Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Small Federal (or Regency) Bum Roll: A Quick Tutorial

Recently, I completed a lovely white bib-front gown for an event at Stephenson House. The event ended up being canceled due to COVID-19 but I did get to wear it for a video filmed at the site. The dress is a very lightweight cotton fabric that is wonderful to wear. But, it needed a little something to support the pleats at the back as well as help hold the ties of the bib-front in place. A small bum roll would be in order.

The size of ladies' bum rolls drastically reduced by the early 1800s compared to previous decades where false rumps were quite large. Small bum rolls are often seen sewn-in, hooked, or held with ties at the back waist of extant gowns and come in a range of sizes. There wasn't a standard pattern used by everyone to sew a bum roll. They simply made one based on their needs. Bum rolls offered support of the pleats, apron strings, ties, belts, etc in the high-waisted styles popular during the Federal/Regency/Empire period. There are also examples of bum rolls that tie separately around the waist for the same purpose. I chose to sew mine in since I really didn't want one more thing tied around my waist.  

I based my bum roll on the following images. Getting up close and personal with any of the originals was not possible so I simply studied the photos for details then used previous sewing experience to fill in the blanks.  What follows is a simple tutorial for making a small, attached early 19th-century bum roll.

My Inspiration

Silver and blue shot silk dress, c. 1810-1813, National Museum of Australia,  ID# 2005.0005.0141

I was unable to find which museum owns this gown or its history. It is shown as an example in a blog entitled John Marshall House Dress.

Three examples of early 19th-century bum rolls sold by Christie's in 2009.

My Bum Roll

First I needed to figure out how wide my bum roll should be. I didn't want it to be a huge roll that went around most of my fashionable waist (directly under my bust since gowns were high-waisted during this period)  but something that sat at my bodice's lower back. After looking at the two gowns and their bum rolls (pictured above) it became obvious that the rolls were roughly the width of the bodice's lower back where it connects to the skirt pleats. It's hard to see in the photo below but I am measuring the space between the two back seams at the waist. The measurement was roughly 6" plus it would need a 1/2" seam allowance on each end; totaling 7".

Where the measuring tape begins and ends marks the seams of the bodice's lower back. 

Bum rolls tend to be shaped like a crescent moon or half circle.  Now that I had my width of 7" for the top of the bum roll, I needed to decide on the measurement at the deepest point (center of half-moon). Keeping the half-moon shape in mind, I decided to make the middle of my pattern 2" plus 1" (for a 1/2" seam allowances at the top and a 1/2" seam allowance at the bottom/side) equaling 3". There is no particular reason I chose 3" other than I wanted to keep the bum roll small like the example in photo #2 above. I have a barrel chest/ribcage and wanted to keep extra bulk to a minimum. 

I took a piece of scrap white cotton from my stash and folded it in half.  The overall top width needed to be 7" but since I had folded my fabric in half, I'd only need to draw half of the top measurement for my pattern (red line) to create the top of my half-moon.  On the fold, I measured down 3" from the top line to find the deepest (and center point) for my length (yellow line). After establishing the width and length, I simply drew a curved line between point A and point B then cut out the shape. 

The hardest part was over.

Pattern piece after it's been cut out.

After cutting out the first piece, I laid it on top of the dress interior to check if my proportions were correct. The blue lines in the photo below show the lower back side seams. Once the bum roll is sewn with 1/2" seams it will be a perfect fit.

Finished pattern draft being checked for fit.

Once the first pattern piece was cut out, I used it to cut a second piece from more scrap cotton fabric.

The two pieces were stacked on top of each other and pinned all around the outside. Using two yellow-headed pins, I marked off a 2" space at the top that would be left open. This opening allows for turning and stuffing the roll.

A 1/2" seam was sewn around both pieces leaving the spaces between the yellow pins open for now.

The seam was trimmed to 1/4", the curved edge clipped, and the corners trimmed to eliminate bulk at the corners. 

The pieces were then turned right-side-out and pressed.

The only thing I had on hand to use as the stuffing was quilt batting. It worked fine however I did not lay it flat but wadded it up as I stuffed it in. The bum roll needed to have fullness to it. Cotton or wool wadding/stuffing would have been better but I didn't want to buy a big bag of wadding for such a tiny project.

Quilt batting was all I had on had to stuff the bum roll.

I stuffed the bum roll pretty tight so that it was nice and fat. The corners needed to be filled too so I worked the batting into them with a knitting needle.

Once it was stuffed full the opening was pinned then whip-stitched closed.

Opening pinned and ready to be stitched closed.

Again, referring to photo #2, there appear to be some tufting-like stitches sewn into the bum roll so I did the same. I assume these tuffs help to hold the batting in place over time.

Two stitches were sewn at equal distances in the center to create tufting and help hold the batting in place.

The bum roll fits nicely between the lower back seams. I tacked it on top of the waist seam so I could easily remove it before laundering (if necessary) and also in an attempt to hold that seam down.  

The finished bum roll.

It works perfectly and doesn't create a large bulk at the back of my dress. I'm not sure how I ever got along without a bum roll before now. This one has convinced me that I may need to make one that ties around my waist to wear with my other dresses....even though I said I wouldn't wear one more thing around my waist. This was a super simple project completed in less than an hour (I love instant gratification). It really made a huge difference in how my dress lays, hangs, and fits.

The bum roll is attached on the inside and completely unnoticeable from the outside. 

The dress from the front. This is probably one of my favorite gowns.