Studying Theatrical Costume and other adventures in London - sewing, fabrics and events.

Month: January 2010

Class 16: Period bodice shape

Aims for today:

Once we finished fitting a basic bodice toile over our corset, we used the instructions in Claire’s handouts to cut a period shape without a sleeve, then fitted this over the corset again.

For this period, darts were not used, so the darts have to be closed. Remember to spread the allowance between the side seam and the dart lines. Additionally, the side seam was usually futher round towards the back ( I had forgotten to move the seam when I drafted the pattern below).

18th century period bodice pattern pieces

18th century period bodice pattern pieces

Copying the seam markings on to the pattern peices of both sides using a tracing wheel, copy papaer and a pattern master.

Copying the seam markings on to the pattern peices of both sides using a tracing wheel, copy paper and a pattern master.

Bodice pieces ready to be sewn up

Bodice pieces ready to be sewn up

Next week:

Class 15: Fitted bodice toile

Today we continued to work on our basic bodice toile in calico.

  1. fit over corset
  2. add alteration markings to the pattern
  3. copy altered pattern
  4. add seam allowances
  5. make up and fit again

We will fit a basic block shape over corset shape. This is so we can practice fitting, and so is not meant to be the same as our final bodice design. Once we have fitted the basic block, we will draft a period bodice using the new measurements, fit again, and then draft a period pattern based on our design. The final bodice may need to be mounted on another fabric and will be boned

Making up the toile

  • Add seam allowances to the block. Add 15mm seam allowances around and 25mm on the opening edge.
  • Put the opening at the back. This usually makes it easier to pin up than at the front, especially if the model is curvy.

Fitting the bodice

  • Put seams on the inside (unlike my pictures below) as you can see the lines/shape better
  • Snip in to seam allowance around neck, waist and arm holes
  • Make sure the centre back lines meet. If they do not, they should be pinned parallel to each other.

If the bodice is too large at the top, you should arrange round the shoulders. Too large at the bottom, take in at the side seams or darts.

Corset on for fitting

Corset on for fitting

Basic block fitting - front

Basic block fitting - front

Basic block fitting - back

Basic block fitting - back

Adjustment to the shoulder

Adjustment to the shoulder

adjustment put on the pattern

Adjustments put on the pattern

Once we had finished fitting the basic block, we moved on todrafting a period bodice.

Class 14: Basic bodice block

Quite a few people were not in class today as there is still snow on the ground and transport system is not running smoothly. I arrived after lunch on the down side of an adrenaline rush as I had a job interview in the morning – more about that when I get some news.

Today we start on Unit 8: Developing Sewing Skills for Fashion, which basically means creating the outer layers – the dress. Initially we will be making the dress in a calico toile, so we can learn pattern cutting, try out different things, and make sure it all fits before we cut in to the expensive fabric.

I haven’t done much pattern cutting before, so this is all quite interesting. We are starting out with the bodice, so we have to:

  • Copy a basic dress block – dress or corset block provided.
  • Add 25mm seam allowance
  • Make a toile out of calico with opening at CB
  • Fit it over the corset
  • Put adjustments on to the original block.
  • Copy block with adjustments.

At some point we will also have to attach a sleeve or two.

I ended up choosing a size 10 as an 8 would be too small compared to my natural measurements.

Size 10 block My natural measurement
Front Back Total
Bust 23.5 cm 23.5 cm 96 cm 91 cm
Waist 19.5 cm 22 cm 78 cm 70 cm

Once the block was copied with seam allowance added, I cut out the pieces in calico. I forgot to bring my carbon paper, so I transferred the outline and the marking for the darts using blue water soluble pen. Unfortunately, due to my lateness, this is as far as got in the class.

Basic bodice front, cut on the double

Basic bodice front, cut on the double

Basic sleeve block

Basic sleeve block

Things to remember when using the blocks:

  • Get the front and match back piece.
  • Dress blocks have ease, corset blocks do not.
  • Blocks do not have seam allowance.
  • Measure the bust and the waist to check which is nearest size  – remember to deduct any darts
  • Block only needs to be copied from the waist up.


  • Bodice and sleeve – 18th Century


  • finish log book
  • sew up side seams on corset
  • add bias binding to bottom
  • sew up bodice toile for fitting

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