Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Progress on the Sleeveless Spencer / Bodice

For goodness' sake: we have some progress on the sleeveless spencer -- or bodice, as we learn it was often labeled in the day. Hooraybob. This project wants to be done in time for springtime. Although "springtime" is a dubious concept right now: it was snowing five minutes ago, as it has been for days, and the daffodils are despondent.

Sleeveless spencer or bodice, front.
Above you can see that I've about finished attaching the lining to the embroidered silk. You may remember that last spring -- golly, has it been a year already? -- I started the project by trying out silk filament embroidery, embellished with gold spangles, using an existing bodice at the Met as a model.

In my version, the seams and hems are topstitched with Au Ver a Soie (spun silk thread) in golden yellow for a little hint of extra color. All that's left as of today is the back neckline, the front closure, and the straps.
Here below is a detail of the top stitching. On the seams I used a combination stitch (several running stitches followed by a backstitch). On all hems it's actually made using the point a rabattre sous la main stitch, which is a sort of hem stich.

Sleeveless spencer, topstitching detail.
The inside. All seams are lapped, in the order they would have been in the 1790s. Three layers are stitched together, and then hem of the lining on the innermost layer is turned under and hemmed down.

Interior of the spencer body.

A detail. You can clearly see the back of the point a rabattre sous la main stitching at the armscye hem. On top, the stitch looks like a running stitch, but underneath it looks like a hemming stitch. You can see the hemming stitch, in linen thread, on the vertical seam.

What about the straps? Well, they make me laugh. I had recut them last spring such that they incorporated a hollow curve at the neckline. Well, in an effort to make sure I had enough fabric to work with, I made the cut pieces really wide, so that when the straps were fit to the body, they were too wide. No problem, just fold in a wider hem allowance, and trim off the excess. Silly error, but who's worrying, since this is a first go and it harms nothing?

They're just roughly fit for now. I will put on stays and dress to do the final fitting, baste the lining in place, cover it with the fashion fabric, and seam and hem them.

After that it's time to add a wee bit of boning at center front, two bones on each side of the closure, and then do up the eyelets. I have some Edwardian-era boning that I might use for this: it's very narrow, very thin steel, in short lengths. Add self box pleated trim around the neckline and at last, we're done.

The below picture is just for atmosphere. Our calamondin orange is blossoming and fruiting at once, and the orange of the fruits looked so pretty next to the lilac of the spencer that I had to take a picture.

Still life: work with oranges*.
 * "Work" used in the old sense of a sewing project in progress: a woman would take her work to the good light near a window and sew away.


lahbluebonnet said...

How beautiful! Lovely compostion! And yea!!!!!!!!!!! for getting to do more work on it.

ZipZip said...

Dear Laurie,

Thank you! It was so nice to get to work on it again. A friend hosted a "project day" on Monday, and several of us knitted, sewed, carded wool, and made templates for a pottery class, and shared a wonderful lunch. What a treat!

Very best,


AuntieNan said...

I have just found your blog, thanks to the recommendation of The Choll. And I am so grateful I did! The bad part is I am at WORK, and have to snatch a minute or two during lunch for this... I can see I am going to learn a LOT, reading about your costume creations! The Spencer is lovely -- but I have questions -- I have never seen one that was sleeveless before, or that had such beautiful peplums! In your experience is that usual? Your handwork is breathtaking, by the way, and the nice linen lining makes me want to go home and rip out the linings of a couple of bodices... well, WOAH there, maybe not. But future construction will certainly be influenced!
All the best, Auntie Nan

ZipZip said...

Dear Auntie Nan,

Welcome and glad to have you! It was very kind of The Choll to recommend the blog: I really enjoy reading hers.

You asked about sleeveless bodices, or bodies, or sleeveless spencer, or whatever they get called.

They're actually decently common in period fashion plates, and museums hold a number of them. These garments are an easy way to stretch a wardrobe, much as a spencer does, by spicing up a plain dress. With sleeves tacked in, they can be worn with a bodice and skirt combination, as was also done.

Mine is based on one such example at the Met. If you search my blog for "sleeveless spencer" you should hit all the posts where I consider the issue. The Two Nerdy History Girls just wrote about them, too, at http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2013/03/rediscovering-evening-bodice-c-1817.html.

Thanks for your comments about the handwork. Doing it is my main reason for costuming: it's just plain fun -- I hardly ever get to wear the garments when they're done.

Very best,


Thread-Head said...


I (among many others, I'm sure!) have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!


And I am only slightly embarrassed to do so under the exchange above. (Hi, Auntie Nan!) Sometimes, I feel as if we are all in a beauty shop somewhere, bellowing over the sound of the dryers.


ZipZip said...

Dear Alison,
Thank you very much! The award is much appreciated. WOuldn't it be fun to BE in a beauty shop together sometime? Opportunities for chat, and talking shop, all while drinking coffee or sodas, getting nails or hair done, and seeing if an of the stylists might be interested in building a really BIG hedgehog on one of us!

Very best, and thank you kindly again,