How to Make
Create the Mood

1859 ball gown
under construction

overbodice - 1. pattern

Original childs overbodice:
is very small and needs to have a pattern taken which can then be sized up.

which is the front and which the back?

shoulder strap is worn on the very edge, or even off, the shoulder

buttons on the outside, hooks on the inside with holes on the other side.

The button-holed loops and big hook are more recent additions

boning up the centre

making the pattern from original

I traced around the original taking care not to touch the fabric.

I labelled the parts immediately as it is easy to forget once the pieces are turned in different directions

then put the pieces together

overbodice pattern fittings:
To make the overbodice look like the paintings some of the pieces needed to be enlarged.

Splitting the smaller pattern keeps the basic shape.

pattern enlarged

pattern enlarged, modified and re-drawn

at fitting, pattern needs final re-ftting

front: bust modification

back: requires shortening

sides: armhold needs enlarging so that side panels can be smoothed out

to be continued    


overbodice - 2. pleating



The style of pleating used as inspiration for this project is from the portraits of 1851-30 and 1864, which have similar styled designs. These give a very luxurious and rich feel to the edging.
(see inspiration, above)

Pleats are made with reference to the grain of the fabric - work with the grain to get sharp-edged pleats.



On some dresses the edges of the pleats are pinked.

I calculated from these portraits and some initial experiments that the appropriate width of the pleats is 2 inches. Narrower than this becomes too fiddly in this polyester fabric; wider than this becomes visually overwhelming as I am not tall.

If you would like to know how to make this type of Victorian pleat do contact me for details

pinked box pleats 1860-61

pleat test 1 and 2:
12 inches of fabric becomes 2 inches of pleating.

By calculation:
*** yards of fabric cut into 2.25 inch strips, to allow for the pinked edges, is required to edge the overbodice front, neckline and back.

pleat test 1
pleat test 2:
more space between each pleat and ironed half-way through the process to make those straight edges that catch the light.

This fabric frays quite easily so I had to decide whether to paint anti-fray substance on the pinked edges or leave them.
1 - wash and ironed
2 - paint with dilute PVA glue
3 - paint with fray check. This option can leave white marks

making the pleats
The polyester was not easy to control as the fabric is slippery; care was necessary at every stage to get straight lines.

A 2.25 inch width 'ruler' was cut from firm cardboard. With a tailors chalk pen the strips were marked on the fabric, then cut.

[Some fabrics will allow a thread to be pulled out so the cut can be made along the gap made. Quilters use a specially designed wheel to cut fabric.]

Thinner cardboard was cut to 2.25 inches and the centre marked. This is used to draw guide marks along the centre of each strip.

centre line marked with yellow quilting pencil

marks joined
This line is a guideline in pleating and when sewing the pleated strips onto the overbodice.

Tacking stitches along the yellow line now mark the centre of both front and back of the fabric. (This is semi-permanent: the drawn line might come out as the fabric is handled and an ironed line would be flattened as the pleats are ironed in.)

Each strip was ironed in half, lengthways, so that both edges could be pinked at the same time.

The pinked edges are made with a late Victorian pinking machine. (This is quicker than turning in and sewing both edges of the 17 yards of fabric strip. Hemmed or pinked strips of fabric can also be sent to a commercial pleater for pleating.)


Each folded strip was run through the pinking machine

Dilute PVA glue was painted along the edges to prevent fraying. A chop-stick was used as the stirrer; the flat paint-brush was the easiest to use to pint the edges. Once dry the strips were ironed flat again.

The glue made the fabric 'crispy' and rather spikey so cannnot be used if pleats are likely to touch the skin. It also darkened the edges.

I used the pinked edges as guides to make the pleats, which is quicker than measuring each pleat.

to be continued


overbodice - 3. stomacher

changeable silk dress mid 1840's
Kyoto Institute


I placed the fabric on a hard surface, face up, and taped it down so that it could not move.

I covered it with dress-makers carbon-paper, taped that down and then a layer of smocking dots, also face down, and taped that as tightly as possible.


I transferred every other dot by pressing each with a round-ended metal knitting needle. That seemed as though it would give the correct spacing.

This process was rather tedious but I felt that ironing could distort the papers as they were very old.

I used the same honeycomb stitch as in the Kyoto example. This takes advantage of the sheen on this polyester fabric.

By the 4th row the smocking pattern began to emerge.

first and second row
Smocked panel almost complete
A gathering stitch was run through the pleats to pull them together to fit the lower front point of the stomacher (overbodice front).


overbodice - 4. put elements together
to be continued
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last updated 10 October, 2012