1860s Purple People Eater Ballgown Bodice – Musings

In my mad rush to get three pieces of 1860s attire (and let’s not even think about the accessories) done in time for a bevy of upcoming Victorian Christmas events, I’ve been laying the groundwork for the next piece of the puzzle – the ballgown bodice.

I’m wanting something with an enormous floofy bertha, like these:

Alexandra, Princess of Wales, by Winterhalter, 1864
Queen Sophie of the Nertherlands, by Winterhalter, 1863
Princess Dagmar of Denmark, who became Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia – 1866

My sketches:

I have no idea how to make something like this, so I turned to Patterns of Fashion 2: c.1860-1940 and Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women’s Dress, 1800-1909 to show me the way.

The place to start is with the foundation bodice upon which all the floof shall be built. I don’t have a pattern for an 1860s ballgown bodice, so I thought I’d try a technique I came across on Ralph Pink’s website, showing how to scale gridded patterns in Photoshop. (See the video here).

I scaled the 1860s basic ballgown bodice pattern from Period Costume for Stage & Screen, printed it out, taped it together, added seam allowance, and here it is:

It’s much too small, but I at least have a starting point for the muslin, which will become the final pattern. I’m really interested to see how this method of scaling the pattern works out, because if it does…well, that will change *everything* !


  • Eleonora Amalia

    November 13, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    I love your sketchings, always remind me of film costume designers' works! And yay for awkwardly big berthas. I'm sorry to say, however, that Queen Sophie of Netherlands always reminds me of a dead person :/

  • Olivia

    November 13, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    That method of printing out a pattern is what I use for most of my sewing, it's so easy and effective and will (probably) change your life! You can also slash and spread the pattern pieces to match your waist measurement to get a muslin that's a little closer to your size.

  • ateliergigi

    November 14, 2014 at 11:12 PM

    I sew historical clothing for Asian Ball Joint Dolls. They range in size from 1/12 to 1/2 scale. I would be lost with out this technique. Use it all the time. It's the only way to scale.

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 3, 2014 at 6:44 PM

      I just got a tiny dress form (meant to be a pincushion, but it will serve) and plan to try these patterns out demi before scaling up fully…don't know if it'll help yet, but we'll see 🙂 It'll be fun at least.

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    November 15, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    I made a gown with a bertha one man moons ago when I didn't know anything about anything, but I think I did it the right way, which is to construct it as a Thing unto Itself, and then hand whip it onto the bodice. Useless trivia: In the early 90s when bertha-esque dresses were in vogue, McCalls had a wedding dress pattern made in just this way. It was fantastic, so much easier and sat better than the sewn in one. Number was 6051 according to Google.

  • Kendra

    December 3, 2014 at 6:34 PM

    Having made one of these, which I'm currently remaking (my eugenie dress)… Make a completely finished bodice. Make the Bertha (horrible term!) separate and then attach it. Mine was made on silk organza as a base. I bound the top and bottom edges in my dress fabric. Mine is pleated so I mounted bias strips to the organza. Then it's just a matter of layering ruffles/ruches, lace, bows, etc.

    • Lauren Stowell

      December 3, 2014 at 6:42 PM

      Awesome tips – yes, definitely going to do the whole bodice base layer first, just in case I don't have time for the rufflage, I still have something to wear!

      Your Eugenie dress is one of my all-time favorite costumer recreations, still 🙂

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