Tree Progress: Bodice and Upper Skirt Covering – aka: Very Scary Part!

Draping is not something I have a lot of experience with.  So choosing a style to reproduce where one of the main features is a lot of draped tucks to create a very sculptural look was not a decision that was good for my stress levels.  This part was far more intimidating than any of the hard-core foundation work that came before.  I think a lot of my trepidation came from when I was working on my wedding dress.  I spent at least 3 months trying to make a one-shoulder draped and ruched bodice work and just couldn’t.  Ultimately I scrapped it and went for a much simpler design – ironically, it was taken from another Charles James gown!  Aha…ha….ha.

I was scared to start this, so I put it off as long as possible.  As part of procrastinating against the inevitable I decided to do a really nice finish to the upper edge of the bodice that would never been seen once it was finished.  Unfortunately, I only remembered to take pictures after the dress was back on Maddy and ready for muslining the bodice covering.  Putting the dress on Maddy and taking it off her again had got to the point of being pretty labour-intensive, so exterior photo of this only. Sorry!  There was only a 1/4″ seam allowance for the bodic upper edge; what I decided to do was sew a length of narrow double fold bias tape around it, turn it to the inside and hand-stitch it to the bodice foundation interior.  This did have the practical advantage of adding more substance to that edge so it would hold-up better when it came time to fold all the pleated fabric of the bodice covering over it.  At least it seems logical to me that it would.

NB: the shoulder straps are not sewn to the bodice front here, just pinned.  And no, you’re not seeing that wrong, they are not showing identical fabrics…..

Speaking of which, another part I decided to do before delving into draping was make the shoulder strap foundations.  Each strap has 4 layers: silk taffeta, horsehair canvas, heavy interfacing and plain cotton.  I needed them to be very sturdy for how they would be covered (a neat discovery I made and describe below)

Once put together I decided to shape them a little.  I don’t know if this really helped so much but, it was neat to do and it contributed to procrastination.

When my other hand wasn’t holding a camera to take this pic, it was holding the iron and steaming the shoulder strap like this.  Too bad I forgot they weren’t symmetrical and made 2 of the same side.  Bugger.  But since they’ll be completely covered, it doesn’t really matter… right?

Well, I could put it off no longer.  I couldn’t think of anything else I could on the dress before the draping.  Eep.

Using the photo below as a primary guide (to the point of doing my best to count out exactly how many tucks there were, and of which type) I cut out a 60″ square of muslin, turned it on the bias and got tucking and pinning.

News Photo: Evening dress Tree 1957 Silk taffeta by Charles…

Guess what?  It was much easier going than I expected (who knew!?) and after some finagling this is what I got:


Hey, hey!  Not too shabby! Since I was going to use this piece as my general pattern piece I cut off around the underarms and back with a generous, if not totally even, allowance.

When I cut out the fabric I gave it a little extra allowance just to be on the even safer side.  So far, so good.  But I still needed to give myself until the next day before doing it “for realises”.

Again, it took a few re-starts and some more finagling, but I got there:


Whew!  Now I just needed to sew it all on!!!  You can see in the photo above some of the monstrous amount of pinning I did after the initial draping.  Because the bodice foundation is only one layer it would have been very difficult to do the stitching with the dress still on Maddy and not end up sewing the dress to her.  So I pinned the be-jeesus out of it and took it off the dress form to stitch.

This is what it looked like with all the pins in – it took every last one of my good silk pins! (and I’ve been coming across the occasional pin since that fell out during this process)

I should have tried to take a shot of just how I stitched the tucks down, but it may not have worked too well.  I’ll try and describe.  Basically, I basting stitched between the bodice foundation and the underside of each pleat/tuck.  I tried to not take too many stitches in the dress fabric since I wanted it to retain a smooth, free-flowing (?) look, not look too tight or over-worked.  Here’s how it looked from the underside:

Yes, the right-hand back is differently stitched……

I tried out a slightly different method on that side wondering if it might be better…

It wasn’t, it resulted in the tucks being less secured and not keeping their creases.  I ended up going back and re-stitching this side.  Ah, well.


Next it was time to cover the shoulder straps.  I was really tickled when I figured this out.  Initially I thought they were covered by a similar pleating/tucking method to the bodice.  But when I examined the interior photo of the original I noticed there were no seams on the underside of the straps or stitching to indicate such a method.  Then I realized it was so much simpler and easier and more effective than that – the straps are covered by a length of self-fabric bias wrapped around the straps!  So easy, but so clever!  I had figured this out before assembling the strap foundations, so that’s how I knew I needed to make them really sturdy – they would be under pressured from necessarily tautly wrapping the bias around them.  Actual implementation was a bit fiddlier than I’d anticipated, but not too bad and the result was great!  The upper strap shows the right side and the lower strap the underside.  Oh – I had sewn the straps to the bodice back before binding/finishing the upper edge of the bodice foundation.

So here’s how it looked so far. I was very pleased, and even more relieved!

Much better!

After tackling the bodice successfully, I was much less scared of covering the skirt.  I also decided to divide it into 2 pieces, an upper and a lower, to make things easier on myself.  I don’t know if this was done on the original, but I think it’s plausible.  This is how the upper skirt turned out (well, pre-stitching):


I did muslin it first, but appear to have forgotten to photograph it.  I may or may not have been just too excited at how well this was progressing to remember ;o)

So here’s the whole thing at this point:


Eeee!  It looks like it’s actually really coming together, eh?  Even more relief!!

The lower skirt piece is a swag of fabric in the shape of a rectangle with a narrow triangle sewn to each side, gathered at the sides, seamed up the back and loosely draped over the foundation and just tacked here and there to it.

Sorry for lack of more process shots of this part, but you’ll see how it works in the next post – the big reveal!


14 thoughts on “Tree Progress: Bodice and Upper Skirt Covering – aka: Very Scary Part!

  1. Wow, I am impressed. Always easier to create something from scratch than trying to reproduce it. About the procrastination and doing fiddly bits to avoid the real issue at hand: so recognisable 😉


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