In February my local costume guild went to see an exhibit of James Tissot paintings at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, and we dressed up in bustle gowns. The exhibit was wonderful and it was lovely to see my fellow costumers.
I made myself an 1870s bustle dress using pink and white striped floral cotton and the Victorian Seaside Dress pattern from Black Snail Patterns.
I used a cotton that was very lightweight which helped the fluffy bustle layers stay fluffed!
My shoes are American Duchess Tissot shoes that I dyed blue and made shoe clips for out of my fabric scraps.
The blue trim is pleated grosgrain ribbon, which I put on the collar, cuffs, belt, and skirt flounces. I made my hat using a palm fan (more on that later in this post)!
My buttons were made using vintage fabric over vintage covered button kits. (The bodice actually closes with hooks and bars and the buttons are decorative). I prefer this technique because it means I can adjust the fit more easily and I don’t have to make a lot of buttonholes!
I recommend the Black Snail pattern. It consist of a bodice with an attached “apron,” a skirt, and long sleeves. The bustle effect is achieved by having ruffled flounces on the apron and skirt, and by having hidden ribbon ties underneath the apron.
The pieces all fit together well and the sizing chart was accurate. I was impressed that even the very large pieces of the skirt panels fit together, which means the pattern was graded well.
The sleeve is an 1870s two-part coat sleeve with a seam down the elbow and another seam on the inside of the arm. It is loose-fitting and appropriate to the era, and the fullness of the sleeve head needs to be eased into the shoulder of the bodice.
I made some simplifications to the Black Snail pattern in order to speed up the project:
- I did not bother making a skirt placket and facing for the underskirt, since the top half is covered by the apron overskirt anyway.
- The pattern calls for the back half of the underskirt to be cartridge pleated into the waistband. I did regular pleats since the top would be hidden.
- I cut my flounces using the straight grain instead of on the bias like the pattern calls for. This is so I could use the selvedge instead of hemming the many yards of flounced fabric. However, this meant that my flounce stripes are horizontal instead of diagonal so you should cut on the bias if you prefer the diagonal. (The other reason why I used the straight grain is because I had limited fabric and the bias cut takes up more yardage).
- The bustle effect comes from gathering up the apron overskirt in the back with twill tape. The pattern asks you to sew pieces of tape to the bodice then sew buttons to strategic parts of the overskirt that get attached to buttonholes on the tapes. In order to skip making the buttonholes I just used tapes on the skirt as well to tie to the bodice tapes.
- The pattern calls for self trim to cover where the skirt and flounces meet. Instead of doing that I used purchased pre-pleated grosgrain trim from Amazon (affiliate link), which is available in other colors.
Just a warning: if you purchase the pre-printed pattern please make sure you have large paper around your house. There are some pattern pieces where you are told to extend the piece by up to 15 inches. (This was done by cutting a piece through the middle, inserting some paper, then drawing lines to connect the original pieces). I had to do this for a number of the larger pieces, and I didn’t expect to do so much assembly for a pattern I did not print at home. I’m not sure if the reason behind this was to save paper costs, but I would have gladly paid a little more for the pattern to avoid the extra work.
Here’s some photos I took of the dress in progress so you can see what the apron looks like up and down.
Black Snail recommends 11 yards of 51″ wide fabric for this dress. I only had 9 yards of 42″ fabric but made it work by using straight grain flounces instead of cutting my flounces on the bias like the pattern recommends.
Underneath my skirt I wore a “phantom bustle” (made during a class taught by Christina Deangelo) and two antique petticoats.
On top I wore this custom silk brocade late Victorian corset by Redthreaded. I own several other pieces by them and they are all very well-made. They offer both ready-to-wear and custom sizing and the owner Cynthia Settje is committed to great customer service and fair treatment and wages for her employees.
My hat base was made by me using a palm fan I had around the house! I trimmed it with leftover fabric from my dress, some leftover floral trim from my 18th century shepherdess outfit, and a little bird I got from the craft store. (I am wearing glass intaglio earrings from Dames a la Mode).
The fabric is a long pleated rectangle with pointed ends.
When I said palm fan, I literally meant a palm fan.
I soaked it in water to soften it, cut off the handle, and molded it around a bowl.
After it was dry I machine-sewed the ends together and trimmed off excess.
Voila, a hat base!
For my hair I wore 3 false hair pieces: a large braided bun, a crown braid, and twist hanging from the bun.
I used a remnant of pink ribbon I had around the house to trim the hat, but I think for a future wearing I’d like to replace it with a much wider and longer ribbon.
Project costs (not including undergarments and accessories):
- Pattern: $20.70 from Black Snail Patterns (purchased during a sale with free shipping).
- 9 yards cotton fabric: $35 including shipping from Facebook
- 25 yards pleated trim: $13.06 from Amazon (during a sudden and lucky price drop! Plus I still have leftovers!)
- Lining: $0 (scraps pieced together from previous project leftovers)
- Thread, notions, etc: ~$5
TOTAL: $73.16 (woohoo for bargain shopping!)
I had such a lovely time. Thank you John Carey for these photos with some of my favorite beautiful ladies!
What a delightful, fresh dress! Especially love the fabric treatment on the flounces: the change in pattern direction makes the dress lively, and the blue trim and those subversive little blue buttons! Big fun. The lisere-style fabric is perfect for the dress, a nod at the all things 18th century fad of the early 1870s.
I’ve looked at that Black Snail pattern repeatedly, so thank you for the detailed review; now I’ve made up my mind to purchase it. Am dreaming of a cotton picnic dress, and not really wanting to tackle drafting the natural form polonaise from Frances Grimble’s Fashions of the Gilded Age this year.
The hat’s brilliant — it reminds me of a chip hat.
Very best, and wishing you and yours safety and health in an uncertain time,
Natalie in KY
Hi Natalie, thank you for your kind comments! I am glad you are buying the pattern and I hope it turns out well for you. Best wishes to you and your family as well!
Just beautiful! Love all your attention to detail.
Thank you Susan! I’m glad you like it!
I would have never thought of making a palmetto fan into a hat! That is so clever!
Thanks! My inspiration came out of not wanting to purchase anything new, and looking around the house for something straw-like I could use!
This day dress and the adorable little hat are true delights!
Thank you Lauren! I’m so happy to hear you like the dress and hat!
As you know, I am just starting this pattern. Seeing your beautiful dress helps. I was really impressed with how my muslin looked on me. Just waiting now for my fabric to arrive. Your comments about cutting the ruffles will help too because I want all my stripes going down.
Thank you Val! I’m looking forward to seeing your version of this dress. The stripes are going to look great!
I know its been over a year, but I’m finally sewing my pattern for this. 😉 Did your pattern have any directions on how and where to sew the two gores and the back panel together? Mine has no mention of them. I can’t tell where they’re supposed to be sewn to. In your photo it looks like the back pleated panel was layered on top of ?? so where the two different size gores sew to each other and layered under that? I’ve asked for help on the Black Snail FB group but have had no response yet. I’m used to fudging things but this has me baffled.
Hi Val, the finished garment consists 2 pieces: the underskirt, and the overskirt that is attached to the bodice. If you’re talking about the overskirt gores: the center back panel of the skirt is kind of a rectangle. The long edge of the big gore is sewn to each side of that. The long edge of the small gore is then sewn to the short edge of the big gore. In the end you end up with a big U shape. Then that whole piece is pleated and sewn to the bottom back of the bodice. I hope that helps!
Yes, it would have been nice if the directions had a diagram showing that. Someone shared a photo on the BS pattern group showing the pattern pieces how they were laid out. So I may get this done soon. 🙂
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