Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New Cotton Spencer

Of course, one of the best parts of the Jane Austen Festival is the shopping! 

Honestly, I think I did a pretty good job of holding back this year, all things considered. But one thing I was really after was some fabric for a new spencer. Since so much of my living history time is spent in very warm conditions, I really wanted some light cotton. The only other one I have is cotton velvet, and I just didn't have the heart to even try putting it on this summer. 

I think it shows how the further I go the less I feel like I have to prove. My first Jane Austen was like 'I WILL WEAR THIS THING ALL DAY TO SHOW OF WHAT I AM MADE'. This year I kind of looked at it in the closet for a second in the morning and thought 'wow, that looks unpleasant, I'm not gonna do that'.

My main inspiration piece was this one from Gennessee Country Village, graphed out on 19thus.org

(back view)

I found some lovely cotton from Regency Revisited which really reminded me of the print on this short gown 

For the body pieces on this I used a pattern that was draped on me at a Burnley & Trowbridge  pelisse workshop in 2015. The sleeves I had drafted for another project last summer, and the collar I pulled from the Period Impressions spencer pattern.

My main goal with this project, other than making something that won't kill me in the heat, was to not obsess over details and crank something out. I've gotten VERY into period hand- construction details the last couple years, and in general I am prone to obsess over every little detail as I go. For the most part I really enjoy that, but it's also starting to feel like everything I do takes forever. So for the most part I tried to forgo all the period topstitching techniques  and actually let myself crank this one out.

There were a couple of exceptions to this. I pinned the bust darts in place and topstitched them down by hand.

This is a wonderful fitting technique I learned at the same B & T workshop which saves SO MUCH TIME I used to spend stitching a dart on the inside, trying it on to fit, restitching, etc. To help with the fitting I actually sewed hook and eye tape down the front before I fit the darts.

This way I had the front fastened exactly as it will be when I fit the darts, instead of trying to approximate that fit with pins.

From there I added a waistband which I sewed on by machine and finished by hand. 

Unfortunately when all was said and done, it was fitting kind of loosely on the bottom. I had hoped that the waistband would take care of this but it didn't, so, with Brian's help, I added a pleat in the back. 

The finished result is cool and comfortable, I am very happy to say.

Photos by Brian Cushing.
Bonnet by Lynn McMasters 


  1. A very happy result! I agree, Kentucky in the summer can be miserably hot. I don't think I'll be able to persuade my sisters to go in costume with me next time we go, but I plan to myself. I may follow some of your ideas as they make sense to me.
    And no, not velvet, not even cotton velvet.

    1. I find it's best to put on as many layers as I can bear in the morning so then I have the joy of taking them off later. Hopefully this one can stay on a bit longer :-) Say hi if you are at the Jane Austen Festival next year!