1810 Riding habit.
Today we are looking at yet anothern of my favourites, a Regency riding habit, closely based on the exhibit from the Kyoto Costume Institute ( if you have the book, it is on page171-173, inv AC5313, 86-2AB – or simply find it here. I am not really a fan of Regency fashions as they are not exactly flattering for my figure, but this habit did catch my eye and my imagination because of its simple elegance and surprisingly, not such a high waistline. And so, after craving it for the last two years or so, the time had come for me to tackle the project about 2 years ago – and if you fancy having a go as well, I hope you find the information and the instructions below useful.
Background information and research.
Those two photos were all I really had to go with. I did write to the Institute asking if it was possible to obtain more information regarding the cloth, lining or the buttons – or maybe just a few more images, but was very politely told that the museum did not provide that service. So all I had was a short description stating that it is ‘a Riding Suit, c.1810; black wool broadcloth; set of tailored jacket and a skirt of appropriate length for horse riding’.
Not much then – but a start.
The decoration on the front of the jacket is very similar to another item from the institute, a hunting Jacket – a spencer (INV.AC3187 80-8-1, dated 1815). The length of the spencer is also reminiscent of the one of the riding jacket.
The back of the jacket closely resembles that of the riding habit in Salisbury museum described in detail by Janet Arnold in her Patterns of Fashion 1 (page 46). The Salisbury museum skirt features there would also be suitable for my project – there are differences between the original I had in mind, but after careful deliberation, I decided to stick on to the well documented source and pattern instead of doing more improvising.
The idea was then to use the pattern from Janet Arnold for the skirt and the back of the bodice, and improvise the front of the jacket – and as i have discovered a little bit later on, exactly what another excellent costumier had done before – though she seemed to have opted for the hunting spencer front instead (http://www.koshka-the-cat.com/riding_habit.html).
Black broadcloth wool – 3.5m;
Silk taffeta (lining of the jacket, plus skirts bodice) – 1.5m
Linen (lining for the skirt bodice (0.5m)
40 Wooden moulds for the jacket buttons (or just use ordinary buttons)
2 small and 4 tiny buttons or moulds for the skirt bodice closure
A strip of buckram for lining the collar
Black and white linen thread,
Beige silk thread
2m of linen tape for the skirt ties
Hooks and eyes if you plan to attach your jacket to the skirt
The skirt is attached to a small silk bodice, lined with linen. There is no mention of the skirt being lined at all – not surprisingly though, since lining the skirt with silk or even linen, would render it even more slippery and compromise the rider’s grip. My 18th century habit has a skirt lined with silk, as that’s what the original had for lining, and whereas it rides well and I wouldn’t have problems riding in a show in it, I would not take it out hunting. Considering the fact that in the Regency period side saddles were not the safest contraptions (the leaping head that provides so much more secure grip was yet to be invented), and taking into the account the fact that due to the fencing off the countryside jumping the fences became a necessity, a spirited lady who wished to follow the hunt needed all the help she could get. Indeed, it is believed that some were even strapping themselves to the saddles to help them over the fences – not the safest idea really. All things considered, it looked as the lack of lining made sense – many thanks to Gini Newton and Becca Holland for helping me out with this issue! )
The pattern – Janet Arnold. I scaled the bodice pattern to fit me, but left the skirt as it was without any changes.
The skirt bodice construction:
1. Cut out the pieces in calico or linen to form a mock up. If you are lucky and your mock up doesn’t require any serious changes, your linen mock up can serve as the lining.
2. Pin or baste the pieces together, leaving it open on the right side. Try on – either on yourself or on a pre-prepared dummy. Make sure you try it on the underwear you are planning to wear with it – especially if you are wearing Regency stays – the bust position is very different to the one the modern bra gives – particularly true for more ample bosoms.
3. Adjust as necessary till you are satisfied with the outcome. Unpin the pieces and use them to draw the pattern.
4. Cut out the bodice in your top fabric and lining.
5. Sew the top pieces together: first insert the little gussets in the front pieces, and then sew the back pieces and left front together. Add the shoulder straps. The right piece with the gusset is on its own for the time being, it will be stitched directly to the waistband of the skirt later. Press the seams open. Repeat the same steps with the lining pieces
4. Fold the top edges of the silk and stitch it down. Snip the curves and notch to avoiding bulk- the fabric should lay flat on the curves
5. Pin the lining to the top pieces and stitch them together. Press.
Note: if you prefer to save time and use the sewing machine, simply skip the step 4 and 5: pin the lining and top fabric right sides together and sew alongside the top edges. Turn outside out and press.
You now have the bodice ready, time for the other components – the skirt, bustle pad and the pocket.
- Cut the fabric according to the pattern.
- Sew the pieces together.
- Hem the skirt – an inch wide hem seems to work fine, giving it enough weight, but smooth finish too.
- Place the skirt on a flat surface and pin the tapes into position.I used the same position as in the original, but do try it out first to make sure that the tied up skirt is not too short or too long. Stitch them securely, but make sure the stitches do not show too much on the right side.
- Cut small tabs and place them on the hem directly below the individual ties. Stitch firmly into position – only at the short sides, making sure the tapes can pass under them freely
- Cut out the waistband – it should be long enough to go around your high waist with a small overlap, and quite narrow.
- If you plan to have a watch pocket , cut it out now in two layers of silk or linen – it should be big enough to accommodate your watch (or a ph0ne….). Place right sides together, sew, turn out and press.
It is time to put all the pieces together – and it is not an easy task!
- Pin the bodice parts onto the waistband. Try to waistband on and make sure the pieces are in the right position. You might discover it is easier to simply put the waistband on the dummy, then pin the pieces onto it – saves time. Mark the final position of the bodice on the waistband and sew – make sure you sew only through the top layer of the bodice.
- Pin the skirt onto the waistband– the front part is mostly lying flat, the back will be cartridge pleated. At that stage you are simply making sure where to start the pleating!
- If you are happy with the position and know how much fabric has to be pleated into how much space, prepare a needle with a long and strong thread and sew a running stitch through the skirt to be pleated. The pleats should be small – depending on how much fabric you have, you should have your stitches around 1cm long. Draw the thread to see if the pleated section matches its place on the waistband. If it does, tie a strong knot in the thread to make sure the pleats stay together.
- Sew the skirt onto the waistband – use the machine for the front parts where the skirt lies flat, and then, with a strong thread attach the cartridge pleats
- Try the skirt on – again a dummy is a good option as well.You can now mark the position of the buttons on the shoulder straps – do not do it earlier on as the weight of the skirt will change the position of the bodice a bit!
- If everything fits snugly, attach the pocket to the waistband. Then sew the lining onto the waistband, covering its insides
- Cut out the little bustle pieces, place right sides together and sew along the outside edges, leaving part of the inside open. Turn inside out and stuff with some scraps. Pin or sew shut and stitch to the waistband at the back of the skirt
- All that needs to be done now is to sew the buttons on ( I covered mine with taffeta, using tiny ones on the shoulder straps and bigger ones at the side closure then make the buttonholes.
The skirt is ready now! Here worn tied up to facilitate walking around..
As mentioned before, I decided to use the pattern for the back from Janet Arnold and to improvise the front.
- Cut the back pieces in calico using a scaled pattern from J. Arnold. Cut all the back pieces including the peplum gussets etc. Also, cut out the sleeve.
- Draw a simple piece or the front – the important measurements here are the width – front to side seam at the bust and the waist level, the shoulder seam and the front length.
- Pin the parts together and put the jacket on the dummy. Pin the back piece onto the dummy and start working on your experimental piece. Mark the waist position, the length in front, back and sides. Mark the darts. Once the front starts to resemble a piece of clothing, take it off the dummy, adjust the corrections, and sew the mock up parts together.
- Put it on the dummy again – if the back and sides are ok when the front is closed, you can now work on the shape of the lapels. Mark how long you want them to be, where is the best place to attach the collar, how high you want it to button up. Draft a collar pattern and experiment with that too.
- Adjust as many times as necessary till you are satisfied with the look. Then take the mock up off the dummy – it is a good idea to try it on now on your own body too.
Note – it hugely helps if you have another person who knows her/his way around patterning helping – then you can skip the dummy process and have the patterns adjusted directly on yourself.
- Unpick the seams, perform any necessary corrections and voila! You have a pattern. You can now use your calico pieces as a stock pattern or use them to copy the pattern on a paper.
- Cut out the pieces in your lining fabric
- Just on the safe side (if you are not lucky enough to have another costumier at hand…) pin the lining together and try it on your stays and skirt. Any corrections here should be small, but better to see them on the lining than on the top fabric. Here, although the mock up seemed fine, I discovered the shoulder seams still needed adjusting
- Adjust if necessary , transfer any corrections onto the pattern and then and sew the lining pieces together
- Cut out the top fabric pieces. Stitch the darts in the front parts first. Sew in the back gusset, then the front pieces and then the little side and back peplum pieces. Sew the shoulder seam.
- For authentic looking finish – and if your fabric is difficult to open seam press, couch the seams down with linen or silk thread. Fold the edges and stitch them down.
- The sleeves – sew the top fabric sleeves – you can leave the cuff part open, or closed. Couch down the seam. The lining: stitch the cuffs to the lining of the sleeves first then sew them shut.
- Insert the sleeves into the armscythes. Pin carefully from underside first. When you reach the top part of the shoulder, you will see there is some fabric left. Either form it into small pleats to fit the armhole, or, as I did, use a strong thread to sew a running stitch near the edge and gather the pleats as you would have done for cartridge pleating – though here is simply helps to control the tiny pleats. Pin the section in place. Sew the sleeve in and repeat for the second sleeve and for the lining sleeves.
- Time for the collar. You should have the pieces cut out – both top side and lining in wool
- Take the top fabric piece and attach a small piece of buckram using parallel rows of stitching.
- Sew the reinforced collar onto the jacket.
- Put the lining in. Pin it carefully to the bodice and sew. Once you have done the bottom hem, and attached the lining in front and upper parts, do the same do the wool cuffs at the sleeves
- For the front, I have decided to use a facing. Cut the facing part big enough for the front part of the jacket, you will need 2 pieces. Stitch them carefully to the front, upper and lower edge of the jacket – and to the lining near the dart.
- Pin and stitch the collar lining into place. Mark the position of the front buttonholes than set to work on them – either on a machine or by hand.
- If you are lucky enough to have appropriate buttons ready – all that remains is to sew the buttons on. If not – make the buttons using moulds and bits of your top fabric.
- Sew the buttons to the front edge, then proceed to add the decorative ones on both sides of the bodice, at the cuffs (if you want to have buttoned cuffs, that is), and at the peplum
Your habit is now ready!
The whole outfit is worn over a chemise and stays (here once made using a Mantua Makers pattern – minus the lacing on the hip gussets. The others I had with lacing on tended to dig into the flesh when riding…).
Then a linen petticoat, and a habit shirt with frilled cuffs, with a simple silk stock.
My hat here is a simple silk topper with some rooster feathers attached.
and the result – photos on foot – from an event in Hereford
And with a mount..
Side saddle pictured here is of a Victorian design – much safer to ride in than the Regency ones, and the skirt works reasonably well, although it has to be said that without a help of a groom who would hoist me into the saddle and help the skirt lie flat over the pommels, it was very difficult to get the folds lie correctly and to adjust the length. Still, the skirt seemed to be reasonably secure to be ridden in, though the cut means it is not perfect for the Victorian saddle. but more about the Victorian habit in a few days time…. 🙂
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion, Macmillan, New York, 1984
The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute; Fashion, a History from the 18th to the 20th century, Taschen, 2002
Digital Archives of Kyoto Costume Institute: http://www.kci.or.jp/archives/index_e.html [Accessed 8/01/2012]