1810s Capsule Wardrobe · 1810s Spencer · Regency Era

Completed: Regency Sleeveless Spencer

Photo by Rebekah Markewich.

I’m so pleased with the overall look I’ve been developing with my regency accessories and this sleeveless spencer has really been the cherry on top, I think. Other accessories seen in the photos include a fichu and bonnet I had made previously, a necklace (actually made from 18th c. beads!) which I received as a gift years ago (thanks Kelsey!), a generic wooden fan from a souvenir store, and Emma boots from American Duchess which another friend (thanks Caitlin!) nabbed for me during their Boxing Day sale. Another friend, Rebekah, helped take some photos at Saratoga Spa State Park’s mineral springs bathing pavilion.

The springs of Saratoga Springs have a long history, and not being originally from the area, I still have a lot to learn about the local history – to be fair, I think there’s always a lot more to learn no matter how “expert” one is. While the post-colonial history of the springs has been written about a lot, I am still trying to find a well-researched source for information on its use pre-colonization by the Mohawk, to whom it belonged, and other Native Americans, and how it actually came to be taken over by the Europeans. Unfortunately a lot of the statements put out by the city, etc. on local signage and websites about that part of the history are pretty sparse, and I suspect, “cleaned up” and romanticized.

Materials and Construction

Image from Black Snail Patterns

Pattern:Black Snail #0119
Size: 14
Fabrics: Striped and floral upholstery scraps (probably synthetic), thick cotton muslin for the lining, thread, metals hooks and eyes. All from stash.
Monetary Cost: $0 – all from stash.
Time: Assembling pattern, toile and fitting, cutting = 3 days. Sewing (all by hand) = 2 weeks.


  • Altered grainlines of fashion fabric to suit striping. The side pieces are very off grain, the fronts are slightly off-grain so that the stripes are now parallel at the CF opening.
Photo by author.

Construction Notes

Toile/lining complete. Photo by author.
  • I used my toile as the lining – this eliminated some work, but I foolishly had sewed its seams in bright orange thread, without thinking that I might use it in this way.
  • I did the stripe-matching late at night, so I made many errors while patterning out (I drew it out on the paper pieces first). Actual cutting errors were lesser – the back is cut right side up, while the fronts are cut upside down and I thought I was going to be able to nest them but then after cutting the first one remembered they needed to be mirrored.
  • Next time I will make separate pattern pieces for cutting out the fashion fabric because they get trimmed down later. If following the instructions, these get trimmed by 1/4″ after they are basted to the lining. I trimmed mine before basting because it was easier, and when I laid them out in step 4, I had the fashion fabric face down and eyeballed centering the lining on top (with help from pins marking the center lines). Of course, there is always the risk that if you pre-trim they aren’t going to line up correctly.
  • In step 4 I was tempted to pin everything down rather than thread baste, but the fabric was bubbling, so in the end I thread basted everything down.
  • For the final round of sewing the fashion fabric down, I did not baste the fabric, however, just pinned it. As I went I re-adjusted, because sometimes new bubbling appeared. Any bubbling that remained after sewing seemed to get stretched out once I was wearing it.
Everything basted together! Photo by author.

Fitting Notes

  • The toile seemed to fit well, but I think I was too enthusiastic and therefore didn’t make some important observations. The first is that the back lower edge gapes. When one just lets it hang it isn’t too noticeable, but I can pull it out quite far. I still do not have a bustle pad yet, so this might help with that.
  • On the other hand, the underbust is too snug. I am not sure why these aren’t canceling each other out. Note the horizontal wrinkles…horizontal wrinkles indicate a problem in length. Here, I think it is that the spencer does not come with different cutting lines for different cup sizes. Being shorter and larger-busted, I suspect I just need to trim down the top edge around the bust area to carve out more space for the bust.

Observations/Questions on Historic Sewing

As I worked, some observations and questions came up regarding historical sewing:

  • Did sewers use a knot or backstitches to secure the ends of their threads? Was it personal preference or did one predominate?
  • How many pins might a sewer have at their disposal at the time?
  • When and why would thread basting be used vs. pinning? Pins are reusable, but so is a long basting thread, if carefully removed.

4 thoughts on “Completed: Regency Sleeveless Spencer

  1. Re: your wondering about pins and how many. It was my belief that they used thorns, as the fabrics (cotton at least) was not damaged by the sharp tree thorns. I have used them successfully for holding pieces in place.

    Liked by 1 person

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