Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Patterns

Please note: I do not sell patterns. These are reviews only.
Please Google a pattern name to find a vendor for that pattern.

L A D I E S '   G O W N S

How to Choose a Pattern

I want to help you find the right pattern for your needs. With that in mind, I have sorted the patterns into categories:

Quick & Easy
Best for beginners & those in a hurry.
Use all modern drafting and
sewing techniques.
Improved Impression
Medium skills; give a nicely period "look."
Use some modern drafting and
sewing techniques.
Period Dressmaking
Medium to advanced skills; can produce accurate garments. Use period-appropriate shapes and sewing techniques.
Sense & Sensibility Regency Gown
Simplicity 4055, 9225, 9221
Butterick 6630, 6631, 4890

Sense & Sensibility Elegant Lady's Closet,
      Romantic Era Dress

Folkwear Empire Dress
Period Impressions Bib-Front Muslin Dress,
      1809 Day Dress

Rocking Horse Farm Gown & Overdress, Riding
      Habit, Bib-Front Gown, Early 19th-C. Gown

Mantua-Maker Open Robe, Regency Frock
Past Patterns Ca. 1796-1806 Lewis &
      Clark Era Empire Gown

Fig Leaf Patterns Work Dress c. 1795,
      Apron Front Dress c. 1799

~ Quick & Easy Gown Patterns ~

Sense & Sensibility Regency Gown.

This is the extremely popular pattern that has spawned a thousand gowns. It goes together very easily and the Sense & Sensibility website offers plenty of advice and sewing support. There is also the licensed Simplicity version, which can be picked up very cheaply on sale in fabric stores.

Price: About $15; 18-26DD Supplement and Neckline Supplement $3.50 each.

Details: When this came out, it was advertised as a "made-for-comfortable-wear" mid-Regency gown pattern. I still think that's a pretty good assessment. Although various details have been added over the years to increase the pattern's flexibility and usefulness, the basic pattern shapes are Regency in feel but not completely accurate. The way the fullness of the bodice is placed in the front, the shallowness of the back armscye, the length of the bodice back, and other details are not quite period. However, for a simple and attractive gown that fits a wide range of body types, you can't go wrong here.

Examples: Plenty of finished examples at the Sensibility site.

Simplicity 4055, 9225, 9221.

Simplicity 4055 (leftmost image) is a licensed version of Sense & Sensibility's Regency Gown pattern, so it is better than most major patterns. 9225 and 9221 are discontinued, but you can find them on eBay and elsewhere. They are very costumey, but could be just the thing for a stage production or Halloween costume.

Price: About $5-15, depending on source.

Simplicity 4055: Since this is a version of Sense & Sensibility's Regency Gown pattern, please see my comments above. You can get all the details of the (minor) differences between Simplicity's pattern and the original here.

Simplicity 9225: Sort of trying to be a 1790s chemise dress, but the skirt is far too narrow - it should be at least double the current width. However, if you're doing a 1790s production, it could work.

Simplicity 9221: Very similar to the Period Impressions Day Dress pattern (see below) - this style is very flattering to small and medium busts. There's something weird going on with the puff sleeves in View A, but they look fine in the inset. The skirt gathering starts too far forward - it should be pushed more to the back. Not the best spencer - it feels more like a 1930s evening jacket.

Butterick: Making History 6630, 6631, 4890.

All the Butterick Regency patterns are very costumey, with totally modern fastenings and facings. Also, the skirts are invariably cut with too much shaping at the waist in a modern column style. Still, if you're looking for stage-production or Halloween-costume patterns, some of these have a unique look. Note: May be discontinued, but show up on eBay and other web sources all the time.

Price: About $5-15, depending on source.

Butterick 6630: Very costumey "Josephine" dress. Attractive on small-busted women; does not fit anyone else. Giant sleeve puffs are too big for the period. See variations on it here (scroll down near end of page).

Butterick 6631: A pastiche of Regency styles, but a different take than most patterns. The spencer would be okay if you skipped the maribou and made it a day garment. The V-necked bodice is reminiscent of crossover-front gowns of 1800-1810. The elaborate trim on View B echoes the early 1820s, if you use a heavier fabric (duchesse satin, taffeta) and smaller flowers.

Butterick 4890: Very similar to 6630, but with a more appropriate overgown. See one costumer's take on the dress here.

~ Improved Impression Gown Patterns ~

Sense & Sensibility Elegant Lady's Closet, Romantic Gown.

click for larger image The Elegant Lady's Closet offers a range of variations on S&S's basic gown pattern. Techniques are closer to period-correct, but pieces can still be mixed and matched with the original. The Romantic Gown is fairly modern in construction, but offers a good set of shapes for the 1827-33 period, which is not covered by any other in-print pattern. All in all, these are very welcome additions to the pattern lineup and good, solid choices for intermediate sewers.

Price: About $15.

Elegant Lady's Closet: A crossover-style bodice and a round gown - popular in the late 1790s and early 1800s - are welcome variations. Very small puffed sleeves with the fullness to the back are an improvement on the earlier pattern, and straight, fitted sleeves are excellent for early impressions. The drawstring waist and neckline on the round gown are both period and great for easily fitting a range of figures; on the crossover bodice, the raised back waist and backward-shifted armscye are both quite period.

Caveats: The round gown is meant to pull over the head, and would be much more accurate with an apron-front fastening or a back opening. The latter would be fairly easy to add, though. The fullness of the crossover bodice seems too far to the center front in the made-up example, although that could probably be adjusted to suit. Finished examples here.

Romantic Gown: Nobody else is currently making a woman's pattern of the late 1820s-early 1830s, so kudos to S&S for filling the gap. The darted version, made with a narrow waistband, is most appropriate for silks and wools; the gathered version is a good choice for fine muslins and printed cottons. The short puff sleeve would be for ballgowns only. You could push this pattern back to the mid-1820s simply by raising the waist and narrowing the skirt slightly.

Caveats: Skip the accompanying non-period blouse pattern; a chemisette from elsewhere is a better choice. The front-buttoning version of this gown is not correct; most gowns of this period fastened in the back, and the few that opened in front usually had a placket with hidden hooks and eyes. Remember that skirts of this period should be hemmed quite short by 19th-century standards, at the ankle; a good thing, because the pattern does not seem to account for the fact that the back must be longer than the front to go over the small bustle pad that creates the right skirt shape for this era. Finished examples here.

La Mode Bagatelle Regency Wardrobe.

Nearly an entire wardrobe can be made from this pattern. Though pricey, this package is very versatile and the garments are very attractive and flattering. That said, this pattern is more about a period look than period techniques.

Price: about $57.

Details: You get 3 different bodices, 2 skirts, and 4 sleeves, plus a spencer with variations, chemisette, petticoat, muff, reticule, and hat. All sizes are in one packet, with alternate DD bust pieces. Sheets of transfer patterns for embroidery are also included. The packaging and instruction-booklet illustrations are charming and inspiring, and the pieces go together very well.

Caveats: Construction techniques, and some garments, are not necessarily period. Most notable: the mock "bib" bodice, which fastens in the back - real bib bodices fastened in the front, under the bib - and the bodiced petticoat, which is a modern shortcut to achieve a petticoat-and-corset look with about a quarter of the work. It looks good, but has a tendency to climb up the bosom after an hour or two of wear - and it doesn't fit large busts at all.

All the dress bodices use a drawstring in the neckline to achieve a good fit. This is period-appropriate for earlier styles, but if you like a smoother look, you'll have to redraw the bodice front.

Examples: Gowns from this pattern by Koshka the Cat, Historically Dressed, and Jennie Chancey.

Folkwear Empire Dress.

An early French Empire period gown with a couple of variations. Used to be the best-known pattern, before Sense & Sensibility edged it out. I haven't made it up myself, but I've seen dresses made from it successfully.

Price: About $15.

Details: Dress with gathered bodice and gathered, gored skirt; fastens in back only with drawstrings at neck and waist. Includes 2 sleeves and an optional train. The directions are said to be clear, and the pieces go together well. This is a highly period-accurate style for French Empire in very fine cottons; also good for a lace or gauze overgown, when combined with a colored silk undergown.

Caveats: This is a poor choice for calico day dresses - it is a high-end style. You must wear at least a shift underneath this for day and preferably a "slip" or full petticoat. Otherwise, line it and add hidden hooks and eyes to the back. Also, the all-drawstring bodice construction provides virtually no bust support. Unless you're tiny, wear a corset or equivalent underneath. Also, I hear that it's very difficult to try the fit as you go; you essentially have to put it all together before you can try it on. Examples: Here is the dress on the Folkwear site (note that it has been hemmed too short for the mannequin).

Period Impressions Bib-Front Muslin Dress, 1809 Day Dress.

Period Impressions patterns are supposedly drawn from period sources but drafted for modern bodies. Some are more effective than others. For some reason, just about all of their patterns have sleeves that are too large. In general, they tend to create quite flattering garments of varying accuracy.

Price: About $16.

Bib-Front Muslin Dress: This newer pattern produces a true bib-front gown that is very charming indeed. I particularly like the back. The sleeves are a little unusual - slightly full and pleated into the elbow-length cuff - and I would consider substituting a straight sleeve instead, whether short, elbow-length, or long. It can be made with far less fabric than the pattern calls for, especially if you reduce the volume of the skirt in back, and still have a period-appropriate result. Definitely make a muslin first! Also, the instructions include "modern" and "authentic" directions, but the "authentic" directions of flat-felling all the seams are totally unnecessary unless you are making the gown out of a sheer muslin. If you can't see through the fabric, ordinary seams are perfectly correct. Overall, people say it goes together well.

Examples: Very nice bib-front gowns here, here, and here. This pattern can be hard to find for sale; here is one option.

1809 Day Dress: I have used this pattern twice. The construction isn't period, but the result is quite attractive. It goes together pretty well; the gathered center-front panel is flattering to the bosom, while the close-fitting bodice lining reigns you in even if you don't have a corset. The optional lower sleeves can be tacked in for day, removed for evening wear; they have the correct over-the-knuckle length, too. The train is very attractive, although not very practical.

Caveats: Extremely full skirt is best for very early Regency; you can use about half of the recommended skirt fabric, keeping the front ungathered, and be right for post-1805 and you'll look slimmer. The puff sleeves are huge; cut a couple of inches off the bottom of the pattern while maintaining the curve, or pinch up the extra volume into poufs. Also, the long-sleeve pattern is, for some reason, too wide to fit into the bottom of the puff sleeve. You'll have to cut it down lengthwise. Also, you have to choose size 6-8-10 or 12-14-16 or 18-20-22, which is annoying if you're between ranges or want to use it for more than one size of person.

Examples: Here's one I made (with a few adjustments), and here's several at GBACG's Pattern Review (scroll down halfway).

Rocking Horse Farm Gown w/Overdress, Riding Habit, Bib-Front Gown, Early 19th-Century Gown.

Rocking Horse Farms patterns are a mixed bag. They tend to run large. Some are drafted better than others, although I understand that when the company was bought out in the late 1990s the new owners began going through the patterns to find drafting and instruction errors, so a given pattern may be better now than ten years ago. Some patterns do apparently contain some non-period drafting techniques to make fitting easier (for instance, darts where they were not used at the time). Instructions can be a bit sketchy, so they're not for sewers who can't figure some things out for themselves. That said, they do offer some interesting patterns.

Price: About $10-$15.

Gown with Overdress: Suitable for day or evening gowns from the late 1790s through about 1805. The dress has a gathered bodice and short tulip sleeves; the overgown has a fitted bodice and cutaway skirt. Here is the original pattern cover, which shows some construction details not visible on the current cover - assuming they're true! Finished examples can be seen halfway down this page. Available in S-M, L-XL, or Q.

Riding Habit: This is in three pieces: a jumper, a jacket, and a "blouse." The jumper-jacket combination is typical for riding habits of the period, which were worn not just for riding but for traveling, since they were usually made of wool and more hard-wearing than ordinary gowns. The modern "blouse" terminology rather than "shirt" is a warning - I see nothing period about that part of the pattern. However, substitute a different shirt (or chemisette) and you have a very useful-looking pattern.

Bib-Front Gown: Day gown for late 1790s through about 1810.
This gown has true bib-front construction, although I'm told that the construction could be more period-correct, and the sleeves are far too big. I used to recommend this because of the paucity of bib-front gown patterns on the market. However, there are better choices now. Here's the earlier pattern envelope. Choose S-M-L or XL-Q.

Early 19th Century Gown: Day/evening gown for 1808. I have never seen this gown made up, but it appears to have an odd neckline. Includes optional chemisette for day wear. Without being able to see what it really looks like, I'd give this one a miss - the design seems peculiar. The original pattern cover shows only a little more detail. Choose S-M-L or XL-QUEEN.

Mantua-Maker 1800-1820 Open Robe, 1805-1812 Regency Frock.

Mantua-Maker patterns are another mixed bag. Consensus is that they are much, much better than their dreadful cover illustrations would lead you to believe. However, although they are generally fairly period-accurate in their drafting, many patterns contain errors and confusing instructions. Bottom line? You should always make a cheap muslin version of your costumes first, but it is especially important with this line.

Price: About $10-$16. 1800-1820 Open Robe: This pattern seems to be based on an extant example I've seen illustrated in books. Can be made with a rounded or squared front panel fastening and in different lengths. The construction looks very period, but not particularly difficult. It's a great way to change the look of an existing gown, or elevate a plain one to evening status. I will say that although it claims to be for 1800-1820, these weren't really much worn after about 1805. You can see this gown made up on the Mantua-Maker site. Multisized Petite-XL.

1805-1812 Regency Frock: Gown with ruched bodice for day or evening. I would place this style more in the range of 1810-15, definitely a product of the Sir Walter Scott-influenced Romantic impulse of the mid-Regency period. I have never seen a bodice constructed quite like this one, with four cased drawstrings; it should easily fit a wide range of figures, but where's the historical precedent? You can see this gown made up on the Mantua-Maker site. On the whole I would be inclined to go with other patterns. At least it's multisized Petite-XL in one package.

Old World Enterprises 1805 Empire Gown.

I've received many frustrated reports about this pattern, and about Old World Enterprises patterns in general. Pieces are drafted wrong, instructions are poor, and patterns aren't really period-correct anyway. Save yourself the pain and skip this one.

Price: About $13.

~ Period Dressmaking Patterns ~

Past Patterns Circa 1796-1806 Lewis & Clark Era: Empire Gown.

This wonderful pattern was based directly on an extant front-closing day gown of linen/cotton. The unusual styling of the back is, in fact, typical of the kind of experimental shaping that gowns underwent in the transitional period at the turn of the 19th century. The pattern is admittedly pricey, but includes extensive notes, is highly historically accurate, and is scaled well for different sizes. This type of gown is more complex to make than the more basic styles, but the pattern is reported to go together well. If you're ready to step up to period accuracy but not to draft your own patterns, especially of drop-front construction, this is a great choice.

You can see the versions on GBACG here.

Price: about $25.

Fig Leaf Patterns Work Dress c. 1795, Apron Front Dress c. 1799.

These two interesting gowns reflect 18th-century construction techniques used to create the evolving Regency style. Both are based directly on extant garments and have detailed notes describing period construction and materials. Like the Past Patterns gown, these patterns are pricey but unique. Choose size 8-18 or 18-25.

Price: about $25

Work Dress c. 1795: This gown has a moderately raised waist, front fitted with darts, and a back opening fitted with drawstrings. Although originally made in homespun linen as a work dress, there's no reason this pattern couldn't also be made up in finer fabrics for day wear; it was the material more than the construction that determined a garment's quality. The very 18th-century construction is both frugal of fabric and distinctive in look. The date of 1795 can be carried forward to about 1800, and a bit later for older ladies who would have clung to conservative styles.

Apron Front Dress c. 1799: Similar in style and period to Past Patterns' Lewis & Clark gown, with a drop-front skirt and drawstring-gathered bodice, this one has a vastly simpler back that would be much easier to construct. Although the original was made in printed calico, typical of daywear for the upper working class, it should translate well to muslin or silk as well. This drop-front style is useful for about 1797-1806, and the drawstring front makes it flexible for a range of shapes and sizes.

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Copyright 1997-2007 by Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.
Note: to the best of my knowledge, all images used are in the public domain
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