In my sewing infancy, about eight years ago, I came across A Portrait of Laure Bro by Theodore Gericault, circa 1818.
(By the way, this image is often misnamed as Laura Bro. Her name is Laure. There also seems to be some confusion about the date. I've also seen it as 1819 or 1820, but I trust Aileen Ribiero, my source.)
I was deep into my research of the 1770s when I first saw it, and while I was struck by her beauty and her lovely gown, I wouldn't be pulled off my track, so into the back of my head she went. When the need for a nice Regency gown presented itself this year, she popped back into my consciousness and the dress was born.
The inner fabric of the gown is white linen that I had on hand. If I did it again I wouldn't use the linen, because it ended up being quite heavy in the skirts. Blame it on rigid resistance to using cotton (the perils of the 18th Century mindset...) and happiness that I was able to use something in my stash. The outer fabric is a truly gorgeous white cotton voile that I got from Exclusive Silks, one of my favorite fabric sources. It has the most gorgeous drape and hand, and while it was finicky as all hell to work with, the end result is really lovely.
I started construction with the bodice. It is in two layers: a very low cut opaque layer and a sheer, gathered layer with a higher neckline. The neckline looks bound and is cut very wide- almost to her sleeves. The width of the neckline at it narrowest point was going to be a problem for me since my Regency stays have wide shoulder straps. I wasn't about to make a new pair, so I had to deviate from the original at that point. The gentle gathers of the bodice front are a beautiful feature, and one that I worked really hard to capture.
There was some invention when it came to the back of the bodice. Obviously, the painting gives no hint to what the back looks like, but I decided to carry over the gathering so that it echoed the front of the gown. The back is finished with self-fabric buttons.
Bah! You can see my stays peeking out...
The sleeves were probably the trickiest feature of the gown. It isn't entirely clear from the image if they are opaque or sheer. Depending on when I look at the image, I can see both! I decided to make them up in the voile only, knowing that I could insert a linen layer if needed, but I fell in love with the look of the sheer sleeves on their own, so I stuck with those. The voile is crisp enough to give them some puff without the heaviness of the linen.
The skirts of the gown are mostly pretty cut and dry, with the exception of the tucks. I think this is an especially beautiful and elegant finishing technique. I wanted to incorporate the selvedge edge of my voile into the hem of the gown, so I actually cut the skirts along the width of the fabric instead of the length. Somewhere along the way I ended up cutting it too long, so where Laure has 4 tucks, I ended up with 6.
Lucky for me, I came across two yards of gorgeous silk ribbon that was the perfect color to match the beautiful Laure Bro. It is such a simple addition, but I think it makes the gown.
Every time I get to wear clothing from my Regency wardrobe, I am amazed at how breezy and comfortable it is compared to my typical 18th Century dress. More and more, I am enjoying my dip into this new time period!
Now if only I could find those blue shoes...