It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to make a Autumn themed ensemble in October, and photograph it in a local pumpkin patch. Last year I made an 18th century Redingote and the year before that, an 1890’s dress.
This time around I wanted to venture into a period I’m a bit less familiar with – and slightly terrified of (fitting, since it is halloween, huh?) : The 1880’s.
The bustle decades of fashion in general intimidate me. I think I understand how the dresses are supposed to go together, and the rough shapes the pieces should have. I mean I’ve read books about them, looked at original patterns, and scoured photos of dozens of extant garments! But I always get overwhelmed when it comes to making them, and had never finished one…until now!
It has its problems, but I learned a lot and its made me way more confident about attempting costumes from this period, so I think it is a success – at least in my eyes!
I went into this project knowing what period I wanted it to be from (the 1880’s) and what fabrics I wanted to use (orange silk shantung, black faille, and black sequined lace)…and not a lot else.
I tried to design it without referencing fashion plates, since I wanted it to be somewhat original. I also wasn’t too concerned about historically accuracy – I was OK with it having some fantasy elements to it (like fake spiders. and sequins. and fake spiders with sequins on them). I figured that would take a lot of pressure off me when constructing it, which was good since I only had a week to make this!
This was my first sketch, but I did make some changes as I got further along with this project.
I decided to make the skirt first, so I could drape the bodice over the skirt and hopefully have a better fit.
I also decided the skirt would be two layers. Layer one has a black base, with contrasting trim on the hem, and a sequined overlay.
Layer two is orange shantung that has been pleated and trimmed to form a bustle.
Both of these layers go on top of this petticoat, which I hemmed and pinned to be more appropriate for the 1880’s, and a lobster tail bustle straight out of Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines*.
I put the foundations on my dress form, took measurements off them, and used that to create a underskirt pattern. Well, pattern might be a stretch! I figured out the dimensions of the pieces, then these were transferred directly onto the faille with chalk.
This is the front panel of the underskirt.
…And the finished underskirt. I wasn’t great about documenting this. The back panel is just a rectangle gathered to fit the waist, with a ruffle sewn on to the lower half to add volume.
The waist was finished with ribbon, and closes with a hook at one side. Everything was stitched with french seams, except the top 10″ of the right side, which was left open to make the skirt easy to get on and off.
I originally wanted to add dagged trim to the hem – to look like Jack o lantern teeth, but I didn’t have enough fabric. So instead I sewed together several rectangles of orange fabric, hemmed them by hand, then pleated them down to add texture.
The pleats were kind of unruly, so I tack stitched them down 2″ away from the top edge. I also finished the top edge with binding, to prevent fraying.
I topstitched the pleats on to the underskirt…and then top stitched black binding on top, because I realized the white binding I originally used would be visible through the lace overlay (oops).
I don’t actually have any photos of adding the lace overlay, but it was effectively a three yard cut of lace that I trimmed hemmed, and gathered, until it fell just above the pleated trim. It was stitched onto the underskirt, just below the waistband.
I was originally going to fussy cut the lace into the shape of trees and hand-stitch it on, but I ran out of time and the lace wasn’t really dense enough to do that.
( In these photos the overlay is just roughly pinned on – it hasn’t been hemmed and gathered yet!)
This is also the kind of beginning stages of my bustle.
The bustle had three pieces – two “poofs” made out of rectangles with three sides gathered (the other edge makes up the hem, and was stitched by hand). And the front portion which draped down, and was made by draping the fabric and pleating it until I liked the shape.
The pleats were tacked down by hand, and the back edges were bound. Then I pinned lace across the pleats to add interest.
That was all stitched on by hand, too. And that was about it for the skirt! I added a waistband to the bustle layer, and a few hooks to keep is closed. There were also some plastic spiders added later, just for good measure.
The bodice pattern was draped over all the skirts, and though I draped/patterned it myself, I used a lot of original pattern images as a reference when placing the darts and seams (you can see some of them here, if you scroll around).
Then I transferred that to paper, and turned it into a mockup…which was way too big. Like so big I couldn’t even tell how well it would fit when taken in. I pinned the necessary alterations, then marked them all on my pattern.
This was mock up number two, which still needed a few changes but fit surprisingly well! I loved the shape of the hem, and I thought the fit through the bust and shoulders was pretty great!
Here is the “final” pattern.
Most of the garments I’d seen from this period were flat lined. So I cut each piece out twice, once from shantung, and once from a lightweight canvas-y fabric.
Each piece of shantung was backed with the canvas, then treated as a single piece.
Unfortunately I didn’t realize until after sewing all my bodice pieces together that I still had a large needle in my machine, like the type you use with thick wools. It had caused the seams to pucker quite badly. I didn’t have enough fabric to recut the entire bodice, but I did re-cut the front panels.
Here you can see the difference in the darts sewn with a silk needle (left) and one with the heavy duty needle (right). Changing your needle matters!
Now I had to assemble the center panels before doing a fitting. These were made from the black faille, and lined with the canvas material.
I bound the edges to prevent fraying, and used my machine to stitch 15 buttonholes into the left front panel. Then I sewed 15 buttons onto the other!
Here is the first fitting (this is before I replaced the font panels, so ignore the puckers!) – somehow the black panel was too short, leaving a gap at the shoulder. So I had to add an extension there. But everything else looked really good!
So I decided to add boning into the bodice. Most garments I looked at from the 1880’s had pinked seams, with boning sewn into the center. Though I wasn’t aiming for perfect historical accuracy (in case the sequined lace didn’t throw you off!) I did want to practice some historical techniques for future projects.
I used spiral steel boning for this, since I thought it would bend well with the curved seams. I loosely whip stitched 3/4″ twill tape around the bones, then used more secure whip stitches to sew the bones into the bodice.
Here is the interior – you can see the bones, and the grosgrain ribbon waist tape that I added.
You can also see the bias binding, which I used to finish the bottom edge of the bodice.
Now onto sleeves! I flat drafted these using a few measurements, but they were way too big.
This is take two, which was better, but still not great.
I think it took me three more attempts before I ended up with something I was happy with. I don’t have a worn photo, but this is the final pattern.
The sleeves were…one of the more frustrating parts of this project. It seemed like no matter how I lined them, what I lined them with or how much ease I added, they wanted to wrinkle.
Finally I attempted flat lining them with the canvas I used on the bodice, which seemed to work OK but still isn’t perfect. I realize now it must have been a drafting error…but I didn’t have any of those problems on the mockup!
The sleeves have a velvet cuff, which covers the top edge of more pleated trim. I also stitched on more lace, and I tried to make it look like the lace was crawling up the sleeves.
I sewed the sleeves onto the bodice, then trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/4″ and whip stitched it to the lining.
The bodice also got a collar (basically a 2″ wide rectangle with curves at the front) made of velvet and lined with faille. I like the contrast of the super black velvet against the less black faille.
Then I added a bunch of lace to the shoulder of the bodice…and a couple of spiders. My whole concept for this is that the lace is a spiderweb.
The final touch for this costume is the hat! It has a brim made out of buckram, a cap made from interfacing, and is generously decorated with lace and various halloween decorations. Including a whole fake bird I bought from michaels.
The interior is lined with gathered tulle, and cotton. A comb was sewn in so it can sit at an angle without falling.
Now up until this point, I was pretty happy with this project. And then I tried it on. And somewhere between adding the waist tape and sleeves, the fit became awful.
Or not even the fit, the fabric just…rebelled against me. It puckered really badly and rippled down the back (not something visible in ANY of my previous fittings) and the darts at the front strained too. But I don’t think it was too small. Because the bodice almost gaped away from my back.
Despite the fittings when making sleeve mockups going fine, it was suddenly really tight around the underarm and shoulder. But when the sleeve head was larger, it was baggy!
I think these problems would have been less obvious with a cotton fabric, or something without a sheen to it. Unfortunately one of the reasons I gravitate towards shantung, is because of its sheen.
I think I can probably fix it (or greatly improve it) by removing the boning in the back seam and taking it in slightly. I think removing the sleeves, letting them out, and cutting 1/4″ of material out of the armscye might help with the issue there…and I’m sure there are other fixes too.
But even with its faults, I’m happy with this project. I like the design of it, the fantasy elements, and the fact I finally finished a bustle dress! That fact alone has given me the confidence to attempt more…and hopefully those will fit a bit better.
Here are the worn photos:
I hope you’re having a lovely Halloween, and thank you so much for reading!