A Patterned Bodice For My Ballgown Skirt

As soon as I started on my Civil War ballgown, approximately a year and a half ago, I knew I wanted to make a separate day bodice to go with the skirt. Well, I finally got that done, but it looks nothing like the bodice I'd originally planned to make.


What I made is a wool blouse. What I'd planned to make was something like this:

1860's dress with evening and day bodice

I had extra satin, a pattern, and even the buttons. I just never got started on the bodice. Then I happened across this maybe-not-completely-historically-accurate outfit on Pinterest, and was totally inspired.

1860's costume
I loved the sheer white blouse with the fancy skirt, so I started doing some research. What sorts of blouses did women wear in the mid 1860's? With what type of skirt? What were they made out of? When were they worn? Well right off the bat I learned what WASN'T historically accurate; a plain cotton blouse with a cotton calico or gingham skirt.

NOT an accurate outfit
Then after lots more time online I figured out what was accurate. A sheer white blouse, called a body (something like the second photo above), worn with a silk skirt, or a fine wool blouse, gathered into it's own waistband, decorated with braid, and worn with either a silk or wool skirt. This is called a Garibaldi Blouse, after Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was an Italian military hero who dressed his men in scarlet wool shirts. He was handsome and a hero so wool Garibaldi blouses came into style for woman.

An 1860's french fashion plate showing a Garibaldi Blouse
These blouses were primarily red wool worn with black wool or silk skirts, but other colors (still wool or silk, not cotton) were also worn. (I'd found a great article published in the Godey's Ladies book that mentioned this, but I can't find it now)

I wanted to make a sheer white cotton body to go with my satin ballgown skirt, but that would require me to buy fabric and I'm really trying to sew from stash as much as possible. While I didn't have any sheer white cotton in my stash I did have a lovely 1.5 yard piece of light gray wool. After some consideration I decided it would work. Keeping with the sewing from stash theme I used the bodice of Simplicity 4551, which my grandma gave me nearly 10 years ago now, as my pattern.


Using a dress bodice pattern as a blouse pattern was not without its issues however. I should have added a couple extra inches to the bottom when I cut my blouse out. I forgot to so I had to piece an extra band of fabric onto the bottom of my blouse. (you can make out the seam in the above picture.) I was rather annoyed with myself for this mistake. There is one consolation for my stupidity at least, due to fabric shortages during the war many ladies, especially in the south, had pieced together clothing, as mentioned in this article.

"I also remember a cavalry jacket that was pieced in thirty-six places with equal skill. . ." 
-Godey's Lady's Book, 1866

So, while aggravating, at least my mistake didn't completely ruin the historical accuracy of my blouse.


Garibaldi blouses were typically decorated in sutash braid, but I wasn't sure if I had the patience to manipulate the braid and sew it down in a simi-elaborate design. Also I wasn't sure where to find either wool or silk sutash. Then I read that chain stitch embroidery could also be used, Perfect! I checked a book out from the library telling me how to make chain stitch embroidery, bought a spool of Gutermann black silk thread, and set to work. My embroidery isn't perfect, but for the first time I've done something like this, I'm satisfied.


Now I started this blouse back in March, planning to have it done for the April HSM challenge, Gender Bender, since it's a garment inspired by the fashions of the opposite gender. However, I didn't get it done, didn't get it done, and didn't get it done. Finally, last week I finished it and, thanks to the embroidery, it fits with August's challenge, Pattern.

What the item is: A Garibaldi Blouse

The Challenge: #8 Pattern


Fabric/Materials: 1.5 yards of wool flannel


Pattern: Simplicity 4551


Year: 1865'ish


Notions: thread for sewing, silk thread for embroidery, metal buttons


How historically accurate is it? It's a mix of hand and machine sewing, so that's plausible. The materials are good. The color may or may not be completely accurate, so I'll say 70%.


Hours to complete: Uhh, not sure. On and off sewing for 4 and a half months.


First worn: For pictures August 13th, 2016


Total cost: The wool was a thrift store find for $2 (a burn test proved it to be all wool), the buttons cost a total of $2.50, the silk thread was about $3, so $7.50 total.



Now my ball gown skirt has a day bodice! Maybe one day I'll get around to making the one I originally had planned, but I'm pleased with this one for now. I learned a lot about both history and sewing while making it, and isn't that the goal of sewing historical clothing?



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