It is a truth universally acknowledged that while a gorgeous Regency-style dress can be fabulous, stick one on a toddler and it gets seventeen thousand times more fabulous.
My daughter is turning two at the end of the month, and we’re throwing her a Jane Austen tea party of dubious historical accuracy. While precocious, my daughter has not yet actually developed an enthusiasm for Jane Austen, so you may have guessed that the theme is one of my choosing. The original manifestation was in fact from a manuscript I am currently working on, temporarily titled Boy Girl Party, which is told through gatherings, each of which is introduced with an invitation. When it came time for me to write a party for a young girl, my mind immediately conjured this tea party.
My daughter only really cares if there will be cake and farm animals (check and check). So, of course, I’m aware that this is me throwing my toddler the party I would have adored as a little girl. And maybe it’s a little more than that. Maybe it’s that although she is too young to understand it and too young to remember it at a later age, I want to give her that sense of being transported, that feeling for a time of her ordinariness being elevated, that entranced me the moment I lifted Emma at the age of nine.
In my pre-party thrifting frenzy, I came upon some terrific damask print curtains for dirt cheap. Naturally, my first thought was, this calls for a tiny tiny Jane Austen dress! What follows is a photo-tutorial for my completely experimental process. There are probably better ways to do everything, and if you know them, more power to you! Enjoy!
Fabric for outer dress (not sure, but less than half a yard)
Fabric for inner skirt (just a tiny bit, enough for just the front part of a skirt)
Elastic lace trim (I used about a yard and a half)
The usual (thread, scissors, etc.)
Let’s start with the patternmaking, shall we?
I took the resulting tracing and, in blue, you can see where I changed up the neckline a bit and extended the skirt outward to give it a little more poof. A note about the neckline: I made sure to make it large enough so that my daughter could get the dress on without me having to add a closure, which I didn’t have time for. If your neckline doesn’t accommodate this, you’ll want to add a closure. I also brought the hemline way down, because we’re talking Jane Austen’s England, and those four inches there could mark my daughter as either Common Harlot or Respectable Lady of Good Family. This forms the base for my pattern pieces.
Now, for the sleeve. I folded a piece of paper in half, and I placed a sleeve on top of it, with the top (the shoulder side) along the fold. Using the tracing wheel and transfer paper, I traced the sleeve.
After I cut it out and unfolded the paper, I added a 1/2″ seam allowance all around, and this is what I got. I drew a line to mark the center of the sleeve and another from armpit to armpit. But I want this sleeve to have a little poof, too, so…
Then, I cut apart the segments and adjusted the curve, adding some space in between them. I taped this all to a piece of paper so that I could trace the resulting altered sleeve pattern and cut it out. This is totally seat-of-my-pants winging-it sort of stuff, but hey, the sleeve gets gathered, and you know what I love about gathering? It’s a fudge factory, wherein much fudging of seams is forgiven. You want to cut 2 of these out of the main fabric.
Now, I took that above base dress pattern and just added a 1/2″ seam allowance all around, and indicated that this was to be cut on the fold. (Note: since I am using pre-made curtains, I’m simply using the finished edge and ignoring the hem allowance, but I’ve included it in the pattern.) This is the pattern for the back of the dress, and you want to cut 1 out of the main fabric.
Then, I traced the back dress pattern onto a new sheet of paper. I cut this horizontally a bit below the armpit, at the spot where an empire waist would fall. With the lower section, I added 1/2″ to the top for a seam allowance. Again, I indicated that this should be cut on the fold. (Note: Again, I’m including the seam allowance for the hem in the pattern, but I didn’t use it for cutting, since I was using the finished edge of the fabric.) This is the inner skirt pattern piece. You want to cut 1 from your inner skirt fabric.
To make the outer skirt pattern piece, I took the inner skirt pattern piece and placed it over a new sheet(s) of paper. Before tracing it, I added a 1/2″ seam allowance to the straight vertical edge. (Note again: I simply used the finished edges of the fabric, and I could disregard the 1/2″ seam at the bottom and the straight vertical edge.) Cut 2 from the main fabric (not on the fold).
Lastly, for the bodice pattern piece, I simply took that top half that I cut off of the back pattern piece tracing. I added a 1/2″ seam allowance to the bottom edge, and I added an extra two inches to the inside, because I want to gather the front a bit. This should be cut on the fold. Cut 1 from your main fabric.
If you are using unfinished fabric, you want to take the two pieces of your outer skirt and turn those inner vertical edges in a 1/2″ and sew. You also want to hem your skirts if necessary. Then (pictured above), I’ve basted my two outer skirt pieces atop my inner skirt piece along the top edge, with the wrong side of the outer skirt and the right side of the inner skirt together. Basically, you want this to look like it should from the outside when it’s being worn. Note, I did my basting stitches 1/4″ from the edge, to make sure they will fall within my 1/2″ seam allowance and not be visible in the finished garment.
If you need to, stitch a quick 1/2″ hem on the back dress. Then lay the back dress piece atop the front (all the stuff I just stitched together), right sides together. Stitch these with a 1/2″ seam allowance at the shoulders and sides.
Now, the sleeves. You want to fold it in half, right sides together, and stitch along the side with a 1/2″ seam. You see where I’ve done that one the left, and on the right is the sleeve turned right side out.
Sew your sleeves to the bodice, right sides together and matching up your armpit seam of your sleeve with the side seam of the dress, gathering the fullness of the sleeve to fit the armhole. This was hard to get a picture of. I found it easiest to match up my seams and first sew the part that wouldn’t be gathered. Then, I did the gathering to make the rest of the sleeve fit the armhole. Afterward, I returned it to the machine and sewed it down.
I then took my elastic lace trim and sewed it to the neckline with a zigzag stitch, right sides together. I stretched the elastic while I sewed the front of the neckline in order to gather the fabric in the front.
After trying the dress on my daughter, I determine where I wanted the sleeve to end. I marked the sleeve and took a measurement of my daughter’s arm circumference at that point. (6″!) I cut off the sleeves at that point. Then, I cut a 6″ segment of the elastic lace and sewed it into a little circle with a 1/4″ seam. I then sewed the lace circle to the sleeve, right sides together with a zigzag stitch, stretching the lace as I went into order to gather the sleeve. The cute, the cute, it burns!
I also measured my daughter under the armpits for the empire waist trim. She’s 19″ at that point. I cut a piece of lace to 19″, sewed it into a circle again with a 1/4″ seam, and stitched it to the garment at the empire waist. I used a zigzag stitch with matching thread so that it wouldn’t show, and I stretched it a bit as I went in order to gather the dress to fit. Note that you want the wrong side of the lace circle against the right side of the dress.
And there it is, construction complete!