Victorian Bustle Era Dress


What else conjures up the image of a Victorian bustle dress better than an outfit complete with ruffles, lace, extensive pleats, swagged overskirt and plenty of trim?

With impending holidays looming in the near future, this historical costumer decided to tackle the construction of a bustle outfit (or dare I say two?) in time to be all festively decked out with ample “junk in the truck”!

Having already visited several fabric/textile stores in the general Seattle area, I had scoped out and then purchased, my stash.  Additionally, I had attended an estate sale, managing to pick up wooooonderful Pendleton wool fabic in smaller yardage quantities, but I think I can make it work.  Victorian fashions after all, seemed to be about as colorful as the homes in which they lived!

So where to begin?  Fortunately, Lady V already has a beautifully constructed corset, originally designed and built by the famous Marie Cooley of  “The Fitting Room”  Over this would be a corset cover (just bought a pattern for a new one!), followed by, ta-daaaah, “The Bustle”.

What exactly IS a bustle, say you?  Most simplest of terms, it’s the cage, wires (padding too), contraption, covered in fabric, which holds all the subsequent layers of the outfit away from the body.

For my complete outfit, I chose to work with patterns designed by the sisters from “Truly Victorian” patterns. 

The photos I am showing you here, are of pattern TV101.  Laying out the pattern was very easy and the instructions to put the item together, were also very straight forward.  With very little exception, I think that even a novice could understand the directions enough to put this together.

To make life easier and so that I had sturdy wire to use, I ordered the correct lengths of wire from Truly Victorian.  These arrived with the ends of the wire beautifully covered with “tips” to protect my fabric from fraying, due to the stress of being bent and straining to pop flat again.

One of the big challenges of the garment, was to sew down channels for the wires to travel within.  I used a wash-out-able, pink marking pen to designate where I’d need to stitch down the channels.

My friend, Miss Bobbie, who had already created the same garment before, advised me to use heavier fabric as my base, to help lessen the wear from wire from punching through thinner fabric.  The only place where I have used this heavy fabric thus far, is in the triangular back section which will house the bustle wires. 

Keeping this in mind, I chose to use a left-over, flat-fold item that appears to be white duck, twill, or possibly denim as my base.  To create the channels, I chose not to cut strips of fabric.  Instead, I purchased enough length of corset bone channeling, plus enough for turning and double-thickness for the ends.

Lickety-split, this part of the project went together  quickly.  Now it was on to preparing the length of fabric which would become the ruffles to cover and hide the structure created by the wires.

The bottom flounce and subsequent back ruffles, are all created from white eyelet.  The flounce has a 3″ hem.  I also clean finished all the seams using a French seam method.

On the inside, I was instructed to sew strings, ribbons, tape to hang down loosely inside the structure.  These would be tied together eventually (left to right), forming the “u” of the cage needed for “Da Look”. 

As you can see, I used ribbon instead of string.  The type is flat and has the little “bumps” along each edge.  My reasoning (tho I might be incorrect in this assumption) is the more texture = better traction to hold the bow the ribbon gets tied into in order to hold that “u” shape of the wires.

Next up: Ruffles.  Good GOD Margo!  How many yards are we talking about?  I sewed all the 13 strips, end-on-end together. For a moment, I thought it stretched as long as my house is wide.  Then I clean finished the “hem” edge of the entire long strip.  At this point of assembly, I’m tired.  I either need medical attention, caffeine, or assistance from the mathematical and carpentry genius – Sir Harry of Essex – to help me measure and cut the long strip of fabric into the pattern specified lengths for each layer of ruffle (there are 7 of them in my case) used.  At least the pattern designers were smart and started with the longest ruffle first, or we might’ve committed hari-kari… (wink)

Like a knight on a white horse, the shy Sir Harry rode in to save the day!  He whipped out his reading glasses.  Firmly grasping on the fabric and tape on one end, he worked to measure the accurate lengths before snipping them.  One by one, I then ran a row of basting stitch on the unfinished long edge.  Working together, we then proceeded to pull the stitching up and pinned each layer to the correct position on the back over panel.  What a guy!

One question we figured we’d face on Monday was, “Sooooo, Sir Harry, whatcha do Saturday night?” 

To which his reply would be, “Oh, I was busy sewing and pinning ruffles on a bustle….”  What would you give to be a fly on THAT wall???

The panel went together quite well and easily.  The far edges of each layer were then caught into the clean-finishing along each side of the panel.  Very clever, very tidy!

I had added the waistband at one point in the process.  Realizing how much stress is put on a waistband’s hook-and-eye closure and the likelihood of the fabric being stressed (okay, I’m fat….), I opted to make it out of the same heavy twill fabric together with the fashion fabric. Turned out well, we think.

Once I have all the pieces of the Victorian bustle outfit completed, I will post photos of each garment on-body so you’ll have a better idea of how they will work together.

Now, I’m on to sewing the “underskirt” of silk, as the next step in the project.  It’s quite beautiful fabric.  Has that one-way it’s beige and another-way it’s burgundy sort of weave.

Oh, Sir Harry – I’m gonna show you how to help me make a “poof” in the skirt….

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~ by situseattle on November 11, 2010.

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