Costume,  Historical Costuming

I Made a … 1820s Dress for a Regency Little Dorrit Costume

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My 1820s Little Dorrit costume is complete! It’s actually been finished since February but as I was rushing to meet the Foundations Revealed competition deadline at the time I was too stressed to do a blog post.

Since then I’ve made lots of videos about the making of process so I won’t go into too many details here. I’ll just talk a little about my final thoughts on the project.

You can also read my other post about this project for the undergarments and the chemisette.

1820s Dress Video:

The 1820s Dress Pattern:

For this project I used the 1815-1825 pattern from Laughing Moon Mercantile. You can either buy a printed copy or a digital copy. I went for the digital copy but it’s only available in A0 format so you will have to have it printed professionally. I use the service from Eternal Maker.

#138 Download - Ladies Back Closing Regency Gown

What’s great about this Laughing Moon #138 pattern is that there are a number of different views. I went for the long, Marie sleeves, with the bands, but I came up with my own decorative design for the hem.

I also altered the bodice based on a pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1*. First, I tried to make these sun ray pleats but my fabric was too heavy to make it work. I was using a stretch cotton sateen from Minerva*. I know it’s not historically accurate but it was very affordable.A paper pattern piece pleated and pinned into position on a dress form. The pleats fan out in a semi-circular motion from the centre

In the end I settled on this gathered design as seen in Janet Arnold. I think it’s much more effective in this heavier fabric.

Making the 1820s Dress

The construction process for this dress was LONG. Thankfully I made a mock up come petticoat so I knew roughly how the bodice would fit, even with my changes. But I still made a bodice mock up from my lining fabric, just an old white sheet.

Mock up of the alter 1820s dress bodice

What made it so time consuming was all the piping! I piped every seam except for the side seams under the arms. There was also all the fiddly cuffs and arm bands that needed piping. I had a bit of a disaster trying to bag them out and ended up having to remake them all. VERY ANNOYING.

1820s dress bodice work in progress showing the piping at the yoke

I also made the decision to have this be a convertible dress for day and evening wear. That meant I had to make the long under sleeves detachable. I did this following a tutorial from Nikki Lee-am on Youtube. She did hers for an 1830s dress but it also worked for my 1820s dress.

1820s dress sleeve close up showing the piping on the arm bands

The skirt

The skirt has a padded hem and was trimmed with padded rouleaux. This all had to be done by hand and my stitching got less and less neat. I’m not worried about it though because all of this stitching on the rouleaux was hidden when it was slipstitched onto the skirt.

The finished 1820s Little Dorrit dress modelled by Claude in her wheelchair

I chose these interlocking scallops based on a fashion plate from around this period. I wanted my 1820s dress to have lots of little nods to the story of Little Dorrit*. As the Dorrit family’s fortunes go up and down a lot, I think these scallops are a great representation of that.

I made padded bows to cover up the top of the scallops like in the fashion plate.

1820s day dress back view showing the padded hem and rouleaux trim

I made the belt that came with the Laughing Moon #138 pattern but I added a decorative bow made of scrap fabric to cover up the join. While I think it’s a good idea I wish I had taken more time over it but I was rushing to meet the deadline.

Back view of 1820s Little Dorrit showing the wide ruffle of the pelerine


For the day version of this outfit I also made a detachable pelerine. This I patterned myself and added this wide box pleated ruffle. I love this pelerine! It’s one of those wacky items from the past that take an outfit to the next level.

The Finished 1820s Dress

When I first finished the dress, I felt a little deflated. I think it was just rushing to meet the deadline because when I look back on it now I love this costume! Does it capture the character of Little Dorrit? I think so! And nobody would know that this dress was made of £4.99 a metre stretch sateen and an old bed sheet!

Thie finished 1820s little dorrit dress from the side, standing side on with walking stick.

Details on the bonnet will be coming soon so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for that post!

A close up of Claude from the waist up wearing the 1820s Little Dorrit dress, frilly chemisette, pelerine and bonnet

What do you think? Let me know in the comments,

Claude x