Cloaks Home | The Costar Site | Holdings | Help
Costar / Full Description
u: p:
Member Login loading...


This bodice consists of a taffeta under bodice that is boned and is the foundation of the entire garment.  This bodice was fully constructed before the addition of the satin and wool pieces because they are all stitched to the outside by hand, in layers.  At the neck there is a ruched net collar/dickie that was constructed separately, if the differentiation in shoulder seams is to be considered.  The sides of the base have a woolen section that fills the area under the arm, which is not covered by pinafore-type wool pieces.  From a distance, it appears that the under bodice is made of wool because of these sections, but upon closer inspection they stop just inside the outer layer. 

Figure 1: Original Front

Figure 2: Original Back

The pinafore cover of this garment consists of a satin piece that goes around the back of the neck and buttons down the front.  This section is attached to the main embroidered wool pieces that form the majority of the pinafore outer layer.  This garment is interesting because things that look like they extend into the main garment often end just past the layer above it.  The sleeves consist of a ¾ length under sleeve that connects to armscye of the base.  This sleeve ends in a combination of net and ruched chiffon that covers about 5" of the under sleeve and extends all the way to the wrist.  The over sleeve is satin that ends around the elbow in a cuff and is slip-stitched around the armhole of the under sleeve so the seam allowances are contained. The waist is belted with a section of bias duchess satin that has been pleated.

Historical Dating

This navy embroidered bodice dates from about 1906.  Garment attributes that lead to the date range of 1905 to 1908 begin with the waistline that dips forward in the center front, a style line most commonly seen before 1908. It would look pigeon breasted if it could be properly put on a form but the condition of the bodice prevents that from happening.  The many hooks and eyes as well as the straight and lacy nature of the boned collar also set this garment after 1905.

Over the last hundred years the bodice has suffered some damage as some of the fabric have started to deteriorate.  While the felted wool that makes up the outer shell of the garment and the net/chiffon in the sleeves have held up very well over time, the satin and taffeta that comprise the majority of the garment are significantly shredded.  While I was able to pick it up and try it on forms at the beginning of the process, after the second time it became clear that the action of lifting the garment on and off the form was damaging the already fragile fabric irreparably. It is possible that the fabrics currently decaying were at one time coated in lead to increase richness.  This garment contains no identifying labels and the donor and owner are unknown.  

Detailed Examination of the Bodice

The base is made entirely of taffeta that has been stitched with 1" seam allowances.  After the seam allowances were all pressed open they were finished by folding black hem tape along the edges.  There are ten pieces that make up the body; center back, side back, side, side front, and front.  Each seam is boned from the bottom up to a height of about 7” depending on the location.  The bones are encased and then have been stitched through the middle to the seam.  All of these bones are believed to be made from baleen because of this application, as seen below in Figure 4. 

Figure 3: Interior Waistband

Figure 4: Baleen Bone

There is a waistband attached to the center back and side back seams by cross-stitching it to the bone tape, which can be seen above in Figure 3.  The waistband is 1 1/4" wide and closes in the center front with a hook and eye.  In addition at the center back seams there are small tabs that are loops of twill with covered eyes stitched on the end.  They point downward from the top of the waistband and seem to connect to a part of the garment other then the bodice, likely a skirt or corset.
The hem of the taffeta bodice is finished to the inside with a 3/4" wide bias band.  From the inside you can see areas where the outer layers of wool have been whip-stitched down to the base.

Figure 5: Interior Front Detail

Figure 6: Collar with Straw Bone

The front of the base extends in a long dip at center front where it opens, as seen in Figure 5 above. There are bones from the hem going up to a height of 8" on either side of center front which closes with alternating hooks and eyes spaced at 1 1/4" apart.  Behind the hardware, a 1" ribbon has been run to cover where the hooks and eyes are attach and to hide the seam allowance.  The shaping in this section of the garment is mostly in the seams although there is one dart in the side front panel that goes into the side seam.
Before the taffeta decayed, it went all the way to the neck seam and was attached into the net collar seam.  The net dickie is a complicated piece that most likely was added as an addition to the garment.  The shoulder seams of the net are 1" shorter from the shoulder seams of the taffeta. The dickie has it’s own center front closure of hooks and eyes hidden under the trim.  The net has been stitched to the taffeta with either the black hem tape that can be seen in the seams or just whip-stitched to the taffeta.  The neck section is made up of three pieces; front, back, and neckband. Each of these pieces consists of a net base in the exact shape of the piece and an over layer of dotted net which has been ruched onto the base layer.  The collar has bones at center back and the side seams that appear to be some type of straw well wrapped in thread, as seen in Figure 6 above.
The edges of the net are finished in a gold crochet trim that goes all along the top of the neckband before covering the closures on the lace net center front.   The section at the front has twelve monkey fist knots that have been attached to the trim over the hooks and eyes.  These six hooks and eyes are smaller than the ones on the layer below and are closely spaced 3/4" apart.

Moving outward from the base structure, one finds the satin layer that shapes the neckline of the garment, as seen in Figure 7 below.  The fabric of this section has almost completely deteriorated making it almost impossible to get a tracing. The section consists of three pieces: center back and fronts, that are made from a navy satin on the outside but on the inside are taffeta.  The pieces have been bagged out and then top-stitched on both ends individually before being seamed at the shoulder.  Seams here have been pressed open but are left unfinished.  The seam allowances center front are only finished on the side with the button holes for about 1 1/2" before becoming unfinished, pleated, and then just slid between where the wool is attached to the taffeta base.

Figure 7: Neckline and Shoulder Seam

This satin section is difficult to understand because it looks like it is another layer but actually only extends about 1 1/2" past the wool.  Center front closes with buttons that are made of self-fabric and buttonholes that have all been done by hand.  There are nine buttons starting at the top and then two starting at the bottom, in between there is nothing forcing it closed.  At one point this layer was attached to the net at the shoulder seam with a tack but now the only connection is where it has been stitched by hand to the outer wool layer.

Figure 8: Interior Detail

Figure 9: Satin Bias Trim Detail

The top most layer of the bodice is felted wool that is similar in shape to a pinafore bib. This layer has also been embroidered and trimmed with satin bias in strips and is attached to the taffeta base at the hem with the same black hem tape used to bind the sleeves.  This happens on the very bottom but on the outside where it is later covered by a belt.  The back section of wool consists of a center back piece and two side back pieces.  The pieces have had the seam allowances pressed back and edge stitched down the vertical edges of all pieces. After this top-stitching was completed, the side back pieces were stitched by hand to the top of the center back piece through the top-stitching.  This allows the seam allowance of the back section to be longer and attach to the base while still allowing a certain amount of movement.  Details of this construction can be seen in Figures 8 and 9 above. 

The front piece has decorative swirls that meet at center front and close with four hooks and thread bars center front, as seen in Figure 10 below. A piece of wool has been added to the left side of center front to cover the opening and house the thread bars; bias trim extends onto it but the embroidery ends at edge of the front piece.  The fullness of this piece is concentrated at the center front and low with pleats center front to increase the fullness. It is stitched to the satin until it releases at the curve of the center front swirl.  

Figure 10: Bodice Front Detail

Figure 11: title

In addition to the woolen pinafore, there are large woolen pieces that fit in under the arm and are stitched directly to the base and only go from side front to side back.  At first glance, there appeared to be a full layer of wool in there but it actually ends halfway up the armhole and about 2" into the overlap of the pinafore.  This layer extends into the armhole.

Covering the termination of all the layers at the hem is a belt that is 1.5" wide. It closes center front with two hooks and thread bars but buttons to the top, as seen in Figure 11 above.  The belt is a 5.5" piece of bias duchess satin that was roll hemmed and pleated three times.

Detailed Examination of the Sleeves

Figure 12: Inner Sleeve Detail

Finally this bodice has sleeves made from four fabrics.  The inner sleeve is of the same taffeta (see Figure 12 above) as the bodice and has two pieces.  The seams hit in the back quarter of the sleeve and in the underarm.  This sleeve is stitched by machine into the taffeta base and then the seam allowances have been trimmed to 1/4" and bound by hand to the inside of the seam leaving everything flat (see Figure 13 below).  This sleeve is 3/4 length that ends in a 1/4" wide double turned hem.

Figure 13: Interior Sleeve Detail

Figure 14: Ruching on Sleeve

Attached 5" above this hem is a layer of net and chiffon.  The net is the same as that of the base of the neckpiece and is seamed in two places.  Over the top is the layer of chiffon that is smooth at the attachment point but ruches down the back of the arm until it fits smoothly into the wrist.  Selvedge of the chiffon was used so that the ends could be stacked on top of each other and hand stitched in the gathers rather than having them seamed.  Also along the back arm seam is an opening 1.5" long to allow the hand through.  The cuff of the chiffon is trimmed in the same gold trim as on the collar and that has a slightly oxidized look to it. Other than the wool it is the chiffon and net that is in the best condition that suggests that they might have been added later or come from a different garment originally.

The final section of the sleeve is an upper sleeve made of the same navy satin that is in the pinafore.  This sleeve is gathered into the armscye and has been basted into the sleeve with the seam allowance folded in to the sleeve.  The bottom of the sleeve is finished in a two part band, the front of the band is an identical embroidered swirl to the ones on the front pinafore piece that has had the edges bound in satin bias while the back section is bound in satin to go around the back of the arm.  The seam allowance of the sleeve is turned up into the cuff so there is no extra hem there. Buttons cover the connections from the two cuff pieces

Detailed Examination of the Embroidery

Figure 15: Embroidery Detail

Figure 16: Embroidery Detail

The embroidery on this garment is not exactly symmetrical from side to side, although at first glance it appears to be.  Embroidery was worked into the wool pinafore section and sleeve decorations only.  The swirls have a basic connecting ring pattern that with small multi-colored flowers inside.  The pinafore sections, aside from the swirls, have additional swirls and flower shapes that have been hand embroidered into it.  In these areas the embroidery only occurs on the outside of the satin binding towards the armhole.

Figure 17: title

This garment appears to be made from a number of different pieces that have been worked together to make something quite unique.  It has deteriorated considerably but enough of it remains to make it worthy of careful examination.


© Erin Torkelson, 2018