Draping a 16th century bodice pattern

Purpose: This tutorial takes you through the steps for draping a basic sixteenth century womens bodice (it can also be useful for 18th c. bodices, as well, with minor tweaks).

  • 2 pieces of an even weave fabric such as muslin (I used linen because it was on hand, but draping with linen is fraught with peril; use at your own risk). Pieces should be the length from shoulder to hip for front and back
  • Straight pins
  • Markers in various colors for marking lines and making corrections
  • Scissors
  • Dress form or person

Note: This tutorial shows draping over a corseted form. A corset is not essential, but it makes things considerably simpler.

Begin by securing the center front from neck to waist (this shows my method for doing so on a dress form. Avoid pushing pins directly into a human).
Smooth your fabric around to the side seam and pin, taking care to limit wrinkling or bubbling as much as possible. Some slight wrinkling may be unavoidable, but can be drafted out of the mock-up.
Smooth fabric upwards towards the shoulder. You may experience some wrinkling in this area. Pin into a dart and leave it alone (it will be drafted out once your toile is complete).
Continue to adjust and smooth the fabric as needed, along the side seam and shoulder area.
Continue to smooth the fabric up towards the neck, making sure that the fabric around the bust and side seam is as smooth as possible.
Continue to work the excess fabric up toward the neck. Pin as needed.
Begin defining the waist area. Smooth and pin fabric until it is reasonably flat against the waistline (note: there will be bubbling and wrinkling at this stage)
Sketch or pin along the theoretical waistline (this may shift later).
Trim away excess fabric 1.5” – 2” BELOW the theoretical waistline. DO NOT TRIM ON WAISTLINE.
Clip up to, not through, the theoretical waistline. This relieves the tension around the waist and allows for the fabric to conform to the body.
Sketch in the neckline. This may change after all the stages of the draping are complete.
Sketch in Center Front line. Even if you’re not planning on having a center front opening on the bodice, this line determines the center of the pattern so make sure you mark it!
Begin trimming around the armscye. Leave about an 1″-2″… You just want to get the basic shape and be able to see what you’re doing. You will come back and draw in the seam line AFTER you have draped the back piece.
Switch to the back panel. Secure the Center Back along the center of the body, from neck to waist.
Pin along theoretical angled back seam.
As with the front, smooth the fabric up towards the neck and shoulders, pinning as you go.
More smoothing and pinning.
Still more smoothing and pinning.
There may be some excess in the back armscye area. This can be smoothed out, or pinned into a dart and left alone. Dart will be drafted out once the draping stage is complete.
Smooth the fabric from the front of the toile around to the side back seam line, pinning front and back pieces together.
Now you will return to the front piece and draw in the armscye. On a dress dummy, this line is about 1/2″ in from the edge of the shoulder. The base of the armscye is tricky. One standard in pattern draping is to find the center of the armplate on the dress dummy and measure 4″ down to find the base of the armscye. I usually just eyeball it and then correct the depth during the fitting stage.
Draw in angled back seam.
Begin trimming away excess fabric at the neckline, leaving a good 2” or so around the seam line.
Adjust back armscye (mine was off, so I redrew the line in pink marker to differentiate).
Trim side seam, leaving 1”-2” excess.
Trim around armscye, leaving .5”-1” excess. The excess is wiggle room for adjustment when you fit the mock-up to your body.
Continue trimming…
Trim back neckline, leaving some excess around the seam line.
Adjust shoulder seam, if needed. The typical pre-20th century shoulder seam sits back about 2″ from the top of the shoulder and is angled slightly downward from the neckline, towards the armscye. This is a shoulder seam placement that is still seen on suits, but has been more or less abandoned in modern clothing. Depending on the era, the angle of the seam can be slight or quite dramatic.
Further trimming of the front neckline, once the shoulder seam is in correct place.
More trimming…
Trim shoulder seam, leaving about 2” excess (this is always important in the shoulder area, just for fudge factor).
Draw in shoulder seam.
Re-measure the waistline, making sure it is even all the way around. Adjust line in different colored ink if its off.
Adjusting the waist seam.
Adjusting the front neckline.
The final drape after it has been removed from the form/person. Corrected seam lines are in pink ink. At this point, true your side seams and shoulder seams, making sure they match up. Then transfer to paper and add seam allowance (if desired). Now you’re ready to make a mock-up to test the pattern!

One thought on “Draping a 16th century bodice pattern

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *