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Posts Tagged ‘Late Victorian bodice’

A reception dress, Journal les Demoiselles, 1894.

After the long reign of the crinoline and bustle had ended, it was once again the turn of the sleeves to take centre stage. So after finishing my 1890’s skirt, it was time to turn to the evening bodice.

During this period, sleeves received all the inspiration possible from their enormous counterparts in the 1830s! And it did not take them very long to grow. What had been sedate in 1892 became quite top-heavy in 1894! The long-sleeved (and very full around the bicep) leg-o-mutton and gigot sleeves abounded! But the shorter evening dresses did not get neglected. Rather large “balloon” sleeves adorned many an upper-arm.

By about 1896 the sleeves had reached their maximum size, quite dwarfing the head, and then began to rapidly collapse. However, the size of the sleeves at their height does gives some reason for the similarly timed advent of big hair and big hats, as they were needed to bring some balance to the outfit.

Bodices for evening wear were often made in two contrasting or complementary colours that matched the skirt. Decorations, such as lace or ribbon, but also ornaments (like flowers) or trim in the contrasting fabric, were also routinely used.

An evening bodice, silk and velvet, c. 1893-6, from Museum of London. This is the same bodice patterned in Janet Arnold’s book.

Pattern

I used the pattern of an 1893-6 evening dress in Janet Arnold’s book, Patterns of Fashion 2. The bodice of this garment uses a silk bodice base, boned, over which is overlaid turquoise velvet. Then striped silk is mounted over the top of the velvet. I did mine slightly differently to this.

I decided to simplify my bodice and do the whole base in ivory taffeta and overlay the mint-green satin over the top.

I did a mock up of the bodice first, in order to make any fitting adjustments.

The pattern, with adjustments made from the mock-up.

The sleeve pattern pieces, with a slight enlargement.

I used ivory polyester taffeta, flatlined with white cotton broadcloth. The bodice was overlaid with mint-green duchess satin and then trimmed with glass pearl beads. The bustline was finished with some fine bridal tulle.

Construction Steps

Step 1: Beginning with the ivory taffeta under bodice, I flatlined all the panels. The back panels were sewn to the lining (right sides together) on the centre back seam, and then turned right sides out and treated as one layer. (The bodice will be laced at the centre back seam, hence the finishing on the centre back seams.)

The back panels, seamed to the lining on the centre back seam and turned the right way. This bodice opens at the centre back.

Once all the panels were flatlined, I sewed them together.

The back and side-back panels are sewn together.

The front and side front panels, sewn together. The darts are yet to be sewn in.

Once the bodice was sewn together, I did a fitting in order to properly fit the darts in the front panel. The shoulder seams were also sewn at this point.

The bodice was boned on every seam, including the darts. I used some twill tape for the casings and sewed it to seam allowance so that the stitching did not show through to the right side. The top edge of the boning casing was turned over before sewing to prevent the bone poking out.

The boning channels, using twill tape sewn to each seam allowance. On the right is the folded over edge of the boning casing.

Step 2: The sleeve is made up of a sleeve lining, a sleeve outer, and an over sleeve. The ivory taffeta outer sleeve was sewn together. As seen from the pattern piece above, one side of the sleeve seam is gathered to fit the other side of the sleeve seam. The bottom edge is gathered to fit the lining piece, and the sleeve head will also be gathered to fit the sleeve.

The ivory taffeta sleeve sewn together. The sleeve seam (shown on the right) is gathered on only one edge. The bottom edge (shown at the bottom) is also gathered to fit the sleeve lining.

The sleeve lining was made up.

The sleeve lining is sewn together. The sleeve seam is shown to the right. The gathered edge will form the sleeve head. The bottom edge is not gathered.

The sleeve lining and the outer sleeve were put together.

The sleeve lining is attached to the outer sleeve along the bottom edge.

In order to help the sleeves retain their “puff”, I inserted a crescent of stiff tulle. The tulle was folded over on the flat edge and then cut in a curve to form a crescent. The cut, curved edge was gathered.

The stiff tulle crescent, gathered along one edge.

This crescent was then put in between the two layers of sleeve. Janet Arnold’s original dress appears to have had no sleeve supports, however it was common in this era of large puffs to have some sort of support for the sleeve head.

Then the sleeve was sewn into the armhole.

The sleeve is inserted into the armhole. You can see the layers of the sleeve in the seam.

I used bias binding to bind the sleeve seam, as the tulle can get rather itchy if left to poke into your armpit!

Step 3: The over sleeve functions almost more as a collar, as it is attached to the neckline and hangs down over the sleeve.

It was basically a straight strip of material, with a rolled hem on one edge. The raw edge was then pleated to fit between the balance marks at the front of the bodice and the centre back. The over sleeve piece is angled to form a point where it meets the centre back.

The over sleeve is sewn in at the neckline. The back of the over sleeve is angled to meet the centre back at a point, shown on the right side of the photo. (The neckline casing is already sewn in this photo.)

The front corner of the over sleeve (which would hang awkwardly free) is pulled under the front of the arm and held under the armpit with some tacking stitches.

The one irritating thing I have found with this bodice is that the over sleeve does not hang straight. This is because I sewed it too low at the front of the bodice neckline.

Step 4: In the original example, the over bodice was a straight strip of material, which was mounted on the bodice to angle slightly around the body to sit fairly flat. A small tuck was taken at the bottom of the centre front to allow for the sharp angle of the waistline. However, when I tried this method of fitting the over bodice, I found that my corseted shape was not sloped enough to make it work. That is, my waist was not small enough in relation to my bust.

This meant that I had to take a large tuck under the arms to take in the fullness of the material. I also altered the type of tuck I did at the centre front in order that the fabric sat flatter on the body. (Once I looked at the original photos online – highly zoomed in – I felt better about it all, as their tucks did not look fantastically neat either!) In addition to this, because I had already sewn the sleeve in, I had to fold under the raw edge around the arm scythe and hand sew it down.

The over bodice is being handsewn down. The over sleeves are pushed up to show where the over bodice reaches to. The tucks under the arms can be seen and have been handsewn down. (The front corner of the over sleeve has not been tacked under the arm as yet, and that is why they can be pushed as they are.)

The back view of the over bodice.

Note: If I had of been sensible, I would have mounted the over bodice before I did the sleeves! However, I was struggling to figure out how to do this step while fitting myself, so I moved on with the sleeves instead. So I think this step would fit better as Step 2 and save a lot of grumbling later on! (As you might be able to tell, this was the point where I wanted to throw the bodice in the bin!)

Step 5: A casing was sewn to the top, around the neckline, with a drawstring to tighten it at the centre back. This prevents the weight of the sleeves pulling the bodice off the shoulder.

The neckline casing, pinned ready to sew. It will then be turned to the inside and handsewn down.

The bottom edge of the bodice was bound with bias binding (as this bodice was worn tucked in to show the waistband of the skirt).

Hand sewn eyelets were put in the centre back, with lacing to tie up the bodice. This was a fairly common way of fastening bodices closed during this era. The original dress used hooks and eyes, which is the other main way used for fastening.

Step 6: Pearl beads were sewn around the over bodice edges, around the bottom of the oversleeve, and hung in two strings over the bust. A total of 933 pearl beads hand sewn onto this bodice. A square-ish piece of fine netting was gathered up in three lines and hand sewn down at the centre front to form a soft cloud-like strip.

The pearl beads and the fine netting are sewn on.

And here is the whole ballgown all finished!

The front view

The side view

The side view shows how the over sleeve is positioned too low at the front.

The back view

My chemise does show slightly at the centre back, but as I am hoping to redo this chemise I was not concerned. Overall, I am pretty pleased with this gown. I had been worried that the sleeves would be too large, but I think a large hairstyle does help to balance the sleeves. It is a nice gown to dance in as well!

Related Posts

Making an 1890s Ballgown: Skirt

Making an Early 1870s Gown: Evening Bodice

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: A reception dress, Journal des Demoiselles, 1894, from Pinterest.

Image Source: An evening bodice, c. 1893-6, from Museum of London.

Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, by Janet Arnold – buy on Amazon

Details of the Bronze and Pink 1893 Gown – by The Quintessential Clothes Pen (Read another costumers journey in making a gown inspired by Janet Arnold’s pattern.)

1893 Evening Gown – by Rhiann Houlihan: Costumier (Another costumers reproduction of this gown.)

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