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.
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.
I used a light cotton fabric with a woven stripe, flatlined with white cotton broadcloth.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Flatline a Bodice – by Historical Sewing
A Piping Tutorial – by Historical Sewing