1895 Ball gown – Bodice

The ball I was making my 1895 gown for was supposed to be today. Instead, it’ll happen next year. But the dress is finished, so to celebrate the occasion, instead here’s my post about making it!




The bodice of this dress was difficult mostly because for a long time, I didn’t know exactly how to trim it. I knew I wanted extravagant trim, but not exactly what. I had an antique beaded collar-like piece which seemed perfect first, but had rather wide shoulder pieces which didn’t fully fit the 1895 style. So when I started off, I decided to just do the base bodice first.

I used TV493 – 1896 Plain Bodice as a base. It’s not a ballgown bodice, but the goal was to get the basic shape and as usual for me with TV patterns, it fit almost perfectly out of the envelope.


First bodice fitting, pretty good!


The bodice is made of 3 layers, silk organza, silk dupioni and white cotton. I sewed all layers together and then treated them as one.

After the base was sewn and the bottom finished with binding tape, it was time to decide on the neckline. My original piece of trim was definitely too wide for the shoulder, but I got another one, and this one was more promising.

Left the original plan. Super pretty, but too wide for the shoulder. To the right the new plan: it fits better, but needs something more.


The new beaded piece was also in a bit of a shabby state, as the threads had faded from black to light brown, something you see more often with old black dyes. I decided to re-dye the piece to make it look better. I tested first on another old faded piece, and when the threads didn’t disintegrate, I moved on to the trim piece. It’s still not 100% black, but the brown is a lot darker and less noticeable.

Before & after dye. The little round thing was my dye test.


Aside from the beaded piece, I knew I wanted something more. In the end, I found this fashion plate which has a somewhat similarly shaped front piece. I took inspiration from that and created organza ‘poofs’ running from the beaded piece unto the shoulder line. I also found black antique lace in my stash, and used that to both fill in the neckline and create extra interest around the sleeves and back neckline.

The rough  inspiration for the bodice



Trying out stuff. The only piece I ended up leaving out is the little extra beaded piece CF at the top.


Finally,  I added velvet trim. The skirt has velvet trim as main accent, and I wanted to create a bit of cohesion. I added it along the bottom, and then decided to also put it on the back seams.



The sleeves were created after most of the trim was put on, especially the organza poofs and lace run into the sleeve seam, so had to be done first. I used the TV495 – 1890’s Sleeves pattern as I wanted different sleeves as came with the bodice. I ended up using view 5, but without the ruffle to get short ballgown sleeves. The sleeves have a fitted inner layer, and an outer layer of the organza + dupioni. To make them poof, they have a structure between those two layers. As the inner layer is fitted, it’s not possible to wear separate sleeve supports. So instead, I consulted Janet Arnold and found a ‘sleeve interlining of black stiffened cotton’ in the pattern for the 1894-5 London Museum dress. Via the Foundations Revealed live-calls, I’d already heard Luca talk about these, and I made mine of tarlatan after his suggestion.


Comparing sleeve shapes from TV & Janet Arnold


This layer of tarlatan is pleated and attached at the top of the sleeve. It stands out sharply, and holds up the outer sleeve perfectly! I just have to be careful not to squish the bodice. Of course, it would also loose shape when wet, but given my dress is silk I planned on avoiding that anyway.


The sleeves were stitched in by hand, as I was handling a good nr. of layers. Silk organza and silk dupioni in ruffles, pleated tarlatan ( so 3 layers at times), cotton inner sleeve and the silk organza, silk dupioni and cotton of the bodice. I also made sure to attach the sleeves pretty high on the shoulder, as is typical of this era.



The very last thing to do was to add boning, and closures. The dress closes center front, underneath the beaded trim. I debated putting in a center back closure, but eventually decided this’d be nicer for getting in/out by myself. There’s hooks and eyes center front, and the beaded piece is only stitched down on one side. When the center front is closed, the beading can be closed on the other side as well with hooks and eyes. This does mean the beading is handled on closing the bodice, so to give it a bit more stability I backed it to another layer of black silk organza. The lace filling up the neckline is attached to the organza on both sides, so it closes with the beading.


Backing the beaded piece with organza

How the bodice closes:


Because I didn’t want to directly put the dress in my closet again, I wore it for pictures across the street last week. I’m already looking forward to wearing it again next year!



I also took it for a twirl!


19 thoughts on “1895 Ball gown – Bodice

    • Thanks! That was precisely my reasoning in not making it a center back laced up bodice! There are a lot of inventive closures on late 19th century dresses, and trim all over the bodice definitely makes it easier.

  1. Once more many thanks for sharing this. I was knocked out by the opening photo, both the dress and you are very beautiful. It seems to suit you perfectly. The front closing with hooks and eyes for not only the bodice, but the trim as well is very like a number of dresses in the costume collection where I volunteer. It felt as if the dress really way completely from 1895.

  2. It looks so beautiful! I especially love the skirt and I think you should wear a string of jets with it. And the advantage of making the ballgown now is that you will already have one by the time the ball happens. I am almost certain the coronavirus pandemic will be all over a year from now and the ball will not be cancelled as we recover from the pandemic.

  3. Wow–It looks so terrific I’d almost believe this was a real vintage gown you’d found! The color is amazing (and perfect for you) and you did beautiful tailoring work. A KEEPER!

  4. Boo, so sad that the ball was supposed to happen recently! But yay for you for sticking with this project and not getting discouraged. It will be wonderful to be able to pull out a ready-to-go dress next year! And it looks great!


  5. Pingback: Atelier Nostalgia – 1895 Ballgown Bodice – Of A Capricious Humour

  6. I just discovered your site today. How beautiful you look in this gorgeous creation. I hope the ball goes ahead 2021. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Oh but this is truly fabulous! I’m not even sure who has had the most fun so far! You, for making it, Jane Arnold for advising or myself and others watching on with baited breath drawn over every thread of yours and move of that pesky cat!
    This is a sublime mix of days gone by (think of the music hall comedic recitations from ‘The Good Old Days’ where Vintage costumes were never a suggestion and more of a command mixed with less bone and stiff stays and more sprinkles of bright shiny black beading and jewellry than ‘of that day’ and I think that you may have it!
    This is truly magnificent and no doubt will be both a joy for you to wear and a delight for others to see you in.
    I’m wondering what you will wear over the top to keep out the winter chills? Perhaps a Victorian short velvet or heavy silk embroidered cape? On the lines of the nurses uniform (with it being secured by bands of material crossing the breasts and tying at the waist back?)
    Thank you so much for letting us see your tremendous creation. xx

    • Thank you! It’s really a bodice for a ball, so it is meant to be worn indoors. The 1890’s had some wonderful capes you could wear over it when on the way to keep warm during travels.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s