Monday, July 23, 2018

Burnley & Trowbridge Workshop Apron Front Dress and New Chemisette

This post is about my new apron front dress, with a few lessons learned along the way. I have come to really appreciate and enjoy apron front dresses. They seem like such a strange style at first, but I can get into this one entirely on my own, and I quite like the look of it on! 

The dress is 100% hand sewn, using historically accurate construction techniques. 

At the Oldham County Historical Society.

I made this dress at a Burnley & Trowbridge Workshop in Williamsburg I went to with my friend Hannah in May. This workshop was originally scheduled for October but was moved to May, which worked out great since school was out for me, and Hannah could come!

If you have never been to a B & T workshop, they are great. You work in pairs, and learn to drape patterns on each other. These are especially good if you are someone who is confident sewing with patterns, and ready to move to the next level and start making custom garments on the body.

Fitting on Hannah. Photo courtesy of Angela Burnley.

This turned out to be my second crossover, apron front dress in 6 months. (You can see my post on the Fig Leaf Patterns Surplice Dress here).  I really wanted to be sure the two dresses looked different, so I looked around for a trim option on the front that would really stand out. I found this example in Fashion in Detail from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fashion in Detail, page 57

This was pretty easy to achieve. Cut out three long strips of fabric, and fold the ends in so no rough edges show. I didn't stitch the edges in place or anything, which seems to have worked out fine. I clipped the ends into my sewing bird from Amazon Drygoods to provide some tension while I braided them.

 As you pin it in place to stitch in place, try to fan out the braid and keep it nice and full. Then stitch the ends down on each side,and use a wide whip stitch to attach it inside the neckline of the garment.

I added tapes on the inside back so I could tie in a pad to hold out the pleats.

I have found with these dresses it is best to make the laces on the apron front long enough so that you can bring them around and tie them in front under your bust. I added a couple of loops on the back to keep them in place (you see this on a lot of originals).  Both the ties and the loops are made of 1/4 inch tape from Burnley & Trowbridge

This not only makes you more self-sufficient, it also provides a nice amount of tension to keep the skirt in place. I also add a couple of straight pins to be sure, and so far I haven't had any issues with it slipping out of place.

Once I have tied the tape snuggly under my bust, I'm actually able to tuck it under the skirt so it doesn't even show. I usually secure the top with a couple of pins, though this is more preventive, I really haven't had trouble with it falling down at all. 

I also wanted a new chemisette to go with the outfit. I draped the pattern out on the mannequin my friend Jocelyn gave me.

If you are someone who wants to take that jump into draping, this would be a great place to start. The first thing I ever draped was a chemisette on my friend Erica back in 2013 when she came for the Jane Austen Festival. You know what a chemisette is supposed to look like, you are really just making sure the shoulder slope, neckline, and length are correct. Take the plunge and try it!

The ruffles are actually antique trim which I restored with Restoration. If you have not used it, this stuff is amazing! It will seriously take the yellow out of older white fabric.

Before and after - I think these were originally meant for the bottom of a sleeve, so I just opened them up and trimmed them down a little. 

I found that I had to iron the antique cotton on a very low setting without any steam. When the iron was too hot it yellowed it again, though the Restoration was able to remove it (AMAZING).

Gathered onto 1/4 inch tape- See Patterns of Fashion Volume 1 page 50 for examples. 

I gathered the trim onto separate pieces of tape which I attached to the collar of the chemisette. There are examples of this from the period, including two in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion. This also means I can easily remove the trim and put it on another chemisette in the future if I want to.

These go really well with my blue cotton spencer and straw bonnet. Put it together and this is definitely my favorite Regency/Federal outfit at the moment.

What we're looking at....well, that's another story...


  1. I really love the ensemble, as well as seeing your process! Thank you for sharing, Amy! Just beautiful!

  2. I have wanted to attend a B&T workshop for ages. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. It is so worth it. And you get to visit Williamsburg while you are there!