Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part I: Intro and Beginnings

Learning to drape a bodice came out of necessity while helping my dear friend, Dana, try to fit a Simplicity bodice. When it became clear that fitting this bodice would be more trouble than it was worth, I offered the suggestion of draping a bodice. Now, I had never draped a bodice before and prior to this day, had always shied away from doing so because it just seemed so hard. However, armed with the Dressmaker’s Guide and some confidence on Dana’s part, we began, after her comment of “what could it hurt?”

Well, it turns out it didn’t hurt, but at the end of the 3 hour period of draping, pinning, and numerous consultations of The Dressmaker’s Guide (highly recommend this! It has fabulius instructions and detailed drawins of the process), Dana had a fitted toile that she can now use as a base for an infinite variety of mid-19th century bodices. After seeing the lovely bodice that Dana had, Auntie B of The Sewing Academy decided that she wanted one, too, so she headed over to my place a few weeks ago to get draped. Luckily, I had my camera with me, and I took pictures during the process with the idea of writing a tutorial about how to drape a bodice and she graciously agreed to be the model for this tutorial.

Before we start, let me preface by saying that draping a bodice itself isn’t innately difficult. It can be a bit fiddly and takes a couple of hours and some patience. That being said, you definitely need somebody who is familiar with mid-19th century dress construction and knows what they’re doing. Simply having a helper who occasionally pins after diligent instructions on your part (such as a male friend or in my case, my sewing-challenged mother) will not work. I’m sure your sewing-challenged person is vary nice and has been helpful with pinning you into things. Like my mom. But for this, you really need an experienced sewing buddy.

So, to drape a bodice, you will need:

-Several yards of muslin (you can use actual muslin from the fabric store, fabric you have lying around, or even old sheets)

-A measuring tape

– A pen and/or sharpie

-Good pair of fabric scissors

-Lots of pins!

-Material to make your final toile pattern – for this you can use either more muslin or plain paper such as butcher paper or unprinted newspaper.

-A hem gauge or ruler to mark seam allowances on the final pattern. You can use a French curve in addition to this if you like, but it’s not necessary.

Cutting and Pinning the Muslin:

Make sure the person you are draping the toile for is wearing a chemise and a properly fitted corset! I cannot stress this enough. I could go on and on about proper undergarments and fit, but I won’t and will just leave it at wear your corset. Ok? Ok.

Also, before you begin make sure the person that you are draping goes to the bathroom. While they can go sometime during the whole process, it is much more awkward when they have pieces of muslin pinned to them with odd marks drawn on them, too.

So, start with your measuring tape and measure the person from the base of the neck (with their corset on! Last time I’m gonna say this 😉 ) to about 1-2″ below their waist (waist meaning the part on the side of your tummy where you have that indent). Next, go to your muslin, and rip a piece of fabric this exact length. You should have 1 fairly short ripped piece of fabric that is probably about 45″ wide, as that’s how wide most muslins are. You wanna cut this piece in half, so that it’s about 22.5″. You’ll now have 2 pieces – 1 to drape the front and one to drape the back.

Pin one piece of muslin (making sure to pin on the selvage part of the muslin so that you know you have a straight line) to the person’s corset along the center front line, making sure that the bottom of the muslin extends about 1-2″ below the waist.I just draw a mark where this is so I don’t have to guess. When you’re pinning them, pin into the corset fabric, not the busk, and try not to poke them. Unless it’s somebody you really don’t like, so then poke away. Keep pinning up the corset, and stick a few pins into the chemise, as well. A good rule of thumb for this is to stop pinning when there’s no more fabric to pin in to.

The fabric is going to bunch up at the neck, so don’t worry about this since it will be smoothed in the next step.

Marking the neckline:

Next, we’re gonna mark the neckline. Smooth the fabric up towards the neck and shoulder area. With a sharpie or pen, mark a neckhole, going from the center front near the base of the collarbone to a little bit past the shoulder line.

The marked neckline, held up for a better picture-taking angle.

With the neckline marked, move the fabric off of the person’s upper torso and towards you. With scissors, make vertical slices from the top of the muslin to near the marked neckline, but make sure not to cut into the marked neckline. You;ll have a bunch of dangly pieces, so clip those off.

Your neckline should look like this now:

*Note: The neckline is actually higher up than what is shown here, but the muslin was sagging due to having nothing to pull it up.


Draping The Back:

Now, we’re going to move on to draping the back part of the bodice. At this point, it can be handy to cut off the excess muslin fabric that is extending over the arm. Pin the second piece of muslin to the center back of the person, either through the corset or the chemise (or both), making sure that you pin throgh the selvage and that the muslin extends about 1-2″ below the waistline. Smooth the muslin up as you pin, and cut off the excess if it is hanging way far out over the arm, but do not cut anywhere above mid-bicep.

It should look like this, but minus the huge overhang on the arm:

Making the back neckline curve:

Now, we’re going to make the neckline curve for the back similar to how we did it in the front, although this time the neckline should be a bit higher. Smooth the muslin up to the neck, and using a pen or sharpie, mark the neckline curve.

Pulled away from the body, it should look like this. You can also mark on the back piece of muslin along the natural shoulder line, which will help in pinning during the next step.

Make vertical snips into the neckline curve, being careful not to cut into the line that you just drew. Snip away the excess fabric.

Making the shoulder seam:

Now, join the front and back pieces of your muslin together by pinning at the natural shoulder line (*Note: this was not the placement of the seam during the period – mid-19th century – but for ease of draping, just pin there for now. We’ll mark the seam line later). It helps to mark on both muslin pieces the shoulder line before you pin, so that you have this for reference while you are pinning, as well as when you mark the correct seam and transfer this into a pattern.

If you have any questions or if anything was unclear, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Next up: Marking the armscye, pinning the side seams, and putting in darts at the front! Click here for Part II!

8 thoughts on “Tutorial: Draping a Bodice, Part I: Intro and Beginnings

  1. Great job, Anna! It does take a long time, doesn’t it? Thanks for breaking it down! I got my toile draped for me when I started sewing dresses, but now it’s my turn to drape for my sister’s new dress. . . 😛

    1. You’re so very welcome Sophia, and I’m glad that this was helpful! And isn’t having a draped toile wonderful? It can be fiddly but it is so worth it in the end when you have the pattern pieces ready to go, especially if you have lots of sisters to sew for. 😉

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