Vampires, Pointe Shoes, and Pattern Alterations: A Bustle Ball Gown from Simplicity 4156

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:






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).


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!


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.


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.


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).


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.


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!





 “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


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.


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


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


A Sad Day: The Dress I Can’t Wear

Turn a Frown into a Smile!

I have been lusting after an easy-to-wear Victorian event dress for years now. I wanted a dress that was simple, easy-wearing, and inexpensive– the Holy Grail of bustle era costuming! I don’t have the time or money to buy a bustle pattern, but I have successfully used Simplicity 3723 to make dresses, so I thought it would be easy to whip up a dress in a few days for any last-minute spring events. I succeeded, but not in the way I wanted. You see, in my rush, I didn’t take my time to make sure that the finished dress would fit me and guess what…it doesn’t!

The same day I got the idea to make a bustle dress, I found the perfect fabrics right next to each other on the shelf! The main fabric was a polyester woven that’s wonderfully drapey, but lightweight. It is a cool brown shot with threads of tan and olive and reminds me of smooth treebark, especially paired with the shimmery, deep green velour I found right next to it. I would not only have a bustle dress by noon the next day, but it would also be a Victorian dryad’s dream dress!

dress design

My initial sketch. I decided I didn’t like the front drape, so I got rid of it in favor of a single swag over the bustle.

I hate “wasting” expensive fabric on mock-ups, so I trusted my math and previous pattern alterations instead of making toiles: a huge, gigantic mistake! Or, in my case, a too-small, sausage-tube mistake. I thought I had the cat in the bag when I tried the bodice on without the sleeves, but as soon as I sewed the sleeves on, it became painfully obvious that while I had given myself enough room in the bust area proper, I had neglected to widen the area above it. It was not flattering. I would take a picture, but it is so intensely unflattering that even I am embarrassed by it. It’s a shame because everywhere else fits so smoothly! There is no post-production cure for cutting the shoulders 2 inches too small, though, so after letting out the seams as far as I could, I made the agonizing realization that this dress would never ever not-in-a-million-years fit me.

I will admit, I was disappointed. Really disappointed. Bitter, even. It was a rough night that no amount of chocolate and fried food could make better. After being so excited about how well the project had been going, finding out I couldn’t even wear the dress was a major blow to my confidence. I had put all this effort into making a dress that I actually was really, really looking forward to wearing, but I could not. What do you do with something you can’t use, but love? I can put it away in my closet with all my other ill-fitting clothes that I love but can’t wear. However, that just seems so cruel and I’d promised myself to stop keeping things I can’t wear. The other option–throwing it away– hurt too much. Tossing all of that time, materials, and joy into the garbage is not an option!

Instead, I am hoping that someone out there is willing to give this dress a chance. I put it on my dress form and it looked so lovely, I snapped a few pictures and decided it deserved a new home. The listing for it is up on Etsy right now, so if you happen to be a 35-26-35+ gal with 16 inch or smaller shoulders, I know a pretty project dress in need of a friend like you!

Currently plain, but a perfect blank canvas for trims!

This is how the skirt looks with a small pillow bustle. The skirt can also be worn without a bustle for a small train–perfect for an early 1890s look!

The dress is currently listed at $28 (plus shipping), which covers that cost of the fabric that went into the dress (I’m not a professional seamstress, so I don’t comfortable charging for my time.). It is pretty much complete except for closures, the bottom edge of the bodice, and any trimming. For a little extra, I’m also willing to finish the dress for someone who wants it, but doesn’t have the time to do it themselves.

Hopefully my failure can be someone’s success! :)