Making of Belle’s 1860-Inspired Bodice

Belle was a passion project of mine. After seeing the Cinderella’s dress in the 2015 live-action movie, I instantly knew that cut was meant for Belle. From the Basque waist to the bertha, this was not Cinderella’s dress. I sat and I waited, not confident in my skills to create such a gown. Then, five years later, I got the gumption to attempt the “Beast.” First I needed a design that was my own that I could love for my lifetime as I will never make her again. Going to the drawing board, I took inspiration from Cinderella, but I wasn’t in love with the relatively plain organza bertha. I realized to copy that style I would need to use roses instead of butterflies, and that just seemed boring and contrived.

The final design was my original drawing. I had dreamed of this dress for ages, so getting her onto paper was cathartic and definite. My design features an overlay of “rose petals” made from organza, tulle, and gauze over a skirt of gauze, and both those sitting on top of three petticoats. You can read my tutorial for the rose petals here. The bodice was to be taffeta with a bertha made from the same fabrics as the skirt, just controlled instead fluffy and unruly. But how was I to create such control in the bertha with fabrics that are inherently fluffy? How dramatic was I going to make the Basque waist, and how would I finish it? Those challenges were built into the design.

The final design: rose petal skirt with elliptical shape, Basque waist, and clean bertha
The final dress, I’d say I created the design quite closely
Fabrics used to create this portion of the corset: coutil, silk taffeta, and quilting cotton

Let’s start with the Basque waist. I wanted a dramatic point to the hem of the bodice, one that also pushed down the skirt fabric so it puffed up around the bodice slightly. So, I pulled out my trusty Simplicity 5006 corset pattern and went to town on the bottom edge of the bodice. I already had my base corset made from the same pattern complete (the one that is worn underneath the bodice), so it was a matter of shaping the hem to where I wanted and then adding a seam allowance. I brought up the center front 1″ from the original corset pattern, and brought the sides up to the waist, then down again in the back. I left the top of the corset alone with no alterations.

Needing incredible rigidity in the center front to hold down the fabric of the skirts and make the indent I wanted, I used 1/4″ hoop steel. This is a stronger, thicker flat steel than standard corset flat steel. I also used 1/4″ corset flat steel at the sides and the two bones to either side of the center front since there was no curve to them. The rest was done in 1/4″ spiral steel for movement.

I then needed to finish the bottom edge to make it clean. I could have just sewn a lining in, but I wanted a special detail. I decided to add piping, which I created from a bias strip of polyester shantung and a length of cording. I sewed the cording into the center of the bias strip. As you can see, I then sewed that to the front side of the bodice, clipping the corner to allow it to turn evenly at the center front. Once turned under (the second picture), I used hem tape to secure the raw edge on the inside. And whip stitching it to the interior lining without going through to the outer taffeta.

I then bound off the top edge of the corset with bias tape, leaving the interior unlined so I could more easily make alterations if needed. With the corset finished, I could direct my attention to the bertha.

On left: hand-made piping pinned in place around the center front. On right: piping sewn on and pinned in place to be hand-tacked down.

Ah, the bertha, aka the chest/shoulder piece. To create this part of the design, I needed to self-draft my piece. I measured around my shoulders where I wanted it to sit three times, and I got three different measurements. Apparently, measuring yourself isn’t the easiest of things when you’re doing it on your own. I went with the largest measurement and then added 2″ for ease of movement. That was my length for my roughly straight line I was making. I did need to angle it some from the center front, which I learned from tacking it on to the bodice and realizing I couldn’t move. Once angled, I had a pretty portrait collar that showed off my collar bone.

The real work was in the layering of fabrics that went into this bertha. At the base is a piece of polyester dupioni that has been flatlined with muslin. The muslin gave the bertha strength against stretching. On top of that dupioni are pieces of lace that were cut from a larger piece of fabric. I laid them out and tried to make them as symmetrical as possible. The lace features tinsel, so it’s quite sparkly. Once satisfied with placement, I then hand-basted the lace on the bertha.

That wasn’t enough for me. I then added 4mm pink pearl beads across the lace to add further dimension.

The original corset bottom sticking out from the bodice with the bertha pinned on. To the right is a close-up of the hand-basted lace and added pink pearls.

I started playing with fabrics to find the right combination that would look right. At first I believed that the yellow organza (pictured) would be correct, but it wasn’t quite the right color for underneath the gauze that matched the skirt. I needed something softer; I ended up taking some of the sparkle tulle I used in the layering of the rose petals and gathered that into the bertha. It was perfect, providing the fluff and giving a subtle sparkle to the look. I then layered on the silk gauze that I used for the skirting, gathering it on.

But it still needed to be controlled somehow. Enter the tubes of fabric; I added those evenly spaced across the bertha. They are the same length as the width of the bertha. The fabric I used is the same polyester shantung as the base of the bertha. This is intentional, I didn’t want the bertha to be an identical color to the bodice; it needed to stand on its own.

To keep continuity of the look, once the fabric layers and strips were applied, I then used the polyester shantung to bind all edges of the bertha. Now I had my base, but I was far from finished. This is plain, even with all the texture. You can see the lace and beading (and a few rhinestones I scattered around the lace) through the tulle and gauze, but the rest is boring. It screams for more, so more I gave.

The final look. I beaded and trimmed the bertha with as much curating as I could. I tried different trims, bead placements, and colors until I fell in love with the final embellishments I chose. To start, I made a large fabric rose out of a ribbon that was ombre pink and yellow horizontally. This was applied to the center. The small roses were premade, so I only needed to sew them on. Then came the beading. I beaded each of the strips with 4mm cream pearls; I did this through all layers, making the gauze and tulle puff out more in the space between the strips. Then the beading on the edge: there are exactly 13 pale yellow seed beads on each of the scallops to ensure they are even. The drops feature a teardrop bead, two 4mm pearls, and a pale yellow seed bead. This was done on the five front ends of the strips of fabric. The ends of the remainder were done with three 4mm pearls and a seed bead. I did not have enough of the teardrop beads to do the entire bertha (they were leftovers from my Anastasia cosplay).

With the bertha finished, I then tacked it to the bodice from the center front to the top point of the bust of the bodice on both sides (roughly 6″ total). I tacked the back about 3″ to either side. The rest of the bertha was left free, allowing a reasonable amount of movement.

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