1880s Squirrel Dress, Part III: Overskirt

I was pretty excited to get started on the overskirt for this dress– the draped front and puffiness of the back was what really made the “Bustle Era” look for me. I used Truly Victorian 265, the August Overskirt, and while I did have to fiddle with it before it looked right to me, it turned out great.

I cut out my fabric and stitched up the front panel, then pleated the sides according to the directions and pinned it to my dress form over the underskirt. Immediately I knew I was going to have an issue– the swags just weren’t holding their shape, instead looking rather droopy and making the whole front a lot longer than I’d expected. Before cutting anything off, though, I decided to try a few fixes.

First, I flatlined the front with nylon net– I’d already bought some to flatline the back (as suggested in the pattern) so I figured that lining the front would likely help stiffen up my quilting cotton. Since I’d already stitched the front together I couldn’t do a true flatlining, so I kept the net flat to the fabric by running lines of stitching down the front seams where they were basically invisible anyway. That helped, but it still looked sad.

Next, I took a closer look at the pleats and realized that the pattern diagram might be subtly telling me something about how to align them. I’d originally pinched the pleat, then lined up the cut edges of the pleat with the original cut edges of the fabric before pinning and basting it in place. What this was doing, however, was tilting the pleat inwards towards the center of the skirt, allowing it to droop down further. When I left the pleats straight, they were pulled more firmly across the front and kept their shape a little better. I just trimmed off the corners at the end.

Finally, in order to keep the pleats from falling open directly from the sides, I hand-tacked the insides of the pleats together a few inches out from each side, which you can see above.

After all that, the overskirt front looked much better on my dress form, but it was still too long given that I planned to put a pleated ruffle at the bottom. I trimmed off about 4″ and re-hemmed it, which was just about right. I will note that it occurred to me well after the fact that I most likely could have solved my “pleats not showing” and my “skirt too long” problems in one go by simply re-pleating the skirt with deeper pleats, but for some reason I didn’t think of it until I’d already finished. (sigh) Next time…

The back of the overskirt was a lot simpler– I flatlined it with net, again running lines of stitching every 8″ or so to keep the net in place. My striped fabric was fantastic for disguising my stitching lines. I pinched my pleats, inserted my plackets, sewed the front and back together, and added my waistband. At last, it was time to try it on!

I know that last line sounded like foreshadowing of some disaster, but it actually looked great. The pleats looked much better on a real body than on my dress form– so much better, in fact, that I wondered if I’d really needed to go through all of those steps above to get it to look right. I think the flatlining was necessary, since quilting cotton just doesn’t have the same amount of body as something like taffeta. The tilted/straight orientation of the pleats probably didn’t matter in the long run– I think that once the skirt was actually pulled across my hips and legs rather than hanging from a dress form, the added width made for enough tension to keep the pleats in place. I do think the hand-tacking helped, though, and if not I can always pull it out later. Again, next time I’ll just try making the pleats deeper and seeing what happens.

Anyway, after that I added the vertical bustling tapes and fussed with them until the poufiness of the back looked right– I ended up tacking down the middle tape in two spots for extra pouf. I only ended up using one set of horizontal tapes since the skirt was shorter overall than originally. I hemmed the back at the very end– it was out of order but I wanted to check the bustled length before hemming. I actually folded the square corners in to round them off a bit– it wasn’t really noticeable in the folds of the overskirt but it’ll make adding trim easier.

Overall I really like this overskirt– it seems quintessentially Bustle-y to me, and now that I know a few of the ins and outs of putting it together, I’ll definitely use it again.

Also, it apparently makes a great cat bed.

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