Monday, 1 February 2016

Bath Ball Beetlewing Bodice

Once again, it's been forever since I've posted! Sorry about that. I post updates a lot more frequently on my facebook page and my instagram, but all the finished dress diaries will still go here. =)

I've just finished making the bodice for my c. 1847-50 ball gown, which will be embellished with jewel beetle wings (called elytra) and worn to the annual Victorian Ball in Bath at the beginning of May. I am basing my gown on a couple of extant ones at the KCI and on some fashion plates.

First of all, here's my finished bodice, worn with a random 18th century petticoat over my corded petticoat for the full-skirted effect. It's hand-stitched in silk thread, made of cotton, and edged with figured silk organza. I draped the pattern on myself, with fitting help and photos courtesy of my good friend Emma. (Thank you!!)

Now for some inspiration images. First of all, a great, great many further images can be found on my pinboard for this project, including extant pieces, more fashion plates, patterns, etc.

The dress on the left is at the Kyoto Costume Institute; I'm not sure where the one on the right ended up.
The photo is from the Cora Ginsburg LLC catalogue, 2000, p. 23.

Now, there were a lot of potential ways to pleat the bodice, but I fell in love with this Worth 1867 ball gown (it's at the Royal Ontario Museum, where I spent a large amount of my childhood) and wondered whether the pleat style had been used earlier.

Unfortunately, the image link doesn't work anymore...

Of course there are many, many fan-fronted gowns in the 1840s and '50s, but they're usually caught back into a yoke at the neckline. However, I started to find a variety of gowns with a similar pleated or even cowl-neck front which started as a fan at the waist and then never got pulled back into a yoke. There are a lot of examples on my pinboard from the 1840s and '50s, but I'll copy one here from 1846:

A detail from the plate at left
February 1846, from the Met's digital collections

Of course, you'll notice that mine is pleated a lot more like the 1860s one, with defined pleats rather than rounded rolls. I tried to keep them rounded, but the cotton didn't want to support itself unless it was pressed into a pleat, and then they sort of got permanently pressed down as I stitched them onto the structural layer of the bodice. So there it is. I like how it looks and I'll live with the slight anachronism.

So on to the construction. I began with a sketch of the design, and a fitting over my new corset. The original pattern was modified from the 1840s bodice mockup I made for a different dress last year (it never got past mockup stage, and the fabric is still in Canada), which was done over my 1890s corset as that's all I had at the time. So it needed a bit of tweaking.

I built a full bodice, with cotton lining and a sheer cotton over-layer, and finished the neck edge with piping and silk habotai trim. I then laced my corset around my rolled-up pillow and pinned the bodice over it so that I could drape the pleated layer on top.

I stitched the pleats down over the foundational layer and then edged the neckline with a strip of figured silk organza. This organza also appears on my c. 1815 ball gown, and I have a lot left, so it will probably show up on everything for a while. It's gorgeous stuff though!

I also made some corded piping out of the silk organza, and used it to edge the bottom of the bodice. I then added a strip around the waist like a belt, which you see in quite a few fashion plates. I think it will help define the waist in a sea of frothy ivory.

I procrastinated forever on draping the sleeves, which ended up being kind of curved rectangle-trapezoid things. Not that difficult. =P I stitched the pleating invisibly from the underside and added a further detail in the organza. I'll also add some beetle wings to this detail when I get to the embroidery stage.

There are bones on each seam on the inside, wool-stuffed pads in the side-bust/armscye areas to prevent buckling, and a waist tape to relieve pressure on the outer fabric. The bodice closes with waaaay too many hooks and eyes up the back, and, as on period bodices, the eyes have been individually thread-wrapped in silk thread to hide them and help keep them from slipping open.

This serves as my entry for February: Tucks and Pleats for the HSF/HSM, so here is the HSF info:

What the item is: c. 1847-50 ballgown bodice. This is the first step in the ballgown I'm making for the Bath Victorian Ball in May, and it is based on extant beetlewing-embellished gowns from the late '40s to c. 1850, as well as a variety of fashion plates. I chose this style of gown both because beetlewings are wonderful and because the gowns tended to be made of cotton, rather than silk, which I can afford. smile emoticon
The Challenge: February - Tucks and Pleating (and, if I'm honest, January - Procrastination...I left it for way too long before drafting the sleeves. And they're basically curved rectangles.)
Fabric/Materials: Bodice lining is cotton twill. Bodice outer layers are cotton muslin. Gold trim is figured silk organza. Piping is the silk organza with a cotton core. Under-trim on the neckline is silk habotai. Wool batting (meant for spinning) quilted into cotton twill pads in the side-bust/underarm.
Pattern: draped by me, on me, based on period sources and extant bodices.
Year: c. 1847-50.
Notions: Hook and eye closures (so many of them...) individually thread-wrapped with silk thread; silk thread for the stitching; cotton cord to fill the piping; bones (some steel and some extra-thin cable ties); wool top/batting for the side-bust pads.
How historically accurate is it? The cable ties are not accurate, but they mimic very thin whalebone pretty well. The pleats should be a little softer and rounder for the '40s and '50s, but they creased when I was draping them and that seems to be permanent. There are a bunch of extant pleated ones from the '60s, so I'm calling it okay. One of the bones in the back of the bodice goes too high - it reaches up past the armscye - which was necessary to fix the buckling in that area. I should have interlined it in a stiffer glazed linen or cotton; I know for next time. The rest of the materials and construction methods are accurate according to my research, and the stitching has all been done by hand in silk thread. So maybe 80%?
Hours to complete: haaaaaaah...
First worn: Just for photos. Its first official outing will be at the ball in Bath in May.
Total cost: I think about £20 for all the cotton (including skirts). The bones and the organza were stash; I think the bones were originally about £7 total and the organza is negligible because I used so little of it. The cotton interlining was also stash, and was originally free (excess from a class project in my undergrad).

I will leave you with some closer photos of the finished bodice, and a shot of the beetle wings that will eventually be stitched all around the skirt hem. =)

1 comment:

  1. This is going to be beautiful :) I can't wait to see it finished!