Construction notes · Historical Costuming

1870s April Bustle Gown Construction

I know, it’s not entirely finished but the April bustle gown does officially count as wearable. It made its debut at Tom Klein’s collodion photography showcase at Tufa Trier on 11th April, hence the name.

Since I am a lazy sloth the whole project wasn’t started right after I came back home from London on the 18th March, nooo. Empress of Procrastination traced the patterns and made a bodice mock-up at the end of March and then did everything else after her Paris trip in about 5 days.

For the skirt (Pattern is TV 208) I first tried version B with the pleats at the top side back (as seen in the picture) but after looking at the mock-up, I decided it just needed extra fabric and wouldn’t be seen anyway so I went for version A. To save time and fabric I only pinned the fabric together instead of sewing so that I could easily reuse the pieces later as a lining. The fabric used is a medium-weight cotton weave with a certain stiffness to support the rather flimsy silk taffeta.

Here’s what the top of the skirt looks like, a result of experimentation since there were no exact instructions in the manual. It’s not visible under the apron which was later tacked on by hand. This way I can take off the apron anytime if I want to reuse the skirt for another gown without taking the actual skirt apart. It also has a pocket in the right side seam (also hidden under the apron), if you look closely you might see it in the picture.

I hadn’t bought any trim specifically for this project but with the lack of time self-trimming was out of question. Luckily I had those two in my stash and, after thorough contemplation, decided on the lighter one because of the scalloped edge. It lent itself well to the design and even allowed me to replicate the trimming of the reference drawing, such a nice coincidence!

The first bodice mock-up, pattern TV 405. It wasn’t bad but it needed some work on the darts and shoulders. Luckily my amazing sister was there to help out especially for the latter, I could never have done it myself.

The construction of the back panel is where I deviated from the Truly Victorian pattern. originally, the centre back piece is cut on fold and connected directly to the side back pieces at the curved seam. I split the pattern up to add another piece that is made out of contrasting fabric as seen in the reference picture. I suppose that since a lot of 1870s designs were inspired by 18th century fashion the back is meant to imitate a Robe À L’Anglaise.

Closing the side seams at the end is a very useful tip by Jennifer from Historical Sewing that I stumbled upon. The advantage is that it allows one to fit the bodice with the front properly closed so any deviation caused by that is prevented.

I didn’t take any photos of the sleeves but so far they’re pretty unspectacular. The bow is courtesy of the indispensable Luci, my sister without whom I’d probably not have had the time to add it. Which would have been a pity, it’s a great design feature that actually makes the back of the dress the highlight. The front obviously still needs some work, more decoration will be added once I come back from London in summer.

The back view is truly the best, it looks pretty similar to the reference I’d say. The colours don’t show well in these photos but I promise I’ll do a proper photoshoot in summer when the dress is completed!

Here some more photos from the event itself with the photographer. That hairdo was the result of about 10 minutes of ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’, ‘Chill no one will notice’ and ‘Luci does this look shitty’ between me my once again indispensable sister who did a fantastic job as assistant. My hairtips were still a bit pink at that point, not very authentic but actually matching the dress, wild!

Photo by Michael Thielen

To finish this: Find yourself a partner who looks at you the way I look at Luci ♥(ˆ⌣ˆ)


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