A bustle dress for Marije – Progress

Around summer last time, I decided that I really wanted to go to the Victorian ball in Bath coming May. But I was hesitant to go alone, so I called a friend and asked her if she’d like to join me. We’ve been to a couple of Regency-themed events together, but she’s not a seamstress, so I offered to help her with her dress. She agreed, so we’ll be going on holiday together, and plans started on the dress!

She’d seen some images online, and had a particular color palette in mind, so that was our starting point. I ended up taking the 1870-71 day/evening dress from Janet Arnold’s patterns of fashion as main inspiration, as it was close to her inspiration images. This is the original dress with the ball bodice.

Manchester City Galleries

 

Back in autumn, I found fabric for her at the market, and with that choice made created the following design.

The corset and bustle cage would be made by someone else, as I felt that was a bit too much to take on. The only thing I’ve ever made for someone else before now was a pleated rectangle skirt, so I wanted to be a bit less ambitious. We started back in November with the underskirt, as I had a bustle she could try on and waist size wasn’t too important for the skirt. We used the Truly Victorian 201 underskirt pattern. I’d used this before, and as we’d be making the skirt together I thought using a pattern might be a good idea. At the end of that day, we had the basic very nearly done, only the hem left.

foto van Marije de Vries.

At the end of the day, wearing the skirt on top of my bustle and a substitory underbust corset.

 

For the rest, we divided the labor. My friend really wanted pleats on the skirt, so I suggested that she make those. It’s not very difficult to do, just time consuming, so perfect for someone with less sewing experience. I would make the overskirt base using the Janet Arnold pattern. I’d also make the bodice, including bertha and the basque (belt-thing). The overskirt base was made sometime in January, scaling up the pattern worked out quite nicely! I took the original waistsize and the one I wanted, and the original length and the new one which would give the same proportions. From that, I scaled the width/height. The back was gathered instead of cartridge pleated, to save some time. The only other change I made was to the closure. Because I didn’t yet know the exact finished waistsize it’d need to be (no corset yet), I made a split at the side. The front is still open, but it always needs to close at exactly the same point to look good. A split in the side will be far less noticable than center front.

foto van Marije de Vries.

 

Fast-forward to end of February, when her corset was done! This meant we could start on the bodice, so she came to my place another time. She’d already sent me her corseted measurements and I’d cut out the bodice lining with a very generous seam allowance to use for fitting. In that day, I managed to fit and construct the whole bodice, and pattern and cut the bertha and basque.

 

foto van Marije de Vries.

Fitting time! Second fitting was for marking the final waistline and neckline.

 

foto van Marije de Vries.

Trying on everything together at the end of the day. It still closes with pins, but we’re starting to see it come together!

 

She spent all day cutting out strips for the pleats, and managed to seam a lot of it and get started on the pleating. We’ll need 6m of pleated trim, which means there’s 18m of fabric to seam (on both sides) and pleat. (This was the point where she wondered what she’d gotten herself into 😉 ).

foto van Marije de Vries.

 

The next couple of weeks I spent time making up the bertha & basque, finishing the bodice by hand-sewing all the edges and putting in boning, and trimming everything.

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Boning, made of heavy-duty zip ties sewn into bias tape channels.

 

The bertha and basque are both trimmed in small pleats, first roll-hemmed and then box pleated. Those for the bertha were 3cm wide when cut out, for the basque I made them 4cm. After hemming, I sewed them on in the middle of the pleat, which gives a nice 3D effect. For the bodice I made the mistake of pressing them slightly before sewing them on, which slightly kills the effect. I figured it’d be easier to sew on this way, but in the end it wasn’t worth it. They’ll fluff back in time, but just for anyone trying this type of trim; it works best without any pressing.

foto van Marije de Vries.

The pleating process. About 7,5 m for both the bertha and the basque. It took a lot of pins!

 

foto van Marije de Vries.

The pleats really set off the bertha. It’s nearly invisible without them, but they give a nice contrast.

 

foto van Marije de Vries.

The same goes for the basque, which is also lined in the light blue.

 

The finishing touch for the bodice & overskirt were the fabric covered buttons. I opted to do them the modern way, for practicality’s sake. The buttons are all decorative, everything actually closes with hooks and eyes. I saw that the original had this on the overskirt and decided it’d be a lot easier than sewing all those button holes by hand. It also makes slight re-fitting more easy, moving hooks & eyes is simpler than moving a button hole!

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Buttons on the bodice

 

For the overskirt & bertha I used metal hooks & eyes. The bertha is left open on one side, and sewn to the bodice on both shoulder seams. The front part hangs loose and is attached to the shoulder with hooks and eyes. For for the bodice I decided to do the eyes with thread. This shows a bit less on the right side of the fabric.

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Closure of the bodice, metal hooks with thread eyes.

So this is where we are now! The bodice & bertha & basque are done. The overskirt only needs the pleated trim. Pictures were taken on my too small dress form for now, pinned to the back to fit, so only a front view. Pictures of the full outfit worn will follow when everything is complete!

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1870’s early bustle ballgown photos

Although I’ve already posted images of both the skirts and bodice of this dress, it needed one final finishing touch. The main colors of the dress are pale yellow and black, but I always planned to have some dark red roses as accents. With those done, it was time to finally get some images with the whole ensemble on! A more detailed description on how I made the roses is at the bottom.

The top of the bodice on the dress form, including rose.

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Wearing the full ensemble! From the front.

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And another one, if only to see the bodice point better. Extra roses worn in my hair!

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From the side.

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Moving towards the back.

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And from the center back. Small disclaimer: I put on the whole dress, including bodice, by myself. So it’s possible! Only I missed a hole when lacing, and it gapes a bit at the bottom. Luckily I’ll have help when I go to the ball in this.

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I really loved wearing this, if only for an hour for pictures. It feels very elegant, and the silk makes a wonderful sound. I doubted for a bit if I would actually make the roses, as it felt quite finished already without. I’m very happy I did though, it gives just that little extra touch. The whole ensemble also quite easy to move around and sit in, which is always a plus! I’m really looking forward to wearing this in Bath next may.

 

As for the flowers, I looked at various tutorials for making fabric roses, and eventually settled on a method using polyester fabric strips. The actual tutorial disappeared in the day between me making the flowers and writing this, so linking to that page is useless. I’ll try to describe the method as well as possible here, but as a disclaimer; I didn’t think this out for myself, someone else very generously shared this process online first.

This method only works with polyester fabric, as you need to melt the edges. Not historical, but polyester lining fabric (which is what I used) is a lot easier to source than silk anyway. It also gives such a pretty result that I wanted to try it out.

The first step is to cut strips of fabric. The original tutorial advised 45″ strips of 2″ to 3″ wide. My strips were therefore 110cm long and 7cm wide at the widest part. I cut the fabric in ‘waves’, making smaller waves in the last 15 to 20cm for the center of the rose. After cutting, I melted the edges. The bottom edge was molten just slightly to prevent fraying. The top was molten more to also shape the petals a bit more.

The strips are then gathered at the bottom and rolled around themselves while stitching it together at the bottom. I finished them by sewing a circle of felt to the bottom. I attached all roses to a clip so I can remove them from the dress if I want, and I made a couple extra to put in my hair.

Because I was planning to just refer to the original tutorial I didn’t take too many pictures, but here you can see the stages. Far left is cut and molten strip, middle is gathered strip, right finished roses.

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1870’s ballgown bodice

After finishing the skirts for my 1870’s ballgown, it was time to continue with the bodice.

The pattern I used is the same as for my 1860’s velvet ballgown bodice. It still fitted correctly even with my new corset, so that was easy enough!

 

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I did make a mock-up first to check if the fit was still right. Pinning it center-front makes it a lot easier to fit on yourself!

 

The base of the bodice is silk with white cotton interfacing. All pattern pieces were flatlined first, cotton and silk stitched together along the edges.

After flatlining, main construction was pretty straightforward. Simply sew everything together and press open the seams. Two darts are sewn on each side in the front panels. These I left double (didn’t cut them open), because they’re pretty narrow.

 

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Inside view before the darts & shoulder seams are sewn.

 

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Trying it on my dress form after the main construction

 

The top, bottom & sleeve edges of the bodice are finished with piping. One row for the top and sleeves, two rows for the bottom.

To make the piping, I cut 2,5cm bias strips out of the silk fabric. Placing a cord inside & stitching next to the cord finished the piping.

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Drawing bias strips on the fabric. The ruler I still have left from high-school! The little marks I use to place on the previous line to measure the distance to the next line.

 

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Finished strip of piping

 

Applying it was done by stitching it to the right side of the fabric along the edge, the raw edge of the piping facing the edge of the bodice. For the second row, the process was repeated with a second strip closer to the edge. I tried to be careful to stitch as close to the cord as possible, and place the second row of piping as close to the first one as I could.

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Sewing the double row along the bottom edge. It didn’t center as well as I would’ve liked… I did cut the seam allowance of the piping strip right on the sharp point to help it a bit.

 

 

After stitching, I cut away most of the seam allowance, leaving only the top layer of piping seam allowance. The rest was cut to a couple of mm. The top edge was then folded to the inside twice and stitched down by hand over the seam allowance to make a neat inside finish. The double piping wasn’t perfect, at some places it gaped a little, In those places I made some little stitches to let the rows lie closer together. Especially along the point of the bodice this helped, as that’s the tricky spot due to the strong curve. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with how this turned out as it was a first attempt at double piping.

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Finishing the inside on the sleeves.

 

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After sewing down the allowance to the inside. Better centered, but there’s still a bit of gaping going on.

 

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Adding a couple of stitches helped bring the cords together!

 

The inside of the bodice was further finished by stitching down all seam allowances by hand. The typical flatlining construction of Victorian bodices leaves the allowances visible and stitching them down prevents fraying.

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Piping and general seam allowances stitched down.

 

After this, boning was put in. I used heavy duty cable ties. They’re a lot cheaper and lighter than steel, and a bodice doesn’t really need the extra strength steel gives when worn over a corset. I made cotton fabric tubes to place the boning in and sewed those down by hand. There are 7 bones in the bodice, center front, on the outter darts, side seams and center back. The bones in the center back were entered slightly differently as this was the edge, so I sewed a cotton strip right sides together to the center back sides and turned this over to the inside catching the bone. I don’t know if this is a period solution, but it worked okay.

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Sewing in the boning channels with boning inside.

 

Final step to finishing the base of the bodice was sewing the eyelets. The bodice laces in the back and has 12 eyelets on each side, spaced 2cm apart. The first one I sew is always a bit wonky, and they get more even as I go on. Practise makes perfect right?

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Eyelets in the back

 

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Back from the inside. Never mind the little dots, I got a bit off kilter when making a guide for the placement of the eyelets.

 

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The base lying flat, from the right side

 

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And from the inside

 

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Lying flat as it was meant, from the back. I really like how you can see the curve around the waistline.

The last step was trimming the bodice. I originally planned a pleated bertha, but with all the ruching and lace on the skirts I reconsidered. I had just enough of the broad lace to finish the top edge of the bodice in lace. Because I really wanted to let the lace return in the bodice, I chose this option. I had to piece the lace in 2 different places to get enough and had about 1cm left at the end. It’s a bit narrower in the back, mostly because placing it this way was easiest. I do like the effect this gives though. Because the lace only just fits, I also stitched it down on the center front point to avoid it riding up.

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Lying flat (sorry for the cropped point). It’s a bit difficult to see because of the dark background. Will get pictures on me in the future to show off the contrast better!

 

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Folding it correctly helps a little already

 

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From the back

 

I considered putting more trim on the bodice, but I can’t really think of anything that would both look good and retain the ruching/lace theme as seen on the skirts. So I think I’ll keep it like this.

The only thing which might still be added are flowers! My original design features dark red roses along the top skirt and bodice. I still need to pick the exact shade and make these, so that will be the finishing touch!

Bustle design

Bustle Skirts

Since my last post on my 1870’s dress, I’ve continued working on the skirts. In total the skirt consists of 3 garments, an underskirt, overskirt and separate train. The separate train isn’t really a typical thing for the 1870’s, most of the time the underskirt would be trained and could be bustled up. I wanted to be able to remove it completely though, so I decided on a separate train.

The underskirt was made with the Truly Victorian pattern TV201.

TV201 - 1870s Underskirt

It was a great pattern, very easy to put together. My only note would be to check the length you need before you cut. I ended up doing a white cotton hem facing so I only needed about 1 cm of skirt fabric to do the hem, but I also didn’t really have much more! I consider myself short, but I have to remember that’s by Dutch standards (I’m 1,67m). So if you’re average or taller, check if you don’t need to cut extra length on this pattern.

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The hem facing on the underskirt. It was machine-sewn to the bottom and finished by hand at the top.

Also, this pattern has a pocket option! To make it a bit more sturdy I made the main part of the pocket from cotton instead of the silk.

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Pocket from the inside.

From this same pattern, I also made an extra petticoat. Although my bustle has ruffles built in, the weight of the skirts and train warranted an extra layer. The only thing I did different was that my petticoat doesn’t have a pocket and I made ruffles for the petticoat.

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Ruffle

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A rolled hem on all the ruffles.

I made some pictures of my skirt over the bustle, with & without petticoat. These were taken before I trimmed the skirt, and really show the difference.

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With bustle cage underneath

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With bustle & petticoat underneath

 

The basic construction of the overskirt I patterned myself and already blogged about here. The only addition I made was black lace around the edges.

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The black lace on the edge of the overskirt

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From the inside.

The train I patterned myself as well. It’s basically a rectangle with a curved end, pleated on the top side to lay smoothly over the bustle.

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First stage of patterning, old sheets!

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The eventual pattern on paper. Every square is 5cm.

I didn’t want to add an extra waistband, so I’ll be attaching the train to the overskirt. The overskirt has ties on the inside from the bustle. In these ties I made small buttonholes near the top. The train has buttons at the top to attach it to the overskirt.

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Buttonhole in one of the bustle-up ties on the inside of the overskirt.

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The top of the train, with 3 buttonholes to attach to the ties. In the photo it just lies on top of the underskirt, that’s the waistband you see behind it.

Unlike the base and over-skirt, I did line the train. Because my fabric is super thin and light, I wanted a bit extra weight to make it fall properly. The whole train is lined in white cotton, the silk edges flipped over and sewed down by hand. The very top of the train is made of just white cotton, as this part won’t be seen anyway. It’s hidden beneath the overskirt.

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The finished train from the inside. The lining starts where the silk does on the outside,

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The top of the train from the inside. As the top of the lining was on the selfedge of the fabric I left it as is.

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The edge of the train. The silk was turned over twice on top of the cotton lining and sewed down by hand.

 

Next it was time for decoration! I used a very pretty black tule lace as main decoration. The lace was sewn to the train both near the top and at the bottom to make it stay flat. At the top I used black thread to blend with the lace, at the bottom pale yellow so it wouldn’t show if the train happens to flip over a bit. For the skirt it’s only attached at the top.

As the top of the lace is cut tule, I also wanted something to cover the top. I looked at various trimmings and eventually settled on this ruched design. I generally like pleated trims better, but they are very geometrical and in this case a more organic design fitted better with the lace. The added bonus is that this trim is relatively quick to make and takes relatively little fabric. Only about 2 times the finished width instead of 3 as for pleats.

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I made small bits of trim to check whether to do pleats or ruches. 

I debated whether I would hem or pink the edges of the trim. Pinking has the advantage of being much quicker and saving bulk, but hemming is more common. I eventually settled on pinking for practical reasons. Most Victorian pinking is shaped in half circles with small triangles. Modern pinking lacks the half circles, especially when using a scissor as I did. But I figured since the trim design leaves the edges slightly curved anyway it’ll barely be noticeable.

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Strips for trim cut with pinking scissors

For making the trim, I first cut strips and sewed them together. Next was measuring and drawing the seam lines. My strips were about 8 cm high, and the triangles have a bottom length of 8 cm as well. After drawing was sewing the gathering stitches. I ended up sewing per 3 lines, not wanting to gather huge pieces with 1 gathering string. Final step was gathering the trim. And, of course, sewing it on.

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Marking triangles. The cutting guide of lined pattern paper came in handy to measure every 8 cm

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Gathering stitches

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The finished trim. 

All in all, I sewed on about 10m of lace and 9m of trim (made from 18m of strips) by hand. For anyone who thinks sewing the dress together takes most time, not quite ;). The trim really does make the dress though.

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To finish up this post, some pictures of the different layers while worn! (Apologies for the weirdness of my chemise in the back… It’s not supposed to be that wonky)

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Early Bustle Ball gown

Last year in May, Izabella from Prior Attire organized a Victorian ball in Bath. I didn’t go, but I saw a lot of images of the event, and many gorgeous visitors. I decided at that point that it’d be worthwhile to put the event on my wish-list, just to see if it’d be possible to go one time. It would have to involve a holiday as I don’t actually live in the UK, but it’s always fun to dream.

Shortly after the ball, the theme for next year was announced, namely early bustle. Even though I had no concrete plans to go, I started looking at gowns from that period and eventually decided to just make one! There’s another ball a bit closer to home in January, so if I could manage to finish before then I’d be able to wear it anyway.

So a new project was started! I now have the corset and bustle/petticoat finished, and it’s time to start working on the dress.

When settling on what to make, I started with looking at ball-gowns from this period, namely 1870-1876. I found quite quickly that most are actually a bit too frilly for my taste. Most dresses I saw had some elements I didn’t like. Some had a lot. I quickly decided that the ruching you see a lot was not for me.

Something like this was a nope…

Le Monde Elégant 1870:

So instead, I went looking for what I did want, to see if I could incorporate this into one design. First up was color! I didn’t have too much choice, as I wanted to buy the fabric at an outlet. This made buying silk possible budget-wise, but given how much I’d need I would depend on stock. Almost all ball-gowns in fashion plates are white or pastel. The very occasional red or black appears, but pink and baby-blue were definitely popular. It’s a little too sweet for me though. So I decided to go for a light green/yellow/sand color if I could find it.

And that worked out! I bought a lovely thin but sturdy taffeta in a very pale yellow/lime color. It’s fairly difficult to photograph the color right, but this comes pretty close:

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On to the rest of the design! I knew I wanted a train, as almost all ballgowns seem to have one. It’s not always practical though, so I want a train I can bustle up or remove. This means having the train as an over-skirt so that I can either remove it or bustle it up by attaching ties on the inside, should be doable!

For the front and back overskirt, I decided to keep it simple. This’ll be my first time making a bustle, and I don’t want to make it too complicated for myself. So the bustle will be based on a pattern as shown in this video.

For the underskirt I don’t want a train, so I can wear the dress without one. Ideally with trim all the way around so the train can be removed. I’m not certain if I have enough fabric for a lot of pleating, so I settled on another type of trim. Lace! You see quite a lot of examples of sheer-ish black lace on top of light fabrics, something I really like. This brown dress is a nice example:

Le Monde Elégant 1870:

So, lace it is! I also decided that I want flowers. They’re so typical for the period, and can serve to bring a little color into the picture. I’m aiming for (dark)red.

For the bodice, I’m going for pleating, inspired by this image, although I’ll probably do the basic puff sleeve.

 

Although I haven’t got the lace and flowers I’ll eventually use, I pulled something from my stash just to look  at the color combinations.

 

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And with everything kept in mind, this is the initial design! I might change some things along the way, but this is the plan!

Bustle design

To finish off, shortly after I made the design image, I found this fashion plate. I love how the middle dress resembles my design. I might even go for the lace as bertha as well…

Godeys 1874:

New Victorian Corset

As soon as I finish a corset I want to make a new one, nevermind that I don’t wear them all that much. My last underbust wasn’t any different, and I started playing with a new pattern almost right after finishing it.

This time I wanted to try adapting a historical pattern using a similar method I used to draft the underbust pattern. I looked at different historical patterns, and decided on a 1870’s Victorian pattern without any gussets. The lack of gussets would make it easier to scale with the method I was using (more about that later). The choice for Victorian was because at the moment, I only have a 1860’s corset. That was the second corset I ever made, and although it fits okay, I can’t lace it quite as tightly as I’d like if I’m wearing it all day. Additionally, its shape is good for 1860’s and early 1870’s, but a bit to ‘short’ for latter Victorian. The 1870’s pattern I picked is a little longer and should work for a slightly later period as well.

A slight comparison. On the left a corset from 1865 (De Gracieuse, Dutch), in the middle from 1876  (Le Moniteur De La Mode, France) and on the right from 1885 (B. Altman & co Catalogue, England). You can see how the left one is much shorter in length than the other two. As time progressed, the flare out from the hips started lower on the body, calling for a more longline corset. The 1876’s one shows the beginning of the natural form movement, with a sleek line. In 1885, the silhouette became curvier than ever, but still with a lower flare over the hips than in 1865.

corsets

While my current corset follows the 1865 shape closest, the new corset is modeled more after the 1876 example.

For pattern, I settled on this historical pattern:

Vintage Corset Pattern:

I then resized the pattern by drawing a digital line through the bust, waist and hip points. I took my own measurements, and first lengthened the pattern so that the distance between bust-waist-hip was the same as for my body. I then took the line through the pieces and adapted the shape of the panels so that the total width of the pattern would fit with my measurements. I merged the first and second panel from the center-front, because these have a straight seam anyway. If you want a full (with pictures) description of the type of method I used, here’s a tutorial. I didn’t follow this exactly, but used the same concept.

I took this pattern and made a mock-up, and made some further changes. Mostly I removed some width at the top of the back patterns, and added a little more to the hip flare. I cut down the length at the bottom front just a bit to be able to sit better, and added a little width on the top front of the left half of the pattern. I’m not 100% symmetrical… The eventual pattern I ended up with looks like this:

pattern 1870 corset

I decided to make the corset out of a white brocade coutil I had bought on sale with no specific plans in mind. I also decided on doing a little more decoration, namely cording at the front. I’ve seen examples of both vertical and horizontal cording, but settled on the horizontal inspired by this corset from the amazing Aristocrat: (seriously, if you don’t know her work, go check it out)

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In order to be able to make the cording, I flatlined the whole corset with white cotton. The busk was put in first. The two front pieces on both sides were corded before construction. After that, all the pieces were sewn together wrong sides together. This left the raw edges on the outside, to be covered with boning channels. I cut the boning channels from the same brocade coutil, ironed the edges to fold over and stitched these over the seam allowances to hide them. Next time, I think I’ll make the boning channels tubes instead of folded strips. In some places, the fold ‘folded back out’ when sewing them on, leaving the edge a little wobbly. Final steps were cutting and inserting the boning (flat steel around the grommets, spiral for the rest) and bind the edges in white cotton bias binding.

The finished corset, here shown over my Edwardian chemise because I don’t have a Victorian one. (And because it’ be quite scandalous without chemise, as it’s very solidly mid-bust, and not over-bust).  I now sort of need to make a chemise with the neckline sitting right above the edge of the corset.

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And lying flat. I love how the coutil makes it curve even off the body.

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A detail of the cording on the outside.

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And an interior picture. You can see that by constructing the panels right sides together, the inside gets a really clean finish.

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The cording on the inside. The only disadvantage of having the coutil as fashion fabric and cotton as lining is that with the cording, the cotton tends to wrap around the cord more than the coutil. So the relief is stronger on the inside. I suspect it’d work best with the thinner fabric on the outside. (Also, I think I’m getting better at hand-stitching, very pleased with the stitches sewing the binding on on the inside.)

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Inspiration – Early bustle ball gowns

I’ve been looking at early bustle period (ca. 1870-1876) ball-gowns lately, inspired by the theme of next-years Victorian ball in Bath (organized by Prior Attire). Because even though I don’t exaclty live in the same country, I’d still very much like to go. Don’t know if it’ll happen, but looking at inspiration images is fun non the less! Most of the 1870’s ball gowns are a little too frothy for my taste, as I don’t particulary like the combination of pastels with loads of ruffles and frills, but there are some nice examples out there.

These fashion prints are from the Bunka Gakunen Library, and I really love the way these were coloured. They all seem hand-painted with watercolors, little art pieces.

Beware of loads of pictures! Clicking should give the full-size version.