An Edwardian sailor dress
Extant garments,  My projects,  Research,  Sewing

An Edwardian girl’s sailor bodice construction

I own this lovely Edwardian girl’s sailor bodice that I have always wanted to replicate for my daughter. I bought it from a local lady who said it was originally from Tavastia region in Finland. The skirt that has been part of the dress has been lost but just having a chance to study the construction of the bodice offered tons of valuable information. In order to replicate the bodice, I had to learn a completely new way of bodice construction.

The video showcasing the Edwardian bodice

The making of the Edwardian bodice

Here is a some sort of order in which I proceeded. It may or may not be the correct order as I’m writing this about 1,5 months after making this bodice. However, it shows the complex construction process and you get some kind of idea how I proceeded.

  1. Sew the darts on the lining.
  2. Baste the lining together and do the fitting.
  3. Adjust the lining and the top fabric pieces according to the fitting results
  4. Attach the linen piece on the left front bodice lining.
  5. Attach the facing strips to both sides of the centre front opening at the lining (on the outside). Turn the facing to the inside. Attach the hooks and eyes alternating the order. Fold the facing strip over the hooks and eyes and fold the edge under. Slip stitch the edges together.
  6. Baste the lining and the separate left-hand-side piece onto the gathered front piece. Pin the gathers at place where the yoke seam will be. Baste.
  7. Underline the lace yokes with white cotton.
  8. Baste the front yoke on the front piece. Topstitch about 3 mm from the edge. Be careful with the hooks and eyes underneath! Trim away some of the bulk from the bodice gathers.
The Edwardian bodice under construcrtion.
  1. Sew the centre back seam of the lining.
  2. Baste the centre back pleat and baste the back piece to the lining.
  3. Sew the lace yoke to the back piece the same way as to the front.
  4. Sew the shoulder seams and the side seams. Finish the seams.
  5. Construct the collar by interlining the collar piece. Notch the seam allowances and press inward.
The collar under construction.
  1. Sew the collar from the centre back to the centre front over the right shoulder.
  2. Pin on the collar lining and slip stitch on.
  3. Finish the rest of the edge of the neck opening with a strip of bias tape or a straight-cut strip. (This could have been done before attaching the collar lining making it possible to hide the edge at the centre back under the lining.)
  4. Pleat the bottom of the bodice and baste. Finish the bodice hem with a strip of linen about 5 cm wide.
  5. Sew the blue ribbon to the edge of the sailor collar on the wrong side of the sailor collar against the right side of the ribbon. Leave enough loose ribbon at the inner corners so that the ribbon can be turned to the right side. Turn the ribbon to the right side and press. Sew the inner edge of the ribbon in place. The thread doesn’t need to match.
  6. Turn the ends of the sailor collar under and finish. Notch the inner edge of the sailor collar and press the seam allowance to the wrong side. Pin on the position on the yoke and top stitch 1-2 mm from the edge.
  7. Mark the position of the sleeve pleats on the fabric. Sew the pleats. Cut the upper sleeves from the pleated fabric. Cut the lower sleeves. Underline the sleeve pieces with cotton. Whip the edges. Sew the sleeves to tubes. Turn the cuff hems to the inside and slip stitch in place. Gather the sleeve caps and attach the sleeves. Finish by whipping the edges.
  8. Attach the rest of the hooks and eyes and snaps and the thread loop on the back yoke.

The underwear

Of course an Edwardian dress needs some items of underwear in order for it to look right. Chemise was optional as a modern tank top would do the same job but a petticoat was a must.

This was an easy thing to accomplish as S had just outgrown her cotton nightgown. I chopped off the bodice part of the nightgown and added a waistband and a slit. The petticoat closes with a pair of ribbon ties.

The petticoat.

S also wanted a pair of bloomers and I agreed that they are a very practical garment for an active girl. For them, I took a modern pattern for culottes and used elastic to gather the leg openings and the waist. The elastic isn’t really a historical thing but it does help a lot when you have to take a bathroom break! I did add one historical detail: a pair of initials embroidered in red.

The drawers.

The accessories

A back view of the bodice and the skirt outfit.

I let S borrow my straw hat and we added a white silk bow to decorate it. Some months previously, I had bought a tiny little parasol from the Recycling Centre and that was perfectly sized for my daughter.

Knee-high socks do not really differ from Edwardian socks from afar and stayed up without needing any suspenders. The outfit was completed with the cute Victorian-inspired shoes with small heels that we had found at a flea market. Black, flat-bottomed shoes would have been better but one gets what is available and in the right size. Luckily S can now wear the smallest women’s size which makes it much easier to find leather shoes!

The skirt and the belt

I went through some period magazines and saw a lot of children’s skirts that were simple gathered rectangles. So, I decided to do a skirt out of two 60″ (150 cm) wide rectangular pieces. I gathered the skirt to a waistband and added a placket to the centre back. To mimic the blue ribbon in the bodice collar I sewed a strip to the hem of the skirt. I did not line the skirt as I didn’t want it to be too warm. I also left out the hem braid that I usually add as this skirt is much shorter than the skirts of adult women.

It was hard to get the skirt and the bodice to stay neatly together even with all the hooks and eyes and even with a couple of extra safety pins. Thus a belt was not only pretty but also necessary. I didn’t want to spend money on silk so I got very silk-like viscose and made a belt out of it.

The final outfit: bodice, skirt and the accessories

I finished the dress on the 1st of May and the meadow near the beach was filled with wood anemones.

The bodice front and wood anemones.

It was warm but the summer hadn’t yet arrived properly so the colours at the seafront were muted and we got to take some very nice photos.

At the waterline.

I was a bit worried about falling down on the rocks but S didn’t seem to have any problem even with her high heels. But I had a fresh memory of me slipping on icy rocks earlier this year at that particular spot and falling to the mud with my camera!

A side view of the bodice.
Another back view.

My daughter was very enthusiastic about her new Edwardian outfit. She immediately saw how the different elements of the dress work together to create a balanced look. She commented how the dress just doesn’t look right without the hat as the collar is so wide.

A proper front view of the whole sailor dress.

And of course, I had to reward my model with cheesecake and lemonade afterward in a cute café located suitably in an Edwardian villa. Here, she looks just like the Anne of Green Gables, only with brown hair.

The reward!

I bet my daughter that she wouldn’t wear the dress to school. I lost but I had so much fun imagining people’s faces seeing my daughter in an historical outfit! According to my daughter, a straw hat wasn’t very practical as the little kiddos couldn’t resist throwing it around like a frisbee and my daughter had to keep chasing her hat. She couldn’t stay mad at them, though. She also had to answer dozens of curious questions about her outfit which she gladly did.

After the photosessions and a day at school the dress was quite dirty. I was a bit afraid of washing the dress but I shouldn’t have worried. We still have several events planned where she can wear this dress this summer and hopefully it will not be too small even the next summer.

I hope you liked this post and the video. Do subscribe to my YouTube channel and this blog to get a reminder when I upload a new post or a video! See you soon! Happy Sewing!


I am a mother of two. I sew, knit and create and blog about it.


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