Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Turquoise and Silver Bustle Gown for Day and Night

Desperation sewing. I'm really trying not to do any this year, but somehow I always end up in a time crunch when there's an event on the horizon, no matter how much of a head start I get. When I began this dress, the Victorian Soiree just a month away and I'd had a moment of panic when I realized that the pink dress I initially wanted to make was too complex, too involved, and I would never finish it on time. I could try to make it, sure, but I knew I wasn't going to be happy with the outcome. When I sew in a panic, I end up with gowns like the burgundy trainwreck.

So, instead of rushing through the complicated pink gown, I decided to shift gears and work on something simpler. Relatively simpler, anyway.

I had picked up a length of a beautiful turquoise blue African George the last time I had been in the Dallas warehouses, intending to make a new Regency ballgown out of it. With little time to find an alternative and no time at all to wait for anything in the mail, I decided to sacrifice the Regency dress for the Victorian one. I dug through Pinterest to see how I could use the George to greatest advantage, and I found this plate from 1874.

The pink gown on the far right looked like a good inspiration point to leap off of. I only had 5 yards of the George, so I had to make it count. The plan started to come together - the turquoise would be used for the bodice and overskirt/train. I had some silver taffeta-ish stuff in my fabric stash that I could use for the ruffles and accents, which would compliment the silver embroidery on the George. It was settled, the dress was simple enough, and I was ready to go.

I did things a little backward and started with the overskirt so I could work out how to showcase the fabric in the best way possible. The embroidery is only along one edge of the fabric, and I wanted it to be around the hem of the overskirt and the train if I could manage it.

I began with the overskirt. I cut a panel of fabric, which would serve as the apron front, with the embroidery along the bottom edge. The back of the overskirt was simply a 45-inch wide rectangle, also cut with the embroidery at the bottom edge.

The sides of each piece were pleated up to create the drapery.

With the overskirt made, I only had about 90 inches of embroidered edge left to eek the train out of. I experimented for while, playing with different methods of pleating and gathering the fabric so it would make a rounded train while maintaining the integrity of the embroidery. Eventually, I settled on this.

The plan was to use the silver taffeta to make the rest of the train, the part that would be hidden by the overskirt, so I wouldn't waist the turquoise fabric on parts that wouldn't be seen. Thankfully, this is a totally period way of doing things, using your fancy fabric only on the parts that show, and using something cheaper or more durable on the visible bits.

This entire project was an exercise in juggling fabrics, and everything was completed outside of the usual order of operations. Once the overskirt and train were figured out, I wanted to make sure I'd have enough of the silver taffeta to go around, so I turned my attention to the underskirt. To conserve fabric, I used this pattern to make the base of the skirt. Given that the silver fabric was so lightweight, I really should have flatlined it, but I didn't. That's what happens when you sew with a cold - you forget vital steps! There is enough umph in my petticoats to support the skirt, but it would have given the skirt a bit more body and support for the ruffles. Ah, well.

With one of the scraps of turquoise that I had left, I cut several 6-inch wide strips, which I sewed together and then stitched down to the skirt 10 inches above the hem.

The bottom ruffle was cut from the silver taffeta and sewn on, just over the edge of the blue strip.

Then I cut out the ruffles for the top half of the skirt, and started to sew them on. In the photo below, the overskirt is just pinned into place.

At this point, I cut out the bodice from the fashion fabric. I used Truly Victorian's TV416, which was the first time I used a Truly Victorian pattern. I've always heard great things about them, so I had really high hopes that it would go together easily and fit correctly, especially since I didn't have time to do a proper mockup. I was so glad I had enough fabric for the bodice, because the large front pattern piece made me a bit nervous that I'd be short.

From the remaining blue taffeta, I cut two panels that would go on the train. I wanted to make sure that if the overskirt moved, that there would be blue fabric showing underneath and not the silver. I sewed the blue pieces to a panel of silver fabric to act as the top of the train. This part would be hidden by the back of the overskirt.

The bottom half was carefully pinned and stitched into place to showcase the embroidery.

The two pieces were then stitched together. To complete the look, I added a ruffle of silver underneath the edge of the train, which peeked out from underneath the overskirt and under the embroidery on the train. I think this really made it feel complete, and it tied the train in with the underskirt. It also helped to hide gap between the underskirt ruffles and the edge of the overskirt. Thankfully, this was my last ruffle, because I was pretty sick of making ruffles at this point!

Finally, I could finish the overskirt. For a while, I couldn't figure out what was bothering me about the apron front. There was something about the way it was hanging that just wasn't working. Then I realized what it was - the apron in the plate is almost flat, with only the slightest gathering at the sides, while I had made mine with deep pleats. I decided to unpin what I had so far, mess with a bit, and see if I couldn't get something I liked better. You can see the difference in the two photos below.


Much better! The embroidery gets much more of a chance to shine with the flatter apron. With that taken care of, I finished up the underskirt. I evened out the waistline on the back, attached tapes, tacked up the poufs, and added a placket. I didn't have time to finish the waistband before the event, so I do have to go back and finish that.

The train is separate from the overskirt so I can remove it for daywear. It, too, will eventually have its own waistband.

To complete the bodice, I cut out an interlining layer from a bit of duck canvas, and some lining from the silver taffeta. I omitted the bodice boning because of time issues, but I think I'll eventually go back and add it in. Otherwise, the bodice went together really quickly, and I even had enough of the blue left to make covered buttons from. I think it might be fun to go back at some point and add silver sequins to the buttons to make the a bit flashier, but they're perfectly serviceable as they are.

Daytime Look

I must have been a little bit insane, because I decided that instead of trying to make an older costume work for the brunch outing on Soiree Sunday, I would instead make a daytime option for this dress. I had just enough of the silver fabric left to eek out a Burda 7880, though I did have to do some piecing on the peplum.

All that was left after that was a few tiny scraps, so I used some black taffeta as a lining, and made the center front panel out of some remaining blue taffeta. The piece I used was actually from the top edge, where I had undone the wide hem stitching, so it was free of any spangled bits. I actually like the plain blue and am glad there weren't any sequin patches, since it makes it look a little more toned down and daytime appropriate.


Amazingly, I still had enough of the blue left to make the buttons for this bodice, so I covered another 17 buttons and added them to the front.

My final verdict on the dress, both versions is that it's okay, but I don't love it. It feels very unfinished, and there are things that I would like to go back and fix or add to.

Because of the time crunch, I wasn't able to do a proper mockup or fitting of the TV bodice, and there were some weird fit issues that I wasn't aware of until the evening of the event. The body of the bodice fit just fine, but for some reason the neckline was huge. I don't exactly have narrow shoulders, but this bodice kept gapping in a huge and terrible way, and I was terrified all night that I was going to have a wardrobe malfunction of superbowl proportions. Don't sew in a hurry, kids, you'll end up with Issues.

What I do love about the evening version is how flashy it is! That silver embroidery is a showstopper, and I really wish I'd had more of that fabric so I could really have a whiz-bang overskirt. I now think that there probably needs to be a silver ruffle around the bottom edge of the underskirt. Originally I wanted the embroidery from one layer to another to just flow together, but I think now the overall look might benefit from the visual separation.

I'd also like to go in with some sequins and take the embroidery up the rest of the blue fill-in panel on the train so it doesn't end so abruptly. You can see the filler panel in the second photo below, and while it isn't jarring, it would be nice to have the border pattern continue all the way up.


For the daytime look, I wore the gown without the train, and with the day bodice. I made the largest size that the Burda bodice came in, and it was still rather snug. I could get into it and button it just fine, but the sleeves were tight, and I had some wrinkles on the  bodice. I think the wrinkles could be eliminated with some bodice boning, though, so it's not unsalvageable. The pattern does not call for any boning, so if you make up this pattern you may want to add it in.

I'm sure my new corset contributed to the bodice wrinkle issue, as well. My old corset only had shaping in the seams, while the new one has bust and hip gussets, which definitely gives a curvier silhouette. I should have adjusted the bodice pattern to account for the more pronounced difference between bust and waist, but time didn't allow me to do a mockup or account for anything like that. (I made the day bodice in just two days, in the hours after work, so rush job doesn't even begin to cover it!)

If I could miraculously find that same blue taffeta, minus the embroidery, I would like to make a new overskirt for the daytime look. The day bodice tones down the look considerably, but the overskirt looks somewhat unfinished without the train. I think a plain blue overskirt, or an overskirt in the silver with some blue accents, would really make the daytime look new and fabulous.


I still have mixed feelings about the transitional period. At first, I wasn't a huge fan of the hoop + bustle look, and I felt a little too columnar. This may be due to the fact that the overskirt doesn't fit over the crinoline/bustle combination as well as it should because of the limited amount of fabric available. Ideally, I would have liked to have put the entire 5 yards into the overskirt alone. I think that if it had a bit more room to move, then it might not have clung to the skirt supports as it did, and may have fallen a bit more gracefully.

Compared to the width of the skirt, I don't think the bustle in the back is large enough, and it rides a bit too high. I admit, this is probably because of corner-cutting on my part because of time contraints - I had finished the crinoline part of the transitional hoop in time, but not the bustle part, so I wore a bumpad over the crinoline instead. I think the bustle should ride much lower, and that there really needs to be more backward motion to make the look more balanced.  I did like that the hoop kept the skirts out from between my feet, though.

Overall, there are a lot of things I do like about these dresses. I love the large number of ruffles (I wish I'd had enough fabric to make a couple of more on the underskirt, just so the look continued all the way under the overskirt) and the colors of the fabrics. I've seen a couple of fashion plates that have this same gray/electric blue combination, so even though it looks a little extreme, the color combo is actually period. If I'm lucky, I may be able to find more of the blue or the silver fabric, and I can tweak things so they look a bit more put together.


  1. You look beautiful and this dress is amazing!

  2. Since I am new to costuming I so (SEW :) appreciate reading your behind the seams thought process and the actual construction of your ensemble. I have a really lovely portrait of you at the Sunday outing. I will send it to you via your contact info.