During the Regency era there were any number of ways to embellish a gown, from printing or painting directly on the fabric, to adding lace and other accents, or even embroidery. One method of embroidery, Tambour Work, was especially popular for it’s ease of application. Tambour is French for drum, and refers to the method of creating the embroidery.
Tambour work was at least as popular as embroidery and was faster to produce. The fabric to be worked was stretched on a large frame held on a stand, and the lady used a hook like a tiny, sharp crochet hook to punch through the fabric and create a chain stitch. The result is almost indistinguishable from embroidered chain stitch except that it is so very fine and even, and the work goes more quickly. Tambour work is still used on couture clothing today.
Fine muslins were perfect for tambouring because the loose weave was easy to punch through without damaging. Most work of the era was white-on-white; subtle, but the translucency of the muslin contrasted with the opacity of the tambouring. In addition to tambouring their dresses, fine ladies tamboured fichus (neckcloths), shawls (not very warm, but pretty), reticules, and more.
By the 1830’s, machines had been created which could produce tambour work fabric 140 times faster than the average seamstress. Professional tambour artists were out of a job, and the ladies of leisure soon found other hand crafts to occupy their time and talents. Victorian tastes drifted away from the delicate details of the previous era and the art was virtually forgotten for a time.
Imagine attending a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and you discover the object of your affection is sitting in a box to your right. You have no desire to make a spectacle of yourself by leaning out of your box to see who they are with, so you take out what appears to be a straight-barrel spyglass and point it at the stage. While it looks as if you are focusing your attention on the performance, the ingenious spyglass you are holding is allowing you to watch the people in the box to your right. Now you can stare to your heart’s content and no one will be the wiser.
While researching a pair of antique opera glasses this past week, I stumbled across a fun accessory I’d never heard of known as the “jealousy glass.” It looks like a single barrel opera or field-glass, but it actually contains an oblique lens and side aperture that allows the user to discretely see what is happening to their left or right.
The jealousy glass, also known as a polemoscope, was invented by the German-Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1637. Hevelius believed his invention could have military uses, but the viewing angle was found to be too narrow. During the 18th century, the general population began using the polemoscope to spy on other people.
During Jane Austen’s day, taking a holiday by the sea was no uncommon thing. The popularity of towns such as Brighton inspired Jane to write her last, unfinished novel, Sanditon, about a small town with big city aspirations.
The Sea air and Sea Bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every Disorder…
Sea bathing itself, would prove to be an interesting experience for any young lady bold enough or ill enough to be encouraged to attempt it. Wagons, called Bathing Machines, were invented especially for the purpose, and would be drawn out into the water by sturdy women, who might then assist you down into the water where you could paddle about or swim in relative privacy, shielded from view of the shore.
Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide and her son Hastings spent part of December 1790 through part of January 1791 at the seaside town of Margate. She wrote of her time there, as quoted from JASA’s Jane Austen at the Seaside:
I had fixed on going to London the end of this Month, but to shew You how much I am attached to my maternal duties, on being told by one of the faculty whose Skill I have much opinion of that one month’s bathing at this time of the Year was more efficacious than six at any other & that consequently my little Boy would receive the utmost benefit from my prolonging my stay here beyond the time proposed, like a most exemplary parent I resolved on foregoing the fascinating delights of the great City for one month longer … Was not this heroic? … Hastings grows much & begins to lisp english tolerably well, his education is likewise begun, his Grandmamma having succeeded in teaching him his letters. The Sea has strengthened him wonderfully & I think has likewise been of great service to myself, I still continue bathing notwithstanding the severity of the Weather & Frost & Snow which is I think somewhat courageous.
Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with her opinion of each.
-Pride and Prejudice
Smocking is an embroidery technique used to gather fabric so that it can stretch. Before elastic, smocking was commonly used in cuffs, bodices, and necklines in garments where buttons were undesirable. Smocking developed in England and has been practised since the Middle Ages and is unusual among embroidery methods in that it was often worn by laborers. Other major embroidery styles are purely decorative and represented status symbols. Smocking was practical for garments to be both form fitting and flexible, hence its name derives from smock — a farmer’s work shirt. Smocking was used most extensively in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. “Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it.” But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.
Jane Austen fans are familiar with the high-waisted muslin dresses popular during her adulthood. How many are aware that machine-made net or gauze became a “hot” item from 1810 and on?
“Net dresses were very fashionable and their popularity was spurred by new inventions. The development of machine-made net in the late 18th and early 19th centuries meant that gauzy lace effects were increasingly affordable either as trimmings or garments. The bobbin-net machine was patented by the Englishman John Heathcoat in 1808 and produced a superior net identical to the twist-net grounds of hand-made bobbin lace. It was so successful that women in the highest ranks of society, including the Emperor Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine, wore machine-net dresses. Initially, however, all machine nets were plain and had to be embroidered by hand.” – Victoria and Albert
Machine-made bobbin net was first made in England in 1806 (and in France in 1818). Until this date, lace as it was made was known as old lace. After that date, lace is categorized as being modern.
Machine made lace made an appearance around 1760. The nets and tulles became immediately popular. Their arrival spurred the production of other silk lace cloths, which led to a general rise in popularity of the silk lace trade – until a machine was invented that could produce silk net lace as well.
In the 18th century the hand-made net was very expensive and was made of the finest thread from Antwerp: in 1790 this cost £70 per pound, sometimes more. At that time the mode of payment was decidedly primitive: the lace ground was spread out on the counter and the cottage worker covered it with shillings from the till of the shopman. As many coins as she could place on her work she took away with her as wages for her labour. It is no wonder that a Honiton lace veil before the invention of machine-made net often cost a hundred guineas. Heathcoat’s invention of a machine for making net dealt a crushing blow to the pillow-made net workers. The result is easily guessed. After suffering great depression for twenty years the art of hand-made net became nearly extinct, and when an order for a marriage veil of hand-made net was given, it was with the greatest difficulty that workers could be found to make it. The net alone for such a veil would cost £30. – A history of hand-made lace: Dealing with the origin of lace, the growth of the great lace centres, the mode of manufactures, the methods of distinguishing and the care of various kinds of lace, Emily Jackson, p. 170
The most popular European centers for lace making were located in France, the region known as Belgium today, Ireland, England,and Italy.
During the French Revolution the French textile industry had suffered and unlike in England, use of textile machinery had been non-existent. Emperor Napoleon stopped the import of English textiles and he revived the Valenciennes lace industry so that fine fabrics like tulle and batiste could be made there. – Regency Fashion History
Between 1806-1810, net gowns embroidered with chenille embroidery became popular. Profits rose for the manufacturers as the price for the cloth plummeted.
In 1809 Heathcoat took a patent for his bobbin net machine. But the profits realised by the manufacturers of lace were very great, and the use of the machines rapidly extended; while the price of the article was reduced from five pounds the square yard to about five pence in the course of twenty-five years. – John Heathcoat and the Bobbin Net Machine, Samuel Smiles (1859)
By 1813, the bobbinet machine had been perfected. After 1815, gauze was used over satin evening dresses, with the fabric gathered at the back. By 1816, crepe, net and tulle were worn over evening wear made of satin, silks, velvets, kerseymere, satin, lame, and both plain and shot sarcenet.
Hon. Lady Codrington.—Net draperies, magnificently embroidered in gold lama, in bouquets and sprigs, over a petticoat of white satin, with blond lace at the bottom, headed with a rouleau of gold lama; train of crimson velvet, trimmed with gold lama and blond lace. Head-dress gold lama toque, with ostrich plume, and diamonds.
Not every lady of that era was obsessed over bobbin net lace or tulle. Many began to publicly and proudly favor the old hand made lace.
…both in England and on the Continent and at Almack’s, the Assembly Rooms at Bath and Tunbridge Well, the chaperons would gossip of their lappets of Alencon or Brussels. Numerous were the anecdotes as to how this treasure or that had turned up having escaped the doom the rag-bag, which alas! was the fate of so much old lace during the muslin and net period. – Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-made Lace, 1900, p 48.
Machine made lace dealt a great blow to the industry of hand-made fabrics. In Tiverton in 1822, where once 2,400 lace makers worked, only 300 lace makers were still employed.
The Duchess of Gloucester was one of the few whose affections never swerved from her love of the old rich points towards blondes and muslins, and her collection was one of the finest in Europe. Lady Blessington, too, loved costly lace, and, at her death, left several huge chests full of it. Gradually lace began to be worn again, but it was as it were ignorantly put on, worn simply because it was again the fashion to wear lace, and lace must therefore be worn; the knowledge of its history, worth, and beauty was lacking… – Emily Jackson, A History of Hand-made Lace, 1900, p 48.
Sprigs beautified the machine-made net. It is said that Queen Charlotte introduced applique on net to support the machine net industry. Honiton appliques consisted of white linen thread sprigs mounted on the net, but black silk sprigs were applied as well. The black silk cost twice as much as the linen threads and soon went out of fashion.
Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs. This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.
A grand thought has struck me as to our gowns. This six weeks’ mourning makes so great a difference that I shall not go to Miss Hare till you can come and help choose yourself, unless you particularly wish the contrary. It may be hardly worth while perhaps to have the gowns so expensively made up. We may buy a cap or a veil instead; but we can talk more of this together…Now we are come from church, and all going to write. Almost everybody was in mourning last night, but my brown gown did very well… It makes one moralise upon the ups and downs of this life.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
March 5, 1814
Outward manifestations of grief have changed in mourning rituals over the centuries. These days when we think of 19th century mourning, we tend to confuse elaborate Victorian rules of the 1860′s with the less rigid mourning etiquette of the earlier 19th century. Mourning fashions during the Regency Period are fully described in Dressing for Mourning in the Regency on the Jane Austen Centre’s website. Only the wealthy could afford the specially made fashionable mourning outfits shown in the fashion plates featured in Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblee, but the rising popularity of fashion magazines meant that the details of dress quickly spread through the provinces. Most people remade mourning clothes from an existing wardrobe, adding new linings to cloaks and pelisses, covering existing bonnets with a new piece of crape, and dyeing old dresses. Jane Austen wrote about her mother in 1808: “My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme.“
One can imagine how an illustration like the one on the right would inspire women to add mourning details to their wardrobes, but such an expensive outfit would still be beyond most women’s means. The middle class was rising in Continue reading Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look
The Regency silhouette went through a fair few changes…
Wednesday. — Mrs. Mussell has got my gown, and I will endeavour to explain what her intentions are. It is to be a round gown, with a jacket and a frock front, like Cath. Bigg’s, to open at the side. The jacket is all in one with the body, and comes as far as the pocket-holes — about half a quarter of a yard deep, I suppose, all the way round, cut off straight at the corners with a broad hem. No fulness appears either in the body or the flap; the back is quite plain in this form , and the sides equally so. The front is sloped round to the bosom and drawn in, and there is to be a frill of the same to put on occasionally when all one’s handkerchiefs are dirty — which frill must fall back. She is to put two breadths and a-half in the tail, and no gores — gores not being so much worn as they were. There is nothing new in the sleeves: they are to be plain, with a fulness of the same falling down and gathered up underneath, just like some of Martha’s, or perhaps a little longer. Low in the back behind, and a belt of the same. I can think of nothing more, though I am afraid of not being particular enough.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
May 5, 1801
The popularity of the high-waisted regency gown is due to both to French influence in fashion and the Neoclassical rage that swept Europe during the 18th Century. Marie Antoinette is said to have inspired the round gown of the 1790′s, which is essentially a dress and robe joined together and tied in the front. Later, Josephine Bonaparte who reigned supreme in her position as a fashion icon, influenced the slim, high-waisted, gossamer thin chemise dress of the early 19th Century.
The round gown, a precursor of the Empire gown, had a soft, round silhouette, with full gatherings and a train, and straight, elbow-length sleeves. These gowns were in stark contrast to the stiff, brocaded or rigid silk dresses of the rococo period. The round gown’s train, which was common for a short time for day wear and lasted until 1805-06 for the evening, would be pinned up for the dance, as Katherine and Isabella did for each other in Northanger Abbey. One must question how practical these long white muslin dresses with their trailing trains were in England, a country renowned for wet weather and muddy roads.
In England especially, daytime dresses were more modest than their evening counterparts. A few French images depict young ladies wearing day gowns with plunging decolletes, but this was not generally the case, and it is a point that cinema costume makers frequently miss. Until 1810, a fichu or chemisette would fill in the neckline. At first, embroideries on hems and borders were influenced by classical Greek patterns. After Napoleon’s return from Egypt in 1804, decorative patterns began to reflect an eastern influence as well.
Around 1808, the soft gathered gowns gave way to a slimmer and sleeker Regency silhouette. Darted bodices began to appear and hemlines started to rise. Long sleeves and high necklines were worn during the day, while short sleeves and bare necklines were reserved for evening gowns. The sleeves were puffy and gathered, but the overall silhouette remained sleek, with the shoulders narrow. The shape of the corset changed to reflect the looser, draped, shorter waisted style.
Due to the war between England and France, and the restrictions of travel to the Continent, the designs of English gowns began to take on a character of their own, as French influence waned. Between 1808 and 1814, English waistlines lengthened and decorations were influenced by the Romantic movement and British culture. Dresses began to exhibit decorations that echoed the Gothic, Renaissance, Tudor, and Elizabethan periods. Ruffled edges, Van Dyke lace points, rows of tucks on hems and bodices, and slash puffed sleeves made their appearance. The length of the gown was raised off the ground, so that dainty kid slippers became quite visible.
After the 1814 peace treaty, English visitors to France began to realize just exactly how much British fashion had split from its French counterpart. Parisian waists had remained higher, and skirt hems were wider and trimmed with padded decorations, resulting in a cone-shaped look. English fashion quickly realigned itself with the French, and the silhouette changed yet again.
Dresses now boasted long sleeves, high necks, and a very high waist, The simple classical silhouette was replaced by a fussier look. Ruffles appeared everywhere, on hems, sleeves, bodices, and even bonnets. In 1816-1817, the waistline fell just under a woman’s breasts, and could go no higher. There was only one way that waistlines could go, and by 1818, they began to drop by about an inch a year.
By 1820 the simple classic lines of the chemise dress had disappeared and completely given way to a stiffer, wider silhouette with a quite short hem. New corsets were designed to accommodate the longer waistline. Remarkably, Anglomania hit France, and the French began to copy the English fashion.
The rows of ruffles, pleats, appliques, and horsehair-padded decorations stiffened the skirt into a conical shape, creating a puffy silhouette. Big hats were worn to counterbalance the broad shoulders, much as big hair balanced wide shoulder pads during the 1980′s. By 1825 the waist had reached a woman’s natural waistline in fashion plates, but according to evidence in museums, it would take another five years before this fashion caught up with the general public.
Leg of lamb sleeves (gigot sleeves) appeared, and dress decorations became intricate and theatrical.
By 1820 the basic lines were almost submerged in ornamentation. The romantic past held a treasure trove of ideas for adorning a lady’s costume. From the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came puffs bursting through slashed and the revival of the Spanish ruff. collars and cuffs developed points a la Van Dyke and sleeves could be a la Babrielle (after Garielle d’Estrees, mistress of Henry IV of France). Skirts were festooned with roses or made more flaring with crokscrew rolls … Fantasy seemed to now no bounds. (Ackermann’s Costume Plates, Stella Blum, page vi)
Read more about regency fashion trends in the links below:
Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs.
This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.
Regency fashion (1800-1820) was based on classical principles of flowing Grecian robes. Although gowns enjoyed thin fabric and plunging necklines for evening wear, day dresses required something a little more substantial both for the sake of modesty and comfort in drafty old houses. A tucker or chemisette (a side opening half blouse) answered perfectly, filling in during the day, and able to be removed in the evening should the occasion so require it. They had the additional benefit of being able to be worn with any number of gowns further expanding the wardrobe.
In our shop, you can purchase your own ready made Chemisette or buy the Regency Underthings pattern which includes a corset, chemise and two different chemisette patterns.