When I was first designing this gown I thought that I’d basically construct it the same way I did my drawstring Regency sari dress— widening the front and back of the bodice and adding a drawstring around the neckline to create soft gathers across the bust and allow for sizing in the back. However, the more I looked at the photos of the drawstring dress, the more I felt that I wanted tinier, denser gathers and a more squared-off neckline. In order to get those I’d need to do two things– gather the sheer layer separately from the lining to keep the gathered fabric as thin (and therefore compressible) as possible, and have the gathered section itself be separate from the rest of the bodice to avoid affecting the shape of the neckline.
Complicating matters was the fact that the sheer layer was– well, sheer. That meant many of my interior seams would be visible from the outside, which is always something I try to avoid. After several attempts to figure out the order in which I would stitch together the various pieces of each layer to minimize visible seams, I came up with the following system:
1. Working with the inner and outer layers separately, stitch together the shoulder seams of the bodice front and center back pieces. Use French seams on the sheer outer layer, and trim/zigzag the seam allowance on the inner layer to finish.
2. Placing your bodice pieces right sides together, stitch up the center back and around the neckline, clip the corners, and trim the seam allowances down. You may want to zig-zag your trimmed seam allowances to avoid fraying.
3. Turn your bodice right-side out and press. Around the back half of the neckline only, stitch a 3/8″ channel.
4. Hand-sew eyelets into the channel to allow for ribbon to pass through.
5. Stitch together the outer and inner layers of your center back pieces along the curved back edges. Do the same along the curved edges of your side back pieces. Essentially you are flat-lining your outer fabric now.
6. Working with both layers as one piece of fabric, pin and stitch the side back pieces to the center back pieces. You now have a bodice with open side seams and armscyes.
7. Take your separate center front bodice section and clip a 3/8″ notch at the center front. Zig-zag along the entire upper edge of the piece, including the notch.
8. Fold over your finished edge and stitch down to make a 3/8″ channel with a small hole at center front.
9. Run gathering stitches along the bottom edge of your center front bodice piece.
10. Gather the under-bodice just under each breast (as directed in the original pattern in lieu of darts). Matching side seams, baste and stitch the center front piece to the rest of the bodice so the top channel runs just above the edge of the under-bodice neckline. Distribute the bottom-edge gathers evenly and baste in place.
11. Stitch side seams together.
12. Thread 1/4″ wide ribbon through the eyelets at the back neckline and run it through the back channels– one ribbon on each side. Stitch the end of the ribbon down at the shoulder seam.
13. Thread narrow ribbon through the center hole on the front gathered piece, one per side, and stitch the ribbon to the seam allowance at the armscye. Tack upper edge of the gathered piece to the underbodice on either side of the neckline.
14. Now you can insert your sleeves, being sure to catch the front ribbons in the seams to hold in place. Zigzag or bind armscyes with seam binding for a clean finish.
What you’ll end up with is a bodice that looks like this (you can see I’ve added a waistband, which will come in the next post):
- For some reason I can never seem to get the width of the back right– I want to have a few inches of extra room to make it adjustable in size, but I always start off adding too much extra width, making the back too gathered when it’s tight enough to fit properly, and then I have to alter it and end up cutting off too much, making it less adjustable than I’d intended.
- I also had to lower the neckline to make it appropriate for a ballgown– I keep forgetting that the original neckline height is more of a daytime style…
- Sadly, I did not in fact get “tiny” gathers at the neckline despite my efforts– the polyester drapery fabric was too stiff to gather the way I’d envisioned. It did, however, give my bustline some extra “puff” that was not unwelcome!