It so often seems that after you spend hours on a project that you’re very proud of, you come down to that bodice opening that you dread finishing. You know, ALL those hooks & eye to hand sew on.
How many to sew on?
How far apart do I place the hooks?
Do they need to be right on the edge, or are they placed further back from it?
True, you do have to put in the time and hand sew them on, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful process. You may already use many of the techniques below and that’s great! These are what I use in nearly all my projects for a smooth, historical-look finish.
For straightforwardness, we’ll look at simple bodice closures on a center front or back opening. Although these tips can be applied to late Victorian & Edwardian bodices, we’ll leave them out because of their complex, layered & non-uniform openings.
Inspecting original bodices – what did THEY do?
In my online research and, closer to home, studying the antique bodices in my collection, I’ve noticed a few consistencies in how seamstresses finished their bodices with hooks & eyes.
For one, they used A LOT of hooks. So completely throw out your training from your junior high home ec class on applying only four or five hooks to close a shirt. This is not good advice when making historical clothing. Stock up on packages of hooks, buy them in bulk. Take advantage of JoAnn Fabrics’ notions wall sales.
This evening bodice, circa 1860 and in my personal collection, is 10 inches long but has 12 hooks & eyes to close it. The left side seam allowances have been turned to the inside and topstitched to the underlining. The eyes, sticking out from the finished edge, have been hand sewn straight to the bodice inside.
The right side hooks follow the center back line, however the back panel was extended for a self-placket to hide the hook opening. The facing was folded to the inside, the raw edge turned under and whipstitched to the underlining just past the center line.
The hooks were tacked with a continuous thread – What do you think of this? – Great for speed but the thread between the hooks is loose and messy on the inside.
Also take notice of the very top and bottom hooks. They are set closer to the placket edge to keep it in place. They also help keep the bodice from un-hooking for when the young lady danced too vigorously. J
Now let’s move forward 40 years or so to the early 1900s.
This is the center front opening of the fitted lining under an Edwardian bodice, also from my collection. The fabric is a polished cotton and the raw edges have been finished with a facing strip.
What I find really interesting here is that the hooks & eyes are sewn on EXACTLY the same way as the ones on the 1860s bodice! Both use a very long strand of thread to sew on several hooks. However, the 1860s thread is one strand of a heavy twist thread whereas the 1900s bodice uses two strands of regular thread.
On both bodices the rings are covered all around with thread. The top of all hooks is stabilized as well as are each side of the eyes.
These hooks are set on about 1″ apart.
*It’s good to know that after at least 40 years hooks & eye sets were still being sewn on the same way. (Some things never change!) So if you sew your hooks on with one really long strand of thread that shows on top you’ll be completely historical.*
Guidelines for Sewing Hooks & Eyes on Your Projects
- The rounded end of the hook should be placed 1/8″ in from the edge.
- The round eye is extended just slightly beyond the edge so the hook can go through it easily.
- Sew across the head end of the hook head to hold it in place.
- Sew across the edges of the eye where it meets the garment edge.
- Evenly sew around the lower rings of both hooks and eyes; don’t group your stitches in one place.
- Cover the rings of both hooks and eyes with a strip of bias from your fashion fabric or underlining to keep things looking neat on the inside.
- This next tip I recently found in a 1917 dressmaking book and had never discovered it before. I will definitely be trying this next time. Historical Tip: “The rings of each hook should be spread, as this distributes any strain which may come on it and prevents its pulling forward.”
Of course if you’ve ever tried to actually *bend* a modern hook or eye – it’s hard! The metal is definitely a stronger alloy than what was used on garments a hundred years ago. You might have to use two pliers to stretch the rings apart.
- Sew metal bars or thread loops to the top side of the bodice matching to the hooks.
- Sew the metal rings of the bars as you do for the hook rings.
- Use thread loops for flat and invisible openings. (See the tutorial here.) These are used most often in Regency through early Victorian then again in the complicated closures of the 1890s through Edwardian periods.
Openings finished with hooks & eyes can gape open if you don’t pay attention to how the closure is completed. One reason for this is that the hooks are set too far apart. As with the originals, keep the spacing between hooks between ¾” and 1 ¼”. Closer together is better!
Hook & eye sets are the most used bodice closures in the 19th Century (probably closely followed by buttons & holes!). Since they’re pretty standard, practice making your technique quickly so it doesn’t take forever to finish the garment.
And if you want to “cheat” with a modern method, look at my tutorial on applying hook & eye tape.
Do you love or hate hook & eye closures? Do you find the hand sewing time pleasant or never ending? Share your thoughts below.