Posts Tagged ‘Victorian Costuming’

One aspect of bustle gowns that make them so fun is the usage of a lot of different techniques and options in decoration. To not use enough of them you could arguably be accused of “modernizing” your gown – that is making it more palatable to 21st century tastes by streamlining it and removing the complexity. So here is a question in translation: does one make the gown pleasing by 21st century standards, or add the complexity and then risk criticism. When making drawings, one often wonders if a viewer will look at the gown and whisper that loathed phrase about the kitchen sink. This is a natural thought to a 2011 designer of a bustle gown.

Current designers are doing away with the complexity and trickiness that was fashionable a few years before for all that’s flow-y and drape-y. I am not unhappy about this move, and am affected by the morphic resonance. When approaching this next bustle, I feel compelled to be more thoughtful about the decorative and structural additions, making sure that they add something to the whole and the drape. But in this I am running the risk of deviating from authenticity and applying 2011 aethestic standards. Here are some random thoughts running through my brain as I plan:

  • Pleats: Contrary to intuition, they look divine in motion. Very few things can capture undulation like pleats at a full-bodied hem.  No point in pleating anything other than silk, light-weight cotton or linen, and don’t put it anywhere it won’t move if you want it to look good. To be entirely authentic, you could put them anywhere. But then you are taking the risk it will look stuffy to modern taste.
  • Ruching: Use with caution. Though ruching is great, it is currently a tad associated with grabby brides. Though this is probably a transient association, it does influence. I certainly want to avoid using it on a large scale to avoid modernity. One imagines the bridezilla stretching her hands across her waist saying “it makes me look so much thinner.” Hm.
  • Trims: Don’t use them unless they are an authentic material, or at least are a good-quality substitute. If you can’t afford silk fringe – or can’t find it – do some ruching, pleats, or clever usage of fabric. Simplicity is better than cheap trim.
  • Hems: early period and mid period bustles should have hems that move, or else they miss the mark in the romantic category. Late period bustles should move no where except the back  – and only if you have a train. Otherwise, one doesn’t really have a late period bustle.
  • Linings: No point in lining the WHOLE thing. This was a mistake I made in the last few dresses, when I was in love with the idea of lining the whole thing in silk. I’m over it now. Most dresses of he period were not completely lined.  Save yourself the trouble and the distraction and just do some facing.
  • If you are doing a high fashion bustle, mix up the fabrics. Our modern inclinations urge us to keep it simple with one type of fabric. The tastes of the time period were the opposite. Think of the architecture: exteriors could covered in gingerbread, shingles, clapboard, brick, iron, and half-timbering on one house. Upholstery would be patched together as well. It’s easy to get a little confused by the usage of multiple fabrics and textures, but it really has to be done. If you can’t find the fun in it, then you might want to try a dress from another period. To play a conservative route, one could use a silk and velvet in the same color, or the same colored silk with two different textures (My previous posts of the antique Victorian mid-bustle era gown I own showed lots of use of both matte and shiny silk satin. The pictures show how well this can look.), but the creation of depth and varying reflections of light and variations in tactility are absolute essentials for a fashionable Victorian bustle. Otherwise, you should just make a 1950s gown and save yourself all the trouble.

That’s all my thoughts for today.


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Hi, guys. I’ve been gone for a while after a baby and a big move.

Winter will shortly fall on our heads like a sharp and brittle wind-blown icicle. As I currently live in a city, skiing opportunities will be scarce though the winter will be colder and darker. A project is needed.

When we left off I was about to start an Edwardian corset, and had all of the materials to complete said project. Now, though I live in a bigger city with greater resources, and I intend to allow the fabric to do the inspiring. Though I wouldn’t rule out an Edwardian, I feel as though a luscious silk velvet bustle beckons – one such as the ladies in my Victorian city neighborhood would have worn when these brick row houses, and copper clad mansions were new. ‘Tis the season for velvet, eh?!

Onto those sketches!

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Dress Front with sleeves pinned on

The underskirt is 99% finished. Hah! All that remains are some extra hooks for closure. The back portion of the underskirt I trimmed differently then the front portion, which was common for the period. I was rather sick of rigid, straight up and down pleats, so I took a long piece of doubled over 16.5″ wide plum silk (8 inches when folded and turned), and pleated it in on itself  4 times every 8 inches. 8 seemed to be something of a magic number with the underskirt, because lots of things ended up being done in 8s. I don’t think there is any significance to this.

20090511_0002I have some sleeves, though they are not lined, sewed in, finished off, or decorated. They are pinned on for the photos. I used the plaid because I had a good amount of it left over and hated to waist it. It’s not one of those fabrics that you can coordinate with a lot of other things. It’s demanding stylistically, but wonderful, wonderful to work with. As far as fabric goes, I can safely say it’s the best I have worked with. It ranks a 10 in texture liveliness, personality, color, and ease to work with. I bought it on e-bay, and basically based the entire dress around it.

The sleeves are made in two pieces, so they have a slight natural bend at the end. I cut a big circle, then a hole in the middle, and ever so slightly gathered it into the bottom of the arms at the 4 cardinal points of the sleeve hole. I think I’ll sew plum pleating to the inside – if I have time – and I will trim where the circle meets the sleeve with a bow and such.

The side view looks so much better when worn, primarily because the dummy bends to the right and back, and because it has no derriere. Absolutely none.

20090511_0003I’m sewing some antique lace to the inside of the collar. It looks authentic because it is real antique, probably late 1800 lace. There was exactly the right amount.

The back bow will be basted, because there isn’t much on earth that looks more stupid than a screwed up out of place bow moving around a dress, or moving around anything for that matter.

This dress would not have been worn in high summer, but this time of year is perfect for it. It would have been a walking dress, worn to parks. I like to think it’s Parisian. Who else but a French woman would wear purple plaid silk?


I wish so much I could let everyone feel the dress! It feels fantastic with all of that silk, and the rustle is so inspiring! What the previous red and black bustle dress did for drama, this one does for texture and tactility. You just want to touch it!

She will embark on her maiden voyage in less than 48 hours… no more posts for a couple of days. Back to work.

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Center panel

Center panel

Not much action here as far as the dress goes. Lots of stuff to do. Time sensitive. Responsibilities.

But I have made the center panel. It’s not crazy exciting, but there’s a reason for that. I think the polonaise is way exciting by its own. One could have gone all out with the center bodice panel, just for the sake of going all out, and to show off. But, no. That was not done here. Restraint was used.

Why did I decide to construct it with a center panel? Doesn’t it make it more complex? Yes, it does. But it also leaves some room for fudging in case I gain or loose weight. I often imagine I may need to wear the dresses I make more than once, though it rarely happens. Yet, I am hopeful.

The center panel is interlined in heavy canvas. There are two 4 inch bones crossing the waist vertically. I also sewed a piece of cotton tape horizontally across the waist to reinforce it. Most of the brute force of holding the bodice on the body should be taken by the waist plackard (see previous post), but structural integrity is important, and, well, why not?

The center panel buttons on the inside with metal snaps. Hook and eyes could not have worked, because they would show. The snaps make the join flat, without leaving the gap between the base of the hook and the eye.

The center panel is lined in lilac silk. I pleated two pieces of a plum sash into the top side of the panel and tied them into a bow. I’ll iron the bow to be more flat and such later.

It’s hard for me to make the dress look good on the dummy. First, though its close, it’s not exactly my measurements. Second, it can not stand up straight.

20090508_0002To the right is the lovely back, all plaid and poufy.

I have some antique lace I will sew into the neckline, and the plan is to make a scarf that ties around the waist for yet another exciting bow.

The back half of the underskirt needs its pleats. I’m waiting to see how much plum I have left before I make them. The plan is to make the sleeves plum with some plaid trim. Almost all of the fashion plates I have seen using plaid fabric have the sleeve fabric contract from the bodice: either the bodice is solid and the sleeves plaid or vise versa. Again, there is also so much going on with the polonaise. It’s good to give the eye a break.

The dress will be photographed at the Lilac Festival here in Rochester, so it will have to be done soon. I’ll be making a hat, too.

20090508_0003Since I don’t have much else to show, I am posting a picture of my garden gnome. He’s really cute. One could stare at him for hours…

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So far.

So far.

The Polonaise is far from finished. But the components are slowly taking form. It will be so satisfying when I can breathlessly sew them all together. That’s the easy part.

The picture is not so good. But, what is shown in the photo is polonaise back train with it’s fronts turned back with little tassels, the finished side panels, and the unfinished back pouf. The back-top ouf still needs plum trim and tassels. Also, I might sew little lilac or plum bows above the tassels. Still haven’s decided. And also, the way it is turned back isn’t quite right in the photo. Why did I bother to post one at all?! I guess because I’m trying to show the progress.

The back pouf, or top layer, will have a sash that falls just above the points. I will probably tie it in a bow.

When you get to this stage in projects, you start to have doubts. Will people notice my little plum tassels? Should I redo that part I’m not happy with or leave it alone? Will it all matter anyway? I’m sure we’ve all experienced this. Then I remind myself, this is a Victorian bustle dress. Try your best, and see what happens.

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I’ve postponed finishing the skirt, primarily because I can’t make up my mind yet about how to allocate resources. In the meantime, i have started the ever so particular polonaise. Below are shots of the plaid pinned to the interliner, which is then loosely pinned to the dummy.

I changed the design. There will be a heavily pleated panel extending from the mid-back bodice (under the ‘V’), which will probably be poufed. From the side back bodice panels, I am sewing two side panels. You’ll just have to wait and see what it looks like.

Side Bodice

Side Bodice

Back center bodice

Back center bodice


Side from a distance


Back from a distance

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Bustle Portion of the skirt is attached to the top of the 3 panel train

Bustle Portion of the skirt is attached to the top of the 3 panel train

I made some small progress on the underskirt today.

The train is gathered and sewn into the cotton tape. The idea is that more cotton tape will be used to do more rigging in the future. But I decided that I wanted to cover the rigging with a darted panel. So the darted panel was sewn to the cotton tape as well. I will sew more rigging when I’m ready to attach the whole thing to a waist band.

An Apron is sewn onto the front 3 panels. It's gathered at the sides.

An Apron is sewn onto the front 3 panels. It's gathered at the sides.

I cut the apron and trimmed it with a pleated flounce. The apron is then sewn to the front panels.

The front panels and back panels are still not attached to each other, but I’m basically ready to sew them all together then insert the whole contraption into the waistband. Maybe tomorrow?

A friend wants to take photos of me and the new dress, so I have a deadline for completion: a week and change. Should be fun.

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