Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Tutorial: Sense and Sensibility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 1

This multi-part tutorial will cover some key details of making a bodiced petticoat using the bodice portion of the basic Sense and Sensibility Regency dress pattern. The tips are designed to supplement Jennie Chancey's online directions for a bodiced petticoat but to cover elements that a novice seamstress might not be familiar with and to address some oddities I noticed in the online directions.

As always, please click on each image for a larger version

The dress pattern has been out for quite a few years now, and it's more Regency-inspired than accurate, and so this bodiced petticoat is probably not entirely accurate either, but it's fairly easy to make and is a most useful substitution for stays. Bodiced petticoats were indeed worn during the Regency period, sometimes in replacement of stays and sometimes as an underdress worn with stays. Several of us in our period sewing group here in Kentucky are making bodiced petticoats as part of our ensembles for the JASNA Jane Austen Festival in Louisville this coming July. I am making one too as a backup, as I will shortly be making up the Past Patterns Transition Stays (#030), and plan to wear them instead.

The Tutorial

Modifying and Cutting Out the Pattern Pieces
In Jennie's directions, the first step is to modify the bodice pattern pieces so that they'll work for a petticoat, and then to cut them out.. The directions cover the process clearly, so I will not linger on them except for one point.

Look that this picture from the directions, copied below:

It shows the front pattern piece with the new, modified front piece, which has been lengthened, straps narrowed, and neckline enlarged by setting the original pattern piece a little angled to the folded fabric. Note how the edge at the bottom right curves up a bit.

When you unfold the new front piece, this is the effect that upwards curve at the fold will give you:

...the bodice bottom looks like the bottom of a bikini top. While the original instructions called for the fabric at the neckline to be trimmed straight across from the lowest part of the neckline curve to the fold, to remove the dip effect, these instructions appear to have been left out for the bottom of the bodice. Look at the picture of the the bodice front from later in the original directions:

There is no dip there! Now, because when the toile is fitted you will be cutting a good bit of the bottom of the bodice away anyhow, you may not care to trim the bottom straight. However, I'd take the time to do so. You won't have to look at a wavy bottom when you're trying to judge the length of the petticoat bodice, and you'll have a straight line to follow when you do cut off the excess fabric.

Note: Because I was quite distracted when I cut my front bodice out, and neglected to add a full 2.5 inches to the bottom, my bodice bottom isn't long enough to trim out the dip. That was quite an error. While I know that much of the bottom will be cut away anyhow when I fit the toile, I fear that mine is just too short to begin with, so I will recut a fresh bodice piece and baste it again. So what you are seeing in this tutorial is my first bodice front...before I have have corrected the problem.

Fitting the Bodice Toile

The next set of steps in Jennie's directions is under heading "Fitting the Bodice Toile". First she asks you to baste the pieces together, but she doesn't tell you how, imagining that you have the original directions for the dress at hand. If you don't and you're newish to sewing, here they are, illustrated. By the way, the order of sewing the pieces that I use is the same order that is recommended in sewing manuals of the day.

Here below are the right back piece with its matching side piece. (Note: I had a cutting issue here, too...the day I cut my bodice I was helping four other women cut theirs and gave very scant attention to my own. So the back piece is TOO SHORT! Ugh! Memo to file: never try to cut while talking or listening to others talk.

Dealing with Curved Seams

Stitching a curved seam can be tricky, so I will show you how it can be done fairly easily.

First, match the top of the back piece (in front in the picture below) to the top of the side piece (behind it in the picture below).


Now, start smoothing the raw edges together with your fingers. Pin the fabric at the left edge just as soon as you get those lined up (image below). Make sure the pin is set perpendicular to the edges of the curve, for you will be hand-sewing right over it.

Then keep smoothing the raw edges together further down the curve. The piece underneath will not feel like it wants to match up on the curve with the piece on top. This is normal. If you work slowly, though, the edges will line up -- sometimes holding the two pieces of fabric between your thumb and forefinger and lightly rubbing them, using your thumb to rub the front piece either up or down compared to the back piece, will help to align the edges. The picture below shows two pins having been set. Note that they are relatively close together. I find that the steeper the curve, the closer together the pins need to be to control gapping.

You  will find that when the curve of the fabric becomes steep, that it's maddenly hard to line up the raw edges of your two pieces of fabric if you hold them flat. Solution: bend the two layers of fabric with your fingers. When they are laid over the curve of your finger you will find that their own curved shapes will come together. See the image below for one way to hold your fingers to achieve this...

...or you can hold your fingers as shown in this next image, below. It's probably easier, as you can also handle pins at the same time.

Here we go, another pin set, below.

You will manipulate the pieces of fabric and pin them right down to the end of the seam. When you're done, here is what you will see from the front...

...and from the back.

Now, let's lay the pinned seam out flat, as below. Voila! Here's roughly what it will look like when stitched.

Hand-basting Seams: A Rapid Method

Now, here is a little bit on how to hand-stitch a basting seam quickly.

Note: I use red for basting as it's easier to see when fitting a toile (mockup), but if I fear that the red dye might bleed onto the fabric, then I use white thread.

I basted this bodice with a 5/8-inch seam allowance, for that is the original dress bodice allowance.

As in the picture below, run your needle in and out of the fabric several times before you pull the thread through.

Look carefully at the picture. See how close I keep my hands, with my thumb near where the needle is going in and out of the fabric. What I am actually doing is
  • pushing the needle through the fabric until I see half a pinky-nail's worth of steel
  • rocking the fabric to nip just that pinky-nail's worth of fabric onto the needle
  • rocking the needle downwards again and through the fabric until once again I see half a pinky-nail's worth of steel
  • rocking the fabric again to nip just a pinky-nail's worth of fabric onto the needle again.
Note: in a lot of cases my basting stitches are the length of my FULL pinky nail, but I made them smaller today because the seam line shows better for the camera. 

    I keep nipping and rocking and the fabric just builds up on the needle. It can get pretty tight on the needle, as many as eight or even more stitches all piled on, as you can see below. It takes just a matter of moments, of seconds, to do this.

    Now I pull the needle through and out of the fabric, as in the image below.

    Then I keep basting clear to the end of the seam. It does not take long at all and it's very precise.

    Here is the basted seam. Why is one end longer than the other? Remember my cutting issue? Yes...I will be recutting and basting, but wanted to get this tutorial posted in time to help my sewing circle. Honestly, usually I cut better than this, much better. Anyhow, a little humility is a good thing, and errors, they are endemic to life.

    Completing the Bodice Basting

    Next step is to baste the other back piece to its side piece, as shown in the picture below. (Goodness, if I keep seeing the evidence of my cutting errors my hair's going to stand on end.)

    Now it is time to baste the front piece to one of the basted side/back pieces. See image below of the pieces laid out flat.

    Here it is stitched.

    Then it's on to basting the other side/back piece to the other edge of the front piece, as shown in the image below.

    Now it's time to baste the shoulder pieces together. In the picture below I have laid the shoulder strap that's part of the back piece up to the edge of the shoulder strap belonging to the front piece.

    And now I have basted them together.

    And here we are. All pieces have been basted and we're ready to fit the toile. Oh dear, those dark shapes at the picture's base? My feet...oops :}

    Next posting we will cover fitting the toile. That should be interesting.

    Oh, and by the way, if your toile seems huge, it could be a cutting error but also remember that we have added lots of fabric to a pattern that was made to create a loose-ish outer dress, not skin-fitting inner support wear, so do not despair.


    hobbyfarmgirl said...


    Your tutorial and photos were most helpful as I am such a novice when it comes to sewing. Patterns may as well be in a foreign language.

    Sandi said...

    Thanks for the tips, I'm glad I found your instructions befor embarking on my petticoat project.
    Now for Part 2...

    ZipZip said...

    Dear Sandi,

    You are welcome! Good luck with the petticoat. They are versatile items.

    Very best,