Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Sleeveless Silk Spencer

I have started on my Jane Fest sewing. First thing on the list was a sleeveless spencer to dress up my little white dress and give it a whole new look.

Sleeveless spencer from the met.

I was inspired by Natalie over at A Frolic Through Time .
She has been doing research and working on a lovely embroidered sleeveless spencer.

I found a sleeveless spencer to be the ideal garment for the Kentucky heat in July. It hardly adds any weight or bulk to my white dress and was quick and cheap to make! Perfect !
 Mine is quite a bit simpler than Natalie's, no amazing hand embroidery, just some rushing and a spiffy cut steel buckle to dress up an otherwise plain garment.
"bodies" in a 1799 London fashion print
Since Natalie had already done extensive research on these little vest like pieces of clothing I just had to decide what style  I liked and go and make one. There where endless possibilities, as it seems sleeveless spencers or " bodies" as they where called back then,  appear throughout the entire period from the late 18th century up to the 18 teens.

What seems to be a sleeveless spencer worn on the left, in this 1817 print

 I finally decided on a crossover styile somewhat like this pretty 1790's one ...

Detail of a print from Luxus und der Moden, April 1796
 ...just without the short sleeves.
To be thrifty I  used up the magenta sari silk that I had leftover from my Edwardian evening gown. It was just enough for the spencer and the color is nice and bright.

Magenta/purple sari silk

As a pattern base I used the crossover bodice top from the sense and sensebility elegant ladies closet pattern.

Pattern cover the crossover bodice I used as a base is on the left

 I had to cut it down quite a bit since these patterns are designed to be modest, and well I'm German I'm not modest.... but other than cutting down the neckline and adding a belt I did not have to change the pattern much. I cut a mock up from a old sheet to check the fit.

Bad picture good mock up.

 The mock up fit just fine so I went ahead and cut the silk for the upper and some of the semi sheer batiste  I also used for the christening gown I made a while back for the a lining. Both fabrics are very light and semi sheer making a very thin and breathable garmnet, a must when one spends the entire day outside as a vendor in 95 degree heat!

 Once I had the basic piece put together I contemplated what to do to spiff it up a bit, I considered making braid from some of the silk but decided on making some self fabric rushing after a friend pointed me to this period print of a crossover spencer with rushed trim.

Cook from Dresden Germany, early 19th Century

The trim was easy enough to make, just long narrow strips of silk sewn into a tube and then tightly gathered . I tacked it on to the neckline by hand and voila it really dresses up the garment!

Rushing detail

Then I added a simple belt, stiffened with a strip of coarse cotton duct. And as a highlight a vintage French cut steel buckle that I bough at Dress U!

Vintage cut steel buckle

 The buckle is purely decorative and the jacket simply pins in place, though I might add some hooks and eyes later if I feel like it. This was a fast, cheap and easy project and I really like the way it turned out. Can't wait to show it off at Jane Fest!

The sleeveless spencer in all it's glory!
I don't like this hat on me but it's hiding a bad hair day...
The fabric pulls a bit in the back which is due to the fact that it's a very flimsy material. 


  1. It's beautiful! And what a great idea to use the ELC crossover bodice as a base. It worked perfectly, and the finishing garment is stunning on you! Love the buckle as well.

  2. It worked out so very well! Great pop of color, very much of the period, and the ruching adds just that bit of luxe that's needed.

    So glad that you did it up. I am still working on mind; a round of illnesses and then vacation slowed me down, but hope to have it ready for Janefest!

    Very best, and yay for a grand success!


  3. thanks Natalie can't wait to see yours!