thoughtful and well-researched blog posts inspires and challenges so many of us.

I also have historical heroes, although my interest in history focuses on the everyday and the ‘ordinary’ more so than the rich and famous.

My plain linen apron is a working garment inspired by the millions of ordinary women  in history who worked day in, day out, in household work, family care, agricultural work, textiles work, and factory work.

It’s also inspired, in part, by Leimomi’s Fortnight in 1916; which challenged me to think more about a deeper engagement with costume and how I might explore that further. I’m not planning to do a week in 1916, or in 1816/17, anytime soon. Even next year’s Jane Austen Festival Australia, wonderful though it will be, won’t be a weekend entirely in 1817, although I expect to help out in the kitchen for some meals. I wanted to make an apron (or two) for that – and as I can be a klutz at times, I wanted it to cover a decent amount of the front of my dresses.

White linen Regency apron

Hand sewn button holes and shell buttons close the back:

Hand sewn button holes and shell buttons

The Challenge: #10 – Heroes: A linen apron, honouring all the women who have worked behind the scenes through history to care for others

Commenced: 25/10/2016

Completed: 10/11/2016

Material: White linen IL019 from fabrics-store.com – approx 1 metre from stash

Pattern: drafted myself

Year: 1800-1820ish

Notions: Gutermann 100% cotton thread; Aurifil 100% cotton thread; two shell buttons

How historically accurate is it? Entirely handsewn, including the buttonholes. The shape is historically accurate, although the particular style seems more often made in black taffeta than white linen. I wanted a working apron, though, not a lady’s apron, and black taffeta is better suited to protecting the dress from stray needlework threads than from household dust.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count.

First worn: Only for photos

Total cost: Linen from stash, about1 metre, $15 worth (including postage from US)

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HSM8 – Pattern: Hand-sewn day dress

This is somewhat late for the Historical Sew Monthly August challenge, but I did have good intentions of getting it done in time! Challenge details are below.

I didn’t exactly start out to hand-sew an entire dress. This was supposed to be finished in time for the quill workshop I taught in August. Alas, it wasn’t.

I’ve done a bit of travelling in the past two months, so each time I took the bodice pieces and stitched on them here and there. When I’ve been home, I’ve been concentrating on writing, and I like to have something simple to do with my hands while I’m staring at the screen trying to think of words. So I hand-stitched the sleeves, and set them into the bodice, and after dithering about how to finish the armhole seams, I decided to trim them and overcast them, because that was simple to do while I was staring at the screen. So were the skirt seams. I was going to sew the bodice to the skirt by machine, because all the layers of pleats at centre back are very thick . . . but the sewing machine table has stuff piled on it so I did that seam by hand, too. Although that was something of a challenge:

Needle sewing thick pleats

Once I’d done that, the dress was so close to being entirely sewn by hand that I added the waistband casing and other finishing touches by hand, too. I still have the hem to go, but I always sew hems by hand, and I needed to try the dress on, and it was a lovely day for photos, so here it is:

Dress front

I’m wearing it with a fichu – although my kind photographer  is not a stylist and didn’t tell me it was bunched up wrong at the back.

Side view of blockprint dress Back view of block-print dress

And here’s a detail of the block print pattern:

Fabric print detail

The Challenge: Challenge 8: Pattern

Material: Block print cotton voile, purchased from Trade Star Exports on Ebay

Pattern: Adapted from the S&S drawstring dress, adding additional fullness to the front bodice and skirt, an additional width of fabric to the back skirt, and increasing the size of the sleeves at the top by about 1″. (I did the same changes as detailed for my previous block-print dress, for HSM challenge 2)

Year: c. 1795

Notions: Aurifil white cotton thread

How historically accurate is it? Maybe 90%? The fabric and pattern is fairly close, the style I think is reasonably accurate, and it is entirely hand-sewn, although not necessarily with correct period techniques.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count. Quite a few, over 2 months.

First worn: Today, for photographs. I’m not sure when it will have it’s first outing – maybe for a Regency picnic in December, otherwise for the Australian Jane Austen Festival in April next year.

Total cost: About $50AUD for 10yards of the fabric, of which I used about 6.5. The fabric for the cotton lining and bias strips came from stash, as did the thread, and the cord for the drawstring at the neckline.


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Open robe and muslin gown

I’ve been slow in blogging about this outfit as I don’t have good photos, but I’ll go with what I have and maybe get to do better photos later!

The muslin dress was very loosely inspired by this Danish wedding dress. The pattern diagram provided by the museum has detailed pleats running from the back bodice to the front, and I’d love to do these sometime, but I didn’t have time on this occasion to draft and fit them without assistance. So, I adapted the Sense and Sensibility wrap-front dress, making the shoulder wider and gathering it instead of pleating it, and reshaping the front for a centre-front closure instead of a crossover. I cut the front skirt as one width of fabric and cut and narrowly hemmed a slit in the centre-front. The dress closes with a drawstinr channel in the front.

The fabric is the premium muslin from Spotlight – it is a lovely fabric, with a sheer even weave. It is very sheer – here it is, over my petticoat, stays etc. I decided, as a result of this photo, that I needed a sleeveless chemise! (Yes, I also need to tidy my work room . . .!)

Regency muslin gown - front view

As with the block-print round gown, I used two widths of fabric for the back skirt and tightly pleated the centre back – here are the pleats sewn in before the lining is turned over and stitched down. I put a (wonky) row of tacking (basting) i below the seam line to hold the pleats in place while the dress is being made.

Detail of back pleats

And here is a side-view of the dress, showing that full back (it’s not just my butt!)

Side view of muslin gown

Next up was making an open robe to go over the dress. By this stage, it was the day before I had to fly out . . .

In the ultimate of stash-busting, I used a poly(?) satin damask that I’ve had in my stash since buying it in New Zealand in about December 1980 – yes, you read that right. I had made a skirt from some of it but there were still metres of it on a roll I had carried through numerous house-moves over 35+ years.

I didn’t base the open robe on any particular image or pattern, but I think it still works reasonably well for the 1790s. I did bring the skirts around a little further at the front than many open robes; that was a persona stylistic choice to increase the slimming effect.

Once again, I adapted the S&S pattern pieces, because I know how they fit on me and could adapt them relatively quickly. I lined the bodice with fine cotton voile. The pewter brooch I used to close the robe is a Celtic one I bought in Wales in 1983 – not an accurate closure, but a reasonable hurried make-shift one!

I wore the outfit for the Georgian evening on the Friday night of JAFA – but unfortunately didn’t get many photos. This one was upstairs in the Albert Hall, where the lighting was very strange.

Open robe over muslin gown

I’m very happy with the outfit and am looking forward to wearing it again next year! (Or maybe for Jane Austen’s birthday picnic later this year….)


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Drop-front dress

I made this drop-front dress for Lauren, for a photo-shoot for potential cover-images for a novella I’m writing. As I had to make most of it without fitting her – we live 800km apart – I used the S&S Elegant Lady’s Closet pattern that Lauren has used before as a base and adapted it for a drop front. I used the bodice back as-is, the bodice lining piece from the pattern to cut the front under-bodice, and I adapted the short sleeve pattern by adding a couple of inches of length at the centre of the sleeve and curving it around to the seams.

The fabric is just a poly satin (deluxe satin from Spotlight) but it does have a nice drape. We may add a little ribbon decoration to the neckline and sleeves.

I was in Canberra for a few days last weekend so we did the final fitting of the bodice, and sewed on and hemmed the skirt. The novella is set in Yorkshire in the cold, wet summer of 1816, so we had to hunt for a suitable location in Canberra spring that might look suitably English! We found a few spots in Yarralumla where the foliage wasn’t Australian (or bare, wintry oaks).

Lauren’s father (my brother-in-law) took most of these photos and I’m hoping I’ll be able to organise a book cover design using one of them. But whether they work for that or not, Lauren has a new dress for the Jane Austen Festival next year!

Back bodice view

Back view in woods

Front view

Back view blossoms

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