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The Queen of Margonia Project: The Bodice

I'm on the final countdown!  Things actually in pretty good shape, so it's time to start showing you some completed pieces.  First off is the bodice.

For this design, I wanted a wide arched neckline like this:

Although my shoulders aren't as wide as hers.  I'm pretty sure no one's were, and that the artist took some liberties with the proportions. But I think the very narrow shoulder straps will be flattering for me, since I have really narrow shoulders for a woman my size.  

I cut a mockup bodice using my standard bodice pattern, altered to fit my weird body: size 28 waist, 26 bust, and size TWO shoulders. After fitting it carefully, I drew in the new neckline.

I could have drawn the new neckline on the pattern, cut it out, and then fitted it, but I find that such a narrow (1" finished width) strap can be hard to fit without pulling it askew, so I opted to fit the wide strap and then cut it down.

For the arch of the neckline, I dropped the corner an inch and re-drew the curve.   

I have been losing weight lately, and I wanted to be able to alter the bodice smaller if needed. 

In period, bodices did not have side seams from armpit to waist as in modern garments.  The seams were several inches toward the back, at an angle.  Since this seam is shaped and in the case of this garment, covered with beaded trim, it would be difficult to alter it properly. So I decided to give it an underarm seam, which would not be very visible and would be much easier to alter. 


 I made this bodice to be worn without a corset.  Contrary to what used to be considered correct, modern scholarship is now of the opinion that Elizabethan upper class women's bodices were not worn over boned corsets.  They were either worn over a garment called a kirtle, with a stiffened bodice and attached skirt, or the bodice itself had a stiffened lining.  In either case, the stiffening was not achieved with boning, but with layers of various fabrics, possibly stiffened by saturating them with substances such as hide glue.  This type of construction can in some cases result in a very smooth, flat fronted bodice, and in other cases, particularly when the waist bust differential is pronounced, there will be wrinkling under the bustline.  You can see this wrinkling in many portraits if you look closely.

My bust is quite compressible and difference between my bust and underbust measurements is only a few inches, so a flat bust is easy for me to achieve.   However, I have a large belly, and it tends to push the lower part of the bodice up, creating wrinkles and sometimes even making the bodice point flip up. To be sure to keep the point where it belongs, I added a few strips of boning.  

I'm not going to go into all the details of constructing a bodice here, since it took me 65 pages to do that in my bodice pattern!

This bodice is made with flatlined construction. The  layers are stacked and basted together, then the pieces are sewn together, and the edges are finished with bias binding. This method, while it seem work intensive, makes it much easier to handle a stiff and bulky garment than the conventional method of bagging a lining. 

To prevent sewing through the bone casings, I sewed the trim to the fashion fabric, and glued on the jewels and other embellishments, and pinned the partial front flatlining to the front flatlining and stitched the bone casings in, before stacking the layers. 

The trim is the same jeweled and beaded gold and silver lace, and the same small ouches, that I used on the skirt.


I stacked the layers with the interlining between the fashion fabric and the flatlining, in order to conceal the lines from the boning  and give the garment a lush, full appearance. I basted them together, and finished the seam edges that would be visible inside the final garment with serging.   

I sewed the strap, shoulder, and side back seams, leaving the side seams open.

The neckline was embellished with a finish copied from the "Phoenix" portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. It consists of small fabric loops, edged in gold cord.  A tube of silver silk tissue was threaded through the loops.


All the edges except the side seams were finished with bias tape facings, turned to the inside and hand stitched to the flatlining.

After I did all that, I discovered a small error in the weave of the trim around the neckline. I tried to tell myself no one would notice, but I couldn't stand it, so I ended up carefully removing the trim, jewels, and pearls, splicing in a new piece of trim, and stitching it back in place by hand.  

Usually I feel that the binding and the serged seam allowances are all the interior finish needed, but after moving the trim the bodice was kind of a mess.  I wanted the finish on this piece to be very clean since I will probably use it for display and teaching purposes later on.  So I made a lining using the bodice pattern pieces, turned the edges under 5/8" and slipstitched it to the inside of the bodice.  

 I sewed the side seams after the binding and lining were done, so that they could easily be opened and taken in if needed. I finished the seam allowances with a Hong Kong binding.  The bulk of all those layers meant that the seam allowances didn't want to lie flat, so I stitched them to the lining with a herringbone stitch. 

I wanted the bodice to lace, not hook, as hooking can be difficult with a stiffed front edge.  I used large metal loops to lace through that were actually meant to be the eye portion of very large hooks and eyes, and stitched them on with very heavy thread.  It's important to space them close together, and to stitch through the lining into the flatlining, without going through to the fashion fabric layer.  


As often happens, I found that the front opening gapped a bit, even when tightly laced.  To conceal the gap, I made front rolls, about 1/2" x the length of the bodice opening, by rolling the fashion fabric tightly around a piece of clothesline and whip stitching, and then whipped the rolls to the front edges. Using a large tapestry needle, I whipstitched around the rolls and through the gaps in the attaching stitches with narrow gold cord, making sure that my spacing of the stitches on each side matched. When laced, the rolls butt together and hide the gap, and the cord creates a chevron effect. 

The skirt is sewn directly to the bottom edge of the bodice, not mounted on a waistband. The sides and back are cartridge pleated. The front has two pleats in front of the cartridge pleats, and the remaining portions are sewn flat to the pointed part of the bodice waistline. In order to maintain a level hem, I turned the upper edge of the skirt fronts down by an amount equivalent to the depth of the waist point. 

The sleeves were finished completely, then whipstitched into the armholes. ( I wish I had thought to use purple, not ivory, binding on the sleeves.)  

And now, it's no longer just a bodice, it's a dress!

Some people have expressed concern that hanging a heavy dress from a ceiling fan could be a fire hazard.  I assure you that the fan doesn't work, so its only useful purpose is as a garment rack. 


  • Margo Anderson

    Rebecca, the piece of fabric wrapped around her arm is probably a vestigal sleeve, a sort of abstraction of the long hanging sleeves that were sometimes seen worn over other sleeves. I chose not to make them because I was running short of fabric, and they would be hidden by the mantle I wore over the gown.

  • Rebecca

    In the portrait, there is some kind of a dash that hangs down from the shoulder roll, with one wrapped around d her arm.Is this correct? I have never seen a fabric wrapped over an arm. What is historical background of it it is this just artistic license?

  • Matti Prevost-Hart

    I love these posts!

    The rolls at the edge are BRILLIANT.

    I find the very last note in this post tickles me to my core.

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