With my skirts basically finished, it was time to start work on the bodice. I specifically planned to make it before pleating up my trim for the skirts, since trim can be pieced together and fudged a bit, whereas the bodice needed to be perfect (and stripe-matched). Anyway, I used Truly Victorian 466, the Alexandra Bodice, and I admit that at first glance it looked pretty daunting. So many pieces! Obviously, I started with a mockup.
My first try wasn’t awful, but it needed some work:
The sleeves were too far off the shoulder and I think the back of the bodice was just a touch too long, which made the whole back wrinkle oddly. I took some width out of the shoulders, and shortened the bodice at the shoulder seam because it was loose in the upper chest and back. Plus, once I had all of my skirts on the added bulk at the front required some extra room over the tummy, which I achieved by adding a little extra flare to the bottom of the side pieces. Oh, and the sleeves were far too loose for my arms, so I took out a whole inch of width all the way down the back seam, and shaved off some of the curve at the elbow because it pooched weirdly when my arms were straight. So basically I changed everything. 😉
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 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 one of the issues I noticed when I first tried on my black moiré skirt with a pair of heels was that it was too short.* I’d originally hemmed it to wear with flats and without tons of petticoats (for comfort), but for a glamorous evening gown I wanted to look tall and elegant, and that meant heels, plus a petticoat to fill out the skirt shape. All in all I needed almost another 3″ in length to make the skirt just brush the tops of my shoes.
*Note: This skirt pattern, Truly Victorian 297, is gorgeous but runs a little short in my opinion. I’m 5’6″ and in order to have the skirt long enough to wear with flats I only had 3/4″ left to turn over as a hem (1/4″ and then another 1/2″ for a finished edge). If I were making this again I would lengthen it, and I’d recommend the same to anyone over 5’6″, even if you’re going to wear flats.
Until recently I’d never much cared for the 1830s in terms of fashion– the giant sleeves were off-puttingly wide (unlike 1890s sleeves, which somehow seemed more normal, perhaps because they were higher on the shoulder?) the ankle-length skirts looked awkward, and the giant bonnets were insane. No, I thought, the doll-like silhouette was not for me. But while at Costume College last summer I attended a really fun class on crazy 1830s hair, and then I saw a bunch of attendees walking around in smashing 1830s day dresses, and before I knew it I was hooked!
I picked up Truly Victorian 455, the Romantic Era dress pattern, and started browsing through Pinterest for fabric ideas.
I’ll admit now that although I’m posting about this nearly last, it was actually the first thing I worked on– it just took forever to finalize because 1) I was extremely indecisive about the design, and 2) That indecision forced me to place several separate orders for the various widths of ribbon, which took a while to arrive. But I finally figured out what I wanted to do, AND managed to get it done, so here goes!
As you recall, the plan was to stitch lengths of black velvet ribbon down the front of my skirt, with small gaps in the stitching to allow for attachment of ribbon bows when a dressier look was called for.
The first thing I did was go searching for velvet ribbon in various widths– I wanted the bows to be graduated in size, which meant I needed at least four different sizes to work with. After a bit of experimenting with ribbon I had in my stash I determined that the smallest bows would be made of 1.5″ ribbon, so that was a good starting point. I ended up doing my bows out of 1.5″, 2″, 3″, and 4″ ribbon. I also bought some 1″ with my initial order just in case I needed it (spoiler: I did not).
To make the evening bodice for this outfit, I could’ve bought a whole new pattern but decided (after some conversation with Heather from Truly Victorian at Costume College last year) to modify my Truly Victorian 442 ballgown bodice, which is dated to 1860. I’d used it for my embroidered ballgown before and knew that it fit me well through the torso, so it was a good starting point.
I wanted to lengthen the bodice slightly at the sides to flare out just a bit over the hip, and also change the neckline to bring it up onto the shoulder, because I’d read that an on-shoulder neckline was correct for the period.
I had a whole post written out about how I adjusted the off-shoulder neckline to be on-shoulder instead, then cut out a squared-off neckline to complement the puffed sleeves I had planned– I even made the whole bodice and bound off the neckline, basted in the sleeves, and took pictures for this post!
And then I saw a fashion plate from 1899 with an off-shoulder neckline and instantly started picturing how my gown would look better with a wider shoulder to make my waist look smaller in comparison. I spent an afternoon trying to convince myself that my (already finished) bodice was just fine, but eventually I caved and decided to fix it. In other words, to undo almost all of my pattern modification and hard work. (sigh)
So remember how for Costume College 2019 I made an 1898 black moiré skirt to wear as part of a Haunted Mansion ensemble? And how I got tons of extra fabric to work with based on the cut of the pattern pieces and a lucky break in my online order? Well, I couldn’t let all that go to waste, so I decided to use it to make some coordinating pieces– first, a formal evening ensemble.
The skirt will be the base, of course, and I’m making a ballgown bodice to go with it. I wanted to make sure that the skirt was both fancy enough to be part of a fabulous evening gown and plain enough to be part of a day outfit; I toyed with the idea of detachable flounces or snap-on appliques before the idea hit me– bows.
Velvet bows, to be exact– bows that can be fitted with small snap-on straps (like lingerie stays in the shoulders of vintage dresses) that slip behind gaps in the stitching of a line of plain velvet ribbon. Without the bows, the skirt will have simple rows of black ribbon down the front, but with the bows it will be dressier and tie in (no pun intended) to the bodice decoration.
I’ve decided to keep the gown completely black and accent the bodice with some black point d’ espirit netting, more velvet ribbon, and some black beaded appliques. This way I’ll be able to wear it with my gigantic rhinestone choker from the My Fair Lady costume and really make things sparkle in contrast.
Rather than buy an entirely new bodice pattern I’m going to adapt the neckline of my Truly Victorian 442 bodice pattern to make it suitable for a later period– it fit me so perfectly it seems a shame not to take advantage of that. I’ll pull up the shoulders and revise the shape of the waistline, which shouldn’t be too difficult, and replace the back lacing with hooks and eyes.
Later on I’m hoping I can make a daytime bodice with leg-of-mutton sleeves, but that’ll depend on whether I have enough leftover moiré. Wish me luck!
When writing this post, I initially started writing about how a problem facing many historical costumers is carrying all of our bits and bobs when many dresses come without pockets, and how finding appropriately period purses can be difficult. And I was going to talk about how that’s what prompted me to want a chatelaine, which was basically a multi-tool for 19th century women… but then I had to admit to myself that my desire for a chatelaine really had nothing to do with needing to carry stuff with me, and everything to do with it just looking really cool.
So what is a chatelaine? Basically it’s a hook or pin that women would attach to their belt/waistband. It would have several chains hanging from it, and dangling from the chains would be an assortment of useful items– pencils, watches, perfume vials, buttonhooks, needle cases, notebooks, coin purses… basically anything a woman might want to have handy.
Of course, these items weren’t strictly utilitarian– many chatelaines were made of silver, gorgeously embellished, and just generally decorative. Here are some of my favorites, mostly from the 1880s-1890s:
So, with all of this beautiful inspiration, is it any wonder I wanted one for myself?
The problem, of course, is that antique chatelaines with any attachments at all tend to sell for no less than $200, and easily reaching $2,000 depending on condition and complexity. I wasn’t about to spend that much, so I had to improvise.