Making My Victorian Wedding Dress, Part 2

32. close up of the day bodice - slightly distoretd in my new husband's forceful grip...


Welcome to Part 2! in Part 1 we covered undergarments, skirts, overskirts and trains, now it is time to talk about the bodices and accessories:-)



The bodices and accessories

Originally, a Victorian bride would get married in a day dress, with full or ¾ length sleeves. Often, it would be her travelling gown if she was to leave for her honeymoon straight afterwards. I wanted to keep with the tradition and have a day bodice for the ceremony and a short hack in the side saddle, but at the same time I needed a ballroom bodice for the evening – inside the venue it will be quite warm and no doubt I will be hot later on, waltzing the night away. There was no way about it, I needed 2 separate bodices.


It is tricky to fit toiles on oneself, and I did not want to risk any problems and mistakes at that early stage, which presented me with a bit of a dilemma. Luckily, a friend who is also an accomplished costumier, Gini Newton, offered to help with pattern developing and toile fitting.   To make the pattern developing stage easier, we first had a good look at a few extant garments and discussed the techniques employed and the patterns used. Then we tried a few Victorian and Edwardian bodices of Gini’s, swiftly finding one which was not almost a generally good fit, but was also easy to adapt to create the shape I wanted for the day bodice.  We then used an existing pattern, dug out somewhere out of Gini’s pattern library, for the evening bodice.


Similar patterns are available from Vena Cava designs:


The day bodice


1.5m of silk satin duchesse,

1.5m of cotton lawn for lining

15 pearl buttons,

5 m of grosgrain ribbon

1.5m or antique lace

A piece of thicker fabric for sweat guards and the collar

6 flat bones

2 pairs of hooks and eyes


  1. Cut out the pieces in calico or other fabric for a mock up.
2. mock up pieces

mock up pieces

  1. Sew the darts, sew the back, sides and shoulder seams.
  2. Try it on your underwear – corset and bustle or bustle pad. Adjust any problem areas, mark the desired length and shape for the hem and the neck opening.

3. marking the neckline

Marking the neckline


  1. Once the correct fit is achieved,  you can either unstitch the mock up and use it as a pattern for the bodice proper, or, if the adjustments were minimal, just mark them on the pattern and use the paper to cut out your pieces
  2. Cut the pieces of the bodice in top fabric and lining. Like most Victorian bodices, mine was flat lined, so ever piece was pinned together with its lining straight away to avoid confusion later. If necessary, baste the two layers together, it is much easier to deal with them as one.
  3. Sew the darts in first and press them first open, then to one side.
  4. Sew the pieces together, stating from the back pieces. Every seam needs to be pressed – and it was also a period technique to pink the seam allowance to reduce fraying. If you can, pink and shape yours, it does help and looks rather pretty too. Alternatively, fold the seam allowance over and slipstitch to the lining.

4. antique bodice showing the seam finish inside

Inside an antique bodice, showing the finish of the seams


  1. Pin the folds at the back if you plan on that particular feature. Don’t worry about the sleeves yet.
  2. Try it on – again, make sure you are wearing all the layers, including the skirts. Check all the details: pin the front opening together and mark the overlap if closing it with buttons. Mark where you want the collar to go and see if the armholes are big enough.

5. trying the bodice on - the front 6. trying the bodice on - the back, showing the pleats pinned

Trying the bodice on – the front and the back 


  1. Once everything looks as it should, work on the sleeves – sew the sleeve together, press the seams and pin it into the armhole. Try it on. Adjust as necessary and sew in if it fits fine. Press and pink the seams.
  2. If you want, make sweat guard out or a tightly woven fabric – I cut two circles out of mine and stitched them into place in the underarm area. Any sweat will soak into them and prevent the silk of the bodice from unsightly stains. Once stained (and no doubt stinky), the guards can be easily removed and washed or replaced.
  3. Cut out the collar in satin and in sturdier fabric.  Lay the satin pieces right sides together and sew.  Baste the sturdier piece on top of one piece; so that once the collar is flipped onto the right side, the piece stays inside, supporting the shape of the collar. Press the seams.
  4. Lay the collar on the bodice right sides together, pin and sew through the outside layer of the collar and all layers of the bodice. Cover the seam by folding the inside layer over the seam and slipstitching it to the bodice.
  5. Time to tackle the front edges…Fold the edges inside and slip stitch to the lawn or simply run a seam along the edge. Press.
  6. The bottom of the bodice is bound – you can use a readymade bias tape or make your own. I usually make my own, it is fast, easy and you can match the fabric perfectly. Here I used the same fabric as the bodice – cut strips of the fabric on the bias, and either use the bias maker and iron or simply fold the edges inside and press.  Although the second method is more time consuming and doesn’t give such good result as a bias maker, it still works in emergencies.
  7. Pin your bias tape to the bodice right sides together, and sew. Press the seam, encase the edge in the tape and sew the inside part to the lining– you can do this part on the machine too, but it means the seam will be visible on the right side and it doesn’t give such a nice finish.
  8. If you have pleats at the back, arrange them, press and stitch in place. I also added a small rectangle of fabric to which I sewn the pleats – it covered all the rough edges nicely

6a. pleats pressed and secured

  1. Mark the buttonholes and work them  either by hand or by machine, then add the buttons.


  1. Time to add some boning! I made the bone castings out of a grosgrain ribbon, but you can buy readymade ones. Select the bones you want to use, put them into the castings and stitch the castings inside the bodice – in my case the bones went on the front edge, over the darts and at the sides. A useful trick – have the bones in the castings ready early on and cello-tape them to the seams at the fitting stage


  1. You can now add the waist tape with hooks. It keeps the bodice in place preventing it from ‘riding up! Wish I remembered to hook mine; the tape was dangling out during the ceremony…

8. the back pleats - mark the bound edges , the tape and the bit covering the upper edges of the pleats

The tape secured at the centre back

11. inside the bodice, on the button side - there is one more bone under the seam allowance at the front edge. mark the sweat guard in the armhole.

Inside the bodice, button side

12. inside the bodice, buttonholes side

Inside the bodice, buttonhole side


  1. Last thing – decoration.   Cut 3 pieces of ribbon, one for the neck and two for the cuffs. Sew lace onto a ribbon and then attach the ribbon sewing it inside the cuffs and the neckline, including the collar.  I didn’t sew very diligently – just like in the original, I used larges stitches – it was later easier to take the lace off for washing.

9. the collar detail, the ribbon with the lace

The collar detail

10. sleeve decoration

Sleeve decoration

  1. The bodice was ready!

13. finished bodice



The evening  bodice


1m of silk satin

1m of lawn for lining


Lacing cord

Flat bones


The method was very similar to the one I used for the day bodice.

  1. Prepare your mock up and try it on as before .You will need either someone to pin the back for you, or use a lacing strip to lace the mock up if you are working on your own. Do not skip this step.
14. evening bodice mock up pieces

evening bodice mock up pieces



15. evening bodice mock up, front 16. evening bodice mock up, back

Evening bodice mock up, front and back

  1. Once the correct fit is achieved, cut out your pieces in top fabric and lining, basting or pinning every piece as you go.
  2. Sew the darts.
  3. Sew the parts together starting from the centre front. Pink and press the seams
  4. Try it on! Again, the trick with using the bones at that stage can be employed, pity I learnt about it too late – here you can see the bodice being put on without the bones and I was really upset as I didn’t know how to get rid of them. Putting the bones at that stage would have saved me the worry, cause, as it turned out later, the wrinkles disappeared once the bones went in…doh!
17. trying the evening bodice on

trying the evening bodice on


  1. Time to work on the back – fold eth edges over and stitch to the lining, then run a single seam along the edge – wide enough to accommodate a flat steel bone.
  2. Mark and set the eyelets, then insert the bones.
  3. If everything is ok, you can finish the edges: prepare the bias tape and bind the bottom, neck and armholes. Finish by securing the tape by hand and press. Add lace – I added some for the neckline, to prevent wiry stems of my flowery decoration from scratching my skin.
  4. Attach the bones.
  5. The bodice is theoretically finished, all it needs is some ornaments and a lacing cord.
18 evening bodice inside - finished, just awaiting decoration

evening bodice inside – finished, just awaiting decoration


The decoration I used here is almost identical to the one I used on the apron skirt and on the bands used to bustle the train and the manufacture  process is almost the same too – stitching the flowers onto a strip of fabric ( added some lace here though)  and the strip is then hand stitched to the bodice

22. the flowery band with the loops  that would go over the buttons on the apron skirt 21.attaching the flowers to the bands od silk

The main outfit is now ready – all it needs is the accessories.

23. completed bodice, with the decoration sewn in

 The veil



Silk net tulle, 4m, from Silk Society

5m Brussels lace from MaCulloch and Wallis


A plastic transparent comb




That was easy.

  1. Round the corners of the veil and decide on the point where the comb was to be attached.
  2. Sew the comb in

24. comb attached tothe veil

  1. Sew the lace on the hem. I cut my lace in half, lengthwise – it was too wide otherwise, plus worked out much cheaper. Then carefully stitched it onto the tulle.
  2. Press – and it is ready.

25. brussels chantilly lace, cut in half and stitched onto the tulle


The purse


A friend embroidered bits of silk for me as a wedding present. I then simply stitched the pieces together, lined them and decorated the edges with a cord and a tassel – spectacular work from Gina Barrett.

26. the silk purse, embroidered with silk threads by Sand Raidy, tassel and cord by Gina Barrett

The fan – antique item from Etsy, came in the original box and with the original tassel in a very poor condition. Again Gina was great making a tassel that closely resembled the original one but also one that worked with my colour scheme

27. antique fan, tassel by Gina Barrett

Other accessories included:

White leather gloves, present from my mother

A freshwater pearl necklace

Amethyst and diamond earrings (borrowed, from my matron of honour)

Cotton stockings, clocked, in blue – from Dressing History

Boots – for the ceremony and riding, an ebay find – if i was to do it again, I would get the lovely Renoirs from American Duchess!

28. boots for the ceremony and riding

And for the dancing, Supadance shoes in white satin

An antique tiara: wax orange blossoms, again, an etsy find

29. antique tiara of wax orange blossoms ,copyright Lensmonkey Photography


And antique side saddle cane – a surprise present from a friend, Becca Holland.




Hair was a bit of a challenge. I knew I was going to do it myself and I knew I needed a hairdo that would be easy to recreate for me quickly as I may not have a lot of time  (( well, since the ceremony was at 3.30, we had a hunting meet in the morning and went  hunting on Quantocks…). wisely so, as we did get back late and I had had about 20 minutes to dress myself, do the makeup and hair.


The inspiration for my hair was the movie Daniel Deronda, and a friend specialising in vintage styling took on the challenge It still took some time, bur Sarah explained every step so I at least knew the basics.

Bedford Borough-20111001-01228

at the hair trial, experimenting with different looks


For the wedding I decoded to use extensions with my own hair as a base.




On the day  I simply bunged all my hair high up in  an bun, used one set of curls to create the upper part of the hairdo, pinning the ringlets with pins, and clipped in the other set just below. It took me 3 minutes, and for a rushed job didn’t look too bad!


And that’s the finished outfit.   Oh, and well, a groom wouldn’t be amiss  here Lucas is wearing a 1815, ‘Mr. Darcy’ outfit made by Gini Newton, and Farthingales (the breeches)

33. bridal party having fun-)

bridal party having fun-) and yes, I made all the dresses too….

30. on the day - walking down the aisle, the lace on the veil showing nicely, bridging the gap  between the skirts and the train 36. 35. a sliglthy better view of the evening bodice - and no wrinkles in evidence!copyright Lensmonkey Photography


Cost –  all together, the cost of the materials alone was about £2000 – the silk duchess satin from Silk Society was £70 a metre – and now I know similar one can be purchased from James Hare  at a better price..

Altogether with labour, accessories etc I closed the deal in £3000….. not bad for a wedding dress – especially since I have worn it for Victorian events and demonstrations since then, so a bit of an investment paying off:-)


For more pictures, our official pictures, by Lensmonkey Photography, can be viewed here:


To see it in action, there are some public video clips available here :

Since the wedding I have opened a bridal branch – Prior Engagement with alternative bespoke bridal fashion – many of them historically inspired:-)


I hope you have enjoyed reading the articles as much as I writing them – they did bring all the happy moments back!


And if you are curious about what we did on the big day – the blog post on the wedding itself is here



4 thoughts on “Making My Victorian Wedding Dress, Part 2

  1. Pingback: My Big Fat Victorian Wedding – St. Audries Park, West Quantoxhead, Somerset. 17th October 2011 | A Damsel in This Dress

  2. Pingback: Making My Victorian Wedding Dress, part 1 | A Damsel in This Dress

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