Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A mid 19th century silk bodice. Alterations and split seams galore! Lots to study.

A mid 19th century bodice.

So this little bodice is another eBay find. I've been on there a lot in the last couple months...

The outter fabric is a very fine, thin, plain weave, cream colored silk. The lining is a thin twilled cotton. It's much softer and more thin than any twilled cotton I have seen available. Nothing like a jean or coutil. The bodice appears to be stitches with a combination of silk and cotton thread. It also appears two different colors and weights of silk thread were used: a fine, light silk on the exterior and a thicker, darker (perhaps darkened with age) silk was used on the inside. The bodice is constructed with machine and hand stitches.

The bodice shows signs of alterations, specifically being let out at the side seams. The arm holes are very tight, at just shy of 10" around. The front is boned in multiple spots, the darts encasing the 1/4", flat bones. The back closes with hook and eyes on the lining and holes, for lacing, on the silk. The eyelet holes are finished in small, tight overcast stitches, not buttonhole. The center back is piped, the piping encasing thin, squared boning, which shows where the boning has broken and the silk has split. The boning is very thin, but appears to be whalebone wrapped in paper. The edges of the bodice, along with the armscye, are piped as well, with 8-ply white cotton cord. The top and bottom edges are faced with the same cream silk. The bertha, or the front bust decoration, is stitched into the seam at the shoulder and sleeve, but only held down with a pin at the center front. 

The pictures are taken with the bodice against a 1" square grid, for scale. Loosely measured, the bodice is 28" at the bust and 21" at the waist. The center front neckline to point is 14.5" and the center back is 15.5".

The armscye is piped. The sleeve is pleated
to the armscye. The bertha is joined
at the seams of the sleeve and shoulder.

Inside the sleeve. You can see the cotton
lining. The sleeves probably used to puff.

This overlay is only held down with a straight pin at the
center front. The edges of this piece are not finished, just
turned under. Now they are creased. They may or may
not have been pressed, originally.

Here you can see the pin. 

The front darts, two per side, end under the bertha. They
are boned.

The neckline is piped.

The waist edge is piped.

This back shot shows the two layers of closures: hook and
eyes inside on the cotton lining, eyelets for lacing on the
silk. Neither layer overlaps; the hook/eyes meet at the
center back and the silk meets, as well.

A more up close view of what I
mentioned above. The silk has been turned
under, faced with cotton, piping stitched in,
then the selvage was stitched down to the
bodice. The piping is boned with
angel-hair-pasta-thin boning that has been
wrapped in paper. 

The silk is joined to the lining at the neck
and waist, and at the two curved back seams.
The two layers meet at the bottom point. At
the neckline, they meet about 1.5" from the
center back.

The curved back seams. 

This is where the boning is broken and silk
split, allowing the insides to be studied.
Also a good shot of the eyelets.

Open, you can see the general shape of the pieces.
At the center front, the lining is seamed,
the selvages facing the wearer. The selvages are turned
under and whip stitched down to the lining. 

While the center front channels extend the
length of the bodice, the boning only
extends from the point up half way. The bone
on the left goes up 7.5", while the bone on the
right extends 8". There are stitches through
the lining, stopping the bones from creeping
up. The bones are 1/4" and flat.

On the inside of the bodice, you can see the
pin which holds the bertha. The little stitch
at the top of the picture is a mystery.
It doesn't show on the outside of the bodice.

The darts are boned as well.

The neckline and waist are faced with the cream silk.
The silk, lining and piping are stitched to the facing.
Running stitches secure the piping and show on
the facing. The facing is turned under and stitched to the
 lining with whip stitches.

A good view of the running and whip
stitches on the facing.

Here, where the fabric is split, you can see the 8-ply,
 white, cotton cord, which was used for the piping.

The facing ends at the center back.

The hooks and eyes end 2" from the bottom.
 They end 1/4" from the top.

The eyes are stitched on with long lengths
of cotton thread.

The cotton lining was turned under and
stitched down.

The side seams are left raw and overcast
with stitches about 1/4" apart. The piping
wasn't extended when the bodice was
let out. (More on that further down)
A better view of the overcasting.
The side seam on the wearer's left was hand stitched and is
now split open. The seam on the right was machine stitched.

The sleeves are set in, with the raw edges
hand overcast in the same, loosely
spaced (1/4") stitches. 

To the right of the seam is a nasty split, showing
 the construction of the piping. The seam itself
 is also split open. Both side seams show evidence
of the bodice being let out 1" on each side. 

A more clean view of the alteration.
Unpicked seams show 1/2" from each side
of the current seam.

The piping was not filled in after the
bodice was let out.

Very tiny top stitching on the exterior.
It's a lovely and very interesting little bodice. I'm assuming it was a ballgown bodice, due to the shape, sleeves, back and bertha. I do not know the exact date from which it comes. 

Isabella, at All the Pretty Dresses actually did a little post about this bodice from it's eBay days. She says, 

"Anyway, this one threw me for a bit. The detailing on the front is very 1850's into the 1860's but the shoulders are very 1840's. However, the lowered shoulders continues into the 1850's and there are a few pieces in various museums that have this exact over all cut that are said to be 1850's so...we're going with 1850's."

So far, I agree with her. Anyone else have anything interesting to add?


  1. Ah! I had been watching this bodice, too! I'm so happy to know you won it and took so many fabulous pictures of it, including those drool-worthy eyelets (Why can't mine turn out so neatly?!). Thanks for sharing this historical gem. :)

    1. My eyelets never look that good either :( boo. I am such an eBay addict. I always "watch" the good stuff so I can always look back at the pictures long after someone else buys it :)

  2. Thank you very much for share with us all this amazing photos. They're really usefull to make preiod acurate costumes.
    Nereida ; )

    1. So glad to be able to offer something helpful! I love seeing the insides. Way more fascinating than the inside of modern clothes.