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