1860s Embroidered Ballgown, Part VI: Finishing the Bodice

ivory bodice fixed

So as you recall, I had some issues with the seams rippling in my bodice— I wasn’t sure what was causing it, but after some consultation with other costumers online we determined that it was likely due to the bodice being too long. The extra length was being pushed up and forwards by the curve of my skirt, causing the seams to buckle.


One way to remedy this issue is to fix the shape of the bottom of the bodice– since the original pattern hadn’t provided a stitching line or directions for how to shape it, I’d just done a basic pointed bodice, front and back. However, closer examination of the fashion plates and extant gowns showed that pointed bodices back then had an entirely different shape– much more curved, with a distinctly long front point when compared to the rest of the bodice. This allows the skirt more room to bell out without pushing out the bodice edges.


I removed my piping and adjusted the shaping of my bodice hem to get it closer to that high arch on each side of center front– I couldn’t make it nearly as extreme as the example above, but I think it’s a little better– besides, not all period gowns had the extreme arch shape anyway.

Here’s the before (left) and after (right):

I’m a little concerned that the bodice looks to be much longer-waisted than the extant examples out there, but when I tried it on over the skirt I needed the length to cover the skirt waistband, which was set right at the narrowest part of my waist. There’s really no way to wear the skirt higher on my torso– it would just fall down– so I guess I’m just long-waisted when it comes to this kind of gown. I don’t think it’ll matter much in the end.

After stay-stitching the neckline I bound the top edge in self-fabric bias tape, turned to the shiny side rather than the matte side of the fabric. I used the channel it created as a casing for a thin drawstring, which I can use to snug up the almost-off-shoulder neckline before it’s hidden by the bertha, to ensure that it stays in place.


Speaking of the bertha, to finish it off I wanted to make shoulder bows of blue taffeta to match the embroidery on the skirt. Since it’s basically impossible to color-match online, I waited for my opportunity to go to Los Angeles for Costume College and took a trip to the Fashion District. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to bring a swatch with me when I went shopping! I had to guess at the shade of blue and failed miserably, ending up with something too dark and with far too much green in it. What to do?

I tried dyeing the fabric with Dye-Na-Flow, much as I did with my lilypad fascinator, but it just didn’t work– the underlying fabric was too green to let me match the clearer blue of the embroidery. With only days until my event I ended up taking my skirt to Goodwill and searching for an item of clothing that was both the right color and large enough to cut up into bows. I ended up finding a size XL men’s shirt that was the perfect color– whew!

Once I’d washed and ironed the shirt, it was time to make the bows. The bodice pattern (TV 442) actually came with some very good instructions, so I followed those. Basically, for each bow you cut two rectangles (about the size of an 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper) and stitch them into tubes, which you then press, gather in the center, and stack.  Presto, bows!


I will note that I slightly adjusted the pattern to make the horizontal bows a tiny bit larger than the vertical bows stacked behind them– I just liked the look better. That entailed lengthening the pattern for the horizontal bow pieces by about an inch.

I hand-stitched one bow directly to the bertha on the right shoulder. For the left shoulder (the side with the closure) I stitched the bow on one side, and then added a tiny snap on the other side so I could snap the bow down to disguise the closure.


I’m not entirely happy with the bows– the fabric is just a teeny bit lighter than my embroidery and I’d prefer something with a little shine to it like taffeta– but they’ll do for now. This will teach me to always bring my swatches while shopping!

Finally, I added some small metal hooks to the shoulders and center of the bertha, stitching thread loops to the neckline so the whole thing would stay in place. Unfortunately, as I discovered the first time I wore it, the hooks were completely ineffective– the bertha just wasn’t heavy enough to stay on the hooks when I moved. I ended up safety-pinning the bertha in place, which worked fine. I think next time I’d just tack it down with temporary stitches that can be removed if I ever want to wear the dress sans bertha.


5 thoughts on “1860s Embroidered Ballgown, Part VI: Finishing the Bodice

  1. Great post and beautiful work! I had that EXACT same pointiness issue with my red velvet gown, and ended up going back and carving it down in the same way. I’ve also seen others new to TV patterns making the same mistake; I feel that perhaps they should put a blurb alongside the pattern saying that you need to change it!
    Excellent idea about the casing; have you seen this in extants, or was it your own idea? I think that might really help one of my dresses from sliding off of the shoulder, but it may be too late now….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, it would be helpful to include a note saying that you can shape the bottom of the bodice to your preference– otherwise you end up with a weird shovel-shaped hem that’s just the product of the fact that the pattern piece needs room for darts of various sizes.

      As for the casing along the neckline, it was partly the byproduct of my needing to bind the edge once I decided to make the bertha detatchable, and partly an “a-ha!” moment when I realized that I could run a drawstring through the binding. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a technique used in extant gowns as well– so handy! You could even do it with bias tape turned completely to the inside, if you didn’t want it to show.


  2. Pingback: 1898 Black Moire Convertible Gown, Part II: Evening Bodice Base | It's All Frosting...

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