1800 Regency Style bib-front gown

1800 Bib-Front gown modelled by #23 (American Girl)

Note 1: of the four projects I’ve started since my last post, I find it somewhat amusing that the first one finished is the last one I started and also the one that is (almost) entirely hand-sewn.

Note 2: I apologise for the terrible photos — my camera battery was dying but I wanted to get this out tonight. I may re-do the photos in daylight but probably not (see below).

Regency Style pattern cover

For this outfit I used “Regency Style” by Karen Lorraine Designs. She doesn’t give a year for this design but I’ve used 1800 for indexing purposes. The bib-front was certainly known as early as the1790s but was most popular in the years 1810-15; however, the hem was ankle length by then and this is floor length. Thimbles & Acorns gave 1810 for her bib-front gown so I used the earlier date to distinguish between the two.

The pattern includes seven pages of historical information, including photos of gowns in various museum collections. I suspect that this pattern was adapted from an extant garment, because no one would have designed a doll dress like this from scratch and there are some issues I found that can’t be explained by sloppy sewing (of which I am sometimes guilty).

I opted to use the “medium” height for the bib, and made several small changes to the pattern:
• I changed the sleeves from long to short (I know that the very long sleeves are contemporary, but I don’t like them)
• I altered the front bodice fastening section by adding a second layer (to make it neater) and extending it a little so that there was more overlap
• I added a lining and light interfacing to the bib
• I added a lining to the skirt
• I replaced the fabric tie with a ribbon

I used a cream floral quilting cotton whose origins are unknown — I had it from a friend who was given a mass of fabric from a deceased quilter and luckily our tastes in printed fabric have very little overlap — she loves the geometrics and I love the florals.

For the lining I would have like to have used a cream but I don’t have any cream voile or muslin and I figured cream quilting cotton would be a bit thick so I used an off-white voile I found at Lincraft.

I used cream ribbon for the ties.

Most sewing was by hand using 100-weight silk thread for the seams and single-strand cotton embroidery floss for overcasting.

1800 Bib-front gown internal construction
The construction went fairly well once I’d read the pattern a few times. I had a little trouble working out the correction orientation of the bodice pieces and had to check against the pattern before every seam (luckily there were plenty of photos to help). I found that the “registration” marks weren’t actually registration marks (notches), just indicators to make sure that any particular seam had the two pieces in correct orientation, but it was certainly better than nothing.

I had some difficulty with the seam joining the bodice front to the bodice side — there was a difference of around 3 mm (1/8″) in length. It was probably a cutting error as the seams in the pattern do match. I matched the seams at the underarm point and adjusted the turn-up for the bodice front afterwards. I ended up whip-stitching the bodice and lining together along the bottom edge as the seam allowance was a bit short.

Inserting the sleeves went quite well, although I’m not a fan of so much puff being pushed to the back — I prefer it spread a little more evenly. There wasn’t much puff at the bottom edge, which was my fault as I should have made the lower arch a little deeper when I redrafted the sleeve. As I commonly find, the sleeve edge of the side bodice lining was too short to turn it, so I overcast the sleeve seams instead.

For the skirt, I sewed the fabric and lining together at the slashes, which made a neater opening than turning the two separately. I had to be a little careful in the order of stitching afterwards (I was very worried I wouldn’t be able to turn the whole garment right side out) but it worked out quite well. I would have preferred to have used the side seam as the opening, but I had already cut the curves at the top of the back skirt piece.

I did appreciate that the back skirt was pleated rather than gathered — it made my life a lot easier, especially with the lining adding some thickness. Given that attaching the skirt to the bodice meant stitching through seven thicknesses of fabric, I opted to use the machine for that bit. I also basted the pleats on the side portion by machine before attaching the ribbon tie. All other stitching was by hand.

I haven’t done the bodice fastenings yet as I wanted to check the fit first and, well …

1800 Bib-front gown front view
1800 Bib-front gown side view
1800 Bib-front gown side view
1800 Bib-front KLD bodice detail
First things first: as the pattern states openly, this is a gown that will only fit recent American Girl dolls. I wanted to use Nellie, but she dates from 2004-2009 and is too large around the shoulders. The gown fitted my 2014 Be Forever Samantha but she’s going to be modelling one of the other projects I’m doing so I tried it on my #23 from 2017 — the shoulders were fine and the bodice front flaps overlapped precisely.

Having said that, I’m really not happy with the rest of the gown.

1800 Bib-front KLD sleeve and side detail
Firstly, the sleeves do not sit right in any arm position. If the arms are by the sides, there is too much bunching in the back; if the arms are extended to the front then the back is fine but there are lots of wrinkles at the front. Given that I followed the instructions exactly when setting the sleeve I have to say that this is a pattern issue, not a sloppy construction issue.

Secondly, the front apron has a distinct corner where it meets that portion of the skirt back that is forward of the slash and there is a large gap beneath the bodice sides. I followed the directions by stitching the side seams together up to the top edge of the skirt back (the pattern did state that there would be a discrepancy in the height of the pieces). In the original pattern the top edge (including the corner) is finished with a bias-cut fabric tie rather than by a seam, but this would only change the height of the tie by 1/4″ and as you can see the deficit is much larger – more like 3/4″. I can’t pull the apron up much farther — it’s almost at the armpit as it is — but if I do, the bib is up around the throat and the skirt front is a lot higher than the back. I couldn’t have attached the ties to the top of the apron either because then the part below the corner would be flapping in the wind.

Although the pattern itself is well written and profusely illustrated, I’m disappointed with the gown and glad that I didn’t use expensive fabric. I’m not going to bother to add the fastenings.

Lessons Learned:
• Tiny bodice pieces can be difficult to orient correctly.
• For small pieces it’s probably better to cut a pattern piece on the seam line and add the seam allowance by eye. This has the advantage of marking the seam line directly from the pattern rather than 1/4″ in from the cut edge.
• The ties coming off the apron in a bib-front dress must be at the raised waistline height.

Notes for future versions: (Very unlikely)
To be honest, I don’t think I’ll make this gown again. It would require so much revision in sleeves, apron and skirt that it would amount to drafting a new pattern, and given that the Thimbles & Acorns version is so much better I’d be better off using that instead.

If I ever revisit this pattern I would make the following changes:
• Re-trace and cut bodice pattern pieces on the seam line and allow 3/8″ seam allowance or more when cutting fabric.
• Mark all bodice pieces with seam letters to avoid confusion; also mark them left and right.
• Cut the bib to be somewhere between the medium and shallow heights.
• Re-draw the short sleeve with a deeper bottom curve and adjust the top curve to be a little more symmetrical.
• If using the side seam as the apron opening, don’t cut the curve at the top of the skirt back pieces.
• Consider not rounding the front apron piece (will depend on how the front and back pieces compare in height).