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The bodice: pattern

The pirate dress is an adaptation of a late seventeenth century gown. In this period, women wore a single boned bodice, separate from the skirt, instead of the corset-and-dress combo of many other times.

The pattern I used was adapted from Period Costume for Stage and Screen 1500-1800 by Jean Hunnisett (page 116). It's a great pattern but it's only illustrated in one size in the book. Trust me when I say that it isn't a simple one to alter.

So instead I'm going to point you at Reconstructing History's 1670s-1690s Bodiced Gown pattern, which is very similar (and half the price of buying a book). This is the pattern I'd use if I made this dress at home for myself. It's not only a great pattern in US sizes 6-26, but it also contains a wealth of historical detail that you can take or leave as you please to produce as accurate or as Disney-ish a pirate dress as your heart desires. It's available directly from the Reconstructing History website in the US, or alternatively from Vena Cava Design if you're in Europe.

There's just one important difference between the RH pattern and the one you'll see in my photos, which I should point out. My pattern involved five pieces: the front, side front, side back and back pieces and a shoulder piece. In the Reconstructing History pattern there is no side seam, so the side front and side back are just one single side piece. This doesn't make a significant difference to the final look, but it might help when you're comparing your bodice to my photos to know that you won't have the side seam that I do.

Also, you'll notice that I dispensed with the tabs at the waist around the sides. Once again, I should remind you that I was making the gown for fun and with a mass audience in mind, so historical accuracy was not a priority. With this pattern and my instructions you'll be able to sail as close to the wind as you wish.

Adapting the pattern to close at the front

At present your pattern is designed to close at the centre back, and we need to move that opening to the centre front to make the attractive laced centre front.

On the pattern for the front piece you'll notice that the centre front is marked. It runs helpfully along one edge! So all you need to do here is add a seam allowance (3/8" will match the rest of the pattern) and then cut two of these rather than placing the centre front edge on a fold of the fabric.

At the back, which is currently an edge, you'll need to do the opposite. Remove 3/8" - the seam allowance, which you no longer need - and place the fold of the fabric on your new centre back edge when you cut.

The Reconstructing History pattern gives detailed directions on mocking up the bodice to ensure the fit, so I won't repeat that information here except to remind you that skipping the mock-up can be an expensive mistake!


Like your average corset, the bodice is made by sandwiching boning between layers of fabric. I used four layers in all (all of which you already have if you bought the quantities detailed in part 1):

  • Dupion on the outside as the "fashion fabric" - it looks convincing but it's actually polyester dupion in my version, which drapes better in the skirt than silk
  • Cotton underneath it - this interlining is useful to create some padding between the bones and the fashion fabric.
  • Boning in the middle
  • The strength layer of coutil/drill/other strong fabric
  • The lining - I recommend cotton or linen.


Unfortunately, the cartridge pleating tutorial is no longer at that link.
Love this tutorial and the dress and i'm really grateful you put it up, but i'm really struggling to figure out the math on these knife pleats withought a clear sum. my fabric has ended up 162" and I need to get it down to 30", I don't know where to even begin to get it to the correct width :/

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