In the first part of this series, I concentrated on making the skirts of this early-1870’s gown. The skirts have such a nice drapery about them!
For this post I will be looking at the construction of the ballgown bodice. Ballgown bodices of this era often had short sleeves or were occasionally sleeveless. They were quite decorated around the bust and sleeve area, and often appeared to be almost off-the-shoulder.
The pattern I am using is from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. This particular gown has three separate skirts (the underskirt, the overskirt and the basque), as well as two bodices (the evening bodice and the day bodice).
I normally post pictures of all the pattern pieces, but I have found this gown slightly more complicated than others that I have done, so I suggest purchasing the book if you are intending to make this particular garment. Instead I have listed the pieces below:
- Bodice front (cut 2, plus 2 lining)
- Bodice back (cut 1 on fold, plus 1 lining on fold)
- Bertha (left, right, front and back) (cut 4, plus 4 lining and 4 net)
- Sleeve (cut 2)
- Sleeve lining and gusset (cut 2 of each)
- Sleeve band (cut 2)
- Waistband (cut 1, plus 1 lining)
This garment was made from a printed striped cotton fabric and the lining was a white cotton broadcloth. The trims on the garment are made from a polyester shot maverick shantung.
I made a mock-up of the bodice first, just to sort out any fitting issues. I had to adjust the bertha quite significantly to fit it properly, and the waistline had to be enlarged.
Step One: Once the pattern pieces were cut out, I mounted the outer fabric of the bodice pieces onto their corresponding lining pieces and treated them as one.
Step Two: I sewed the bodice side seams, then the front darts to fit. I sewed the shoulder seams.
Step Three: The bertha has an outer layer (cotton), lining layer (cotton) and inner layer of stiff net. There are four bertha pieces (front left and right, and back left and right), so altogether you should have cut out 12 pieces (four bertha pieces each in outer, lining and net).
Note: In the pattern the bertha pieces are all the same shape (for both front and back) but I had to adjust this in order for the garment to fit properly. My front and back bertha pieces, therefore, are different shapes.
I sewed each of these four bertha pieces to their corresponding layers (outer, net, lining layers) together on the upper edge.
You should now have four bertha pieces that are all attached along the upper edge. Now they need to be attached in the centre front and centre back. Do this by opening the pieces out and pinning right sides together at the centre front/back and sew.
The front and back bertha pieces are now sewn at the shoulder seams.
Step Four: The bertha can now be attached to the bodice. Match centre fronts and backs and shoulder seams. Sew the bertha outer layer (including the net) to the upper edge of the bodice (right sides together). Press the seam towards the bertha and turn the raw edge of the bertha lining under. Slip stitch it down.
Step Five: Sew the sleeve seam. Gather the top and bottom edge of the sleeves (outer).
For the sleeve lining, slash the mark and insert the gusset. Sew the sleeve seam.
Mount the sleeve outer on top of the sleeve lining (wrong sides together) and pin. Attach the sleeve band, turning the excess to the inside and slip stitching the raw edges under.
The sleeves can then be attached to the bodice.
Step Six: Attach the waistband to the bottom edge of the bodice.
Step Seven: Attach lace around the bottom of the sleeves and around the neckline. I used a 2 inch wide insertion lace. A thin cotton cord can be used to draw the fullness of the lace in so that the bodice does not fall down over the shoulders.
Step Eight: Make the trim (the same as is detailed in “the skirts” post) and attach it around the sleeve cuff, and around the bertha as per the diagram in Janet Arnold’s book.
Step Nine: Attach hooks and eyes down the centre front of the bodice. The centre front of the bertha meets edge to edge with the trim hiding the hooks and eyes, but further down on the bodice I created an overlap to more effectively hide the hooks and eyes.
Three waistband/trouser bars were also sewn to the back of the bodice waistband to correspond to matching hooks on the basque.
All finished! My dressmakers form is not the same shape as my corseted body but hopefully you get the idea.
Sources and Relevant Links
Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomens’ gowns and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon
Setting a gusset – by Sempstress
Attaching a waistband – by Fashion Freaks (This tutorial is for a skirt, but the same principles apply.)
1871 ballgown – by Before the Automobile (See this beautiful version of this dress made by someone else!)