A last-minute bodice

I had predicted that this would be a year of more sudden changes in plans than normal, and so far that’s proving to be true. I’m still waiting on the fabric for my vest to arrive, and in the meantime I decided to make a day bodice to wear with my green 1890s skirt.

I’m participating as an extra in a Dutch show about history, and I was asked to wear my green ballgown with a cloak on top of it for an outside scene. I suspect they just chose that outfit because they wanted darker colors, but a ballgown in the middle of the day is a bit odd. It would be covered by a cloak, so in theory invisible, but then the weather turned, and the prediction for filming day was -2 degrees. Not the best weather to have bare arms.

I didn’t have any plans in the weekend before (because, you know, covid), so I decided I might as well try my hand at making a new bodice. I still had plenty of green and black silk left, so this could be done entirely from my stash. The bodice will have long sleeves, which I could even wear extra layers underneath as well. I had 3 full days for this, as well as a couple of evenings after work, so I wanted a design that wouldn’t take a lot of figuring out or trimming. In the end, I settled on this dress as inspiration:

It’s interesting without being overly complex, and as a bonus, the Victorian Dressmaker book actually has a pattern for this. Not to my size, but with the Truly Victorian pattern I’d used for my ballgown bodice as base and the rough shapes in the book, adapting became a lot easier. I still have some black velvet from my 1860s gown, so the velvet details were covered as well.

So I set to work! I didn’t make a lot of pictures, but after day 1 I had the main bodice drafted, cut out, sewn together and fitted! This seems like the most work, but as it’s nearly all machine work, it actually comes together relatively quickly. It also helped that I skipped the mock-up. I’d used this pattern for my ball gown, so I knew it fit, and pinning the darts on the body allows for last-minute adjustments.

Day 2 was for the sleeves. These are fairly complex because they have 7 pieces of fabric each. An organza, dupioni and cotton layer for the inner sleeves, and an organza, dupioni, tarlatan and cotton layer for the outer sleeve. The outer sleeve lining was fitted (with slight gathers) to the armhole first, then the tarlatan was pleated and pinned in (this is just a small strip, meant to give volume), and then the large fashion layer with dupioni and organza was pleated down to fit the smaller lining. Then the inner and outer sleeve were sewn together, and the whole thing was set in by hand, as wrangling layers is just easier that way.

Day 3 was spent on finishing the edges. This dress has a collar and belt of pleated velvet. I pleated them and stitched down the pleats by hand to make them invisible. Then they were both lined in cotton, stitched on along the velvet edge, and then the cotton layer was hand-sewn in place to finish it off. The sleeves I bound in bias tape, finished by hand.

That was the end of my weekend, and it was nearly there! The main thing left was closures, as that’s really essential to wearing, this was done in evenings. It closes with a combination of hooks and eyes, hooks and bars and snaps.

Final touches were a big velvet bow on the back collar, and a smaller one on the belt to hide the closure. I also decided to add a strip of black velvet ribbon along the sleeves.

All in all, I’m pretty happy I got this done within a week, and I can now wear my green outfit for day events as well as balls!

6 thoughts on “A last-minute bodice

  1. So pretty. Our Costume Collection at the National Society of Colonial Dames-Massachusetts, has several dresses with both a ballgown and a day/dinner top to go with the one skirt.

    Many thanks for the recommendation of Quinn. We hired her to make two period dresses to represent two of the mistresses of our museum house.

    • I love it when both versions have survived! It’s always great to see the transformation.
      And I’m very glad my bringing you together worked out so well. Quinn sent me the pictures of her work, and I’m sure your visitors will love seeing them!

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