First, I sewed up the underskirt, which is Truly Victorian 261. I did the plain back rather than the bouffant back, since I’ll be putting an overskirt on it anyway.
Like the petticoat, I lengthened the pattern for this one a bit– the finished skirt length was originally supposed to be 40″, and my actual finished length was 43″ including the height of the 1″ waistband. Also like the petticoat, this one came together really easily– it’s just rectangles and slightly shaped trapezoids, and the notches match up to make everything easy.
Because I had extra length from my patterning I ended up making the hem just a little bit deeper than called for– more like 1.5″ instead of 1″ (after the initial 1/2″ turnover). The curved hem of the back panel made the hem a little difficult, but I managed with judicious pinning. For some reason I decided to hand-stitch the hem, even though it’s going to be completely hidden by ruffles later on… I guess this will make it easier to re-hem if it gets dirty or ends up being too short or too long.
No ruffles yet– I want to finish up the main ensemble pieces so I know how much extra fabric I have to make my pleated trim, plus I need to make a pleater board.
Anyway, I’m very happy with it, and I can tell this pattern will make a great base for future bustle dresses. I’m tempted to add a bustle pad on top of the phantom bustle for a little extra oomph, but I’ll have to see how it looks with the overskirt on top before I make any decisions on that.
So this is my sketch for my new bustle gown project.
Looks pretty normal, right? But yes, you read the title right– it’s an 1880s Squirrel Dress. A bustle gown made of the most fabulous cotton print I’ve ever seen– at first glance it’s just an abstract floral-ish stripe, but take a closer look, and:
So the most important part of this gown is clearly the beetlewings (technically elytra, or wing casings, but “beetlewings” is easier to understand). Luckily for me, elytra from sternocera aequisignata (the species of jewel beetle most commonly used for decoration) are readily available for sale on eBay at very reasonable prices. The original gown is said to have had 1,000 wings on it, but just to be safe I ordered 2,000– it wouldn’t do to run out and have to order more from Thailand, after all! I thought about purchasing them pre-drilled with holes at the top, but decided that if I was going to have to clip them to size and put additional holes in for sewing anyway, I might as well save a little money and get them undrilled.
Once the tea gown was wearable, I added a few extra bits and bobs.
First, covered buttons. I bought several sizes, since I didn’t know which would look best on the finished gown, and ended up using sizes 45, 36, and 30 on the top, and sizes 60, 45, and another 45 on the bottom, all covered in turquoise dupioni. (I tried using 60, 45, and 36 on the bottom but it just didn’t look right) I stitched them not only to the lapels themselves but also to the gown fabric behind them, so they kept the lapels from flipping forward. I will note that I bent the wire shanks slightly so the buttons would stay flatter against the fabric.
I also added two size 24 buttons to the cuff of each sleeve, and let me tell you, covering buttons that small is kind of a pain. Quick tip: don’t try cutting out circles to the correct size and maneuvering them into the mold– instead, cut out larger pieces of fabric, push them into the mold with the button-top, and then trim around them.
Once the gown was structurally complete, I had to finish the edges. I first cut out a standing collar from turquoise dupioni– the original collar went all the way around to close at center front, but I wanted to keep the lace ruffle visible at the neckline so I shortened it to more of a 3/4 collar that stopped at the front edges of the lapels.
The original instructions called for me to attach the facings first, then the collar, so I cut out facings from more turquoise dupioni and stitched it around the front opening of the gown. The problem, however, was that the lined Watteau pleats were so thick at the back of the neck (10 layers in the pleats alone at center back!) that once the facings were added it was almost impossible to turn the seam allowance to the inside. I could manage it, but it made an uncomfortable and unsightly ridge that dug into my neck.
Instead, I decided to change things a bit and sandwich the seam allowance of the Watteau pleats inside the collar rather than turning it over. The seam allowance can lie flat (pointing upwards) instead of being folded downwards, making it much more comfortable at the nape of the neck. I will note that I only did this along the center back section, where the pleats were– once I hit the shoulder seams I transitioned back to the regular method. I stitched the facing on after the collar was attached, so the facing would lie flat on the inside rather than flipping up like the seam allowance.
After stitching together the body of the tea gown, it was time for the center panel. I cut my center panel lining out of my favorite ivory cotton sateen (I bought 12 yards of it a while back and it’s perfect for this kind of thing). It was actually cut in two pieces with an extremely large seam allowance in the center, just in case I need to let the gown out in the future. I hemmed the top and bottom edges with a narrow hem.
I cut the bodice and skirt sections of lace separately, figuring that I’d want a lot more fullness in the skirt. Then I ran a line of hand-stitched gathering stitches along the top and bottom of the bodice section, then at the top of the skirt section. I laid the panels wrong side up over the cotton lining, set my hems so the border matched up at the bottom and top, then drew the gathering threads up until they matched the dimensions of the lining at the neck and waist. I hand-basted the top and bottom lace pieces together through the gathers at the waistline, then trimmed the excess.
Looking at my fabric, I was relieved that the embroidery was basically omnidirectional, which meant that I didn’t have to be too careful about placing my pattern pieces when determining how to cut them out, as long as they were on-grain. But first I cut each piece out of plain white cotton sateen for lining (I used a queen-sized sheet set). I cut the lining first because it was 1) more expendable, being plain cotton, and 2) easier to draw on, which was important because I didn’t actually cut out the paper pattern pieces (instead poking holes in the paper with a pencil and making dots to connect on the fabric). Then I used the cotton pieces as pattern pieces when cutting out my fashion fabric. Sorry, no photos, I detest the cutting-out process so I try to get it over with as quickly as possible…
After basting all of the lining and outer pieces together for the body (which took forever, also a pain) I stitched my main seams, binding the edges of the seam allowances with Hug Snug seam binding to keep them neat on the inside (well, *neater*– my binding technique still needs work), and sewed in my darts.
I will note that I added pockets to the side seams of the gown– I’m not sure if keeping things in them might ruin the nice smooth line over the hips, but I’d like to keep my options open. I made them out of white cotton, with 2″ wide strips of fashion fabric at the tops so they wouldn’t show much if the slits pulled open a bit. Here’s the inside and outside:
I can’t remember where I got the idea, but I’ve been wanting a Victorian tea gown for a while now. What’s a tea gown? It started off as a casual morning wrapper to be worn for informal at-home occasions, and then apparently got more stylized and formalized over time until it became a whole new mode of dress– still for wearing at home, but no longer something it was unacceptable to be seen in by visitors. Jennifer Rosbrugh has a nice history of them here, and The Dreamstress has another excellent explanation here.
Anyway, I loved the concept, and after a little bit more research I decided to base my own tea gown on Truly Victorian 432. It looks relatively straightforward, and has Watteau pleats in the back (shades of a robe a la francaise!) that I love the look of.
While I was in Los Angeles last year I saw some gorgeous embroidered fabric for $2.95/yard (!) that I just had to snap up– at the time I’d had a vague notion of making this project but wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do with it, so I got 8 yards of embroidered fabric, plus another two yards of coordinating sea-green dupioni and an extra yard of pinky-bronze taffeta to match the embroidered flowers. Plus several yards of coordinating trim, because it was on massive sale at $0.99/yard! I figured that would be enough for anything. Behold, my collection!
I’m fairly sure it’s all polyester/acetate, but it’s so darned beautiful and I’ll line it with cotton, at least, so that’s something, right?