Tuesday, November 20, 2018

1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown - The Bodice

I love it when things turn out easier than expected, don't you? Like when you discover you already have the perfect pattern for a project in your stash, so drafting, draping, or adapting your own pattern isn't needed? And it's a pattern you've used before so you already know how it fits so a mock-up really isn't necessary?

Two weeks into October, after years of dreaming, and hours of searching for the original dress online, I finally began actually making the pink and lace ball gown of my dreams. I started with the bodice.

Balkänning. Detail. Midian. HWY Gr.XXII: In: A.03.

To figure out how the bodice was patterned, I first looked at pictures of the original dress to get an idea of the seam lines. Then I pulled out my copy of Patterns of Fashion I, by Janet Arnold, and looked at how the 1860's ball gown featured in there was patterned. The bodice seam lines on the dress in the book matched up with the seam lines on the dress I was replicating. So the book gave me a good idea of what shapes my bodice pattern pieces needed to be.  After that, I went diving into my pattern stash and pulled out Simplicity 2881, the pattern I was given 4 years ago with the pieces of my purple beaded 1860's ball gown. Amazingly, the bodice pattern pieces in Simplicity 2881 were almost the exact same shapes as the bodice pattern pieces shown in Patterns of Fashion I. Thus, I could use the Simplicity pattern to make my bodice and be confident the pattern was reasonably historically accurate - no pattern drafting, draping, or altering required (for the basic bodice at least).

I was pretty sure the pattern would fit me with no alterations. After all, the purple ball gown, made with this pattern fits me well and I didn't even construct that bodice myself! However, just to be certain, I made a quick mockup to check the fit. It fit. No major changes necessary (just a slight alteration to the angle of the shoulder straps), so I took the mock-up apart to use as my bodice flatlining, and cut into my pretty pink moire. The dress was actually happening!

With the pieces cut out, I sewed up all the bodice seams first thing, one morning before work. This was done by machine, for two reasons. First, I absolutely did not have time to construct the entire dress by hand. So no matter what, it was going to have to be primarily constructed by machine. Second, by the 1860's, sewing machines were in existence. And, according to the museum description I found, the original dress was made with a mixture of hand and machine sewing. Thus, it was perfectly historically accurate for me to use the sewing machine for this project.

I also used the sewing machine to apply boning channels (made from cotton ribbon) to the front and side seam allowances. Then I whip stitched all the seam allowances down by hand to finish them. Machine constructed does not necessarily mean finished. I decided, despite time constraints, I wanted this dress to be as historically accurate as possible, so the seam finishes, hems, and closures would be done by hand.

I boned the bodice with long, wide, plastic zip ties. I'd planned on using spiral steel boning, but I've read large plastic zip ties behave similarly to whale bone when used to bone bodices and even corsets. So, as I had large zip ties on hand, I decided I might as well use them. Time will tell how they hold up and behave compared to steel, but they are definitely easier to cut! (And they're cheap and easy to obtain.)

Once the boning was done, it was time to finish the top and bottom edges of the bodice. I finished the top edge with a standard single row of piping. For the bottom edge, I made double piping, as that's what I saw the original had (based on the picture at the top of this post). 

Double piping is a little more time consuming to make than single piping, but just as easy to apply.

Next up were the sleeves. The original dress has little puffed net sleeves trimmed with strips of pink moire and a lace ruffle at the bottom. Simplicity 2881 includes a pattern for double puffed sleeves, which I was able to easily adapt for single puffed sleeves.

The sleeves are made with a fitted lining of cream colored cotton sateen, and the netting is gathered on top of that. The fitted lining keeps the netting perfectly puffed at all times! (Without the lining, the netting would look droopy and sad.)

Bias-cut stripes of moire fabric were then placed over the net to match the original dress, and the bottom of the sleeve was bound in bias tape I made from the moire fabric. To finished the sleeves I add some lace trim found in my stash.

I attached the sleeves to the bodice, and then it was ready for closures to be added - hooks and eyes.

Now, an awful lot of mid-19th century ball gowns are fastened with lacing up the back. So, originally, that is what I'd planned to do with this one. Then I read the museum description if the dress I was replicating and learned it closed up the back with hooks and eyes. Now that suited me just fine. Lacing is a bit of a pain to do, and I personally find hooks and eyes an easier closure option. Thus, once I knew the original "hooked up", rather than "laced up", it was a no-brainer that mine would do the same.

Translated from Swedish (?) the description reads; "Buttons in the back with hooks and eyes of white metal." I found some what hooks and eyes at Joann's, but last minute I decided to use some vintage hooks and eyes I had on hand instead. 

As I had two different sizes of vintage hooks and eyes, I used the larger ones (size 3) for the high-stress points (the top edge and the waistline.) and the smaller ones (size 1) for the rest of the bodice.

I inserted a drawstring of rayon ribbon through the neckline, just for a bit of extra security to prevent any gaping when the dress is worn by my sister (who is smaller-busted than I). Then the bodice itself was done.

It still needed the neckline embellishment, called a bertha, but that would be a seperate piece, just tacked in place at a later date.

So, like I said, the bodice itself was finished and wearable. It fit both myself and my sister just as it should, and I could move on to the rest of the dress. 

The bodice came together easily, no pattern drafting or experimentation required of me, but the bertha and the skirt would be a bit more complicated!


  1. Looks like it is going well so far👍😀

    1. It is! There have actually been no major issues in the making of this dress, it just takes time, but very little frustration! All has gone together as it should!

  2. When a long time dream starts becoming reality is always exciting!! Can't wait to see further progress.

    1. Yes!! It's so fun to see it come to life! Thank you!