A Reworked Project: Victorian Spencer Bodice

I love reworking and up-cycling unwanted garments to give them a new lease of life and at the same time hoping that I am doing my small bit to save the planet.

Just lately I have been putting together a Pinterest board of striped Victorian outfits whilst simultaneously looking at the use of stripes in 20th century and contemporary fashion.

Striped fabric can be used in such creative ways depending on how the fabric is cut and draped. The stripes can be used both horizontally and vertically and both orientations can even be used for different pieces of the same garment. This is particularly effective on yokes and pockets. Stripes can also be cut on the bias and used diagonally to create some fantastic chevron patterns. Another technique is also to tuck some of the stripes to produce solid blocks of colour within a striped garment.

At present I am fascinated by the designs of the American mid 20th century designer, Claire McCardell who has been credited with being the pioneer of the American look comprising simple sportswear styles. Her designs were ahead of their time and would not look out of place on the catwalks of today. What was really innovative was her use of patterned fabric particularly stripes and checks.

So when I saw this shirt made of an attractive striped satin fabric in a charity shop I scooped it up. I could immediately see the reworking possibilities and knew I wanted to create a Victorian Steampunk garment from a basic office work shirt style.


One bonus of the shirt was the high collar band and another was the wide cuffs featuring turn backs.
To create the Victorian Spencer bodice:


  1. I cut off the collar leaving a small allowance to hem the edge and attached a some ruffled lace to the allowance using my overlocker. I turned the allowance to the inside and topstitched it down. The lace I used was flat and I used the ruffler foot attachment on my sewing machine. I only bought the ruffler a year ago for a specific project that required me to gather reams of ruffles. Although expensive the ruffler foot has proved invaluable as I can now gather anything I like quickly and efficiently. In fact the ruffler is so much fun I could easily spend all day playing around on it.
  2. I chopped off the cuffs above the placket to make three quarter length sleeves and again added the ruffled lace. Initially I thought about inserting some elastic to the cuff but in the end did not think the sleeve was quite wide enough and it works well as it is. I then shortened the shirt to waist length.
  3. Finally I used the 2 cuffs and 2 turn backs to make a wide corset waistband to create the spencer look. This was a bit more complicated but with some tweaking I was able to line up the stripes to create a horizontally striped band. As there were buttonholes in each end of the cuffs and turnbacks I successfully sewed them into the seams but it left a buttonhole at each end of the band. I therefore machined three more buttonholes next to the remaining buttonholes to create four lacing holes for the corset. The band was then attached to the waist of the bodice.