1896 Full Directions for Making the Bodice [and Skirt] of 
a Walking-Dress, 1896

1896 Lady's Walking-Dress Or Costume

"This costume being at once so simple and stylish, we feel certain many of our readers will be pleased to make it for themselves, and this even the most inexperienced worker may do by the aid of the directions we now give and of a well cut pattern.


The amateur dressmaker will do well, before she starts her dress, to see that she is provided with all things necessary for the work; those absolutely necessary for this dress are: 7 yards diagonal striped material 44 inches wide, yard plain cloth for basque and yoke, 48 inches wide and yard cloth, 48 inches wide, of the dark colour of the stripe, for the straps; 6 yards of sateen or linenette for lining the skirt; 2 yards bodice lining, 2 dozen buttons, 4 yards stiffening, either French canvas or horsehair for foot of skirt; lb short white pins, 1 packet needles, No.7 Sharps; and inch tape measure, 1 pair of large sharp scissors, 1 pair of buttonhole scissors, 1 lead cushion, a wooden ruler or cheap rolling pin covered with flannel, fastened on it with quite a flat herringbone seam; an ironing blanket, a piercer [or a tracing wheel] and a drawing board about 3 feet long and 2 feet broad.


We will suppose that a perfectly fitting pattern has been provided; the first thing then to do is to cut the pattern in the lining. Unless the pattern is one that has been made from before and is to be relied on, it is best to cut the entire bodice first in the lining, then to fit it, before cutting the material.

If the material to be made up is black or of a dark colour, select a lining with a black back; for lighter materials a white back is best; for thin materials silk will make a most comfortable lining and may easily be fitted to the figure. To cut the lining place it in the drawing board, put the front of the pattern on the lining (leaving it folded in two as purchased) about two inches from the selvedge; pin the pattern to the lining and pierce all round the edge at distances of about half an inch [or mark all round the pattern with a tracing wheel]. Be careful to pierce at each point of the pattern, as these marks enable you to join each piece of the material accurately.

Now place the side-front piece on the lining in the piece left from the front, quite on the straight of the material, the side-back piece. This is a most important part of the pattern; the top point of this should be placed exactly on the straight with the weft thread of the material. The rest of this piece of the pattern will be slightly on the cross; the back must be placed on the straight of the material. The top part of the back seam of the sleeve is on the straight. After having pierced all round the pieces carefully, you cut each part out, leaving inch all round for turning.

First Fitting

Having cut all the different parts of the lining, unpin the pattern, fold it up and put it away carefully for future use. Tack up the lining and fit it. Put on the lining with the seams outside, so that you may more easily alter the seams. Pin the two fronts to fit comfortably; pin the lining to the corsets at the waist, pass the hand from the waist up the bodice to the shoulder, where any wrinkles must be taken up into the seam. If too large at the waist, the extra size must be taken up at the seam under the arm and at the centre of the back, but be careful not to make the space between the centre of the back and the side pieces too small, as this spoils the appearance when made. Do not alter the seams of the bust [bust darts] unless absolutely necessary. Of one thing be very careful, that is, not to make the bodice too tight across the bust; no bodice sets well or is comfortable if tight across the front.

Some figures require a small pleat [dart] to be taken in the lining, horizontally at the bust. Take up the length required at the joining [CF], sloping the seam gradually to nothing. A similar pleat is sometimes needed at the armhole when the bust is full, but it is not necessary for an ordinary slight figure. A line of pins should next be put in the neck where the collar-band is to go and also round the armhole in a comfortable position for the sleeve.

Cutting Out Bodice and Skirt

1896 Layout of Bodice and Front Skirt           1896 Layout of Back Skirt Widths

When the lining is fitted satisfactorily, unpin the left shoulder and underarm seam so that you can remove the bodice without unfastening the front. Make a tacking-line of white cotton [thread] on all the alterations, so that in tacking the material to the lining you may do it in the right place; also run a line down the pins in front. Unpick the tacking which joins the different parts together, smooth the lining with the hand to remove all wrinkles. Before cutting out the material for the bodice cut the skirt, as the pieces that are left from the gores can be used advantageously for cutting the bodice. Keep the material folded, place the straight part of skirt front to the fold of the material; the gores are each placed the straight part to the selvedge, as the piece left in the centre is then double width and is more useful for cutting-out from; the seam at centre of back is on the cross. Now place the different parts of the lining of the bodice upon the material in the same way of the material as they themselves are cut. The material may either be cut up as far as the yoke, or the whole bodice may be covered with it, which will be found a good plan when light cloth is used for the yoke; as if the bodice is made entirely in the material, the yoke may be removed when soiled, and a plain bodice will remain that can be trimmed in some other style.

Lining and Padding the Bodice

When each piece is carefully pinned, cut it out. The next thing to be done is to tack the material to the lining; this requires the greatest care, as the well fitting of the bodice depends very much on the material being very smoothly placed on the lining. Very soft woollen materials should be slightly stretched, as they give a little with wear, and are liable to set in creases. Ladies who wear out their dresses under the arms will find it a good plan to put a piece of the material on the lining under the arm, about 4 or 5 inches deep, as if the material frays at all, the lining does not show through, and the top material may be neatly darned to the under piece. This same remark also applies to the elbows.

For thin figures that require a little padding, one or two thicknesses of wadding should be placed on the lining; pieces of the wadding should be picked off, so as to thin it gradually towards the edge; this prevents the material being raised in ridges, which would occur if the wadding were not quite thin at the edge. When padding is required, it should be placed under the arm towards the bust and sometimes on the top of the shoulder.

Second Fitting

The tacking-stitches of the bodice must be taken in the line of pierced holes, being careful to keep the exact line. When all the different parts are tacked out, they must be tacked together.

To tack up the fronts, commence at front pleat at the top and pin so as to make the tacking threads exactly correspond; the second pleat must be taken up in the same manner. When pinned, tack closely and firmly so that it cannot slip or move in the stitching. Join the two pieces of the back together quite straight, commencing at the neck and going down to the waist. Tack firmly so that the seams will not give way when trying on. In tacking the rounded side piece to the back it must be slightly stretched for about three inches from the waist. In joining up the bust darts strain the front of the front dart to the opposite side and the back of the second dart to the front of the second dart. This ensures the front setting without wrinkles, and care should be taken that the material is strained to the lining in the same way. The under-arm and shoulder seams are only to be pinned up with the edges outside, so that they are easy to take up or let out in the second trying on. The front should be stretched to the under-arm side piece, half way from the waist to the armhole; and the front of the shoulder should be stretched to the back to ensure its fitting without wrinkles on the shoulders. Try the bodice on a second time, being careful to pin the fronts together exactly by the tacking lines. Any necessary alteration may be made at the under-arm seams and shoulders. Remove the bodice this time by unpinning the front, mark any alteration by a tacking thread and unpin the under-arm and shoulder seams.


Now remove all the tacking threads and open the seams, cut them nicely, overcast them and press them. If you use whalebone it is now time to run in the casings, but for amateurs the bones or steels already sold in casings are the most convenient; these have only just to be tacked firmly to the seams. The seams to be boned are the four bust darts, the under-arm seam, the three back seams and the button side of the front. Some persons also bone the rounded seam of the side pieces.

Front Facings and Fastenings

The next thing is to make the buttonholes. These are best done before the fronts are sewn to the rest of the bodice, as it is easier to hold the single front than the whole bodice. The buttonholes are made in the right side; turn the material and lining in just beyond the tacking line down the [centre] front; cut off to within of an inch of the fold, then cover the edge with a piece of sarcenet ribbon one inch wide, which should be sewn down without taking the stitches through. Take the bodice in the hand outside up and with an inch tape measure from waist to bust, dividing into equal parts for thirteen buttons; mark each with a long tacking stitch. To ensure the buttonholes being all one size you must make another tacking thread about an inch from the edge, make the buttonholes in the space between the two tackings and be careful that the ends do not extend beyond either; if the buttons are very small the second tacking line must be nearer the edge. After having made the buttonholes, take the two fronts, pin them together from waist to neck. Get someone to hold the neck. Hold the waist with your left hand, with the right put a pin through each buttonhole so that it shows in front. Take a length of tacking cotton and make a long stitch at each pin. Turn the edge of the material in about one inch from the line for the buttons and face it with a piece of sarcenet or ribbon; sew on the buttons. The bodice from bust to throat may be fastened with hooks and eyes to save time, or it may be buttoned the whole way up.


Next cut the yoke and line it with muslin. Fix it in position, turn the fronts in so that they meet exactly in the centre, tack to the tacking lines of shoulder seam and round the arm, taking care that it lies very flat and smoothly, stitch it at the edge. Trim with two straps of braid, cloth or velvet of a darker shade, edged with a little narrow passementerie, tack up the shoulder and under-arm seams, put the bodice on again to see that the yoke fits properly; if satisfactory, machine the seams. Cut the collar-band from stiff canvas or from the shaped stiffening sold for the purpose, cover with the material and a band of the same material as the yoke on the lower part, line with sarcenet.


The sleeve in this dress is a gigot or leg-of-mutton, the lining is tight fitting. After having cut the full sleeve in the material, cut the same pattern as far as the elbow in lace or muslin and if required to set out very much, line also with a gauzy kind of canvas sold for the purpose; tack it to the material. Make up the back seam of the lining, then place the material on the lining and join the front seams of both together; gather the material to the lining at top of sleeve and gather both together to make them fit the armhole. They must next be pinned to the tacking-line of the armhole to see that they set nicely; be careful not to make the armhole too large and do not slope it too far out at the back, or it will spoil the look of the curved side pieces and the back. When they are fitted satisfactorily, tack them in, then place a piece of tape over the tacking and machine through the tape, this makes the armhole stronger. Cut off the edges to within inch of the seam and overcast them. Turn up the wrists to the proper length, then face them in with a piece of sarcenet or ribbon. Make the stitched straps of cloth and sew them in position.

Basque and Finishing Touches

Now cut out the basque, line first with French canvas, then with Indian silk or sarcenet, turn the edges so that the inside is neat and machine-stitch it half an inch from the edge. Cut the edge of the bodice to a nice shape, slightly pointed front and back, sew on the basque, open the seam, cut the edges evenly and press it. Cover with a piece of sarcenet ribbon, hemmed by each edge to the lining; be careful not to take the stitches through. Sew on the dress preservers and the webbing band, which should fit the waist tightly; this should be sewn in rather above the waistline at the three back seams and may be fastened in front either by a buckle or by two hooks and eyes. It is a good plan to sew in a loop to the under part of each armhole, by which to hang up the bodice. Now the bodice is complete.

Directions for Making the Skirt for a Walking-Dress, 1896

We will now turn our attention to the skirt; the method of cutting this we gave at the same time as cutting the material for the bodice (see above).

Both material and lining should be cut on the same way of stuff. After having joined up the different parts, cut the stiffening to fit the foot of the skirt. The depth must be regulated by the taste of the wearer; for ordinary wear nine inches is a nice width, although some ladies prefer it wider; and some like the whole of the two back gores stiffened, but this makes a skirt very heavy. After the stiffening is joined, bind its lower edge with cotton binding. This prevents the sharp edges wearing through the material. Sew the stiffening to the inside of the lining. Before turning up the bottom of the skirt, it is a good thing to let it hang upon a dress-stand for at least twenty-four hours, as many materials are inclined to drop after they are worn if this plan is not adopted. Try on the skirt and turn up the lining to the required depth; when the front pleats [darts] are fitted satisfactorily and the edge turned up the right depth, turn up the edges of both material and lining, let the lining be about inch shorter than the material. Hem the lining to the material and sew a cord or braid at the edge. Stitch the pleats [darts], cut them open and press them, then sew on the waistband. The placket hole may either be made in the centre seam at the back or in the side gore seam next to the back on the left side; put the pocket in the corresponding seam on the right side. The front of the skirt is trimmed with three straps of graduated depth, edged with passementerie.

For an alternative description of 1890s skirt construction, please see  An 1895 Skirt and How to Make It - With Pattern  and for further information on 1890s clothing, see our article  THE NEW WOMAN - Fashions in the 1890s.

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