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Brown China Silk Bodice

Research Paper - Full Description

by: Candy McClernan

Made from China silk, this patterned bodice is from the middle of the 1890s.  The leg-o-mutton shape has a fitted inner sleeve.This bodice is constructed on a boned glazed brown cotton foundation covered with a brown and cream print silk fashion fabric.

Figure 1:  Original Bodice Front Figure 2:  Original Bodice Back


The construction of this bodice is a mix of machined seams and hand seam finishes. The seam finishes on the foundation are hand overcast with orange thread, except for the armscye which is hand-overcast with brown thread.  This foundation consists of eight pieces (two front pieces with two darts, two side pieces and four back pieces).  The front of the foundation closes with 13 hooks and eyes spaced 1 inch apart; there are two additional hooks on the collar. Fashion fabric facings are stitched to the front foundations from neck to the bottom edge which wrap around  the front edges of the foundation fabric with the raw edges covered by twill tape.

The fashion fabric consists of six pieces (one back, two side backs, two sides, two fronts and a center front panel). The fronts of the bodice have one dart as well as two pleats. The two pleats curve from the neck and shoulder to the center front, providing shape.

The front panel of the bodice has a hidden closure that disguises the hooks and eyes.  It is stitched to the right front of the foundation under the fashion fabric and is closed by two hooks and eyes, one on top at the neck line and one at the bottom on the left side of the foundation. This panel is gathered to a bias strip facing. It has 10 pleats at the bottom finished with a strip of self fabric cut on the bias.

The fashion fabric is draped and flat-lined  to the foundation at the side seams and shoulder seams.  The front dart is flat-lined with the outer dart of the foundation. There are thirteen bones, one at each seam as well as on the center front and center back.

Figure 3:  Original Bodice Interior

The back of the fashion fabric, without a center back seam, is draped onto the two back and two side back foundation pieces. There are four tucks meeting at the waist of center back continuing to the bottom point of back of bodice.

The stiffened stand collar is finished as a separate piece and hand stitched to the finished bodice; it measures 1 7/8". The outer fashion fabric is folded over the collar foundation and cross stitched down to hold it in place. The inner collar fabric is turned and slip-stitched to all four edges making the collar a separate piece.  It is attached to the bodice by cross stitching to the finished neck edge of the bodice.

Figure 5:  Original Bodice Interior Collar Detail Figure 6:  Original Bodice Collar and Opening Detail

The sleeve consists of a two piece inner sleeve gathered into the armsyce with a one piece leg-o-mutton outer sleeve pleated at the sleeve head with a dart at the elbow for shaping.  There is a support layer, which is made up of organza in the reproduction, that helps maintain the puff of the sleeve head, which continues past the bicept. The outer sleeve tapers to the wrist where there is a 1 1/2" slit to allow for the hand. 

Under the left front fashion fabric there is a small black pocket which is hand stitched to the foundation and it extends over the facing. This pocket, measuring 2 3/4" wide and 2 3/8" high, is concealed when the front panel of the bodice is hooked into place.  See the side-bar on the left above and the interior view on Figure 8 below.

Figure 7:  Original Bodice Sleeve Cuff Detail Figure 8:  Original Bodice Interior Pocket

The neck is bound by a bias strip to finish the edge. The bottom of the bodice is finished with a bias strip facing, as seen in Figure 3 above.

Brown moire 1/2" grosgrain ribbon trims the bottom edge of the sleeve and forms a decorative "V" shape with bows placed at the ends and point of the "V" (see Figure 7 above). The ribbon also trims the outer edge of the collar. This ribbon follows the front edge of the fashion fabric from the bust level, around the neck to a "V" at the neck center back. there are bows at each end at the bust level. The front panel has ribbon across at the level of the bow.  This ribbon is hand-stitched down.

 There is cotton lace hand-stitched to the bodice under the stand collar, and at the cuffs.

This bodice is dated to the late 1880s to early 1890s based on references in Norah Waugh's The Cut of Women's Clothes 1600-1930 and Jean Hunnisett's Period Costume for Stage & Screen Patterns for Women's Dress 1800-1909.  On page 145, Waugh states that "By the end of the 1880's the bodice came just below waist level and was pointed centre back and centre front. Dress bodices had false fronts, which could be gathered  and ruched to suggest a blouse. A narrow collar was added to the bodice and by 1885 had become the high 'officer' collar. The long tight sleeve was new set high on the shoulder, and from 1885 the head of the sleeve began to rise and be cut fuller."

According to Hunnisett, on page 144, from 1891-1899, "the back of bodices were mounted in with the foundation while the front foundation fastened independently down the centre (sic)."  Based on the research in Hunnisett and Waugh this bodice is an excellent example of the era because the dress bodice resembles a blouse, with its front panel covering the closings.

The bodice, which is in excellent condition, is made from very fine silk that is quite fragile. Several of the original bones are missing.

Fabric and Bodice Reproduction

The fabric was reproduced by on their cotton silk blend after the pattern was traced and the repeat pattern determined.  The step-by-step process  has been recorded. The bodice was recreated from a pattern that was drafted from the original bodice.  The leg-o-mutton outer sleeve outer sleeve is supported by organza in the reproduction to help maintain the shape of the sleeve head.


© Candy McClernan, 2013