The Spontaneous Spencer

This is my entry for February’s Historical Sew Monthly challenge “Blue”. It wasn’t my initially intended entry, which was supposed to be a smart and clever-looking new pale blue wool coat made from a late teens/early 20s pattern I have. However, after doing a muslin and fiddling with it a bit I just wasn’t feeling it. I still hope to make it someday, but I wasn’t feeling totally enthusiastic about it and I think it’s too straight a silhouette for most of the clothes I wear, even though it has a little more flare than most styles from that period.

So, about the middle of the month I decided to completely switch tracks and make something that was nowhere on my sewing list/queue. Very practical decision (please note the sarcasm). I rationalized it to myself by saying that I had intended <someday> to make a new spencer from a piece of pale blue silk in my stash left over from the Regency ball ensemble I made a little over a year ago. And that even though I had no definite plans about it, it did get something off my sewing wishlist, at least, and used up an awkwardly-sized piece of fabric stash. In fact, everything on this came from stash, I didn’t purchase a single little bit for this, and that’s always nice.

I made the even more practical decision to hand sew the entire thing.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

My spencer is a combination of Sense & Sensibility’s pattern (which I already had and already used so I didn’t need to worry about fitting):

But took the sleeves from the 1818-1823 Pelisse in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I:

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The construction of the body of the spencer is probably pretty straightforward, but here are a couple of the sleeve to show how those go together.

Curiously, the sleeve head of the undersleeve is a separate piece. I used some of the white linen that I was using for lining (linen still being a common choice for linings at the time, a carry-over from the 18th century).


The oversleeve before being attached to the undersleeve:


The underside of the oversleeve to show some of the stitching:


The over and under sleeves pinned together:

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And sewing the sleeve into the armhole using a thick silk thread and tight backstitches:

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And voila!



I really love the little wee peplums on the backs of some spencers!



One of the other HSM participants, Hvar Spae Kona, made a whole slew of Dorset buttons (in tardis blue!) for her entry and that reminded me that I’d gotten a little kit for them at the Fashion Museum at Bath way back in 2008. I thought they’d be the perfect period addition to my spencer and I love them!

ETA: I just found this online tutorial for them that looks quite good, if you’d like to try yourself. They’re quite easy and forgiving if you don’t get them perfect (I certainly didn’t, but it’s not obvious!)







The Facts…..

Challenge: Blue

Item: Spencer

Fabric: silk dupioni (very low-slub/smooth one); white linen for lining

Pattern: Sense & Sensibility Spence and Pelisse pattern, c. 1818-1823 Pelisse in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I

Year: c.1818-1823

Notions: metal rings and cotton perl thread for Dorset buttons; silk, linen and cotton sewing threads

Historical Accuracy: I’m gonna go ahead and give myself 95% on this one. It’s a mash-up of patterns, but I think pretty plausible. It’s silk dupioni, but a very smooth/low slub one, so I’m not taking much off for that. It’s 100% hand-sewn with period appropriate methods, techniques, and supplies.

Hours to Complete: Ohhhhhh………lots, for such a little thing. Let’s guesstimate 25-30.

First Worn: not yet (see below)

Total Cost: all from stash whose prices I can’t remember. Let’s guesstimate again at….. $30.


AND NOW – all I need is a dress to wear it with! Yes, I made this without already having anything to wear it over. Such a practical project, but I love it , am so pleased with how it turned out and don’t regret it!

57 thoughts on “The Spontaneous Spencer

    • Thank you! And – Oh, so much piping for such a little thing! lol The keyholes are double-piped, so 2 separate rows of piping on each one. The pieces threaded through the keyholes are 4 rows of piping. Then the back and shoulder seams are also piped.


    • I used a pattern for the sleeve. In Janet Arnold’s book series Patterns of Fashion she took patterns from extant historical garments. The books have line drawings like the one I pictured accompanied by 1/8 scale pattern pieces drawn out on a grid. This is an AMAZING book series, I highly encourage you to check these books out if you haven’t seen them before, a real tour de force!


    • Thank you! I wasn’t 100% sure about the peplum until it was done. I knew I wanted one, but for a while was afraid I’d made it too big/wide and I was unsure about it being gathered rather than pleated. But now that it’s all done I really like it the way it is!


  1. Absolutely breathtaking! The attention to detail is wonderful – if it didn’t look so brand-new, I’d swear it was from a museum’s own collection!!!!


  2. In general, I’ve kind of had my fill of regency garments in the last few years, but this spencer is absolutely gorgeous!! I love the styling, the fabric you chose, and you did an exquisite job on it!


    • I know what you mean. I’ve been feeling that way too for a while, and about the 1910s. But just when I think I’m totally over it, it pulls me back in! lol


    • Thank you! And good for you doing your outfit in the right order, lol. You can wear your dress without a spencer, I can’t wear my spencer until I have a new dress!


    • Thank you! I always want to see the insides of things myself, to see how they work, so I try to show the insides of my things when I can! I’m glad you like that too!


  3. Wow! It is beautiful! I would have thought it a museum piece if you didn’t tell us you made it! Thank you for including pictures and directions of the sleeve alteration, I have the S&S pattern and wondered how a double sleeve was achieved. I am working on my first full Regency set from underthings out… still on the stays… and I appreciate being able to see your stitching and knowing I’m using the same pattern I feel I’m on the right track.


    • Thank you! I got a few S&S regency patterns a couple of years ago: the underthings one, the elegant lady’s closet, and the spencer/pelisse pattern. I quite like the stays pattern, even though I just made a pretty quick & dirty set (NOT handsewn, lol) and the spencer pattern is quite good too. The elegant lady’s closet pattern of the wrap-front gown was wonky. I changed it some to work with my border print fabric but the bodice was a bit weird anyway – just a heads-up in case you were looking at that one. I haven’t tried any of the other dress patterns, so can’t speak to them. You can check out my dress here:


      • I totally shifted gears (away from S&S dress but still S&S spencer) and I am in an online class for the laughing moon #126 dress. :). I bought the book you used for the Spencer sleeves just to look and I am glad I did, very interesting. My dress will have double sleeves not sure what I want to do with my Spencer, yet. Time to binge watch BBC Jane Austen.


  4. Reblogged this on Just As I Am…Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder and commented:
    This is a blog I just discovered today, and LOOK AT THE PROJECT completed here! A gorgeous pale blue dupioni silk Spencer. Absolutely stunning and extremely well-executed, entirely by hand. I cannot praise its maker enough!

    Oh, to have an excuse to start building a Regency-era wardrobe. Alas, I am still rounding out my late 1890s interpretation collection, so it will be a while…


  5. Pingback: The Spontaneous Spencer « Just As I Am...Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder

  6. I also have this pattern on my sewing-wish list, but I just might have moved it up the real-life sewing queue after seing your lovely version. It is truly gorgeous! Now I just need to make that regency corset first!


    • It’s quite an easy pattern to work with, so I hope you enjoy it. Definitely make the stays first, they do change your shape, especially up top. I might also recommend making a dress too before the spencer. I’d really like to wear mine, but will have a few projects to finish first before I make a white dress I can wear with it.


  7. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and the fact that it is all hand sewn just makes it all the more magical to me. I can’t stop looking at it. You have inspired me to do more sewing so that I may keep improving. Gorgeous!!


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  11. Wow, I think your the best seamstress to ever live. I cannot fathom that you made this. Thank you so much for sharing your skills with the world, it is so inspiring.


  12. This is gorgeous! I am in the middle of making a tailored riding-habit style pelisse from the S&S pattern, but no matter which way I put the sleeves in they seem to be hanging backwards. Any idea on what I’m doing wrong? I haven’t looked at it in a few months so it may be that I pick it up again and it magically is not a problem, as sewing is wont to do.


  13. Now I know this post was made several years ago, but I just have to comment on this masterpiece. It is like one of the dreamy period pieces you see on Pinterest or in a museum. Those you could look at for hours and always find something new to marvel at. There is a beauty that is beyond “pretty” or “decorative”, one that lies in shapes, colours, shades and craftsmanship regardless of the kind of object it is endowed on, and I find this here. Thank you for sharing this inspiring beauty with us.


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