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I begin my reconstruction with the foundation layer, often called a petticote bodys or kirtle in English. My inspiration is this picture (at right) of a scantily-clad common woman crossing a stream. It is called “The Wager” and it was painted in the 1660s by Jan Siberechts. Today it may be seen in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, Belgium (or online at wga.hu).
The first thing I did was drape my duct tape double with our wool flannel in civil war blue. Underneath the flannel is an interlining of one layer of our Osnaburg linen and one layer of our lovely sturdy hemp canvas. I thought the bodices in the pictures looked too soft to be boned, so I went with a sturdy interlining instead.
I basted the sides, pinned the front, and stepped back and looked at the thing. Then I drew the necklilne in tailor’s chalk where it is on the ladies in the pictures. The lower line is at the proper level.
Then I did something most people would consider “backwards”: I tacked down the seam allowances on the front opening and made eyelets.
“What?!” you say. “You haven’t even checked the fit on yourself and you know how unrelieable that duct tape double was for your last project!”
Hush hush hush, my internet friends. I’m not out of my mind. (well, not about this at least…) From looking at pictures of this type of bodice, I have determined that the center front closure needs to be straight, on the grain. So all the fitting adjustment will take place in the side seams. Also, because this bodice needs to have a corsetting effect, I have to take into consideration what the garment will do when drawn tight. I put in the eyelets now so that I can draw the front closed during the fittings.
During these fittings, my lovely assistant noticed that the straps on some of the bodices appear to be tied to the front, not integral to it. Looking at the photo of the fabric on the duct tape double, I realised that my neckline was at the same level of the top of my armscye. As mentioned in my previous article on the subject, some of the bodices were showing flat bottomed armscyes. This could be easily achieved with a bodice that was straight across the top with straps that came over the shoulders and tied near the armpits. So off the top of the bodice came. Snip snip snip!
I tried on the bodice pinned together in this way and Bob said, “Yes… That’s getting closer!” So we were onto something! But although I had the bodiced laced completely closed and it was snug on me, I knew that I couldn’t truly draw it tight without the pins in the sides bending and popping. So this is what I did: I fit the bodice as best as I could and marked the seams with chalk. Then I laid the bodice pieces flat on my worktable and moved the seam mark 5/8″ to 1″ to provide the draw needed in corsetry. You can see the fainter seam lines and the darker adjusted seam lines in the photos below.
Next, I turned the front seam allowances under and gave them a good press. Then I laid the fronts on top of the backs as shown below. These seams I sewed from the outside with a whipstitch. If I were being more careful (which I wasn’t), I could have hidden this stitch a little better. I was trying to catch all three layers in the seam. The more proper way to handle this would have been to catch just a few threads of the outer material on the folded edge from the under side of the fold. That way when you pulled the thread taut, the folded edge would actually roll a bit and hide the stitch underneath it. But I wasn’t being careful. I was trying to get the needle to catch all three layers. Still, doesn’t look too bad for a commoner’s bodice, and it’s a sturdy seam.
Whenever you are dealing with this many layers of fabric, it’s a good idea to grade your seam allowances. Grading seam allowances simply means trimming them to different widths so that when they lay flat, the edges don’t stack up on top of each other, creating bulk, but rather lay in a graduated fashion. You can grade your seam allowances anyway you like. I chose to trim my innermost layer the shortest, but it really doesn’t matter which layer is the short one.
There are no extant working women’s bodices to look at for constuction details, but women’s stays from the next century as well as doublets from the 16th and 17th centuries had their seam allowances tacked down. So I tacked all of mine down.
And here’s the bodice with the shoulder straps attached and all the seam allowances and edges tacked down (different colour hemp canvas interfacing, you’ll notice). It’s now ready to take the lining. Linings were often slipped in after the bodice (or doublet) was completely constructed. This allowed the lining to be easily removed for laundering or replaced entirely when it was too worn to wash any more.
A Preliminary Test of the Bodice Fit
Tomorrow… the Skirts!
© 2009 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice, the author’s name and website, and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.