Posts Tagged ‘1840s costumes’

A day dress, with a pleated bertha and sleeve trimmings reminiscent of the 30s, c. early 1840’s, from The John Bright Collection.

Luckily it took only two days to sew my late 1840’s skirt, as I always need a bit of extra time up my sleeve to work on bodices. With only a week and a half to go until my Colonial Dance display, I had to keep going!

In the 1840s, sloping shoulders were in fashion, as they continued to be for a large amount of the Victorian era. Bodices were long and often deeply pointed at the front, which made the waistline look slim.

In order to emphasise the sloping shoulders, bodices were often decorated with a bertha around the lower shoulder area and chest. Long “collars”, sometimes trimmed with lace or braid, went over the edge of the shoulders and down to the centre front point, and also served the purpose of drawing the eye down the shoulder. The off-the-shoulder armholes further accentuated this look, as the clothing made the shoulder appear longer and more sloping than it actually was.

A day dress, with a long pleated collar and decorative tassels down the centre front, c. 1846-49, from Fripperies and Fobs.

Day dresses often had a high neckline, resting above the collarbone, which was trimmed with a lace collar. Into the late 40s and early 50s, the neckline deepened into a V at the front, which was generally filled in with a collared chemisette or inserts of lace. Sometimes necklines developed a very wide opening along the shoulders, whilst still remaining quite high at the neck. Evening bodices even went so far as to be off-the-shoulder.

Bodices of this era tended to fasten with hooks and eyes at the centre back. The centre front panels tended to be cut on the bias, which did lovely things for stripey material. Buttons and tassels could sometimes be used as decoration down the centre front.

Sleeves were enjoying a short reprieve from the astronomical sizes they had reached to in the 1830s, before again increasing in size as the pagoda sleeve came into fashion in the 1850s. However, sleeves could still be decorated at the top with a sleeve cap, which again emphasised the sloping shoulders.

I really wanted a plain and basic bodice which I could make quickly, so I dispensed with the idea of a bertha or collar or any centre front pleating detail which was often common in this era. I thought that a centre front button placket – which become more common in the early 1850s – would enable me to get into the outfit by myself but would add enough interest. A sleeve cap also seemed to be a quick and easy detail to include.


I used the basic bodice in Jean Hunnisett’s book, Period Costume for Stage and Screen. I would normally make a mock-up of a bodice to make any adjustments to the pattern, but I didn’t have the time to allow for that. Instead, I measured myself in my corset and I measured the pattern and added some extra allowance for adjusting. I also added some length at the bottom, as I wanted to make sure the bodice would overhang the waistband, which is consistent for this era.

The pattern pieces cut out; front, side back, back, sleeve, and sleeve cap.

I used a light cotton fabric with a woven stripe, flatlined with white cotton broadcloth.

Construction Steps

Step One: All the bodice pieces were flatlined and were then treated as one piece. The seams of the bodice were sewn; side back seams, the side front seams and the shoulder seams. Then the two front darts were fitted and sewn. (There was a lot of fitting and pinning at this stage – working from the back to the sides, then the shoulders, and then doing the front darts – just to get the fit right.)

The seams of the bodice are all sewn. In this picture, the piping has also been sewn on the arm scythe.

Step Two: I made some piping in a contrasting colour, using narrow cotton cord and some bias binding, and sewed piping to the edge of the armhole.

A close up of the piping in the arm scythe.

Step Three: The sleeves were sewn. I used a gathering stitch down the entire back edge of the sleeve side so that the sleeve seams could be eased effectively together.

The sleeve seam is pinned, and one side (the back side of the seam) is eased to fit the front.

The bottom edge of the sleeve was piped and finished the same way as the sleeve cap below.

Step Four: The sleeve cap was sewn and the bottom edge was finished with piping. I used the edge of the piping (which was a bias binding strip) to hem the bottom of the sleeve cap.

The piping has been sewn to the sleeve cap. The bias strip is then unfolded, and one half is trimmed back. The other half of the bias strip is folded over the raw edges, turned to the wrong side, and hand sewn down.

Step Five: The sleeve head was pleated to fit the arm hole (in three “inch-ish” wide pleats). The sleeve cap was placed over the top of the sleeve, with the raw edges together. The whole sleeve was then inserted into the armhole and topstitched “in the ditch” of the armhole piping – through all layers. This was illustrated in Jean Hunnisett’s book. I found it a good way of attaching a sleeve when using piping in the armhole.

From “Period Costumes for Stage and Screen”, sewing in a sleeve with armhole piping.

All raw edges of the sleeve and armhole were then neatened.

Step Six: The centre front button placket was made with a straight strip of fabric and was piped on either side, with the raw edges folded under.

The centre front button placket, with piping attached. A button is laying on top to show the contrast.

The entire strip was topstitched onto the right front panel at the centre front mark, once again “stitching in the ditch” of the piping. The raw edges of the front panel were folded to the inside, turned under and hand stitched down.

The button placket is pinned ready to sew, so that the middle of it is positioned in the centre front.

A line of piping was also sewn to the left front panel, with the raw edges being folded to the inside, turned under and hand sewn down.

A line of piping is sewn on the other centre front edge, with the button position (shown with pins) in line with the centre front.

Step Seven: The two front darts on each side were boned by simply sewing a boning channel into the dart flap. The boning was then inserted into the channel. The centre front placket was also boned behind the buttons, using the left over raw edges that were folded under after piping.

The boning channel is sewn on the left of the piping, from the bottom to about halfway up, and will be folded to the inside and slipstitched down. This will mean that the boning channel will sit directly behind the line of buttons (shown by pins).

Step Eight: Once the two centre front edges were finished, a line of piping was sewn around the top neckline and the bottom edge of the bodice. Once again, the raw edges were trimmed and turned under the bias strip and hand sewn down.

Step Nine: The button holes were sewn on the piped button placket, and the buttons (covered to match the piping) sewn to the other front edge.

The buttonholes and buttons. The bodice does not quite fit this dress form!

Step Ten: As a finishing touch, I decided to do a quick cotton collar, trimmed with lace. I draped this collar on the stand and then hand sewed it to the neckline.

The cotton lawn collar, trimmed with cotton lace.

The front view

The back view

I am really pleased with this bodice, as I think that it fits quite well. However, I had intended that the front stripes form a downward arrow, instead of an upward arrow. The downward arrow accentuates the slim waistline better and is a more period correct way of dealing with stripes, from what I have seen. It ended up being impractical to re-do the front panels in the time span I had. Anyway, slight distractions when sewing will do that to you!

So my “Jane Eyre” dress is finished! I did watch several different adaptations of Jane Eyre on DVD throughout the process of sewing this outfit, too.

Related Posts

Making a late 1840’s Day Dress: Skirt

Making an Early 1870’s Gown: Day Bodice

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Day dress, c. early 1840’s – from The John Bright Collection

Image Source: Day dress, c.1846-49, from the exhibition “A Century of Style” at Glasgow Museum – at Fripperies and Fobs.

Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns of Women’s Dress 1800-1909, by Jean Hunnisett – buy on Amazon

How to Flatline a Bodice – by Historical Sewing

A Piping Tutorial – by Historical Sewing

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Two day dresses, c. 1848-49, with gathered skirts and long sleeved bodices.

Two weeks ago I was invited to participate in a Colonial Dance display team and I realised that I had nothing to wear that fitted the Colonial description. Strangely, even though the Australian colonial period spans from 1788 through to 1901, the style of dress that is considered iconically colonial (especially for dancing) is the 1850s and 1860s. Even so, I did not have enough time to make anything that required me to make a hoop (or any additional undergarments that I did not already have), so I decided to venture into the realm of the late 1840s.

During the 1840s, skirts had been gradually increasing in size with the help of several petticoats, often corded to enable them to stand out nicely. The first crinoline was not patented until 1856, so until then skirts were fairly limited in their width. The skirts of this era were generally cartridge pleated to a waistband or bodice to enable a large amount of fabric to be condensed to a small area. In most instances, the bodices were attached to the skirts to form one dress, rather than a separate skirt and bodice. This meant that openings were generally at the centre back.

I particularly wanted a front opening bodice with a separate skirt, which became more common in the 1850s. The picture shown above shows a dress on the right with buttons down the centre front, however I think these are decoration rather than functional.


I used Jean Hunnisett’s book, Period Costume for Stage and Screen, as a reference for the skirt, and then looked at the 1840s dresses in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 1. This gave me the general shape of the dress and some ideas of how to construct it.

I used three spans of material (selvedge to selvedge, 60 inches wide), cut to my chosen length (46 inches long, including an allowance for the hem and cartridge pleating). There were two panels on either side of the centre back (with a seam for the CB placket), and one more panel at the centre front.

The skirt panels, all folded in half lengthwise, with all three laying on top of one another. At the bottom is the waistband.

I used a light cotton fabric with a woven stripe, as well as some white cotton broadcloth inside the waistband and for the hem facing.

Construction Steps

Step One: All the skirt seams were sewn. The top of the centre back seam was left open 12 inches for the placket. I also decided to put a pocket into the right-hand seam at the side.

The finished pocket on the finished skirt. The pocket is attached to the waistband with a piece of twill tape.

Step Two: The waistband was sewn into a 1-inch-wide tube, and interlined with white cotton broadcloth. The ends of the waistband were turned in and slipstitched. The waistband has a finished length of 33 inches, which enabled a generous overlap at the back.

Step Three: The top of the skirt panels were neatened, then turned over 1 1/2 inches and cartridge pleated. I used two rows of stitches for my pleating, the rows being 1/4 inch apart, and the pleating stitches 1/4 inch apart, resulting in 1/4 inch deep pleats.

Step Four: The cartridge pleats were drawn up and then whipstitched to the waistband. I left the cartridge pleating stitches in to help them sit properly. A waistband hook and eye was used for fastening.

The 1/4 inch cartridge pleats sewn to the waistband. You can see the tiny stitches.

Historial Sewing has a great tutorial on cartridge pleating, so have a look there for all the finer details of how to do it!

Step Five: The hem was finished with a hem facing (5 inches deep) made from white cotton broadcloth. It was sewn right-sides together to the bottom of the skirt, then folded to the inside and hand sewn down.

This skirt took me two days to complete and is worn over a basic bridal petticoat without a hoop. This saved me having to make any undergarments.

The front view.

The back view, pinned at the waistband because this dress form is a bit too big.

Dappled sunlight does not really make for a good photo – I am sorry! Overall, I am very pleased with my skirt. It is not an elaborate skirt, like I usually like to make, however it works fine for a simple day ensemble – which is what it was supposed to be!

A late 1840s day bodice to match the skirt will be coming soon!

Related Posts

Making an Early 1870’s Gown: Skirts

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Two 1840s day dresses – Costume and Lace Museum

Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909, by Jean Hunnisett – buy on Amazon

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

How to sew Cartridge Pleats – by Historical Sewing

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