An Everyday Regency Morning Belt

Over the past few months, a discussion about wearing historical costume for everyday occasions has made the rounds in some online costuming groups. This reminded me of how much I love wearing Regency underpinnings with modern outfits. Half a year ago, I finally got around to making the Regency-era morning belt I have wanted to make for so long now. Since then, I have worn it under historical costume, but it has also had more than a few cameos as a bra replacement. Worn over a fitted camisole or t-shirt, it is super comfortable, much more than most modern bras. And, since a morning belt involves next to no lacing, it comes on and off more quickly than a pair of stays. :)

In today’s post, I will share the research and drafting / making process with you, so you can go on and make your own morning belt. The research has proven a little tricky, since extant examples of Regency-era morning belts are scarce, or at least somewhat hard to identify. But more on that in a moment!

Some Morning Belt Research

The one thing that has kept me from making the morning belt for so long (years, actually!) is that fact that this style is one of the least documented known Regency undergarments. The closest surviving examples to be found today are various sets of boned half stays. Examples of this are the Utrecht half stays Sabine has taken a pattern from and this corselet held at the Musée Galliera:

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Since only very little information on the wearers and the occasion of wear exists, we can only assume that they have been used for morning / undress or maternity wear. And it seems very likely.  Still, I have always missed a clear link between these examples and the ominous “morning belt” from period texts. So I did a little digging.

On a whim, I started searching in French. This way I stumbled into a period book I had not know before the “Manuel des dames” by Madame Clenart, whose real name was Élisabeth-Félicie Bayle-Mouillart. You can access the full text here at Gallica. This is a second edition from 1833, but the content seems to date back to at least the early 1820, so it is a great resource for the mid to late Regency era. And it really is pure gold, it does no only hold advice on corsetry, fashion and manners but recipes for cosmetics, perfumes and some laundry directions for dress fabrics, among other things.

The corsetry chapter lists many types of stays, featuring suggestions on stays for maternity wear and instructions on turning a regular pair of stays into a corset à la prasseuse (the period equivalent of fan-lacing). This chapter also describes mornings belts and gives some instructions of how to make them up:

Extract from “Manuel des Dames” (2nd edition, c.1833).

In short, this extract gives the following hints for the construction of a morning belt (from what I could gather with my very basic French):

Half-stays for the morning are about 8 to 10 inches high (I understood this to be the back length), corded or lightly boned. The top part is shaped like it would be in a regular pair of stays, but the back ends in two long tabs that tie at the front with thread ribbon. They are very convenient for dressing in the morning, plan on going on a bath later or when you are in a hurry to get dressed. I do not know about you, but this sounds perfect to me on an average morning!
Fabric suggestion include white cotton or coutil for summer and nankeen or grey cotton canvas for winter wear. A lining in a matching colour is also suggested to make the morning belt more durable.

From this I gathered that morning belts also featured the crossover back tabs seen in the half stays above. Although they do not quite resemble those in the Galliera example, but come very close to those of the Utrecht stays.

Half-boned stays (Centraal Museum, c.1820).

Half-boned stays (Centraal Museum, c.1820).

On a side note, you can also find this kind of crossover wrapping for shape in a more unusual Regency-era garment. This bust (under-) bodice at the Victoria & Albert Museum:

Bust bodice ( V&A, c. 1820-29).

Bust bodice ( V&A, c. 1820-29).

After gathering this information, I finally felt confident to delve right into drafting my morning belt.

The Pattern

Since this has been my first venture into drafting a piece of corsetry, I decided to use these  drafting instructions for short stays by Mistress of Disguise. They also work wonderfully for actually making short stays. ;)

I started by following the instructions given for the front and back / side back pieces. The only thing I did differently was to use a slightly longer back length (9″ instead of the given 8″). For the bust gussets I cheated and used my size gusset from the Laughing Moon #115 pattern. I left out the straps and included them in the back piece later on.

To create the crossover back tabs, I turned to the pattern for the Utrecht stays by Sabine as a rough guide. First, I created the overlapping section at the center back. For this I drew two lines. The first was a straight extension of they stays’ bottom (underbust) line. Its length was equal to about 1/8 of my underbust measurement. I redrew this line later. Then I connected the end point to the top end of the CB line with a diagonal.

From here I rotated the back pattern piece outwards until the diagonal line was perfectly vertical. I will show you what I mean by this on the finished pattern piece in the picture below. When cutting out, the straight grain will run along this line, too. (Sorry about the slightly rumpled look. For some reason I could not find my original pattern draft…)

The rotated back pattern piece.

The rotated back pattern piece.

Now I elongated the vertical line by the length of my side back piece (again 1/8 underbust) plus two or so extra inches that would got over to the front at the sides. At the bottom edge of the line, I drew a perpendicular that was 2 1/2″ long. This marks the later front width of the tabs. Now I went back to the original bottom edge of the CB line from the initial draft. and connected it to the end point of the short perpendicular line with a long curve.

For the strap, I did a similar thing. I extended the top of the long vertical line by the desired strap length (14″ in my case). Again, there is a perpendicular line at the top edge, 2 1/2″ long. From its end point, I drew another line, parallel to the vertical. To get the length of the line I calculated my strap length – shoulder to underbust length at CB. This way I made sure that only a narrow strap shows at the front.

To shape the top curve, I extended the curve on top of the side back piece, across the back piece, until it reached the end point of the parallel.  The finished back pattern looks like this: Originally the strap was a part of the back piece. But when doing the final mock-up, I decided to make it into a separate piece to reduce some of the strain on the fabric. The seam runs in a spot where the mock-up had a little pucker. There is now no pucker in the end result. ;)

The finished back and strap pieces.

The finished back and strap pieces.

Making Up The Morning Belt

When making morning belt, I used up the leftovers from my long stays. Thus I made them out of two layers, an outer layer of white cotton twill and a sateen lining. After putting in the gussets and sewing together the individual layers, I joined them together by stitching through the side and side back seams. This minimized the amount of basting at this stage and made for nice, extra durable seams on the finished corset.

Joining the layers by stitching through the side seams.

Joining the layers together by stitching through the side seams.

For the light boning, I used four rows of cording with 1/4″ kitchen twine over the side back seams and two rows of cording plus a small piece of heavy-duty cable tie at the side seams. For the busk, I made a teeny 4″ wooden busk from a paint stirrer, using my own busk tutorial. With some hindsight from the last time though, I did not oil it as profusely as the last one. ;)

A tiny 4

A tiny 4″ busk.

After adding four hand-bound eyelets to tie the straps to the front, I started binding the morning belt with cotton bias tape. I bound the short edges of the bottom tabs individually then sandwiched the twill ribbon that ties at the front in between. Then I went about the remaining binding as usual. The top binding at the front holds a small 1/2″ drawstring that keeps the ladies in check.

On the dress form, the finished morning belt looks like this. It fits much better on my ( somewhat more squishy) self and I really love how it came out.

The finished morning belt, front view. :)

The finished morning belt, front view. :)

The finished morning belt, crossover back view. ;)

The finished morning belt, crossover back view. ;)

Close-up of the strap lacing and side boning.

Close-up of the strap lacing and side boning.

Cording at the side back seam.

Cording at the side back seam.

Now I am so happy that I finally got to make this piece of Regency corsetry for modern ladies in a rush to get dressed! :D I hope you enjoyed this rather long post and it has shed some light on the making of a morning belt. If you have questions, please feel free to ask them here at any time. Wishing you all a lovely rest of the week!

Cheers, Nessa

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Project Boudoir: The Complete Ensemble

As promised in the Making-of, here is a quick picture post of the completed Regency boudoir ensemble. I finally finished the bed-jacket yesterday and got to enter it into the HSF’s “Re-Do” challenge. All in all, I am very happy with it. It goes along nicely with the bed shift.

At first, I was a bit worried about its poofiness, especially around the sleeves. But the poof is exactly what makes the jacket warm and cozy, allowing for some extra warm air to circulate. When I was taking the photos yesterday I got really, really sleepy and did not want to take it all off again afterwards…

Here are the photos of the ensemble and a few more detail shots of the jacket. So you can see it all together with the boudoir cap I made a little exception, sharing a frontal shot of sleepy me. You will also find the HSF challenge details for the entire project below. Enjoy. :)

 

The Finished Boudoir Ensemble

The finished bed-shift, bad-jacket and boudoir cap.

Back view.

 

Some Jacket Details

Back view of the folded collar and ruffle.

Upturned collar and front tie.

Sleeve and underarm gusset.

The cuff and ruffle. I tacked the cuff’s slit together with a small strand of crochet cotton for a better fit.

My very first shoulder gusset. Above it, you see the shoulder seam and below it, the edge of the collar.

 

The Challenge Facts

The Challenge: #21 – “Re-Do”

Challenges redone: “Under it All”; “Black & White”

Fabric:
For the bed-shift: 2.5 yards of 60/40 linen-cotton blend.
For the bed-jacket: 3 yards of woven Swiss-dot cotton.

Pattern:
Shift: Sense & Sensibility “Regency Underthings” chemise with modifications, based on this extant shift.
Jacket: My own, inspired by Kelly’s shirt tutorial.

Year: 1800-1810

Notions: approx. 2 yds of woven cotton tape; cotton thread, thread wax

How historically accurate is it? I gave my best. Some of the seams were machine sewn for speed, but most are hand-sewn. I would say 75% accurate.

Hours to complete: About 30 hours for the bed-shift and another 50-60 hours for the bed-jacket.

First worn: For the photos.

Total cost: € 15 each, € 30 altogether.

With this post, “Project Boudoir” come to a close. I hope you enjoyed this venture into the world of the Regency lady’s bedroom. To be sure, I did. And, on top of that, it has given me the most comfortable bedtime outfit ever. ;) Wearing it does not feel like being in costume at all, but like donning an everyday garment.

For the remainder of November and the holiday season, I will turn to a few new sewing projects, including a historically inspired Christmas outfit for HSF # 23 “Modern History”. And, for the first time ever, I will be sewing some, historical and non-historical presents for friends this year. To keep them a surprise, though, I shall post about them here after Christmas. ;)

See you soon, Nessa

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Project Boudoir: Making the Bed-Jacket

Hello again. :)

After a row of evenings spent sewing up the Regency bed-jacket, I have finally made some time to tell you about the making-of. It all started out with wondering about how to pattern a  bed-jacket at all. It is not really a staple Regency item, sewn by costumers and hence, there are not really many pre-made patterns around. But then… I had an idea:

More or less by accident, I started looking at Regency-era men’s shirts. Just as the bed-jacket I showed you before, they are made from light linen or cotton fabrics. They are also no less frilly than the jacket in question. Here it is again.

The extant bed-jacket.

Now if you compare it to an extant gentleman’s shirt… it looks quite similar, right?

An extant men’s shirt from the Met’s collection (c. 1816).

Luckily, there are a good few shirt-making tutorials available online. The two I liked best were Kelly’s tutorial and this one from Marquise. After some measuring and drafting around, I decided to make the bed-jacket, based on Kelly’s instructions, with a few minor alterations. These are the following:

 

Pattern Pieces & Measurements
As I am no, tall, dashing Mr. Sharpe or Mr. Darcy, but a rather petite lady, the main thing I did was to scale down the pattern pieces to my measurements. But I also added a front closure to the shirt’s body and omitted some pieces, such as the side-seam gusset at the bottom or the neck ruffle. Instead of that ruffle, though, I cut two extra ruffles for the cuffs and another for the collar. Here is an overview of the pieces for my bed-jacket, including seam allowances of 7/8″ on each side:

  • Two front pieces, each 28″ x 18″
    (The finished fronts will overlap a bit, if you would like a button placket, add another 2 inches.)
  • One back piece, 28″ x 34″
  • Sleeves, each 19″ x 36″
    (This is a very generous measurement, creating a very poofy sleeve. For something more fitted, take a measurement of your upper arm, add seam allowances and double it.)
  • Two collar pieces, each 4″ x 19″
  • Four cuff pieces, each 10 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
  • Two shoulder gussets, 2″ x 2
  • Two underarm gussets, 5″ x 5″
  • One collar ruffle, 52″ x 3 1/2″
  • Two cuff ruffles, 18″ x 4″

 

Making Up

All in all, I followed Kelly’s wonderful instructions. But, here again, a few changes were needed to adjust for shape and sizing:

Around the top of the jacket, I only sewed up a 4-inch shoulder seam on either side. to this, the shoulder gusset added another 2 inches and made for a comfy shoulder fit. Usually, I am not big on gussets, but shoulder gussets are just awesome.

The next thing was that I used two front pieces. So I did not have to cut a slit and simply hemmed the front ends before gathering it all into the collar. I later fastened the jacket with a length of soft cotton tape at the top, right below the collar hem.

As you might have noticed, I used four cuff pieces, instead of two. The reason for this is that I gathered and then sandwiched the ruffles between two cuffs before attaching everything to the gathered sleeve. When assembling the collar, I did the same again.

At the bottom of the sleeves, I left a shorter slit of 3″, to fit my slender wrists. If that is too wide, you can also tack or button the slit shut below the cuffs. But, if you choose to tack, make sure that your wrists still fit through comfortably.

 

And that was it already…

As for everything else, no more big changes were necessary. And I think this is the place to give Kelly another big thank you. Without her blogging about the shirt, there would have been no bed jacket.
But now there is. (Yay!) Even though it is a little too late for the HSF “Re-Do” challenge, I will try to get a few photos to put into a challenge post over the next few days.

Maybe, in the meanwhile, some of you will start making their own Regency bed-jacket and/or matching shirt. Just like the jackets, it was not uncommon for gentlemen to slip a night-shirt over their shift to stay warm. With the holiday season at the door, it would certainly make for a very special present.

Cheers, Nessa

 

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Project Boudoir: Regency Nightwear

Before I vanish for a short trip down south, it is due time to finally share some research on Regency-era nightwear with you. As mentioned before, the materials to be found online are not as plentiful as usual. There are, however, a few rather good ones I will also list for you below. I will try my best to put together some key facts for you; and also clarify a thing or two. Here we go:

Nightgown, Undress, Negligée or Morning Dress?

This post will mainly deal with the clothes worn at bedtime. Those are, of course, a part of Undress, which loosely referred to the more comfortable clothing, worn around the house. Some nightwear items, such as the cap and bed jacket, could also be part of Morning Dress. But more on that further below.

Usually though, Morning Dress and negligées do not refer to sleep-wear, even though they are also part of Undress. They were usually worn around the house after getting up and before going back to sleep. This might also be why, nowadays, we sometimes call our nighties “negligées”. Back in the Regency era, however, the term referred to looser-fitting dresses for home wear.

The frock pattern from Janet Arnold’s “Patterns of Fashion” is an example of a negligée. Because of the fine silver embroidery on the hem, though, even Janet Arnold was not entirely sure if this was really the case. But perhaps this dress belonged to a richer lady. As with everything, their morning attire was as stylish and fashionable as the rest of their wardrobe. I do not think this has changed much over the centuries. But, no matter how plain the Regency morning dress, it beats a baggy pair of tracksuit bottoms any day.

Janet Arnold’s Regency negligée at the V&A.

If I was to define the difference between night and morning wear, I would draw a line at the point when the lady puts on her stays. In the morning, softer stays were common. This includes wrap stays, such as the ones in the next picture I found on Leimomi’s blog or the “bra” exhibited at the Kyoto Fashion Institute, and short or half stays. But those were definitely no bedtime item. ;)

Soft wrap stays, found on The Dreamstress.

Nightgowns and Accessories

If negligées were not worn in bed, then what was? The main garments were the bed shift and nightcap. But ladies often wore an extra layer on top, namely the bed, or night, jacket.

Bed Shifts and Shirts

Basically the bed shift or night shift was a type of chemise. It was made from plain linen or thicker cotton and worn by both men and women. As opposed to daytime chemises, which tended to ended a little below the knee, bed shifts usually reached a little lower, to somewhere between the calf and ankle. They could have long sleeves, as was the case up to the 18th century, but shorter sleeves were also common. In some cases, especially men also slept in their daytime shirts. One source, I do not quite recall which, also talked about ladies sleeping in their daytime chemises.

Georgian / Regency bed shift, posted by Hope A. Greenburg.

But usually, the shift was not the end of the story. As bedrooms tended not to be heated at night, especially women usually wore at least one extra layer on top of it. In the painting you can see a late-eighteenth-century lady in her bedtime finery. In the early Georgian and Regency eras, she might have worn the same amount of garments, but made up to be lighter and less voluminous.

“Mrs. Wheatley Asleep” by Francis Wheatley (1790s).


Bed Jackets and Additional Layers

Since sleeping in the cold is never fun, and for modesty’s sake, Regency ladies wore a bed jacket on top of the shift. It was a loose-fitting, shirt-like cotton or linen jacket. I managed to find two extant examples on the internet, the one in the picture and another on Historikal Modiste. Both are tied at the neck and gathered a little at the back. They also feature a wide collar to keep the throat and chest covered at night. Sometimes, bed jackets were also worn in place of dressing gowns around the boudoir. Hence they had a little overlap with garments worn for Morning Dress.

Extant Regency bed jacket, found on Vickiegarden.com.

If it got really cold at night, a thin fichu was sometimes worn over the jacket as well. This fact comes from an 1820s article on the French ladies’ toilette. An English translation of it can be found in “The Lady’s Strategem” by Frances Grimble. As it contains a whole wealth of info on period home wear and toilette, this one is on my wish list for when I can afford it. ;)

Nighttime Head Coverings

To keep the head warm, and to keep the hair in order, at night, night caps were worn. As opposed to the boudoir cap I made, they rather resembled mob caps, often tied around the top. “The Female’s Friend”, a domestic periodical from the 1830s-1840s, features a night-cap pattern very similar to the Regency style. It is available for free on Google Books.

When the hair had survived the night, still looking presentable, the lady took off her night-cap. If not, she kept it on, exchanged it for the boudoir cap or tamed her mane with a cloth headband. To cover the hair while dressing or to hide the day’s hairdo while setting, a boudoir cap was worn as well.

Night cap pattern from "The Female Friend" (1837)

Night cap pattern from “The Female Friend” (1837).

This was the gist of what I have found in my project research. I hope it was helpful. Maybe you even learned a few things about the Regency era you always wanted to know. If you are intrigued and want to know more about period bed and boudoir attire, feel free to have a look at the list of sources at the bottom. :) Now that I have filled you in on the historical background, I will start blogging about the two cozy nightwear items I am working on and their make up.

The linen shift should be finished soon and then the bed jacket will follow. Please stay tuned.

All the best, Nessa

Sources:

An overview of morning dress by Candice Hern.

An overview of 1790s ladies’ night shifts by Joanna Bourne.

Explanations on Regency nightwear and an extant bed jacket on Historikal Modiste.

The latter source also featured a few helpful quotations from ”The Lady’s Strategem”  by Frances Grimble.

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