Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Regency Reticule

As I continue to build my Regency wardrobe, I have found myself in need of a reticule. Since those flimsy, figure-hugging Regency gowns leave no room for pockets, a girl needs a place to put her fan and handkerchief, to say nothing of the anachronistic necessities of cell phone, car keys, and such.

Small decorative bags were all the rage during this period. They tended to be rather fanciful in shape, their pointed, geometric outlines highlighted by embroidery, tassels, and other embellishment.

Early 19th century, MFA Boston
This particularly fabulous example is actually four-sided; each side has a different central motif. Click the link above to see pictures of the other sides. 

As I hunted for inspiration in online museum collections, I noticed a common theme in the reticules that I was drawn to: most of them were white/off-white and decorated with colorful embroidery. Certainly there are many examples of brightly colored reticules, but the white ones seem a bit more common and were the ones that caught my eye.

1800-1824, V&A 
This is one of my favorites. So many tassels!!

1790-1800, V&A
A slightly earlier example with very ornate embroidery. You can see how these little bags would have easily developed from 18th century pockets. 

1820-1830, V&A
Yes, this is a bit later, but I love the embroidery. 

After ogling all these pretties, I just knew my bag would be white. The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge happens to be a white theme — what a convenient coincidence!

I was lucky to pick up a half-yard remnant of creamy off-white silk taffeta for about $3 at Discount Fabrics a few weeks ago (there were tape marks along part of it, so they gave me a steep discount off the remnant pricing). Perfect for this project, since I can easily cut around them!

I chose a simple shape, typical of the period: basically a rectangle with a triangle at the bottom, like the one shown here:

The shape narrows at the top because of the drawstring. 

For the embroidery pattern, I poked around online to find a motif that evoked the style of embroidery seen on originals — something delicate, scrolling, and floral — and found one I quite like. I would share it here, but I can't seem to find either the image itself or the website I got it from. Sorry!

I chose embroidery floss colors that seemed period appropriate, then started stitching. I am a very inexperienced embroiderer, so I just made stuff up as I went along. The stems were done in split stitch, the flowers drawn with outline stitch, and most of the rest is some kind of satin stitch. I realized after the fact that chain stitch might have been more appropriate, but I'm still fairly pleased with the result:

The bag is lined in lightweight white cotton. The tassels are handmade from sz. 30 silk thread, and the drawstrings are 5/8" silk satin ribbon.

All in all, a very simple and satisfying project! 

The details:

The Challenge: #15 — Colour Challenge White

Fabric: Off-white silk taffeta, white cotton for lining

Pattern: improvised

Year: 1790s-1820s 

Notions: DMC cotton floss, sz. 30 silk thread, 1-1/2 yd 5/8" silk ribbon

How historically accurate is it? Fairly accurate, to the best of my knowledge. I know next to nothing about period embroidery, so the stitches or floss may be wrong. The farbics are good, the construction is plausible, and it is entirely hand-sewn. I would say at least 7 out of 10 for accuracy. 

Hours to complete: 4-5 hours for the embroidery, plus about 2 for construction. 

First worn: will be used at Costume College 2013

Total cost: around $12 (about $3 for the silk remnant of which I used only a tiny portion, $4.25 for the silk thread, and about $4 for the silk ribbon — cotton lining and embroidery floss were from my stash)


  1. How lovely! And your embroidery is quite nice!
    I just might have to make a reticule, after seeing your lovely one. I carry around a big bag, which I over-stuff (It isn't possible to get a big enough bag- I just find more things I want to carry around with me!)and sometimes I'd like to have a small, fancy bag to take around when I don't need to carry around EVERYTHING. And making something that works for a historical outfit is a big bonus, too!
    I just really love the embroidery on your bag!!

  2. Wow-that is simply stunning! I just love the embroidery, and of course the tassels :) I'm sure it will go nicely with your costumes. Beautiful work!

  3. It's so lovely! I never got around to embroider pockets - what's the point if they're not going to be seen?! - but an embroidered reticule makes sense, especially when it's this gorgeous.

    Do you know when reticules first show up in fashion plates? I haven't looked into it thoroughly but I don't think I've seen one in the late 1790's plates from Gallery of Fashion so I'm curious. It would make sense that they had them since the silhouette slimmed down so drastically and pockets would somewhat ruin that but I don't know.

    All the best!

  4. It's so pretty! I would never have known you weren't an experienced embroider from the end result! I love all the research and thought you put into such a simple item.

  5. Beautiful job! It's AWESOME! Though I don't do regency, it looks very handy! I hope you enjoy using it! :)

  6. How beautiful! And your embroidery doesn't look at all like you're new to it. Now I want to research reticules and make my own :)