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How to Sew Ye Olde Ren Wench Bodice

So, you’ve got a basic ren wench bodice pattern.  Yay! Now it’s time to pick some fabrics and sew it all up. 

During this demo, I use the following skills:
  1. Setting Eyelets for Doll Clothes
If you're working to human size, use these instead:
  1. Hand-worked Eyelets

You’re going to need supplies:

  • Outer Fabric
  • Lining Fabric
  • Interlining Fabric
  • Boning
  • Thread to match your Outer Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Something to cut the Boning
  • Machine Needles
  • Hand Needle
  • Pins
  • a Variety of Pokey Implements (knitting needles, round tipped needles, chop sticks, etc)

Let’s talk a little about that list, starting with what kind of fabric you might want….

If you’re working to a doll size, you want to stay relatively light: I’m using broadcloth for my Outer and Lining fabrics, and muslin for my Interlining.

If you’re working to a human size, cotton duck is a really solid choice for an interlining. Your outer fabric should be a mid to heavy fabric, like cotton duck, brushed cotton, corduroy, or some sort of festive upholstery brocade. Your lining fabric can be something light and cheap, like cotton broadcloth or even muslin.

In either case, you don’t want anything with a lot of space between threads. Also, fabrics with chenille (fuzzy) threads tend to be bad because they ravel like the dickens! If you’ve never made a bodice before, stick with cottons. They’re less expensive, they wash and wear well, and they’re easy to work with. Also, no matter how tempting it is, don’t try making this in leather or suede until you’ve made a few and know your way around the construction and you can do the whole thing without pinning. Smooth-faced leathers, like vinyls and pleather, do not “heal” when you stick pins through them. You make a hole, you get a hole.

I often use the same thing for both my Outer and Lining fabric when I made bodices like this, because it’s less obvious if the lining shows that way. (Cheating, possibly, but also clever.) I really don’t tend to work with upholstery brocades or patterns in this type of bodice, though. If I did, the cost would convince me to use a different lining fabric.

Do not prewash your fabrics for this.

What? But we must ALWAYS PREWASH EVERYTHING! My mother/sewing teacher/friend/grandmother said so! She wouldn’t lie!

I don’t prewash fabrics for corsets and boned bodices. Prewashing shrinks the fabric. Normally, that’s good, because you don’t want your skirts getting shorter in the wash.  In corsets and boned bodices, it’s bad. Think about your favorite pair of jeans – they’re tighter right out of the wash than they are a few hours later. If that sort of relaxing and stretching out happens with a boned bodice, it loses the ability to provide support. If you absolutely cannot bring yourself to sew without prewashing something, wash the outer fabric only.

Now, how about boning? For a bodice like this in a human size, I use jumbo zip-ties. You can get them at your average DIY super-store. They’re between 36 and 48″ long, and about 1/2″ wide. You can cut them easily with a tin snips. (They will eat your sewing scissors for breakfast, so don’t even try…) For the light amount of boning we’ll be using in this bodice, Ridgeline and strimmer line will not be appropriate. For a doll, I was planning on using normal-size zip-ties, but they’ve all mysteriously disappeared from the garage, so I cut up some plastic canvas into little plastic rods. They worked fine, and can be cut with scissors.

plastic canvas for boning
Dolly boning, cut from plastic canvas.

For doll fabrics, you’ll need a size 10-12 machine needle. For human fabrics, you’ll want a 14-16. Generally speaking, your sewing will be improved by using the smallest needle that will reasonably work. I used to be a total 16 addict, because fatter needles don’t break as often. Unfortuantely, they also punch gracelessly through the fabric, and things get kinda jumpy and seams get a little squirrely. Thinner needles are able to slide better into the spaces between the threads of your fabric. The right needle size is more about how tight the weave of your fabric is and how tiny the threads in it are than about how thick it is.

For human sizes, it’s safe to guess you’ll need a yard each of your outer and lining fabrics, and a hard and a half of interlining. You will probably have significant leftovers. For dolls…. You know, most dolls are really tiny, and the bigger problem is that fabric stores don’t like to cut less than 1/8″ yard (4 1/2″). That is more than adequate.

I’m bored with words now…. Let’s sew!

cutting layout
Place your pattern on a folded piece of fabric and cut, so you get two of each piece. Do this once for the outer fabric, once for the lining, and twice for the interlining.

Next: Sewing the Boned Interlining…

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  1. The Kirtle | kirtletheturtle
    The Kirtle | kirtletheturtle November 9, 2015

    […] A.k.a. the big, challenging, holy-sh*t-I-swear-the-sewing-machine-is-cursed part of this project. Because I’m oddly shaped and didn’t figure that a commercial pattern would be worth the money I drafted this from scratch, using resources from Drea Leed and Missa the Semptress. […]

  2. Medievalnerd
    Medievalnerd June 23, 2020

    I love this bodice! Sure, it took me two tries to make (I got a new sewing machine about a quarter of the way through the project and decided to retry with some nicer stitches) and sewing on eyelets was a major pain (guess who sucks at hand sewing!) but in the end, I was left with the best piece I’ve ever made. I can’t wait to wear it to next year’s Renaissance Faire!
    A piece of advice for those attempting this project: make sure to cut the extra fabric off of the sleeve straps before turning everything right side out. It makes sewing the sleeves together so much easier!

    • missa
      missa June 24, 2020

      That’s fantastic! I am so glad that it came together for you, and you fought past the struggle. I would love to see pictures of the finished piece. :) Thank you for sharing tips with everyone!

  3. Sel
    Sel January 26, 2021

    I’m glad to see you got the website back!! I was worried bc about halfway through making this, the website went down and I had to improv the rest.

    • missa
      missa January 26, 2021

      So sorry, Sel! An astute reader alerted me to the problem. Somehow all of my technology went kerflooey during the pandemic, but silently. Anyway, I am really glad you made it through and kudos on the successful improv! :)

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