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How to Sew Ye Olde Ren Wench Bodice

outer fabric back seam
Sew the back seam of the Outer fabric, at your normal seam allowance. Repeat for the lining.
back seam pressed open
Press the back seam open. Repeat with the lining.
outer piece, fully constructed
Sew the fronts to the assembled back, and press the seams open. Repeat with the lining.
outer fabric on interlining
To assemble the bodice, place the outer fabric right side up on top if the interlining.
lining on outer fabric
Place the lining fabric upside-down on the outer fabric.
bodice pinned together
Pin the snot out of it. Once the layers are all neatly together, I usually work on the interlining side, because it's easier to avoid the boning that way.
sewing to the strap
Start sewing a the bottom of the corset, to the front of the side seam. Sew, at your normal seam allowance, all around the bodice. When you come to a corner, pivot at the seam allowance for the next segment.
layers sewn together
The finished seam leaves the bottom of the back open so we can turn the bodice out.

Now, we’ve really just sewn the straps totally shut at the ends. (Missa, why’d we just do that? It seems like a Bad Idea!) Here’s the deal: I hate having to hand-stitch an armscye shut. I do. It’s annoying. And there are a lot of ways around the problem, but there’s only one that works for both doll and human scale. We’re completely finishing each end of each strap, and then we’re going to butt the finished edges together and overhand them – there’s still hand sewing involved, but it’s minimal and it’s not on a curved seam.

interlining trimmed
Trim back the seam allowances of the interlining.
corners clipped
Snip off corners and clip the seam allowances near curves, so that everything will turn properly.
tools for turning the bodice
Prepare to turn the bodice out. You will need a variety of pokey implements. I have a round-tipped needle, a flat tipped needle, and a size 8 knitting needle.

If you have small children or other sensitive ears around, this might be a good time to blockade yourself in a relatively sound-proofed area. Turning a boned bodice out is often quite the fight, especially in human sizes with serious boning. On the bright side, I’m pretty sure it counts as a workout….

starting the turn at a top corner
To begin, put your thumb (or arm, at human sizes) inside the bodice between the lining and outer layers. Your goal is to grab on of the upper corners of the bodice and pull it out the back bottom opening.
bodice, turned but not flat
Repeat with the other corner. You should now have something hopeless looking.
back straps out
Using your selection of pokey implements, push out the front corners and the back straps. This is the easy part.

front straps out
Push the front straps out. This is the annoying part.

The problem is that the fabric sort of wants to tie itself into hopelessly immoveable knots inside of the strap. Try to stay calm, work slowly, and go in small nudges rather than trying to ram it all through at once. Take some comfort in the knowledge that this would be infinitely worse if you were working in cotton velvet. (Unless you are working in cotton velvet, and then I am very sorry…)

bottom pinned
Turn in the seam allowances at the bottom back of the bodice. Pin and hand stitch closed.
butting strap ends together
Butt the ends of the straps to form an armhole. Sew these by hand, neatly.
finished armhole
A finished armhole.
measuring for eyelets
You will need to add eyelets or grommets. They should be spaced evenly.
eyelets lined up on ruler
I can never do this by sheer force of math, so I usually lie the eyelets out on a ruler and push them around until I like the spacing.

In general, on a human size I never want to go more than 1 1/2″ (center to center) between grommets.  I want the top and bottom grommets no more than 1″ and no less than 1/2″ from the edges of the bodice.  For the doll, I’m using 3/8″ centered spacing and staying 1/8″ away from top and bottom.

mark eyelet positions
Mark the eyelet positions. I am lazy, so I usually only mark one side. Once I've gotten the eyelets into the first side, I fold the bodice in half, line up the fronts, and mark the second side off the first.

You will now need to set the eyelets, or set your grommets. You could decide to do hand-bound eyelets, which would be very lovely but is probably overkill for a bodice like this.

worn, front
Put your bodice on, and wear it proudly (even if it's 3am and you're the only one still awake in the house!)

Ain’t she cute? I swear, I’ve never so much wanted to hand a doll a big ol’ tankard of ale! Tee hee….

If you are human, and you’ve never worn a corset or boned bodice before, you should know that getting it laced up will probably require some degree of manual readjustment in the boobal area. There’s really no way to avoid this.

bodice, side front
This is why we just boned a bodice for a dolly... While she doesn't really need the support, the boning gives the bodice the nice, straight line we expect.
bodice, back
From the back, it looks pretty much like you'd expect...

There’s a subtle design lesson going on here: if you combine primary red and black, especially in a fitted black bodice, you have a pirate. True story. We’ve all seen at least a dozen women dressed almost exactly like this at faires. They are all wearing pirate boots.  Hmmm…. I should make dolly boots!  Heh. That would be ridiculously fab.

Anyway, congrats – you’ve got a bodice. Wear it with a circle skirt and a drawstring chemise, and you match my dolly!

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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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