My “Golden Moonflower” Bustle Dress
Still haven’t settled on an official dress name yet.

I’ve never made a bustle dress from scratch before aside from my Simplicity 3723 bustle hack and a poorly executed (but entertaining) attempt at a Nerfpunk outfit. However, way back in August, I had decided I wanted to attend Dracula: The Ballet with the DFW Costumers Guild, so I purchased a gorgeous sequin-encrusted sari from eBay and decided it was time to try! I wanted something glittery and dark– it was a vampire story after all! I took a cue from one of my favorite dresses in the Met and decided to use Simplicity 4156 as the pattern base since it was handy and I like how it fits me:

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Sari Bustle Dress Design

After a hectic September, October was supposed to be comparatively calm and un-scheduled–free and clear for sewing a few big projects for upcoming DFW Costumers Guild events. However, as a pithy coffee mug once said, “Man plans; God laughs.” So, short on time and motivation, I threw up my hands at trying to attend the ballet with the Guild on the 17th. Of course you are now reading a post about the dress I wore, so SPOILER! I made it!

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A big THANK YOU to Kim and Greg for sharing their box seats with me!

Since I was so busy, I didn’t get a start on my dress until the week before. I’d never made an evening dress before, much less a bustle gown, so I was nervous. Nothing seemed to go my way! As you can see (hopefully, despite my bad watercoloring) in the original design, I wanted an all-black dress in satin and velvet, but I failed to find a satisfactory version of either. Instead, Christopher helped me pick out a lovely gold rayon/poly-whatever blend and a smooth black cotton/nylon blend: perhaps the strangest blend ever, but very simple to sew with and it had a dull sheen I liked.

For the pattern I turned to my trusty Simplicity 4156. While it is originally designed to be an 1890s walking dress with huge puff sleeves, the gored skirt is actually amazingly versatile and, minus the huge sleeves, the bodice is an excellent base for a classic vest-style 1880s bodice. Thanks to a summer of ice cream and days too hot to move, I had to make three mock-ups before I finally got the pattern to fit exactly as I wanted. I felt kinda proud of myself because after I did all the alterations, I found that Francis Grimble’s “Fashions of the Gilded Age” book had lots of helpful fitting advice that I unintentionally followed, particularly the adjustment for the “extra-erect” figure which, honestly, surprised me since I’d always thought of myself as rather hunched (this, as it turns out, is also paradoxically true).

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I did my third mockup in black cotton twill that I miraculously found at Walmart. I used the twill pieces to cut out my fashion fabric and then turned them into the lining. It was a little thick, but the stiffness meant that the bodice stayed smooth without adding boning to the seams. I fitted everything over my Hourglass Attire corset, a single cotton petticoat from Goodwill, my haphazard pink bustle cage (based on American Duchess’s free pattern), and the bum pad draped with a ruffled tablecloth from my Simplicity 3723 bustle project. The sheer weight of all the sequins on the sari combined with the heavy rayon blend was too much for my bustle to handle, so it’s not as booty-licious as I’d like. Still, lots of swish!

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I tried the cage over the bum pad and settled on putting it on the bottom because I needed the extra fluff the ruffles provided.

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I wore my absolute favorite pair of shoes: some 1980s black suede beauties with lace-up fronts. Sadly they are a size too small and falling to pieces.

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For the bustle, I just gathered and draped the back until I liked it. It’s made from a single length of fabric. I used the selvages as the hem and fringed the drape in front instead of hemming it. I was so short on time I even left the bottom of the underskirt unhemmed (it’s pinked).

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I was so rushed I didn’t take many in-progress photos. Honestly, most of it, especially the crossover front, I just wung. The only real in-progress shot I got was when I contemplated making the dress sleeveless with ruffles instead of 3/4 sleeved.

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Alterations I made to Simplicity 4156, an 1890s walking dress, into an 1880s evening gown:

-No balloon sleeves. I used the sleeve pattern from Simplicity 3723, actually. Fave sleeve pattern ever!
-No standing collar or cuffs. Even though I wanted them, I ran out of time.
-No side peplum. Peplums are very 1890s, so I cut down the front, but kept the back to make an 1880s-style bustle tail instead.
-Crossover bodice front.
-Randomly draped bustle.
-“Accidental” V neck.

You’ll notice that in my design and in this photo, the point d’esprit completely fills the neckline. Indeed, I got all the way done sewing on the high collar on Friday only to discover that the neckline pulled too far up so it choked me in front and gaped at the back. I discovered that even though I had to do an extra-erect posture adjustment, my neck angles forward as though I am hunched over.

…pretty much like a vulture’s posture in reverse…

I assumed if I could trim a half inch off the front neckline, I could just re-attached the collar and solve the problem enough to make the dress wearable. Then, the scissors slipped…

..and thus my dress is a V neck!

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 “Golden Moonflower” Costume Breakdown

Spangled silk georgette sari – $24.99
6 yards black cotton/nylon blend – $24.16
5 yards metallic rayon/poly blend – $19.30
2 yard cotton twill – $6.00
2 yards black pointe d’esprit – $8.15
1 spool of black thread – $2.49
Cotton sheet for mockup – Free! (remnants from Amelia’s Edwardian dress)

Dress Total: $85.09

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I bought the woven wire choker necklace on a whim last winter at a local antique mall not quite knowing what on earth I would do with it. Turns out my shopping sub-conscience is psychic! When I had to re-do the neckline, the woven choker filled it in perfectly.

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After having a horrible panic attack about how hideously hair-illiterate I am, Christopher calmed me down and curled my hair for me. Husband of the Year? More like eternity!

Accessories Breakdown:

Black suede shoes – $5.99
Black sheer stockings – $1 (Dollar Tree has amazing socks for costumes!)
Woven wire necklace – $6
Screw back earrings – $3
White faux roses to disguise lack of hair skills- $8.98

Outfit Total: $110.06

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Looking fabulous despite the messy craftroom, angry kitty, and wee morning hours?

PRICELESS!

BAM!

One of the most common clichés is the woman who needs “ten minutes” to get ready to go out, only to find herself still in a towel, futzing with her eyeliner an hour later. In my case, finishing my outfit took two months! But finally, I am ready to go to dinner:

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Walking Dress vs. Dinner Dress vs. Evening Dress
Victorians had different clothes for each part of the day and every activity. Simplicity 4156 is designated as a “walking dress” pattern. Walking dresses had shorter skirts to make them more manuverable and often had a jacket (or a jacket-like bodice) to protect a lady’s skin. Walking suits could be very fancy since they were worn to parade around town or in the park on fashionable afternoon walks. However, I consider my dress a dinner dress because it sweeps the floor and is, for my tastes, rather fancy. Dinner dresses emerged in the late 1880s as a halfway point between daywear and evening gowns. An evening gown is typically very ornate and often has a much lower neckine and revealing short sleeves. Dinner dresses generally keep a daytime-appropriate neckline while being more opulent and daring in fabric and trim choices. It’s like the difference between a sundress, a cocktail dress, and a formal gown.

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Big thank you and tons of kisses to Christopher, who suffered his wife’s demands for girly pictures on our anniversary vacation!

I am super-pleased with this pattern! No, I take that back: I am in LOVE with this pattern. After only a few bumps in the road, it came together quite nicely.

Dress Stats:

7 yards of pink polyester-whatever – $7 at Walmart ($1/yard)
3 yards of brown cotton bodice lining – $9 at Walmart ($2.95/yard)
4 yards of grey cotton skirt lining – $9.80 ($2.45/yard)
Maroon faux suede remnant – $3 at Joann Fabrics
2 yards net crinoline for sleeve poof – $4 from Walmart ($2/yard)
Silk shirt for center front – $3 from Goodwill
Hooks and eyes – $1 from Walmart
Twill tape – $5.90 from Joann Fabrics ($2.95/yard)
2 spools of polyester thread – $3 from Walmart
2 sequined and beaded black appliques – $25.18 from Glory’s House on eBay

Total: $70.88

As you can see, the bulk of the cost was in all the notions, especially the trimming. It’s very common for trimmings to cost just as much as the dress itself in some cases! Originally, I was just going to decorate the lapels with four large Czech glass buttons, but then I fell in love with all the dangling beaded trim that came into vogue for opera and dinner wear during the 1890s and decided that this dress needed some goth-glitter to give this otherwise sweet pink confection some wicked edge.

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The pattern calls for the collar and lapels to be wired. I was cheap and just used some floral wire left over from my long-ago Mid-Victorian headdress to wire the collar, but I ran out of wire for the lapels. The lack of wire in the lapels turned out well in the end since the heavy beaded appliques weigh them down anyway, so wiring the edge would have been extra work for no reason. The winged collar can be worn up or folded down. I prefer wearing it up outside and down inside, just because it can get in the way if you are trying to converse with someone seated next to you, but golly does it look bewitching when it’s flipped up and curled!

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I accessorized Mrs. Mauve rather simply, choosing a basic collar pin and a lavish hat. The hat base I settled on is a really nice felt base from a hat factory in China. It is very sturdy and not plasticky or thin like other costume hats. It’s made from wool, so I easily sewed my trims directly to it.

Hat Stats:

Black felt hat base – $18.97 from IOUHat on eBay
Maroon bird ornament – $1.79 from Garden Ridge
Red and black feather bouquet – $3.59 from Garden Ridge
Black feather plume – Free! (Stolen from Christopher’s tricorn)
White silk band and bow – Free! (made from scraps left over from the silk shirt)
Broken vintage brooch – $5 originally, but I consider it upcycling since it’s cracked

Back in January when I first began the Simplicity 4156 project, I knew I wanted a  hat with a bird on it. In the 1890s, anybody who was anybody had at least one dead fowl to decorate their chapeau, the more exotic (and terrifying) the better:

Madame Pauline Hat, circa 1915
“In the history of Western fashion, no period stand out more for the abundance and variety of feather trimmings than that beginning around 1860 and continuing to World War I.” – The Met

Hat, circa 1890-1900
Caught in a net…
Eventually so many birds were being hunted for their plumage that laws had to be passed to protect them from extinction.

Bonnet Hat, circa 1890
The latest from Paris: Zombie parakeets

Clearly, I wasn’t about to put a real stuffed bird on my hat, but in January, all of the Christmas decorations were on sale at the local Garden Ridge (a wonderous home decorating store the size of a football field). The trendy Christmas ornaments of 2013 turned out to be glittery and feathery, so there were plastic birds of every shape, size and color piled up for 60% off, just begging to be made into hats!

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A small sample of my feathery prizes!

All of the birds had metal clips on the bottom that I removed. I selected the wine-colored bird for this particular hat because it matched. Usually, I avoid matching perfectly, but it sat nicely on the brim like it was fate! I secured it to the hat base with two straight pins (I don’t like to glue things to hats because I often recycle the hat bases as I make new costumes).

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To blend them in, I could color them with a permanent marker, but when worn, the pearly pin heads don’t show.

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I tucked a brooch behind Mr. Birdy to fill in the space. I was very upset when that brooch broke, but it turned out to be a good thing since it works perfectly as a hat ornament. Turquoise and amethyst were very popular gemstones in the 1890s.

In addition to my collar pin and hat, my purple double-strap pumps finally got to see some use!

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You can just see one of them peeking out from under my skirt…

Eventually, I’d love to have a chatelaine to hang at my waist, but for now, I am very content!

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Previous Project Posts:

The Beginning – Cutting and fitting the pattern
Am I too Curvy for Victorian Clothes?
– Busty historical silhouettes
Tricky Trims: Buying Sewing Trims Online – A simple way to make sure your trims will work
Nitty-Gritty Gibson Girl – How to give limp hair historical volume
Mrs. Mauve Undergarments – What went under this dress and a corset review