17th Century Bodices

Guest Article by Anne Danvers


Note: A pattern sketch is forthcoming.

Drafting the pattern

The first step is to measure how long you want your bodice to be at the centre front. The point should be about 8-10 inches below your waist and the top should come about even with the armpit, or a little lower. Draw this line on the paper. Next, take 1 in (2.5 cm) off HALF your bust measurement, and draw that on to your paper at the top of the first line. Take 0.5 in (1.3 cm) off HALF your waist measurement, and draw that on the paper, wherever you want the waist of the dress to be. Next, figure out where you want the armhole to be, and how big, and put that into the top of the bodice. At this stage it should look like the first sketch (forthcoming) with a slight curve up towards the shoulder and a fairly narrow point from the waist to the bottom of the CF line. Next measure how long you want it to be to the bottom of the tabs, and mark that length on the bottom of the pattern, under the armhole. Also, it is is
important to measure how far from the bottom of the tabs the waist is (it should fall about 2 in [5 cm] below the natural waist on the sides), and mark the length of those slits from the tab bottom. Now, draw a line from the top to the bottom of the back. It should now look like the second sketch. The last part of the pattern drafting is to cut the pattern apart at the seam lines , which should come in a modified T-shape from the shoulder to the front and the shoulder to the back, like the third sketch. The back seam line will angle with the dress back. That's how it goes. The sleeves are rectangles of what size you will, and the straps should be as wide as the T in front and back and longer than you
think it should be (so there's enough to adjust it later). Be aware that if it is too big or too short it will bag and look like a box. It may look small, but it needs to fit more like stays than the usual bodice, to produce the elongated torso of the period.

Making it up

Congratulations, the pattern is made! Now, it's sewing time. The cutting is nothing special, just the fabric, lining and interlining along the pattern lines in the normal cutting right side up/wrong side up way. The sleeves and straps don't need interlining. When you sew it, the curves of the pieces need to go together with the right sides together and the curve is then sewn down. I am sure that there is a better way to do the seam, but we had a deadline and needed to get it done. Suggestions on this point are very welcome(!). I also suggest sewing the interlining first, then trying it on. If any adjustments need to be made, you can pick out the interlining and it won't show. Once the pieces of all the layers are sewn, you need to run the channels in the lining and the interlining. The channels are put in differently than in other
periods, as the ones in the stomacher need to run vertically up to the T part, then run horizontally across the top of the T. If you are using a busk, which we did not, that channel should go up all the way. The boning at the back can either be straight up and down, which means that you can't bone the edges, or one bone can angle along the back, then an unboned area because the ones in the sides need to run straight. When all the channels are in, it should look like the fourth sketch, A has no busk, B has a busk. The two other drawings show different ways of boning the back. The channels should be about 1/4 inch wide and all the same size, or if you are a total authenticity freak, you can bone it like the stays in the Fashion in Detail, with different sized bones at strategic spots and curved channels. Attaching the straps is not hard - simply sew one end of the lining straps to the lining/interlining part and one end of the fabric straps to the bodice. You need to try it on now to mark the
straps. Make them tighter than you think they should be, otherwise it'll fall down(been there!). Sew the other end of the straps to the body of the garment,
then right sides together and sew both pieces the of top together. You now need to put the boning in. You must bone each channel, or the effect is soo wrong. Make sure that the boning goes down into the tabs and ends about one inch from the top, or it will eat your armpits. The sleeves are no-brainers: Take a rectangle of the fabric, make it whatever size you need (almost to the elbow and quite full for 1660-5, smaller and narrower for 1665-75). Then, sew the lining and the sleeve together at the bottom and sides, if you want an open sleeve, or the bottom if you want a closed sleeve. Gather it to fit the armhole, then put it in. There are endless variations of sleeves for this period, but this is the one we used. To finish the bodice, take some ribbon and bind the bottom. It is period to finish the point in this way, and eliminates worry over boning working through. The last thing is to turn the back under and put the eyelet holes in for the lacing. Use spiral lacing.



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