Refashioning Saratoga: Constructing the Bodice


I previously posted about the drafting method used to pattern my Saratoga Dress bodice, so in this post I am going to talk about the actual sewing of the bodice, with lots of in-process photos.


Once I had mocked up the bodice several times and I was reasonably assured that it fit and was the correct design, it was time to start cutting out the fabric. I don’t care how many silk dresses you’ve made, or how many mockups you’ve made of your pattern before cutting, that moment that you start cutting out your silk is always nerve-wracking.

Most of the bodice was cut out of blue silk taffeta, with the exception of a contrast panel down the front center cut in blue-gray and red gingham.


Front bodice pieces


Back bodice pieces

At some point during the patterning process I had realized that because we can’t see the back of the dress in the photo, the back was the one place I had complete artistic license to do whatever I thought best with the design. With that in mind, I decided that, rather than copying the contrast panel on the front of the bodice directly onto the back, I would make an ode to the front of the bodice by carrying the lines of the contrast seam over into the back with piping made of the red and blue gingham. To carry the theme through the whole, I also put blue piping down the seams on the front of the bodice.


Below you can see the detail of the contrast piping on the back and the front.

bodiceconstruct5  bodiceconstruct3

After adding the piping, I interlined all of the pieces with a sturdy white cotton twill to add strength. To finish the front edges I cut a facing panel out of blue taffeta that was the same pattern piece as the one used for the gingham contrast panel.


bodiceconstruct7  bodiceconstruct6

At this point I put the bodice on hold for a couple of months while I worked on the skirt. I wanted to make sure that the volume of the skirt at the top, as well as the shape of the trim on the skirt worked with the cut and design of the bodice before I worked on it any further.

Once the skirt was finished, I started the internal construction of the bodice. I made casing for boning, and put lengths of synthetic whalebone in the seams to help the bodice lie smooth. The sleeves I cut from a basic sleeve pattern included with Truly Victorian’s 1880 Jacket Bodice (TV 428), and then I hand trimmed the sleeves with the gingham taffeta using silk thread.


Sometimes I stitch outside

In the original photograph, the dress seems to have white cuffs sticking out at the end of the sleeves. To mimic this, I lined my blue taffeta sleeves with white cotton made from the same sleeve pattern pieces, and left the cuffs long to hem and adjust once I had attached everything to the bodice and could determine the length when worn.


Detail of the original sleeve


Here you can see the unfinished undersleeves sticking out at the cuffs

For the collar base I reused the simple standing collar pattern piece from the Truly Victorian 1887 Alexandra Bodice (TV 466) pattern, cut out in one layer of red gingham taffeta and one layer of the cotton twill. Between these I sandwiched pleated blue taffeta along the top edge, stitched pleated blue taffeta to the outside of the bottom edge, and then stitched the bottom edge into place at the neck of the bodice. This took me a bit of testing and a few tries to get the shape right, and to get the pleats to lay the way I wanted. In the end, the entire bodice closes left over right, rather than right over left as I was intending, simply because once I had the collar sewn on, I realized that the pleats looked neater and overlapped nicer that way, and I didn’t want to rip the collar out and try again for better placement.


Still testing the shape and fit at this point

The original photo also had just a hint of white collar peeking out above the pleats at the neck, so in order to mimic this, I cut the base collar piece out again in two layers of the same white cotton I used for the sleeves, but extended the pieces to make the collar taller. I then top stitched the two layers together. I set the white collar inside the pleated collar at the right height, and then basted it in place. I decided to baste it in instead of stitching it more permanently so that it can be removed and washed easily, since white cotton at the neck can get discolored quickly.


After that all that was left was finishing. I hemmed the bottom of the bodice and attached a gingham pleated trim to the bottom, which I whipstitched onto the seam allowance on the inside. I tried the bodice on several more times to check the fit and set the length of the sleeves, and the position of the buttons.


This was a lewk

Somewhere in here was when I did a first try on of the whole outfit and discovered the underskirt was about an inch too long in the front. Luckily I was able to fix it by simply pleating it up near the edge of the fashion fabric panel.


The final step was to stitch in the buttonholes and attach the buttons. I do my buttonholes by hand because I don’t trust my machine… though I’m not necessarily much neater, and definitely not more efficient. I wasn’t terribly pleased about how the button holes were coming out until someone tipped me off to a little video on Silk_and_buckram’s Instagram about how to do buttonholes, and it’s like magic.


For the buttons I just covered cheap plastic 5/8″ buttons from Joann’s. I know covered button kits exist, but I have trouble finding enough of the bases in the size that I need, so I keep going back to using plastic ones.


After the buttons were done, the entire dress was officially finished. From start to finish, it took me about five months, at least 150 hours worth of work to make the dress, and at the end it felt a bit anticlimactic to be staring at the finished thing that had consumed my entire summer. I also made a hat to match from the Lynn McMasters Bustle Era Hat pattern, but I feel like I kind of fudged the process, and the only thing that saved the hat is the amount of trim I put on it, so I’m unsure if I’m going to do a post just about the hat or if I’m just going to gloss over that whole process.

I’m going to end this with some of my photos of the completed ensemble, but I have tons of worn photos from the photoshoot I did that I will put in a separate post soon!

Courtesy Caitlin Sheldon 2


courtesy Caitlin Sheldon




See the finished, worn photos here!

One thought on “Refashioning Saratoga: Constructing the Bodice

  1. Pingback: Project Announcement | Fancy Miscellany

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