1650s Dutch Ensemble: The Bodice
1650s Dutch Ensemble
The Bodice (you are here)
I started this whole outfit because I was extremely inspired by watching Morgan Donner’s videos about reproducing the 1620s stays in Patterns of Fashion 5. I wanted to try that! So I leafed through my copy and checked waist measurements until I found one that might fit: The c. 1650 English plush bodice. Yes, I could have altered a different item to fit, but I wanted to experience the exact fit of a garment that someone wore 350 years ago. I’m quite squishy and tend to fit the general proportions of antique patterns without much alteration, so I thought I’d give it a go. Worst that could happen is it wouldn’t fit and I’d sell it.
The original garment is a light blue silk plush, lined in fustian, interlined in linen, and partially boned in baleen. I ended up making mine in dark green wool, interlined in gray wool (both woolens are very lightweight and drapey), lined in linen, with cable ties as boning. The original used taffeta for the revers (cuff turnbacks); I used some cabbage of mine in poly peau de soie because I didn’t have anything else even remotely resembling taffeta on hand. This was the one concession I made that was totally ahistorical. I don’t regret it, because I love the color contrast and I ended up finding ribbon that matched perfectly. I also used stiff tarlatan (from Takach Book Press, thank you to Bernadette for recommending it!) as interlining, again because I didn’t have anything else on hand, and my wool really needed more body.
I drafted the pattern from the book using Morgan’s helpful Scaling up a Pattern To Life-Size video, and went ahead with my cutting. At this point, I was using the linen as the interlining and I thought my grey wool was to be my outer layer, with the boning channels visible on the outside. I hadn’t yet vowed to be as accurate as I could!
One thing to note about the original garment is that it was actually enlarged after it was first made. I chose to incorporate the inch-wide addition (left) smoothly into the side piece, and redistributed the boning to match. I forgot to enlarge the skirting, so it matches the remade bodice rather than the original design.
At some point, I decided to stitch this entire outfit by hand. I would have basted my interlining by hand either way, but that decision made me savor the long stitches I was taking…
I started hand-stitching the boning channels on the back panel, since it had the most interesting boning pattern. I used a back-stitch for strength, and completed the piece in about three hours. Each piece proceeded this way, and once each was done I gave the edges a press inward to facilitate later steps. As mentioned earlier, because I thought the linen was going to be my inside, I was stitching from the wool side – I switched over later and stitched from the linen side.
Somewhere in this process (which took a couple of months because I kept stopping), I found the green wool at an NYC shop and decided to use that instead of the grey. In retrospect, this was a great idea because it not only looked better, but I turned out to not have enough of the grey for sleeves anyway!)
After the boning channels secured the lining and interlining, I thought about how this was supposed to go together. Was I to attach the green wool on top of each piece and then stitch the seams, or seam all of these pieces and then lay the wool overtop after? I checked the pattern again and realized that the outer layer actually has different pattern piece shapes, and because I wasn’t quite sure how everything would fit, it would be smarter to put the lining/interlining layer together first and then stitch the green wool down.
I assembled this bottom structural layer according to the way that 18th century stays are made, because I couldn’t find any information that would tell me otherwise. (It might exist and I missed it – I was researching so many aspects and learning so much during this period of work that I do not doubt I missed a variety of sources and details.) I had been using poly thread previously, but my order from Burnley and Trowbridge of linen and silk threads came in around this point and I was able to switch to a strong natural colored linen thread. This was a very fun bit of stitching in comparison to all the boning channels. (Cutting & boning channels took about 20 hours of work in total – not much at all, when you think about it, but I’m a fast stitcher.)
Once all of my structural pieces were together, I knew I had to give the whole thing a first try-on, keeping in mind that linen stretches over time and wool can do the same. I stitched in my green wool facings and then the hooks and eyes, keeping the same amount and orientations as the original, which goes two hooks – two eyes – two hooks – etc. for security. This order of construction was a mistake; I later realized that the facing went over top of the hooks and eyes to hide them. I don’t regret; thin wool wasn’t a strong interlining, so the facing added an extra bit of support. But it wasn’t correct!
(The hooks’ stitching is obnoxiously large because there was a bone directly underneath and I had to go around. Sigh. Also, if I had been doing this on a modern garment, I would have chosen dark thread to blend in. Ugh.)
The first try-on went well, and I decided it was a tad large around the waist and high at the top.
I took in the waist 1″ and trimmed the front top edge down by 1″. Second try-on:
I was happier with the fit. It meant altering it from the ~original fit~, but I didn’t want this to look ridiculous! Additionally, I had slightly resized the digital image to gain an inch in the waist, so by taking it out here I pretty much went back to what it had been initially. Thus, the only real alteration in fit was the lowering of the center front.
(Now, something that I realized later was that I should have sewn the sleeves in at this point. It turns out that they’re stitched in between the support and the outside layers of fabric! Totally did not realize. As it was, I hadn’t even started the sleeves at this point, so that didn’t happen properly.)
From here, I tackled the green wool. I realized that I couldn’t stitch the pieces together and then lay them down on the understructure, because the pieces didn’t fit properly. So I cut them out with huge allowances and just laid them straight down on my structure to stitch. This was honestly a real mess. I was so unsure about each piece that some were tacked down and then stitched; some were turned under and whipped; some were turned under and invisible-ladder-stitched to the next piece that it butted up against….etc etc. A complete mess.
I topstitched a few parts down worriedly before realizing that indeed, each piece on the original was topstitched, so a lot of my choices for the rest were rather questionable! The main issue in the end with stitching each piece through the understructure was that it mitigated a lot of the stretch of the linen, making it suddenly smaller than when I had tried it on earlier. Classic me. (Not an issue overall; it stretched a bit with wear.)
When done, I had this:
What isn’t visible is that there were two problems.
1) The center front was gapping. I had been curious from the beginning as to whether there would be problems securing a tight bodice with hooks and eyes and no placket, and my fears were being realized.
2) Because of the hooks pulling on the underlayer, the outer green wool was wrinkling weirdly at front.
I read and reread the book and couldn’t figure out how this had been mitigated in the original. My first solution was to let out the CF edges a bit to cover the gap, but not even that fixed the issue!
I then decided to throw accuracy to the wind and stitch through the green wool to secure it. (And yes, I later realized that the original has topstitching along the edges. Sigh. Yes, the book had the info; no idea how I missed it over and over again.) So now there’s a bit of excess fabric at CF that I need to go back and re-stitch, but currently have no motivation to do so. Yeehaw.
For the last bit of the bodice torso, I attached the skirts/tabs/skirting with whip stitches. So this is what I was working with after that:
Despite all the confusion, I was pretty proud to look at this.
ON TO THE SLEEVES:
Finally. I got these guys cut out with linings of a different linen (ran out of the tough old linen I’d been using for the bodice) and interlinings of tarlatan, as mentioned. This process was much more straightforward than the rest of the bodice, with the exception of the sleeve heads.
I basted the wool and tarlatan together, thread marked my fold line for the revers, and then stitched the seams with a running backstitch. After a press, I moved on to the linings.
I cut the linen to stop after the fold line, and cut my satin to fill in the rest of the cuff. I seamed everything here with running backstitches and pressed.
The linings then went inside the outers and the cuff was pulled around and pinned.
I was very proud of my children at this point; they stood on their own! Because of the mix-up mentioned earlier, I ended up finishing the sleeve heads by turning in the raw edges and slip-stitching.
I slip-stitched the satin down with my green silk thread and added the bows as a final touch (yes, they were present on the original).
I also went back to the bodice front and added the mandated ties there. In retrospect, after looking at paintings I think that these bows should be quite a bit wider, but at the time I was following the PoF5 image in which the mounting team had added thin reproduction bows.
I ended up whipstitching the sleeves onto the armscyes. The very tiny cartridge pleats dictated by the original garment made it easy!
These are actually very narrow sleeves for this period; I suspect the original plush didn’t require the massive amount of fabric that other wool and silk bodices necessitated. I’m very glad I interlined with tarlatan – it wouldn’t have looked right had I left this amount of fabric to drape.
Once the sleeves were in, I tried on everything I had so far for this outfit: cap, bodice, petticoat, and shoes. (My 18thc chemise and stockings came along for the ride.) My new ringlight came the day before I finished this, so I happily put it to work.
Upon first look, I thought: “It fits perfectly except for the sleeves! They’re so short!” I’ve now looked through yet more paintings, and I realize that they’re mostly the right length. The issue is that I don’t yet have a baggy ¾-sleeve shift, which will complete the sleeve length. After some deliberation, I think that I will make it low-necked, and fill in my decolleté with a partlet.
My last thought upon writing this is that perhaps the original bodice (below, green) is slightly mis-dated; the sleeves, while mostly appropriate for 1650 or so, better fit the 1660s. (PoF gave a date of c. 1650 for provenance, as an 1826 tag says that they were worn for an April 1650 wedding. While we’d love to believe every historical tag, however, not all of them are correct!)
I’ve been on the hunt for bodices with bows (see my Pinterest board here) and they predominately appear in the 1660s-70s. The earliest good image I’ve found so far with a solid date is a 1658 painting by de Hooch; notice how much longer the sleeves are (silver bodice below). The closest match I’ve been able to find is also Dutch, by Jan Steen around 1665-1668 (brown bodice below). This one has the same split turnbacks on the cuffs that the PoF5 bodice does, and a bow in the same location. I did find a single English example – and from 1645, to boot – but as you’ll see, it’s not particularly helpful (rightmost image below). It does have the cuff bows, but the sleeves are also longer due to the earlier date. The style of bodice seen in the example above (blue), with ouches/jewels on the closures and gaps for the shift to show through, appears to be more popular in English gowns of this period.
In the end, I’m not mad at all that the original garment is supposedly English; the style and bows match Dutch clothing in the 1650s and ’60s, so I’m happy with my choices.
All in all, this bodice took me 57 hours of work to hand-stitch as accurately as I could. I made many mistakes, but I learned an incredible amount! I’d like to go back and get rid of that CF excess, but otherwise I am very happy with this piece.
A huge thank-you to the lovely people at The School of Historical Dress for making these patterns and research available.
PS: Given my experiences with this, I do not advise that anyone make a tight bodice close with hooks and eyes. It’s very hard to get into. Stick to lacing and you’ll be happier!
** Extra note & discussion: Note the difference in shape between this mount, & the same item remade on me. On the mount, the bodice looks clearly like an off-the-shoulder style with longer sleeves, and resembles the blue dress’ neckline. On me, it nicely resembles the silver and brown bodices. Clearly, the mounting team assumed that a smaller woman was wearing it, which is not necessarily the case. I’m not a small person, but I have the same waist size as the original as well as the right back length, and the mounting team wouldn’t have had any details about this woman’s height (there is no surviving petticoat) or arm length. The best mounting strategy with historic garments is to pad out where the garment requires it for support, but from personal experience I can tell you that this does not always result in a form that resembles the original wearer.