Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An 1860's Bodice: Inside and Out

I found this little gem recently on etsy for a steal. I'm so thrilled!

I have been heavily researching the 1860's lately and it is completely foreign to me. I mean, I thought I had some idea of Civil War era fashion, when I really knew nothing. It's so daunting, venturing into a new era.

What prompted me?

This October there is a big Civil War reenactment her in Las Vegas. Imagine - here... in Las Vegas? Never would have guessed. I suppose Nevada is "Battle Born"... But anyway, it sounds like so much fun. I have seen pictures and they have cannons and lots of smoke and horses charging. Not to mention it takes place in a state park against the mountains and it's very pretty. Very cool :)

But now I need an outfit (or two).

I have started reading extensively and as I think I'm getting the hang of what was in and what was out for the times and my age demographic, the actual sewing was kind of eluding me.

This bodice has been so instructive! It is SO helpful, when trying to create a garment, even with a pattern, to see the real thing. I can reference the seams and the shape and get an idea of the feel of the fabrics. I also found an original chemise and pair of drawers. So cool! But one thing at a time. 

Let's start with the bodice:

She almost fits! A bit petite, though.
The waist is probably about 21-22
inches and the bust around 31-32. The back
 length is around 14-14.5.

The fashion fabric is an olive green,
plain weave silk.

It is a fitted, darted bodice.

Many, many, many more pictures after the cut! 

The bodice center front dips a little.
The bottom edge is piped.

The back seams are top stitched down.

The top stitching is done in a matching
 silk thread.

The collar is a "stand up" collar.
It would have been worn with a little
matching white baste-in collar underneath.

The buttons are self fabric and covered in a
thread net, which radiates from the center of
the button.

The inside, where the buttons are attached.

The button holes overlap the selvage. I
love when you see bits that aren't perfect!
So much character!

Note the machine stitching: the stitch length
is very small. Much smaller than the average
setting on modern sewing machines.

The top stiching and bobbin are two
different colors of thread.

The armscye piping is very narrow. Barely a 16th of
an inch. You can see the piping seam in this picture. It
is in plain view, not hidden under the arm as we would
do today.

This is the underside of the left sleeve. This is interesting: the
sleeve is gathered/pleated to fit under the arm instead of on top. The right
sleeve doesn't have this. This is one period way to fix a sleeve thats too
big for the sleeve hole.

Note the curve of the sleeve, with it's widest
point at the elbow.

This pinked trim is basted into the sleeve,
meant to be removed and restyled. It is
not whipped and gathered like 18th c. trim.

The cuff is faced with a couple inches of self fabric,
turned under and stitched to the lining.

Piecing! The silk is pieced on the inner cuff
of the left sleeve.

Inside out. The lining and silk are flatlined together.

The center front is not boned. The bones are
in the darts, which you can see below.

The dart/boning channels are intact so I
can't see what the bones are made of.
They are about 1/4 inch wide and rounded at
the ends.

The middle of the center front lining
has a small dart. The silk does not.
 The dart is pictured in more detail below.

The inside waist is outfitted with hooks
and eyes on a placket that fasten first, before you button.
I assume this would take strain off the button area.

The hooks and eyes are attached with
long lengths of doubled thread.

The armscye and sleeve seams are the only
selvages which are finished off.

The rest of the selvages are left raw. The lining is
polished cotton, which as I have read, was
very common as a lining.

Parts of the inside are stitched with different
colors of thread. Black and beige.

The left back of the bodice has this little
fabric loop hanging. I have no idea what this
was for. Anybody know?


  1. What a wonderful garment, and such great and informative photos! Thanks so much for sharing them with us. I saved it to my Evernote account so I can study it again when I need references.

    I always loved looking at places like eBay for this very reason. I noticed some sellers would take detailed photos of the garments they were offering, and a few times I had some "a-ha!" moments!

    Best wishes!

    1. Looking at gowns etc for sale are such great resources. I don't know if you have seen it but there's a blog, extantdresses.blogspot.com. It's all pictures saved from sale listings for study.

  2. Polished cotton linings are so common. Twill and sateen get more popular towards the end of the decade and into the next.

    I have no idea about the loops. Well, I have an idea - maybe for attachment to the skirt? - but I'm not sure I've ever seen them.

    1. So far I've seen only polished cotton linings on mid 19th century, but I don't want to assume too much since I'm still very new to the 1860's.

  3. Is there any evidence of a similar loop on the other side? I've seen loops like that on late 19th century (1880-1890s) bodices in approximately the same place. They appear to have been used for hanging the garments upside-down and inside-out on those that I've seen. Possibly for storage? One of the bodices that had loops was preserved with its original skirt, which had four loops on the interior waist-band. They were arranged so that the strain of the skirt was spread evenly on the four, but the loops lined up nicely to be doubled to match the distance of the bodice loops. Thank you for sharing the beautiful bodice!

    1. Thats interesting. I hate those things on modern clothes! I always cut them out!

      I looked at the other side of the bodice and there doesn't seem to be holes from stitching. I don't think there ever was a second loop. But that makes sense that's what a loop would be for.

    2. I was just going to suggest the loops for hanging, too. I've heard of them being used in one-piece dresses, so I've done it with several of mine and it works very well.

  4. Hi! I really like your blog and all the nice pictures! Extant garments is such a good source of information and knowledge.

    Vänliga hälsningar!

  5. Loved your blog! Shared this site on facebook and reposted to a few of my friends' pages so that they too, may enjoy your site. Besides reading on, about and so-forth on ladies attire and creating some, a visual reference is a big help for me! And creating the interior properly has been a bit of a challenge in the way of maintaining neatness. Appreciate your hard work of displaying and explaining all that you have! Thank you ever so!

    1. Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoy the posts. I'm happy to share pictures - I find it so helpful to see how "they" did it. It's so much easier to recreate pieces when you have a visual reference. If you need any further pictures of the inside I would be happy to post them, just let me know :)