1880s Bustle Dress Costume

1880s Bustle Dress

This might be my most elaborate costume make to date. And I finished it justintime for my event at an art museum where these photos were taken (so ignore the buses and cars in the background).

To summarize, I’m wearing a cotton chemise under this Victorian corset, a steel lobster-tail bustle with ruffled petticoat, an underskirt, overskirt, bodice, bonnet, along with silk stockings and costume lace-up boots.

1880s Bustle Dress

Also, my mother-in-law was kind enough to let me borrow this vintage crochet handbag to house all my anachronistic necessities. Thanks MIL!

That’s quite a lot to talk about so to make this post easier on my I’m going to use the Historical Sew Monthly format for this outfit.

1880s Bustle Dress

The Challenge: After my last outing with the DFW Costumers Guild in November, my friend Susanna thought it would be a good idea to come back again for a Victorian themed event in February. “Sure,” I said, “that would be fun.” Next thing I knew she was ordering patterns and I had a new deadline to sew half a dozen pieces for a brand new costume in a little less than 2 months.

1880s Bustle Dress
(my friend Susanna and I)

Material: For the underlayers: cotton muslin. For the dress: gray with orange pinstripe wool – I thought it was wool but it’s actually a rayon poly blend and it’s too late now to fix it, silk velvet for the trim, cotton muslin for lining. For the bonnet: buckram and wire, leftover blue silk from my Regency bonnet, silk velvet, poly satin ribbon.

1880s Bustle Dress

Pattern:  Truly Victorian everything: bustle, petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bodice. And a Lynn McMaster’s pattern for the bonnet.

However, I heavily altered my bodice to resemble this extant dress by shortening the hem, narrowing the sleeves, and creating a buttoned vest effect in front and changing the lapels. The skirts are mostly just like the patterns except I added big velvet chunks on one side of the underskirt mimicking the extant gown.

1880s Bustle Dress

Year: about 1888.

Notions: metal buttons, feathers for the bonnet, steel boning for the dress and the bustle.

My inspiration dress had gigantic buttons on it. These bronze buttons were the closest thing I could find that would match the style although they aren’t as large.

1880s Bustle Dress

How historically accurate is it? Well, the materials aren’t entirely accurate but I did so much hand sewing on this thing: buttonholes! Hooks and eyes! All that velvet!

I give it 3 out of 5 Typhoid Fevers…

Hours to complete: All of them. All the hours. Ok, really, I worked on this whole get-up for around a couple hours every day for three weeks. Nearing the end, I was feeling burnt out and my interiors look quite sloppy. I wanted to be finished with this monster.

First worn: Last week at the Caillebotte exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX with the DFW Costumers Guild.

Total cost: Ugh, the not-actually-wool alone cost about $100. Velvet was $32… all together this thing was at least $250. Le sigh. I can’t complain. I did decide on my own to pursue this hobby…

The only thing I don’t like about this dress is that the white lining peeks out from behind the vest panel and inside the sleeves. I didn’t think about that possibility as I was sewing, I should have used the self-fabric instead. Oh, and I should really redraft the collar because it didn’t quite work out the way I had envisioned and on the day of the event I had to sew it closed. While wearing it. Can you imagine a needle that close to your neck!?

1880s Bustle Dress

Even though I am incredibly proud of myself for completing this costume I am quite happy to be done with it. I’m ready for a few months of normal, modern garment sewing. I miss finishing a project in a day!

Busy Busy January

I’ve been neglecting the blog in favor of Instagram this month. I haven’t finished many projects but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been sewing. So so much sewing… and drafting and cleaning and planning, etc. As a little re-cap, here are just a few of the things I’ve been working on lately…

Blank Slate Sewing Team

Blank Slate Denver Hack

Earlier this month as part of the Blank Slate Sewing Team I shared my Denver Sweatshirt hack over at MellySews.com. I loved this gold painted knit that I used for my shirt, it’s the perfect mix of sparkly and subdued.

Cleaning Up My Sewing Room

I am the worst when it comes to cleaning my sewing room but it had reached a breaking point. I spent a good day throwing out trash, organizing fabric, and returning long lost pattern pieces to their envelopes.

Then I brought to one of my sewing group meetings several boxes full of patterns, fabric, and old me-made clothes to give away.

All the fabrics were leftovers from previous projects. You know how it goes, the pattern calls for three and a half yards but you manage to squeeze the pieces into two and a quarter. As for the remainder, well, there are only so many Scout Tees a person can make.


Sometimes a project doesn’t turn out the way you’d have liked. Other times you find yourself never wearing a garment you made for whatever reason. The worst is when your body changes but your clothes aren’t suited to alterations.

Giving away clothes that I’ve made is always difficult, especially when I don’t know if the people at Goodwill will put my clothes on the rack or send them directly to the cotton recyclers.

I didn’t want that fate to befall some of my beloved dresses so I let my friends have first dibs. Luckily most of my clothes were adopted into loving new homes including the above four dresses. The rest will take their chances at the thrift store.

Vintage Patterns for Sale


In my effort to organize I’ve come to the conclusion that having a full dresser drawer of vintage patterns isn’t doing me any good, especially if I can’t use them all.

So I’ve reserved some of my favorites and I’m slowly adding patterns to my Etsy shop for sale. They’re mostly 60s and 70s. I have a bunch of 80s patterns that I’ll probably sell as one big lot seeing as most people don’t get that excited over 80s designs.

Making Bias Tape from Scraps

biastapesAmong my leftover fabric were several scraps under half a yard that seemed unusable. But then I got an idea – bias tape!

Most of the fabrics were so cut up that I couldn’t get a good size square or rectangle to do continuous bias tape so I had to do it the old fashioned way – cutting long strips and sewing the short ends together.

I wrapped three yard lengths around pieces of cut up gift boxes and now they’re for sale at Me & Ewe. I made 20+ bundles and still have tons more fabric I could use.

Historical Costuming – Late 1880s Bustle Dress


But this is the big project that’s taken up so much of my time.

If when I complete it, this will be my fastest costume make to date. A full outfit from the ground up in less than a month (well, I’m cheating, I already had the chemise and corset) including a gigantic bustle, petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, fully lined bodice and trimmed hat!

I’m already off to a good start. One day I made my lobster tail bustle. The next I made the petticoat to go over it. The third day I tested the fit of my bodice then redrafted the pieces into a new design.


At this point I’ve cut all the pieces that I can from the fabric I have and I am now waiting on my velvet to arrive for the trim.

Oh, and did I mention that I still have to make a hat!??!?

I keep reminding myself, “It will be finished. It will be beautiful. It will be finished. It will…”

2015 Re-Cap


Happy 2016! I only barely made it home in time for New Year. Our flights were delayed coming back from Ohio for three whole days because of bad weather (thanks, climate change…).

Now is the time when most people reflect on the previous year and as sewists we usually look at what we’ve made: the hits and misses and the goals for next year. Keeping with that tradition, here are mine.

Most Worn:

Honestly, this was a pretty good year in terms of quality makes. Nearly everything got worn often but these are some of my favorites.

Side Cut Out Dress Version 2 Side Cut Out Dress version 3

My two favorite Bonnell Dress samples have been my go-to party dresses for this year. I especially love that silk/cottom geometric print fabric.

109 110

My makes for the Blank Slate Sewing Team were pretty good this year. I’ve got plenty of wears out of my rose printed Tulip Top and my Favorite Purse is living up to its name – currently it is the only purse I carry (and I finally switched my strap to a cotton belting).

Circle Skirt and Cropped Sweatshirt

This whole outfit is just adorable. I get lots of compliments on it and I drafted both pieces myself.

Rayon Scout Tee Knit Scout Tee

When in doubt, make a Scout. Or two. Grainline’s Scout Tees are always in heavy rotation.

Paprika Patterns Onyx Shirt Hack

My Onyx hack is a surprise favorite. I love the fabric and the lace at the bottom makes it more than just a plain woven tee.


Well, those are some highlights. It would take too long to write about everything so here are the rest:

107 Sparkly Morris Blazer Sleeveless Popover Archer Sparkly Box Pleat Skirt The Refashioners 2015 The Refashioners 2015 Papercut Patterns Clover Dress  Blank Slate Patterns Oceanside Shorts Blank Slate Patterns Juniper Jersey


Least Worn:

Sew Liberated Esme Top


My Sew Liberated Esme Top was just too big. I liked the fabric and the look of the pattern design but the fit made me feel like I was drowning in it even after I made a tuck in the back. Other things I didn’t like: The cuffs hit right at my elbow so they would get all scrunched up as I bent my arm throughout the day. Too long, but that’s a relatively easy fix, but with the other issues I didn’t feel it was worth making the effort to change it.

Beach Cover Up

For Melly Sews’ 30 Days of Sundresses, I hand dyed a beach cover-up but a sad accident meant I’ve never worn it since I made it. While on summer vacation that June we had a fire in the garage. It could have been a lot worse but we’re ok now.

When I returned home I dyed the dress in the back yard then went to wash the fabric in the washing machine in the garage. After washing, I found the fabric covered in gray splotches everywhere that wouldn’t come out no matter what.

Turns out that while the firefighters were here they must have shut the door to the washer so I thought it had been closed the entire time. It wasn’t. During the fire the door was open and soot and debris coated the barrel of the washer and I hadn’t noticed. It completely stained the fabric (luckily it was the only thing in the washer at the time).

Since I didn’t have any more dye or fabric I just had to work with what I had so I sewed up the fabric and took pics anyway. You can’t tell in the pics but I think it’s very obvious in real life. I loved the dyed fabric so this was quite a disappointing turn of events.

Sew Liberated Myla Tank

This tank was originally a sample for a class so it’s currently hanging up at Me and Ewe.

Side Cutout Dress Version 1

The first incarnation of my soon-to-be Bonnell Dress was just too big in the bodice. I had to go re-adjust my block for my next versions.



When I look at individual posts on finished projects, this year seems a bit sparse, but that’s probably because so much of my time was spent on costumes and to complete a costume I often need to sew upwards of half a dozen pieces.

Here’s what I’ve shared on the blog in the costuming category which doesn’t include several other pieces in progress…

Elizabeth Cosplay 18th Century Underthings Regency Era Costume 108 1780s Robe en Chemise

My Bioshock Infinite video game cosplay from January, 18th century undergarments, my completed Regency era outfit, mid-Victorian undergarments and petticoats (so many petticoats!), and my 1780s Robe en Chemise outfit.

All together those costumes contain about 19 separate garment pieces that I had made (not counting some small accessories, and not all were completed this year). That’s huge! And I’ve already agreed to go to another costuming event in February which I’m now committed to making six more pieces! Including a hat! And a metal bustle! What have I gotten myself into!?!?

Other Accomplishments:

I had one major pattern release this year. The Bonnell Dress. It’s my new favorite and I want to thank everyone who helped make it a success!

I wore my costumes (more than one!) in public, around other people, in daylight, which is pretty scary for me so I’d say that’s something to be proud of.

Unrelated to sewing, I had a New Years Resolution last year to send out birthday cards to family members. I made limits for myself, I only sent them to the younger generation and only on the side of the family that was included in the big family calendar (which made it easy to track to the dates). I probably sent out over 45 cards last year. As someone who comes from a very small family, it was a bit overwhelming. People need to stop having so many dang kids! I can’t keep up! Needless to say, I ain’t sending no more cards this year. Just facebook posts if I remember. But at least I stuck with it for the whole year!

Goals for 2016:

Finish my in-progress costumes and find a place to store them. They take the longest to complete and they also take up the most room.

On that note, keep my sewing room cleaner in general. That place is a constant wreck.

Sell/give away some patterns and fabric I know I’m never going to use. No need to waste more space on them.

Release another pattern, or two, maybe, maybe not? I love seeing all the new pattern companies pop up these past few years. It’s inspiring, but it also reminds me of the aspects I don’t love about pattern designing. I generally don’t like sewing sample after sample of the same thing as I tweak a pattern. I don’t like that my whole time for a good few months is spent on the same long project. I don’t like that because of that I have little to show on the blog until the pattern is finished. Pattern design can be fun but because I do everything myself it gets to be a burden. I’d much rather sew for fun.

So, if I manage to release another pattern or two this year I’ll consider that a success, if not, that’s ok, too. I’ve been doing the pattern thing for several years now and I think it might be time for me to get back into the working game again. I miss working with and around other people. I do teach sewing classes occasionally. Maybe I’ll do more of that, or maybe I’ll find a totally different job. Who knows. Anybody have any suggestions?


Lastly, as a goodbye to 2015 I thought I’d share a fun photo I took for my grandmother-in-law’s 80th birthday celebration (her b-day is NYE). I was given her mother’s 100-year-old swimsuit from 1915(!!) and told to take a picture with it. So, of course, if I’m gonna do this I’m going to go all the way. We did a whole little photo shoot a la the 1920s – hair, makeup, accessories, everything. Then I photoshopped a background and “colorized” it like an old post card.


The swimsuit itself is pretty wild if you’ve never seen one before. It’s a one-piece, all wool knit, with a button on the right shoulder. There’ are shorts underneath  an attached skirt and there’s absolutely no bust support at all, I can’t imagine how some curvier ladies could have worn something like this but compared to swimsuits worn just 20 years earlier this thing must have felt like a string bikini. If you want to check out some authentic old swimsuit pictures I made a pinterest board.

Simplicity 1587

Simplicty 1587

This is my best attempt at a 1940s look. My hair didn’t want to cooperate and curl properly, and the closest thing I have to a hat is this fascinator-headband-thing, but over all it ain’t bad.

I haven’t historically been interested in 40s fashion but I think this dress my be changing my mind…

Simplicity 1587

The Pattern: One of Simplicity’s 1940s retro patterns which I’ve had in my stash for a long time.

Simplicty 1587

The Fabric: A black on beige polka dot rayon challis from Joann Fabrics. Rayon always makes me think of the 40s.

Simplicty 1587

The Changes: Not much at all, just adjusting the size in the hips.

The Results: I do like the dress but I have a few complaints. It’s too big in the bodice (especially in the back) but at the same time there’s not much ease in the sleeve.

And since the sleeve cap is so tall and narrow, whenever I move my arms the fabric pulls across my upper chest (I think the model on the envelope is experiencing the same problem).

Simplicty 1587

Also, the gathers seem rather minimal. There’s hardly any on the bust seam line at all. It almost looks like I just sewed that seam sloppily instead of having intentional gathers. Why did I even bother sewing all those stitches??

Simplicty 1587

But mainly I don’t love how all the neat seam lines get lost in the polka dots. I think that would happen with almost any print, though.

Simplicty 1587

I enjoyed the ruching on the sleeves and the fit of the waist yoke and the swishy skirt but I doubt I’d make this pattern again. I have a few other 40s patterns, though, that I would like to try out if I find the right fabric for them.