Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Everything old is new again! My New (to being a) Spencer.

This is the story of how I just kept remaking a garment until it was FINALLY something I was satisfied with. I  originally made this it as a copy of this one in the MET

The Met describes this as a dress. Other people think it is a pelisse, since it is front opening. I've always wondered if it could be an example of how Regency/Federal clothes don't always fit neatly into separate categories. 

Visiting with friends at the Jane Austen Festival in 2017.

I was never completely satisfied with how the gathers fit on this. I tore the skirt off and put it back on TWICE, trying to get the gathers to fall how I wanted them to. And the front STILL tended to open between the closures when sitting (score one point for the 'pelisse' argument, I guess). And in any case, I made it two years ago, and it was time for something new! Remaking clothes was very common in the past, and turning this garment into a spencer was a lot of fun. 

I also gathered the ruffles on the neck by hand and spent some time getting them just right on the collar, so I did NOT want to give up on them! 

One of the pieces I was happiest with on the original was the stitching down the front. I was able to turn this around and make it the waistband on the spencer. 

I wasn't able to get a great pic, but I'm super pleased with it, so I'm including this one and it will have to do! 

I used what had been the detailed stitching down the front for the waistband, which I reinforced underneath with 1 inch cotton twill tape from William Booth, Draper. I'm really pleased with the result- its sitting nicely in place instead of flipping up or moving around in all the pictures I see of myself.

One of the things I like the most about this garment is the piping, another reason I wanted to give it new life.  You can see it really nicely on the back here.

In 1816, the year we portray at Locust Grove, it was all about the back bows. These pop up in LOTS of fashion plates. And you see them on both dresses and outer garments.

Here is an extant garment with the same back bow. It is dated 'ca. 1820' by an auction house, but those dates can be pretty vague. In any event, it's a nice physical example of what the other documentation is showing us for 1816.

c. 1820 (auction house date) 

I constructed the 'bow' in 4 separate pieces. Trying to tie an actual bow and have it come out nicely is very difficult. You can achieve a nicer effect much more easily like this.

I didn't take an pictures of the actual bow in construction, so the images below are recreated with scraps- please ignore the jagged edges. 

As seen above, you will want to make a small tube for the body of the bow first. You will then need a separate piece to go around it.  I also made the tails two separate pieces .

To complete the bow, sew the smaller band around the tube, and then affix that over the tails. You will want to fluff the body of the bow as you go. I also tacked it in place on the spencer.

This was my first experience turning one garment into another, and it was a lot of fun! If you are looking to spruce up your wardrobe with less work, stop and think about what an older garment could possibly be remade into!


  1. It looks great! What pattern did you originally use for the pelisse/dress?

    1. Sorry, I just saw this! This was actually draped on me by my partner at a Burnley and Trowbridge workshop. The workshop was to make a pelisse, but you also walk away with a great custom draped pattern. I've used it as the basis for two spencers now!