September 12, 2011

You'd Think I Could Manage to Not Screw Up a Simple Bodice...

Where was I before I got completely distracted by vintage sewing machines?  Oh, right.

Unfortunately, I'd spent too much time on the skirt and now had only one evening to make the bodice before the ball (I debuted this at the February 2011 Gaskells).  Since I didn't want to attend nekkid from the waist up I quickly threw together a basic bodice with the intention of fixing it up later.  As often happens, too little time = errors and unfinished bits.  I did end up adding to it for its second wearing, but I'll probably scrap it and make a completely new bodice one of these days.  For now, I'll show you what I put together for that first night out, complete with a few crappy iPhone photos b/c I was in too much of a hurry to find my camera or take pictures.

To save time I decided to use Simplicity's ballgown bodice pattern (#5724, out of print).  I've used it a few times before; usually all I have to do is take in the waist a little.  Of course, I've never bothered to mark the pattern with the changes I make, so every damn time I have to do a quick mock up to adjust it.  While I'm generally a huge fan of the deep front point in this pattern, I chose to cut it down to a much more shallow one to avoid competing with the points of the overskirt.  I always lower the neckline of this pattern a bit, but in this mock up I overdid it and had to make a note to pull it back up an inch when cutting out the real thing.  Nothing says classy like falling out of your bodice gals!

 Oh hi.

I went about constructing the bodice differently than I usually do.  I wanted a fairly lightweight bodice with no canvas interfacings, and I didn't want any raw seams showing.  I cut sets of all the bodice pieces out of the green silk dupioni, the silk organza, some cotton organdy and a pretty vine patterned quilter's cotton for lining.  I flatlined each piece of green silk with the silk organza, and each piece of quilter's cotton with the cotton organdy.  I sewed all the flatlined pieces of silk together to form one layer of the bodice, then did the same with the cotton pieces.  Now I had an inner shell of cotton and a separate outer shell of silk.  I sewed my bone casings on the cotton shell and used spiral steel bones to fill them. 

The pretty quilter's cotton I used for a lining.

I chose to do something odd to join the inner and outer shells.  Very often, one sees a lot of wrinkling 'round the waist and ribs of tightly fitted ballgown bodices.  I thought about a technique I'd learned for making corsets from the Corsetmaker's forum on Livejournal in which a little extra room is given to the fashion fabric layer, usually through roll pinning.  In part it accounts for the extra distance the outer fabric has to travel compared to the inner fabric as they bend back on themselves at a seam, but also for the extra distance the outer fabric has to travel around the body itself.  Since I just reread what I wrote and realized it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, here's some terribly drawn pictures.

The fashion fabric has farther to travel, both at a seam (above) and around the body (below)

Imagine looking down at a cross section of your torso wearing a corset or bodice with an inner layer and an outer layer.  The inner layer only has to go around your body.  The outer layer has to go around your body and the inner layer.  It doesn't seem like much, but it adds up!

If the fashion layer is the exact same size as the lining, it ends up straining to go that extra distance and you get stress wrinkles.  I'd already sewn my outer pieces together, so I wasn't going to be able to account for turn of cloth at those seams, but I hadn't yet sewn the inner shell to the outer shell yet.  I pinned the inner shell on my dummy with the right side facing out.  Then I put on the outer shell, right side facing in.  I matched it to the inner one at the center front, then smoothed it till it lay nicely all the way around the dummy.  When I got around to the back, I could see that the fashion layer was nearly 3/8" shorter on each side.  That means the outer layer needs to be nearly 3/4" larger than the inner layer in order for it to lay smoothly around the body with no pulling! 

That's quite a difference! (Ignore the weird fit on the not-yet-uniquely-me, I haven't gotten around to loping off the excess in the shoulder area and it makes everything funky)

I figured I could lose 3/4" off the back and just make a placket to fill the gap, so I pinned the two layers together at the back edges and trimmed off the excess lining.  I sewed the layers together down the back edges and all around the bottom, then clipped seams and turned it all right side out.  I put two boning channels with room for grommets between them along each back edge.  I sewed the shoulder straps together, then bound the neckline and armscyes with thin strips of self bias.

Twee little strips of self bias.

In my rush to fit the mock up, I had somehow managed to take the waist in too much.  Unfortunately, I didn't notice till I was assembling the final pieces on the dummy.  Between that and the 3/4" I took out as a result of my little experiment, I had a larger gap at my lower back than I'd planned.  I had also run out of time.  I had hoped to be able to slap a bertha or sleeves on before the ball, but I had to go without those or any trimmings. 

Looks so plain!

I also ran out of time to recut the bust pads that go with this pattern.  Victorian bodices are meant to be wide on the top so that the waist looks smaller in comparison; oftentimes that meant padding for women who were less than well endowed.  This pattern includes giant pads and is cut with extra room in the bust to assist that tiny waist illusion.  I had a set of pads made up from the last time I made this bodice, but I lowered the neckline so much on this one that they stuck right up out the top.  Sexy, no?  With no time left I wore the bodice as is.  While it fit perfectly smoothly at the waist and lower ribs, the bust looked wrinkly and unflattering. 

Lovely photo by Anthony Argyriou
Pretty skirt, meh top.

Thankfully, the skirt was a huge hit and drew most of the attention away from the bodice!  I had a blast dancing at Gaskells and managed to not dirty up/rip/spill anything on my lovely gown.  I did have a moment of alarm when the lattice snagged on the button of a passing gentleman's jacket mid-dance, but once freed I was thrilled to see that it hadn't harmed it one bit.  Yay for heat'n'bond I guess?  Anyways, check back tomorrow to see the changes I made to make the bodice less crappy.


  1.! This dress is amazing. You given me so many ideas. I never even considered the idea of a belt designed to extend the look of the bodice. Amazing. =)

  2. Thanks! I can't take too much credit for the idea though; it was that way in the inspiration image :)

    The image from De Gracieuse here.t


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