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Making a 16th Century Bodice, Part One

13 May

This is a going to be a long post. This was actually supposed to go up last Monday but it took me so long to write that I didn’t finish it until today!

This project has been on a temporary hiatus. I’m not sure if I mentioned that here, but I posted about it on tumblr. There were a few reasons why, but one of them was because of how frustrated I was over this bodice. I ended up throwing out my first bodice attempt and making a new one, so this post covers making both bodices and details what I did wrong.

If you aren’t familiar with this project, all the “The Making Of” posts about it can be found here!

The first step was drafting the bodice. I used the book “The Tudor Tailor” as a guide on how this bodice should go together. I didn’t actually follow this pattern, I drafted my own based off my kirtle pattern. This book is a great reference to have but the patterns are lacking the exaggeration I wanted my ensemble to have and they don’t fit me without major alterations.

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My first pattern attempt looked like this! It’s a little confusing looking but makes more sense when constructed.

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I used that pattern as a guide for cutting out and assembling a mock up. There were a few adjustments I had to make, like taking in the placket, but it fit surprisingly well!

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My pattern was altered and additional things were labeled, like where the lining would go to, where the eyelets would be, and where the skirt would start.

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Then it came time to cut the bodice out. This is when I noticed a few issues with the fabric. The first three yards or so of the fabric I had purchased were damaged due to the way it was stored before I bought it. I thought these were crinkles that would iron out, but I was wrong. After pressing and steaming the fabric there were lots of little marks left behind that look like pencil marks.

They come out with soap and a scrub brush, but that damaged the fabric around the crease and changed the sheen of the fabric. I was left with shiny, lighter, patches all over the fabric where the creases used to be. I ended up throwing away almost two yards of fabric, and used the remaining yard on the train of the skirt where it will (hopefully) be less noticeable.

After this setback I didn’t have enough fabric to finish this costume, which is one of the reasons I haven’t blogged about it for months!

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Oh and in the same day I realized the damask pattern looks like a mans face. It totally mocked me as I made mistakes (of which there were many). Sigh.

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Anyway! Here are the back pieces all cut out.

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And the front pieces.

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All the edges were hemmed by hand with tiny stitches.

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Then the shoulder and back seams were done up. I also added hook/eye closures onto the side of the bodice.

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Then it was time to switch focus and make the forebodies. These lace shut at the center front, underneath the placket (or false front). They help keep the bodice in place while the placket is hooked in and the skirt can be partially sewn to these. It’s kind of difficult to explain since we have nothing similar in modern fashion, but in worn photos it should make sense!

I made them from leftover silk dupioni. At the front there are two plastic bones placed a half inch apart to help support the eyelets, which will be stitched in between them.

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And here they are with the eyelets sewn in!

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Before sewing up the side seams I decided to cut out the lining. I happened to have enough silk leftover to line the bodice with, so that was nice!

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First I lined the shoulder portion of the bodice.

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Then the forebodies were sewn on and the side seams were done up. The forebodies cover the unfinished edge of the lining, and the lining for the back of the bodice will be added later to hide the raw edges from the side seams.

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If that last sentence made no sense, maybe these photos will help! Here is the bodice when worn over my shoulders, with the forebodies open.

Photo on 2-16-15 at 2.56 PM #2

And here it is shut and laced into place. There are a few problems here, like it resting to high and interfering with the beading on the kirtle. At the time I thought I could pin it lower so I carried on.

Photo on 2-16-15 at 3.04 PM

I went back to working on the placket. I ignored the “Tudor Tailors” suggestion and didn’t add boning to the center front because I didn’t want visible stitching. Instead I added a two inch wide piece of buckram to the center and fused interfacing over the entire thing.

Now, this is kind of obvious looking back, but this made the placket very stiff. It had no give whatsoever. Keep that in mind because it became a problem later on…

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I attached hooks to a piece of twill tape and made sure they lined up with the bars I attached to the bodice earlier on.

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Then I stitched lining into the placket, and attached the twill tape to the correct side. Now the placket could hook onto the bodice!

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This is how the exterior of the placket looked.

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With that done and my previous fitting having gone well, I decided to sew lining into the rest of the bodice. Look how pretty it looked! This was my first time using silk as lining and now it’s all I want to use for lining. It’s so lightweight and turned out perfectly.

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But not everything was perfect. I pinned the placket on and got into my set of underthings . Then I tried the bodice on and it was a disaster. If you’ve used hooks before then you know you have to pull the fabric every so slightly beyond the bars to get the hooks in place. That means whatever you are trying to hook into place needs to have some give. My placket did not.

So I moved the placket over almost an entire inch so I could easily hook it in place. Of course once it was moved over, it was way too big and puffed out from my body in an unflattering way.

On top of that  the neckline was too high. It had to be moved down so it didn’t interfere with the beading on the kirtle but then the bodice was too low waisted. I tried hiking the edges up but then the basque shape at the waist was jagged and unflattering. The forebodies had to be pushed down so they didn’t hit the beading on the kirtle, but then they stuck out from the bottom of the placket. It as a mess!

I should also mention that this wasn’t the first fitting. During the time of working on this I tried it on between every step and felt confident as I went. I jokingly said on tumblr that I spent more time fitting this than I did sewing it. Getting in and out of this took almost an hour and a half, but I did it every single day to make sure the finished product would fit properly. Which is why this was SO frustrating.

The bodice looks a dozen times better in this photo than it did in real life. It looked terrible in person

I tried really hard to fix it. I cut down the forebodies. I changed the shape of the placket. I spent a solid ten hours altering it but the problem with the hook/eye closure remained and I saw no way to fix it without restarting.

Photo on 2-19-15 at 3.02 PM

So I did. And I lost another yard of fabric. But I did get a functional bodice out of it in the end!

This is pattern number…three? Two and a half? The major change is the shape of the forebodies. But I also changed the method of closing the placket. With this new design it will close through a complicated pattern of eyelets which can gradually be pulled tighter to keep the placket taught.

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This is the second bodice all cut out.

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All the edges got turned over by hand (again) then the back and shoulder seams were done up. I decided to seal off the edges with strips of fusible interfacing because this fabric is very prone to fraying.

I basted strips of cotton into the the front panels, these are the backings for the boning channels.

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The boning channels were marked out and stitched by machine. When it came to adding boning, I used half inch wide flat steel boning which I salvaged from my first corset ever. It’s super strong and doesn’t bend at all so it was perfect. There are three bones on one side (one between and beside each set of eyelets) and one bone on the other side, which is just to keep the fabric laying flat.

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The forebodies were made of cotton this time and mostly machine sewn. Once again I added boning to each side of the eyelets, but this time I used more of the flat steel bones instead of plastic boning (which was used on the first set).

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My placket is much thinner this time so it won’t interfere with the beading on the kirtle. I finished the edges by hand, then used cotton strips to back boning channels on one side (the side that would have eyelets sewn to it).

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Then I cut two pieces of flannel, and sewed boning channels into that. I added the boning to it, then sewed the flannel to the back of the placket. My goal with this was to give the placket more stiffness and thickness, without preventing it from stretching (like the buckram and interfacing did).

If my bodice was made from thicker fabric (which it should have been) I could have pad stitched it to another fabric to add that stiffness. But my fabric is too thin, and even the best, tiniest, pad stitches would be visible from the front side 😦

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I sewed cotton lining into the back of the placket. Then I marked out where the eyelets should go and sewed them in place.

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I also sewed eyelets into the bodice! When they were done I attached the forebodies and lining (cotton this time). I did things a little differently this time and folded the bottom edge under last to make sure it wasn’t too long at the waist. Then I finished that edge with twill tape, instead of tucking it under the lining.

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I pinned the placket on and tried it on. I had success! There are a few ripples on the placket, which I dislike, but think I need to learn to live with. If my fabric was thicker and pad stitched to a base I might have avoided it, but with this particular fabric I think this is the best I could have done. Plus ripples aren’t entirely historically inaccurate, they can even be seen in some paintings!

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This is the complicated closure method! Not exactly subtle but you don’t really see it when your arms are down. Unfortunately it’s a pain in the butt to do up yourself, and adds twenty minutes to the already long process of getting into this costume.

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Before sewing the placket on I added beading to the waistline. I chose a relatively simple, pearl heavy design that didn’t use up too many of my precious montees. I’m very happy with how it turned out!

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And here is a webcam shot of how it looks worn!

Photo on 3-8-15 at 11.47 AM

So that was a doozy of a post. And a doozy of a project! And it still isn’t done! Though we are getting to the end. All that’s left are the sleeves…and foresleeves…and the skirt and the hood! Exciting stuff.

Thank you for reading!

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15 responses to “Making a 16th Century Bodice, Part One

  1. Karune

    May 14, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I love that beading on waistline! It’s so lovely…

     
  2. Crimson Needle

    May 14, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I should be tackling the bodice to my 18th century inspired gown soon and I’m planning of having it closed in the front with hooks and eyes. After reading your post, I’m really hoping I won’t encounter the same problem as you..

    And the beads add such a lovely finish. You do such pretty work, keep at it and thanks for posting!

     
    • Angela Clayton

      May 20, 2015 at 9:07 am

      I made a dress like that not too long ago, it has some problems that make it unwearable, but I didn’t have any trouble with the hook closure on that one!

      I think them being located at the front of the bodice helps a lot. The fronts on those dresses aren’t usually interfaced, and they can be cut on the bias! So I think you’ll be able to avoid that problem entirely.

      Thank you very much!

       
  3. Emily

    May 16, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Wow, your dedication to details and perfection in your projects is so inspiring!

     
  4. Daisy

    May 19, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    Your costumes are so amazing! I’m an actress and i wish i got to wear dresses as beautiful as the ones you make. You are so talented!

     
  5. Mona Adler Ring

    May 20, 2015 at 3:11 am

    Hello and wow! I found a link to your site and just had to check it out. You’ve got some serious talent. The amount of time, energy and dedication you spend on these garments is impressive, you’re a true inspiration. Thank you for creating and posting!

    All the best,
    Mona

     
    • Angela Clayton

      May 20, 2015 at 9:21 am

      Thank you so much, you are very kind! I wish the best to you as well.

       
  6. adigitalnative

    May 21, 2015 at 9:24 am

    So nice to see someone else fiddling/wrestling/having fun with The Tudor Tailor patterns, though admittedly I am a complete beginner compared to you!

    One suggestion I’ve heard from my costume buddies is to alternate hooks and eyes in each side. I’ve also been very curious how pins would have held the front placket down on the gown in the Jane Seymour portrait..,

    Anyway, fabulous work!

     
  7. Alethia

    May 21, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Wow! I saw a post on you on Buzz feed’s Facebook page and I had to check it out. You are amazing, your dedication and perseverance to bring the costumes to life is to be commended. The costumes are beautiful. With each projects your sewing, drafting and pattern making skills improve. I am anxiously awaiting to see your next creations. I do have a question, I believe it was the Christmas gown, why did you hand sew the skirt to the blouse instead of using the sewing machine?

     
  8. The_L

    May 22, 2015 at 7:15 am

    I just discovered you via a Buzzfeed article that’s making the rounds on Facebook. I sewed myself a simple outfit for the Renaissance Faire, but you’re on a way higher level! Keep it up and you could be a professional fashion or costume designer easily if you wanted. 🙂

     
  9. Lady Earlene

    June 3, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Wow. Your descriptions of these dresses are amazing. I am writing a novel in which the character wears dresses in this style and this series has been so helpful when envisioning how on earth she and her maid get her dressed everyday! Thank you Angela!

     
  10. Two Faire Wenches

    October 7, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Wow! Gorgeous!

     
  11. ladyd

    October 10, 2015 at 10:11 am

    It looks fantastic. I’m working on 2 Tudor ensemble myself (Tudor queen of hearts based of Elizabeth of York & Tudor femme doctor who). I’ve just finished my supportive bodice kirtle. As I’m going pre ‘bodies’ era wise.
    Another option for side closure is pinning. Allows sone flexibility in fitting.

     

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