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Spencer ca. 1800. MMS 1991.239.2

It all started out so well, in the muslin, but in the wool, not so much. I cut up a remnant, proving that a yard and a quarter of 60” fabric is enough for a Spencer, even for my arm length (but not less, thanks to that arm length and a respect for the grain).

The pattern I’m using has bust darts, which I haven’t sewn in years. They took some tweaking with the steam iron.

In 18th century clothing, one doesn’t see bust darts; there are some above the bust, shaping gowns at the robings, but for the most part they aren’t needed. Think cones, thanks to the stays. And later in the 18th century, a lot of work is done by gathers and drawstrings, as in the white and black  ca. 1800 French spencer at the Met.

Spencer ca. 1818-1819. MMA 1982.132.3

Spencer ca. 1818-1819. MMA 1982.132.3

But if you’ve got an endowment of the non-fiscal kind, and you want your military-inspired garment to fit smoothly over your endowment, what do you do?

In this example, you hide the bust dart under braid and buttons. Check out that diagonal seam—and that the fabric appears to have been cut on the bias.
Brilliant, right? Gain ease by using the stretchy quality of the bias and hide the shaping under decorative elements.

Here’s an extreme detail.

Spencer, 1813. MMA C.I.39.13.48

Spencer, 1813. MMA C.I.39.13.48

In the garment below, of wool, three bust darts of the same length help shape the front. And again, decorative braid hides the shaping. 

It’s only cataloged as “wool,” with no weave given. There is a detail image of the darts and braid as well; I think that might be serge, and not superfine broadcloth. Still, three bust darts help achieve a smooth fit.

The Swedish Spencer at the museum in Lund has but one grainy photo: it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t have bust darts, but the photo leaves much to the imagination.