Monday, August 6, 2012

Cora's Dress-How To Make The Bodice

I have finished Cora's mid 1800's country
day dress, suitable for church or a trip to town.
This will go well with her handmade
straw bonnet (still unlined & undecorated).
 I love this reproduction cotton print.  It's a
rich brown accented with a golden wheat
colored stripe.  The print is reddish orange &
 wheat with a touch of black.   
  The bodice has a straight waistband with
tight ruching (gathers) all around the lower
half that hugs Cora's body.  It has narrow piping 
along the armcyle. The sleeves have a slight
drop off the shoulder and gather at the top.  They
 are set high under the arm pit, long & straight,
with the hem ending below the wrist. The skirt
is gauged. There are three hook and eye
 closures & three decorative antique
 china pie crust buttons.
In this post I will show how the bodice was
sewn.  For reference Cora is 16 inches tall,
her waist is 5 1/2 inches around. 
 I will do a follow up post on making and
attaching the gauged skirt.
I had 1/2 yard of this fabric.  After cutting out
the skirt I had this amount of fabric left.
I will address the "how to" in the next post.
I knew inside my head all the elements I wanted
Cora's day dress to have.  I started by cutting
 some basic bodice pieces out of an old sheet.
 I basted them together & tried them on Cora. 
 I did this probably three times, trimming here
and there until I was satisfied with the fit & style.
I ended up with the sleeve, 1 front bodice piece
and the 2 back bodice pieces.
I cut each bodice piece in half. The ruching is
only on the bottom half. 

These are the front bodice pieces. I cut the top
 section with the print in the stripe running to the
 left.  The bottom half was cut with the stripe
running downward.  It was also cut about 2
 & 1/2 times wider to allow for
the ruching.   I  just placed the bottom piece

on the fold and scooted it way over.
I just eye-balled it.

 I added a seam allowance to the bottom of
the top half & to the top of the bottom half. 
I would be putting the pieces back together a
bit later.
I cut the lower half of the bodice pieces with
 addition length at the bottom.  I wasn't sure
exactly where I wanted the waistband to be, so I
 gave myself some extra fabric.  I can always trim.
No two dolls are ever the same.  I rarely
measure, I fit to the doll. 
Just like the pioneer!

These are the right back bodice pieces.  Cut
with the pieces going the same direction as
the front.
These are the back left bodice pieces. The upper
bodice is a cut a bit wider than the one on the
right side, as it will overlap the right side.  
  ALL the top pieces are going
 the same direction, in a continuous
circle around the bodice.  ALL the bottom
pieces have the print in the stripe running
I also cut all 3 top bodice pieces with the
horizontal stripes matching.  I did the
same with the top sleeve edge too. 
Working with stripes takes some extra
care and planning.
This piece is the facing for the neck line.
It's about 3/4 of an inch wide.  Cut on
the bias for stretch.  I literally didn't have
a section big enough to do that, so my piece
is not on the bias.  However, the fabric
has some stretch to it.  Sometimes you just
have to make do with what you have!  Make
sure it's long enough for the circumference
 of the neck, you can always trim the excess.
I ironed both sides toward the middle, making
a channel.  These folds were my stitching lines.
This is the waistband.  I cut it plenty long.
I cannot add fabric, but I can trim it away.
I folded both sides inward and then folded
 along the center.  I ironed this well, making
 4 equal folds, ending with the width and design
I wanted my waistband to have.
Notice how I cut and folded
the waistband to have the
entire stripe showing evenly.
These are the piping pieces. 
I cut them so the golden stripe would be
showing at the top of the piping.
I cut a piece of cotton string for each piece.
I had 2 sizes of string, I wasn't sure how large
I wanted the piping to be.  I was a Girl Scout,
be prepared!!
I cut 2 sleeves.  The wide part is the top of the
sleeve, cut with the stripe running downward.
These are all the pieces I needed for Cora's
This is the front lower bottom piece.  I drew
3 lines along the top.  The top & bottom lines are
 basting lines for gathering.  The middle line is
the sewing line.
I folded down about 1/4 in. and sewed a running
stitch for gathering,  I sewed a running stitch on the
 bottom line too.  These stitches were not 
synchronized.  I wanted gathers that were
random and tight. 
If you want a softer look with even
gathers, use a little less fabric and have
 your basting lines synchronized.
I laid the top bodice piece on Cora, then
 laid the lower piece on top, overlapping
 to allow for the seam allowances. 
I laid the waistband on top to decide the
exact placement of the band.
No measuring for me!  See how the fabric
is hanging below the the waistband?
I had too much length, so I trimmed it off,
I trimmed the 2 back bottom bodice pieces
 to match the front one. 
 I remembered to add my
seam allowance. 
I stitched 2 rows of running stitches on the
bottom of the front piece.  You can see the
 blue line that will be the stitching line when
I attach it to the waistband. 
You will notice I started and ended all 4
gathering lines just outside the seam allowance
on both ends.  I didn't want any extra fabric within
 the side seams. I do want the gathers to butt
together at the side seam.
Again, if you want a softer look with even
gathers you will need to use a little less fabric and 
synchronize all 4 basting lines.
With right sides together, matching the ends,
I scrunched the gathers evenly and pinned.
Sewn together with a back stitch.
I slip stitched the remaining raw edge.
Time for the shoulder seams.
See how the horizontal stripes matched.
I pinned both back pieces to the shoulder,
right sides together.
 I sewed the shoulder seams together with a
 back stitch, turned under the edges & whip
stitched to finish the seam nicely.
Horizontal stripes matched and the pattern
goes the same direction all around the bodice.
I put the bodice back on Cora to determine
 the placement of the back opening edges.
folded both edges about 1/4 in. to the inside,
then fold again a little bit wider.
The right side, lined up with the back center,
  the left side overlapped enough to allow
space for the hooks.
A bit later these folds will be whip
 stitched down.
Time to sew the back sections together again.
~A bit like Humpty Dumpty!~
I turned down the top 1/4 inch.  Folded inward the
back edge 2 times to match the top folded
section and ironed well.
I did this to the other side too.
I made the 4 gathering rows on both
pieces.  Sorry, I didn't mark the stitching and
sewing lines, I forgot I was going to take photos!
 I started the running stitches at the folded
 edge and stopped at the edge of the side seam line. 
 No need for all that extra fabric
 within the seams or folds, this is a tiny bodice!
I unfolded the edges, pinned the ends, scrunched
 the gathers, and finished pinning.  I back stitched
 both seams, then whipped stitched the
the raw edge just like on the front section.
 The pieces were back together again.
At this point I trimmed the sleeve opening
just a tiny bit to make the curved edge 
I made a row of running stitches at the
top middle section of both sleeves.
I pinned it to the sleeve opening, gathered it
for an exact fit and secured the end of the
gathering thread.  I then unpinned it.
 (The piping goes between the
sleeve hole and the sleeve)
I chose the bigger string for my piping.  I cut off
the string a little bit on each end.  No need
to have that extra bulk in the seam allowance.
I folded and basted close to the string. 
See how the stripe was on the top folded edge.
I basted the piping piece to the top of the sleeve
 edge.  Making sure the piping was situated just
beyond the seam line. 
I wanted the stitching line to be between the
basting and the string edge.
With right sides together, I pinned, then basted
 the upper sleeve to the armhole.
 I turned it to the outside several times
 to make sure these basting stitches were butted
up to the string within the folded edge. I even
added some basting stitches in a couple places. 
I back stitched the seam right on top
of the basting stitches.
See how nice that looks.  I almost have my
horizontal stripes on the sleeve matching the
bodice top. I was a hair off on the this side.
This side matched.
Will I ever make the perfect dress?
I whip stitched the seam edges together.
I laid out the bodice.
Folded right sides together, pinned, and back
stitched the sleeve and side seam.
This was the teeny tiny side seam.
I whip stitched the seam edges,
all the way to the end.
I put the bodice back on Cora.  Unlike children
a dolly never complains about all the fittings!
After some thought I decided to have the
waistband with the pattern going the opposite
direction as the bodice top.  It just seemed as
though my eye was drawn to the left, so I thought
this direction gave it better balance. What say
With the bodice on Cora, and the right sides
 together, I pinned the waistband
to the right side center back matching
 the edges.
  I marked the center back with a pencil mark.
I fitted the waistband around Cora's waist
marking the side seam, 
 the center front, the other side seam,
and the back center seam, ending at the
edge of the back left side.  I trimmed off
the excess waistband fabric.
I pinned the waistband to the lower bodice, right
sides together matching the bodice with my
marks evenly distributing the gathers. 
I basted it together using the first fold
on the waistband as my stitching guide.
Making sure it was all even.
I then back stitched the waistband, right on
 top of my basting stitches. 
I folded over the ends of the waistband
matching the back edge folds.
I folded up the bottom fold of the waistband.
Folded one more time.  Pinned together and whip
stitched, starting at one side edge of the waistband,
ending at the other side.
I pinned the upper folded sections,
& whip stitch both sides down.
I then removed my

basting stitches from the gathers,
except for the folded over section. That
made a nice finished seam edge.
With right sides together I pinned the neck
facing to the neck edge.
I back stitched along the first fold.

It's best to trim the interior seam to reduce

bulk.  Grade the seam by trimming one raw
seam edge shorter than the other one.

I trimmed the ends.

I folded the edge in and down.
all the way around.
Then folded down one more time.
I pinned the entire facing and,
whipped stitched it down.
I put the bodice back on Cora
to mark where I needed to put
the hook and eyes.
I sewed on my hooks and eyes &
slip stitched the sleeve hems.
I used 3 small antique pie crust buttons for
the back of Cora's bodice.  The edges
are crimped like the edge of a pie,
hence the name.
  They are not tiny dolly buttons.

the pioneer didn't have those.  They

 would have chosen small buttons that

could be spared.

Cora's wardrobe is done, I need to finish
her bonnet and give her some hair.
Whether you sew by hand or machine,
I hope you find something in this post that's
I will follow soon with a post showing
how I made Cora's gauged skirt and
attached it to the bodice.
Happy Sewing!!


  1. Oh my, Sherri, beautiful work!!!

    :) Carolyn

  2. Whoa, lady you put a LOT of work into this post! I'm going to have to save it for later reference, what a beautiful dress! (Browns and greens are my favorite colors just about any time of year.)

  3. I showed my hubby this post...he gets the concept of hand sewing because he does all the hand tooling on his leather (no stamps, no machine stitching) but he's still amazed at all the steps it takes to make these tiny garments. :~)

  4. What a great job you have done on this. Wow
    the dress and doll are amazing!

  5. Thank you Sherri for showing us how to do this with the gathered top. It will take going over it many times to get it, but so appreciated. You do such beautiful work. Cora is wonderful and her dress is just the nicest ever. Love everything. thanks, martha

  6. Definitely taking notes here...want to try the sleeve piping next time. As always, I am so impressed with your beautiful work...looking forward to next lesson on how you made Cora's gauged skirt. Thanks Sherri and Cora!!!

  7. I just found your blog tonight. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your explanation was terrific! I have several antique china dolls I've attempted to dress but your step by step instructions are the best I've ever seen. Your dolls are wonderful! Thanks again for sharing!

  8. Fantastic tutorial! What great talent you have!

  9. You did a marvelous job with your dress and sewing tutorial. I love the detail photo showing the dress close up...lovely.

  10. Amazing detail just pure perfection, thank you for sharing Sherri, great tutorial!

  11. I'm curious - do you know of any books that could help teach these sewing techniques?


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