Monday, 14 January 2013

Starting 2013 With a Challenge

A Happy New Year to all my followers. I hope this year to be able to write more posts. Last year was exceptionally busy and at the end of November I moved to a new business premises. Anyone who has lots of fabrics, mannequins and machinery can appreciate how difficult it is to pack up all these items. Not to mention all the costume and reference books!
Over Christmas and New Year I decided to take up a sewing challenge created by Leimomi Oakes at 
This initiative is a series of two week challenges under different themes. I decided to take part in the create something from  .…13 challenge. So naturally I went for 1813. I decided to make an evening Spencer from a remnant of duchess satin left over from my pearl dress.

 I have often been intrigued when I have come across portraits or fashion plates in which the bodice is a different colour from the rest of the dress. Was this a separate bodice or Spencer worn over an existing dress? Or was it part of the dress?

My research seemed to indicate it was a separate garment. I found by chance an old photo from ‘The Gallery of English Costume, Women’s Costume 1800-1835 showing a velvet evening bodice dated 1817-18. Also, one of the new additions to the Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion collection was a satin evening bodice dated to 1815.

Sleeve detail. Evening spencer. Collection of Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion.

However the challenge was 1813 so I needed to look back to see if these garments were worn a few years earlier. Luckily I found some ‘La Belle Assemblee’ and ‘Ackermanns’ prints which indicated that these types of bodices and Spencers were worn before and during 1813.

The construction was quite simple. Firstly I made a calico toile over an existing dress to fit the Spencer. The lines followed the typical construction of a Spencer in the period. There are two small darts under the bust for fit. I would recommend anyone who is going to make something similar to make a fitting over the dress you plan to wear underneath. In this way you can adjust the neckline and hem to match with the dress so they work together.
I drew the decoration on the fitted toile version and traced the lines onto the satin with thread marking. I decided to decorate the front and back in a military style as this was popular in the period and I liked the style shown on the 1817 example. I sewed the bodice darts first as the decoration was going to be sewn over them. I also wanted an idea of the finished form so the braid would not stretch once on. The braid, lace and buttons used are all vintage finds from my hoard of trims.

The front fastens with a series of hooks and eyes with buttons sewn over the top to mimic a button fastening. I decided not to go with button fastening as I thought hooks would be more robust and the Spencer is quite a snug fit. The sleeves imitate a military style epaulette and are caught at the top with a loop and button.  I added a belt to the hem of the Spencer and lined it with linen tape. This helps to stop the Spencer from riding up as the linen does not slip against the fabric of the dress underneath.

I really enjoyed sewing this Spencer in my spare time and I am sure it will have many outings this year. It is a simple way to change the look of an existing dress. I used less than 50cms of silk to make the Spencer so it is an ideal way to use up a small piece of special fabric. I look forward to taking part in future challenges when time allows. The next one is finishing off an existing project due at the end of January.


Samantha said...

what a delightful little project! and that satin is just beautiful. you've definitely inspired me to use up some of my larger silk scraps and dress up a white gown.

Anonymous said...

Super cute, Natalie! I love those buttons. It is certainly an ingenious way to change up a dress that is often worn. And it's nice that it doesn't use much fabric.


Jen Thompson said...

That is so gorgeous!!!

Kleidung um 1800 said...

This is beautiful and such an inspiration! I have plenty of small yardage velvet, which could be finally be of some use ;)


Fichu1800 said...

Thank you for your kind comments.

Anonymous said...

These are just lovely. Thank you for the post.

Sara Seydak said...

Beautifull work, congratulations!
I belive it is called a corset di soie. I have wondered about that myself, untill I came along this following blog post:

I hope it helps further in your research and work.

Fichu1800 said...

Thank you for the information :-)

Barbee said...

Lovely! Glad you are settling in well to your new work place.

Helena said...

I found your post via Two Nerdy History Girls. I foresee these evening spencers coming back into fashion, with a flurry of them reappearing whenever 1813 is re-enacted at say the Jane Austen Festival, or the next early-19th century dramatisation. As well as changing the look of gowns, they would add warmth to them.

Would I be right in thinking that the main difference between these evening spencers and the ones worn during the day is how extensive they were? i.e. the day ones extended lower down the body (and sometimes higher up the neck) and tended to have long sleeves? Or is that garment called something else?

Laura Morrigan said...

How fascinating to know they are separate! This will be useful to know for future sewing! Thank you!