A Game of Thrones Inspired Dress from McCalls 6940

2018 has not been a good year for sewing. In fact, I’ve only sewn one new dress this year and it’s not historical at all!

Pictured above: Me during 2018 so far.

Perhaps I was feeling a bit burned out from the pressure of the historical costuming community or maybe it was my love of fantasy making a roaring appearance, but the only new costume I have made this whole year so far was, of all things, inspired by the Game of Thrones.

I don’t even really keep up with the show, but the costumes…they are fab! Check out the unbelievably beautiful embroidery! They have kindled a huge movement in the costume community, a kind of fantasy renaissance that hadn’t really happened since the Lord of Rings (over a decade ago…OMG! Where has time flown?!). As it turns out, a lot of historical costumers also fell in love with the wonderful GoT costumes. I think Katherine of The Fashionable Past really summed up why the world of Westeros was so appealing to many historical costumers:

“…They’ve truly created fashion on the show–clothes for different climates, different levels of society, different everything, yet they remain consistent in fashionable details. It was almost like discovering a new historical period.”

Kathrine has made a few GoT themed dresses with her own personal twists and designs. She noticed how similar the construction of her GoT dress was to 18th century dresses. In the course of my adventure, I discovered the skills I learned sewing the Plaid Croissant Natural Form Bustle Dress really helped make the McCalls pattern much easier to understand and sew!

I was inspired to give one a try! As it so happened, all the pieces just seems to fall into place like destiny.

A year ago, I had found my first piece of thrift-store silk. I want to be clear: I NEVER find yardage at my local Goodwill, much less silk yardage! Most of the silk I use is cut from silk shirts. I had enviously seen other costumers post on Facebook about finding silk yardage at the thrift shops. Finally, I found some–a real piece of silk–three yards of it! I was so proud and giddy that I horded it for a whole year. 3 yards isn’t enough for most historical dresses, so I didn’t quite know what to do with it. Like I am wont to do, I simply squirreled it away in the deepest recesses of the fabric horde where it waited, breath baited, to someday be recreated.

Fast forward to April and my friends invited me to Renaissance Faire!

Ren Faire is one of the “holy grail” events for costumers and though it was 100 degrees outside, I could NOT go to Ren Faire without a costume! I’d been struggling with a job switch and a general lack of creative energy, but I REFUSE to go all the way to ren faire to only look around. I want to be part of the costumed merriment!

At first, I desperately wanted to make a traditional 16th Century dress– the kirtle, the coif, the whole nine yards (of skirt fabric). But the only fabric I found that I liked was $50 a yard! Yikes! No thanks! So I thought about doing another version of my Second-Hand 17th Century Get-Up.

I’ve gained quite a bit of weight since 2013 (5 years ago?!). Alas, I don’t fit in that little jacket or skirt any longer! In light of this revelation, I began voraciously scrolling through pages and pages and pages of eBay auctions to find something that might work. I ended up in my favorite sari shop, “Antique Art of India” by sanskriti.india. I was looking for a lehenga (skirt), but instead, I found a glorious green silk organza sari. Inspiration hit me!

A sari is about 5 yards long, which, at my size, isn’t quite enough for a full dress on its own…but add 3 yards of silk dupioni to the mix…

As fate would have it, the Scarbie Faire theme for the weekend we were going was Fantasy, so a Game of Thrones dress would be perfect! And I already had several patterns to choose from in my stash.

The pieces were finally falling into place!

There are TONS of medieval and Game of Thrones style patterns to choose from. I waffled between Simplicity and McCalls because they seemed to be the top two choices in the GoT costuming community forums. Simplicity 1487/1009 was designed by Andrea Schewe, a pattern designer I admire for both her design sense and how easily I can adjust her patterns to fit my body. I know if her name is on a pattern, it will probably be fantastic!

However, the Simplicity pattern had a back zipper and a waist seam. I wanted a real wrap dress like Kathrine’s and the ones on the show. McCalls 6940 is a honest-to-goodness real wrap front dress.

All the reviews on the Game of Thrones costuming groups mentioned that the skirt on the McCalls pattern was too tight, but it’s easier to add fullness than to try to turn a zipper back into a wrap front. For this last-minute dress, I decided to use the McCalls pattern, View A. I cut a size 16 based on my full upper bust measurement. As I discovered, this was too large in the back. I should have cut a 14 or even 12 for the back.

I did have to alter the pattern to fit me which was no small task, but this is par for the course. Patterns are normally designed for B-cups and I’m an DDD/F cup. I’m a curvy gal and this pattern is not curvy at all. In fact, it has almost no waist or bust shaping, relying on the belt to draw in the excess fullness–not my favorite method of fitting, but I think I made it work.

As a busty gall, I’ve struggled to find regular everyday wrap dresses that don’t fit horribly over my bust. This dress is a wrap dress, but it also has princess seams to help make fitting a little easier…in theory. As it turns out, there is a special method for altering a wrap dress with princess seams. Plus, this dress had the special side gores that had to be accounted for!

I discovered a great tutorial by Idle Fancy that I absolutely recommend!

I followed it exactly, had the same “OMG, THIS PATTERN PIECE IS DEFORMED AND WILL NEVER WORK—Oh, it totally works!” moment she did. Mary 100% made this project easier to conquer. Thanks, chica!

MY HEROINE!

Here is a picture showing my adjusted pattern pieces with the originals:

In addition to the FBA, I also reduced the length of the sleeves to half so I could fit them on the narrow sari fabric and increased the skirt width by flaring the skirt pattern pieces at the bottom then tapering back to the original width near the top to make sure the gores still fit properly. The U-shaped gores seem really intimidating, but the way they are assembled makes it surprisingly easy! In fact, I assembled the majority of the dress in a single day, just in time to wear it to Scarborough! It was ROASTING wearing all the layers, insulating silk, and long sleeves, but I had an unforgettable time with my friends. We were too busy exploring to take many pictures, but here is one Chris took at the very end of the day.

I am shiny from sweat, crater-eyed from a lack of sleep, and sore from walking for hours, but the dress held up and people even recognized it as a Game of Thrones dress despite it not being any specific recreation! Huzzah!

Still, the dress wasn’t quite finished. It needed some more trimming and refining, which I finally got around to doing this week. So, months later, here is the finally finished dress!

As you can see, the dress ended up too big in the waist, leading to all sorts of wrinkling. If I make another version of this dress, I will need to tweak the pattern to be more fitted. McCalls 6940 relies on the included belt patterns to delineate the waist, so the dress pattern itself has almost no waist shaping whatsoever, even if you aren’t fitting it over a corset. I chose to wear mine with a corset 1) because on the show, Sansa is shown in one scene wearing stays (an earlier form of the corset), 2) it helps keep the belt in place because otherwise belts tend to ride up over my belly and settle right under my boobs, and 3) I like the regal bearing it gives me.

In addition to the corset, I wore an underskirt and petticoat. These fluff the dress more and since the front of the dress is wrapped over, but open, the underskirt does show when you walk or sit. You will definitely want to wear one that complements your gown! Mine is a prom skirt I bought at Goodwill for $6.

My final thoughts on the McCalls 6940 pattern View A are thus:

-It is a solid, basic dress. It is a good base for embellishments and the real wrap front is ideal. The tie closure works, though it would benefit from another one internally (or I could just add the snap they call for).

-It is too slim through the skirt and not fitted enough in the waist. For screen accuracy and plain ol’ aesthetics, I recommend increasing the fullness of the skirt as much as you can and then use a facing to help the skirt flare out in that lovely sweep we so love. I’d also try to make it more fitted in back, like I did for my Natural Form gown.

-This design really works best with fabric that have good texture and body. It takes quite a bit of fabric, too, especially because of the enormous sleeves. I used all 3 yards of the silk with only a handful of scraps left. The sari was completely used up except for a few damaged areas I had to work around and the pallu (the pallu is the decorated end, about 1 yard worth). This is after shortening the sleeves to accommodate the narrow fabric. I flatlined the dress like I would a Victorian one, but I left the sleeves unlined for airflow. The lining will add to the yardage you need. (I used a king-sized cotton sheet)

-The sleeves want to shift. They are open on the bottom after the elbow and I found that the fabric wants to slip off your arm. You can see it happening a bit here:

This may be due to a number of factors, but I think it’s because the sleeve construction puts the center of the sleeve on the outside of the arm, so the sleeve wants to twist to the side, causing it to gradually fall off your forearm. This might be fixed by weighting the sleeves or making them full-length instead of sorter like mine. I might try lengthening the inner side if I choose to make the shorter sleeves again. That might fix the issue.

-This dress is a solid intermediate pattern. The techniques are all basic and there are no fancy tricks. The hardest part to sew (in my opinion) is the facings at the neck and hem. Just take your time to pin things accurately and you’ll be fine.

-The instructions are very clear. Read them! I thought I knew how it would work, but discovered I was making more work for myself. The instructions actually made the sewing easier for once! The marks on the tissue are important for the ties down the front. Mark them accurately if you want the closure to line up.

-Make or buy a snazzy belt. Since it is key to achieving the look and fit, you’ll need a  belt to go with your gown. The pattern comes with two. I haven’t tried making them, but the armor-like one (based off Cersei’s in the show) looks wicked cool. If you don’t want to make your own, I recommend a comfy wide elastic belt. They are easy to put on and adjust, plus there are tons of styles online to choose from. I picked a rather basic black one with a brass closure to match the beading on the sari. Bonus points for it being something I can wear everyday, too! There are fancier models, though, like these that I found just by doing a quick Amazon search for “wide elastic belt:”

Overall, I had a ton of fun making and wearing this dress. I am very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to make something new! I also liked that it was fairly low-pressure. Sometimes historical accuracy can be a little claustrophobic if you have tons of internet people judging your every stitch and trim. Since this was entirely fantasy, there was much less pressure! I look forward to making another one of these dresses in the future. If you are feeling adventurous or need something fresh to jumpstart your creativity, I think this could be a great project. I worked for me! I’m still stressed and not feeling very motivated to costume, but I am proud to have made at least one dress this year.

For those of you curious about how I did my hair, I made a small tutorial thing for ya:

Hair Tutorial: A Basic Game of Thrones or Fantasy Hairstyle

Full Belly Adjustment for a 3XL Gentleman: Altering a Vest Pattern for the Fuller Male Figure

FBAs for Everybody!

As a top-heavy woman, I often have to do major pattern alterations in order to get a garment to fit my bust correctly. In the lingo of the sewing world, this alteration is called an FBA or Full Bust Adjustment/Alteration:

From the NMSU Pattern Alteration Guide which you can download here (it’s been recently updated!)

An FBA involves slashing and spreading the tissue pattern to accommodate the excess width and length the extra curve of the beasts adds to the front of the pattern piece. At this point, it’s become second nature to me since it’s a needed adjustment on nearly every pattern.

My lovely husband, Christopher, puts up with me and my humongous stash of craft supplies; plus, he will often join me at costume events wearing whatever wacky get-up I concoct for him. Since he puts up with my shenanigans so well, when he found some curtains at the thrift shop and requested I make an 18th century waistcoat out of them, I wanted to make darn sure that I made it look the best it could!

I have made a few things for him before, including an 18th century suit, so I just re-used the same pattern since I knew how it worked and how it fit him. However, with much more practice and experience behind me, I now noticed some fit issues with the pattern. I knew from the previous years of working with the waistcoat pattern that the armholes were too small and neck too small, and now I noticed when we tried the waistcoat on from two years ago, it would hardly close in front even though it was gaping with extra fabric at the back….

Hmmmmm….sounds familiar……

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“Make a face like mine! It’ll be cute!”
<Chris makes a grouchy face>
“Seriously?! You think I look like that?!”
<Chris makes this face>

Christopher is a big man. He’s 6′ 2″ and his chest is 54″ around (and his thighs are each the same size as my waist!). Christopher carries some excess weight in the front as many men do. His belly is about 52″ around which, according to the finished garment measurements printed on the tissue pattern, would mean that the waistcoat would be a tad too small, but he could close it if he sucked it in. While having a full belly and a tight waistcoat straining over it is perfectly period (perhaps even fashionable) in the early 18th century, it’s less than ideal from a comfort and craftsmanship standpoint:

Portrait of a Gentleman by Louis-Michel van Loo, circa 1734
Many portraits from the first half of the 18th century show men with full bellies and waistcoats in various states of unbuttoned-ness. It was quite fashionable to pose in a portrait like this, displaying a luxurious, studied nonchalance that being wealthy afforded you the time to practice.

Henry Burgum of Bristol by John Simmons, circa 1775
A very closely fitted waistcoat from later in the century. Tastes swung towards a more fitted, put-together look as the Industrial age rolled onto the scene. Mathematical precision, clean lines, and scholarly neatness were the new marks of the gentleman.

While a perfect fit wasn’t required by the period, as evidenced by his old waistcoat’s triangular gap at the front that tended to pop open unexpectedly and the excess fabric at the back, something really should be done to make the costuming experience more enjoyable for us both. Christopher’s full belly would require an adjustment similar to my Full Bust Adjustment, only his would be a Full Belly Adjustment!

When I searched online, there was lots of info about altering trouser patterns to accommodate a full belly, but nary a one for a shirt/vest (I even checked my Victorian Tailor book, but it was of no help, and my sewing books pretty much assumed you were fitting exclusively women. Bleh). I even searched for pregnant belly alterations since the shape is similar, but not much luck there either. I did, however, find three mentions of altering for a full belly: one on Male Pattern Boldness (showing a page from a book called Shirtmaking by David Coffin), a full belly adjustment on Get Creative geared toward women, and this one by Off the Cuff:

Since I was starting this waistcoat a mere 3 hours before the event, I decided to go with the simplest looking option of slicing and spreading the pattern. I pinned a piece of tissue into the gap of the old waistcoat over Christopher’s belly and used it to measure how much to spread the pattern open.  It’s the triangular piece of tissue to the right:

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In this photo, the pattern piece in the photo isn’t spread enough yet. Heck, it’s a miracle I even remembered to take a photo of it at all considering what a mad rush I was in!

I ended up swinging not just the side, but also the front until it filled the full width of the fabric (which was 45″ wide folded in half) like this:

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A very crude drawing of what I did. Sorry!
Yellow: Tissue pattern outlines
Orange: Fabric outline
Blue: Tissue pattern of the gap I needed to fill over Chris’s belly
Green: The pattern gap swung open to match the belly gap
Red: other pattern adjustments made to accommodate Chris’ large arms and neck (not related to the FBA)

A proper seamstress or tailor might tell me that swinging the front screws up the grainlines, but as far as I can tell, it worked just fine for a costume waistcoat to be worn maybe once a year. Simplicity 4923 has a slightly curved center front, just like real 18th century waistcoats:

Waistcoat, circa 1720

Waistcoat, circa 1770-80
Later-era waistcoats were shorter and often have a sharper curve to swoop back at the bottom, matching the cut of the coat.

The FBA I performed does increase the width of the bottom of the waistcoat, so it fits loosely over his hips. For the era I was dressing him for, the 1710s and most of the 18th century, having a wide flare over the hips was a design feature rather than a problem. However, if you desire a close fit that pulls back in under the stomach, you will likely need to add some darts just like you would for a lady’s FBA, just lower.

Waistcoat, circa 1740
This waistcoat bears evidence of a FBA! Waistcoats often were pre-embroidered or came with a pre-woven design that would be cut according to the new owner’s measurements. In this case, you can see the woven design ends before the side seam, which is wider and not as sharply angled. Since a gentlemen always wore a coat out in public, the bare edge of the waistcoat was covered. You can see another, later example of a pre-embroidered waistcoat that is larger than its decorative design here. Chris’s waistcoat ended up with a very similar shape. It is less dramatic than smaller waistcoats, but it functions much better!

 Here’s Chris’s final waistcoat fit. You’ll notice that it has no button holes. I had no time to add them since I started the waistcoat so close to the event (I was still sewing buttons on in the car), but, as you can see, I got the fit pretty spot on since the center front meets without needing to be held in place! Huzzah!

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See the full outfit here: Georgian Picnic 2015

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:

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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!

One Pattern to Rule Them All: A Civil War Era Dress Made from Simplicity 3723 (Part 2)

One Pattern to rule them all; One Pattern to make them; One Girl to sew them, and with some changes, fake them!

Autumn Day Dress, circa 1855-60

SO…

After much procrastination, consternation, and perspiration (the sewing room upstairs gets rather toasty), I finished assembling my modified-for-the-1850s Simplicity 3723 day dress!

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Hmmm….not so impressive.

While it looks pretty close to the envelope, if you think it looks a little “off” in that photo, you’d be right! This is a perfect example of how much undergarments matter. Simplicity 3723 is designed to be worn without a corset, but I fitted it over one for a more period look. However, since my corseted measurements and my uncorseted measurements happen to be exactly the same, I decided to take the opportunity to show how important proper undergarments can be. This is what the gown looks like without any petticoats, hoops, or a corset. It looks rather frumpy, doesn’t it?

You’ll also notice that even the pagoda sleeves, while lovely, look a little flat compared to what you’d expect. If you look at period photographs, you’ll notice that some ladies are wearing their wide sleeves alone, but most have fluffy while undersleeves filling out the cuff:

 

Daguerreotype portrait of a Woman, 1849-52
Worn sans undersleeves. Another later example here.

Handtinted Ambrotype of a Woman, circa 1855
Example of undersleeves from right around the time of my dress! Her undersleeves and collar are “Broderie Anglaise” (a type of homemade eyelet that was very fashionable in the 1850s). I like this photo a lot because she looks a bit like me. I even did my hair similarly. We’re history sisters!

Undersleeves, circa 1850-69
These are also decorated with broderie anglaise.

Undersleeves could vary from very fancy to extremely plain. For simplicity (Ha, ha! Jokes.), I chose to go with the latter. Making your own undersleeves is very simple! They are just two tubes of fabric gathered with drawstrings at the top and bottom. I used elastic cord for the drawstring because trying to tie drawstrings on yourself is impossible otherwise. Many undersleeves of the period had drawstring tops, but button cuffs for this very reason. However, I wanted something very quick and easy that anyone could make. By using elastic cord, I can dress myself.

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I just measured the length from above my elbow to my wrist and cut that much off a bolt of 45 inch fabric, which I then cut along the fold, giving me two rectangles of fabric 18″ x 22.5.” This is about as “skinny” of a sleeve you can make. The fuller your dress’ sleeves, the fuller your undersleeves should be.

By 1858, hoop skirts were in full swing. I really want hoops, but right now, I don’t have the cash. Instead, I fit my dress over a cheap bridal petticoat I found in Goodwill for $7, a modest bumroll, and my “post-haste” petticoat.

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Also: sock boobs!
I fitted the dress over a corset, but I didn’t put my corset on my mannequin because she is actually much longer waisted than I am and is nipped in and hard as steel in already!

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My “post-haste” petticoat is just 3 or 4 yards of fabric with a drawstring waistband. it’s post-haste because I made it 20 minutes before an event in a panic! Now it’s been worn with everything from an 18th century dress to 1880s bustles!

So now:

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Thanks in part to the heavy weight of the fabric, the final shape isn’t as defined and full as hoopskirts, but it’s still full enough to be period appropriate, especially for a common country woman. This fullness is actually perfect for 1840s, though! Now I know what to do for that decade when I get around to it.

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The collar is just some soft net lace I had originally bought to make 18th century engageantes. I really wanted to use an antique collar, but I couldn’t find one the right size. This works well enough, though. I am really proud of how the tassels turned out. So much fun!

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I notice a lot of pictures of museum workers standing by Victorian dresses, especially Queen Victoria herself, commenting about how tiny everything is. Well, it’s kind of an optical illusion. My dress looks pretty small compared to me, but that’s mostly thanks to modern clothes which aren’t fitted and cut across the body at the widest point. Also, you can really see just how much wide skirts make your waist look smaller by hiding your legs, which in my case are the skinniest part of my body. By hiding them, the eye re-focuses on the new skinniest place: your waist!

Before I could call my outfit complete, I needed a bonnet! No self-respecting 1850s lady, especially an ol’ married lady such as m’self, would be caught dead outdoors without proper headgear. Simplicity 3723 comes with a fabric sun bonnet pattern that’s pretty cute, but I didn’t want to be cute. I wanted to be petty, tailored, and stately in a modest-sized spoon bonnet that fit fairly close to my head. I also didn’t want to be too matchy-matchy. I had some dark blue ribbon that complimented the jewel tones of my dress and reminded me of this gorgeous bonnet in the National Trust Collections:

Bonnet, circa 1840-50
It’s dated a bit early, but simple enough that it could pass for almost any style between 1840 and 1860.

I used one of the many flower pot baskets out of my TV-intervention-worthy hoard as a base. As a few online tutorials suggested, I took off the top binding and soaked it in hot water for a few hours to try to remove some of the waviness in the brim. The basket straw is much thicker and brittle than hat straw, so I couldn’t get it as flat as I wanted, but slight waviness doesn’t seem to be a issue for these historical ladies:

Ladies of Davenport, Iowa,1863
My bonnet ended up being almost exactly the same shape as the one on the far left. Also: love that lady’s purse!

I rebound the edge with bias tape and in the process discovered that you never, EVER use “Amazing QuickHold” glue. Ever. It smells like skunk, makes the cat flee from the room in disgust, and causes the husband to ask many unflattering questions. It’s formulated to be thin, so it also soaks into fabric, leaving little frosted white patches when it dries. Do not recommend! I learned my lesson and went back to trusty old “craft” glue.

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I would have sewn everything on, but once again the thick straw got in the way– and perhaps no small amount of pure sloth. I really do love my hat baskets, though. They’re really cheap, easy to obtain, and highly entertaining. If I mess one up, I don’t feel as bad as if I had invested in an expensive reproduction bonnet form or even a straw hat. When I found the flower choices at the local craft stores to be rather uninspiring, I made some cockades using this tutorial and added a tassel cut from the dress trim scraps to tie it together without being overly matching:

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Bonnet cost breakdown:

2 yards navy ribbon – $4.75, eBay
2 yards mustard ribbon – $4.75, eBay
Hat basket – $1.59, Goodwill
1/2 yard net lace – $2, Hobby Lobby
2 yards pleated brown ribbon – $4.50, Walmart
Bias tape – $1.98, Walmart

Total: $19.57

Add some second-hand square-toed boots and I was ready to trundle everything out to my graciously obliging mother-in-law’s house for a photoshoot! Here’s everything being worn altogether:

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Dress cost breakdown

6 yards printed cotton – $17.82, Walmart
2 yards burgundy cotton – $5.94, Walmart
4 yards tassel trim – $15.96, Hobby Lobby
1/2 yard net lace – $2, Hobby Lobby
Cotton sheet for flat lining – $1, Thrift Town
Hooks and bars – $1.69, Hobby Lobby
Brown poly-cotton thread – $1.98, Walmart

Total: $46.39

Accessories

Bonnet – $19.57
Bridal Petticoat – $7, Goodwill
Flat, brown leather ankle boots – $29, eBay (Talbots brand)
Collar brooch – Personal collection

Total: $102.50
(a bit spendier than I would have liked, but still cheaper than purchasing one pre-made!)

Aside from the still-too-small petticoat circumference, I’d say my foray into the 1850s was a success!

I think the biggest reason the outfit came together so well stems from the way I approached the project. Sure, I wanted to be a bit ornery and prove you could make something passable out of the barest of materials, but I mostly made this dress for myself, approaching the project as though I was making clothes, not a “costume.” I chose fabric, colors, and trims that I thought looked best on me, not just because they were historically appropriate or pretty on their own and I made sure that I could generally exist in it comfortably without feeling suffocated or weird. A lot of costumes I’ve worn in the past have always felt costumey, so they projected as costumey, too. While taking on a different persona can be fun, if you are historically costuming in general, you are still you, even if you are an accountant in Alabama portraying a fisherman’s wife in 17th century Spain. Naturally, you would wear what “they” would have worn, but you are also the one wearing it, so wear what you would wear, too!

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Many thanks to Becky for allowing me to roam all over the back 40 and helping me take photos!

For construction details and the story behind this dress, check out Part 1.

 HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

One Pattern to Rule Them All: A Civil War Era Dress Made from Simplicity 3723 (Part 1)

One Pattern to rule them all; One Pattern to make them; One Girl to sew them, and with some changes, fake them!

Autumn Day Dress, circa 1855-60

I am not afraid to admit it: I have a not-so-secret love affair with 3723. Buying patterns for each and every specific era can be really expensive considering that patterns run about $15-$25 each. Simplicity patterns are no exception, but stores often run pattern sales for the Big 3 pattern makers. I got my copy of Simplicity 3723 for 99¢ during the Lobby of Hobby’s pattern sale. It’s the catch-all pattern designed to make basic “Pilgrim, “Colonial,” and “Prairie” style dresses using as few pattern pieces as possible, so instead of having to buy a different pattern for each era, you get a whole bunch of options in one. None of them are meticulously historically accurate by any means, but the shapes and styles are very easy to manipulate even for someone as ham-handed as myself.

Simplicity patterns get very little love in the historical costuming community, which is a shame. They may not be historically accurate, but they are readily available and in the case of Simplicity 3723, supremely modifiable– great for fitting practice and flexing your creative muscles! You can literally make a dress from almost any era with just this one pattern and plenty of chutzpah. One of my previous costuming projects involved transforming Simplicity 3723 into something a little more historically accurate for the 18th century:

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My 18th century Lady’s Maid Dress from 2013

And more recently, an 1880s Bustle Dress:

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My 1886 Day Dress from June 2014

Fit First!

 After making the 1886 day dress, I have pretty much refined the pattern to fit my torso properly. Most patterns are drafted for someone between 5′ 4″ and 5′ 8″ with an “average-length” torso and a B-cup bust. Some people are lucky enough to match standard patterns pretty well, but I’m broad shouldered, large-busted, and short-waisted, so no matter what, I always end up altering patterns to fit.
If you’ve ever been disappointed by how your costume looks after you’ve sewn it up exactly like the pattern said to do, it might be because the pattern doesn’t fit you quite like it should. The pattern shapes that come fresh out of the envelope are not absolutes! They are printed on paper not just for economy, but because they are designed to be cut, folded, and reshaped to fit you best. If you’re worried about ruining the original, trace the pattern pieces onto some cheap gift tissue or butcher paper so you can slice, dice, fold, and fiddle without fear. I encourage you to check out the many fitting guides you can find in books and online. For example, I have a simple pattern alteration guide from New Mexico State University saved on my desktop for quick access.

Hint: Pattern guides often leave this little tip out, but most modern patterns have armholes (armscyes) that are too low. Simplicity 3723’s are especially deep. If the armscye is too deep, it will make raising your arms difficult, creating a “bat wing” effect. Instead, the armscye should fit fairly close to your armpit. THIS SIMPLE PATTERN ALTERATION IS LIFE CHANGING! I will admit that I didn’t raise the armscye quite enough on my pattern. I only raised it one inch. On my body, Simplicity’s armscyes needed to be raised at least 2 inches. This handy guide explains how to get the right fit around your arm for an amazing fit every time. If you can get the armscye to fit right, you’ll be surprised how much better the entire bodice will look.

Since I plan to make many dresses out of Simplicity 3723 in the future, once I got the bodice portion to fit me correctly, I transferred the pattern onto some sturdy interfacing so I could use it over and over again without having to worry about ripping/overpinning/finding the cat chewing on the original tissue pattern. Now I have the basic building blocks for a whole wardrobe of fairly easy to make historical outfits!

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Label the new pattern with the original pattern and piece number, any sewing marks, and what alterations you made. Adding a date created and/or the measurements is also helpful. Bodies tend to change over time!

One Pattern to Rule Them All Challenge

The glory of Simplicity 3723 is once you’ve got the bodice to fit, you can make tons of dresses from different eras by just manipulating a few key bits!  So, I decided to challenge myself by making a dress for every major costuming era as a way to stretch my costume budget, encourage more focused research, practice fundamental sewing/patterning skills, and encourage creative thinking (something that can be surprisingly hard in the midst of the unemployment doldrums).  I’ve decide to limit myself to no more than 5 pattern alterations for every project (aside from the ones for basic fit), so if anyone wants to fiddle around with the pattern, they can get similar results.

(These tweaks should also work for Simplicty 3725, which is the children’s version of Simplicity 3723)

The Inspiration

Simplicity 3723 includes a “prairie dress” pattern, View A. It’s based off of American pioneer garb from the mid-19th century mixed with 20th century fitting techniques, producing costumes very similar to those used in the beloved Little House on the Prairie TV series, hence the term “prairie dress.”

“A Christmas They Never Forgot” always made me cry when I was little. Still my favorite!

I’ve steered clear of “Civil War” and other mid-19th century costuming for a long time because, sadly, as one of the most popular reenacting periods, it can get pretty catty and cut-throat when it comes to historical accuracy. There are entire webpages and Facebook groups dedicated to “farb” shaming. In fact, the pejorative term “farb” originated in this particular era of historical reenacting.

Hoops showing? What a Farb!

This particularly strict and sometimes vicious attitude is one of the many ill experiences that caused my teenage self to abandon historical costuming for years. However, that experience (among others) led me to create this blog. Thanks to time, practice, and lots of new, more supportive costuming friends, I decided to give the 1850s a try; after all, my figure is pretty well suited for it! There are plenty of historically accurate patterns for this era out there, but when I confront a challenge, I like to challenge it back.

Simplicity 3723 is most definitely a “farb” dress by reenactor standards, but it was never designed to be perfectly accurate anyway.  The pattern designer, Andrea Schewe, created this pattern specifically with small-scale theater productions in mind that need to clothe lots of actors with few resources. View A  is actually pretty good straight out of the envelope (personal fit issues aside). If you need a mid-19th century dress for a school play, just make it up as directed and add fluffy petticoats for a convincing 1840s-60s character. The one-piece construction is historically appropriate as well as convenient, plus  there’s enough fabric in the skirt to cover a 90-110″ hoop skirt. However, I wanted something a little more distinctive. The 1850s and early 1860s are famous for wide skirts and equally wide sleeves. And, as you probably know by now, I love big sleeves!

There are tons of inspirational photographs and extant garments to choose from, but in my case, the fabric actually came before the dress was even an idea. I found this wild, but utterly perfect quilting cotton at Walmart for just under $3 a yard. It’s part of 2014’s “Circles on Stripes” pattern, which came in blue, green, and brown backgrounds. All the ladies at the fabric counter thought it was pretty ugly, but I chose the brown. At the time, I had no intention of making a Victorian dress, but it gave me the fabric fuzzies inside, so I knew I had to have it! I bought 6 yards.

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I discovered a really nifty thing! If you go onto Walmart’s website, it’s horribly hard to look through their fabric listing, but if you really need extra yardage (as I did), but you’ve exhausted the supply at your local store, the website will actually tell you which stores still have your desired fabric in stock! That way, you don’t have to waste as much time driving store to store looking the hard way.

My particular pattern looks very similar to the ones found in this book of 1860s cotton swatches:

Swatch Book, circa 1863-68

It’s thick, as most quilting cottons are, much thicker than much of the cotton fabric available in the 1850s. In fact, the texture of my cotton fabric is quite close to Victorian dress-weight wool, which, as it turns out, was often printed with wild, bright patterns very similar to Walmart’s quilting fabrics! You can find quite a few photographs of ladies wearing eclectic prints:

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Women in Print Dresses, circa 1855-65
This set of photographs is from an eBay auction.

Another must for the 1850s besides big bell sleeves is fringe and tassels!

Afternoon Dress, circa 1857
Okay, perhaps not quite so much fringe…

After looking at lots of designs and photos, this was the design I came up with:

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One of the most important aspects of historical costuming is the shape of the waistline. The 1850s was transitional when it came to waistlines. The 1840s had really long, pointed waists and the 1860s were short waisted and rounded. Simplicity 3723 is long waisted with a slight point at the front, making it perfect for late 1840s and early 1850s. I’m naturally short waisted, so when I altered the pattern to fit my body, the waistline became more rounded with a slight dip in the front, pushing it closer to the late 1850s to early 60s.

To get the look I desired, I had to make the following alterations to Simplicity 3723:

(+1 skill point indicates something I’d never done before!)

1. Front Opening – The original dress pattern is made to zip up the back. To make the dress more historically accurate (and so I wouldn’t have mess with sewing in a zipper), I opted to make the bodice close in front with hooks and eyes. To be able to get the dress on, I added an 8″ deep lapped placket to the front of the skirt (+1 skill point!).

2. Dropped Shoulders – 1850s dresses had dropped shoulders, meaning the armscye didn’t sit at the top of the shoulder joint, but further down the arm (+1 skill point!).

3. Period Skirt Finishes – To get the most out of the fullness, I cut the skirt panels out of the full width of the fabric (in my case, 45″). Instead of gathering the waistband of the skirt, I used overlapping knife pleats. Originally, I was going to cartridge pleat it (another period method of fabric control), but after fiddling with it a few days (and ripping out yards of stitching), I decided knife pleating suited my tastes more. If you use 60″ fabric, your skirt can be made even fuller and you’ll probably want to use cartridge pleats to draw in the waistline. To help support the hemline, many Victorian dresses had hem facings between 4-10 inches wide (some even wider). I decided to go with a 5-6 inch wide facing.

4. No Collar – This is a small change. Instead of completing View A with a collar, I just left it off.

5. Pagoda/Bell Sleeves – I redrafted the sleeve pattern because nothing screams 1850s like sleeve swag! (+1 skill point!)

The Pattern

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You only need 5 pattern pieces to make an 1850s dress!
If you haven’t worked with this pattern before, measure yourself wearing your undergarments of choice (especially if you plan to wear a corset) and choose the closest pattern size to your measurements. I recommend choosing a pattern size according to your bust measure, but generally speaking, this pattern is pretty true to size with a good amount of ease (2.5 inches in the bust) built in for the average, active wearer. As I mentioned previously, I performed basic pattern alterations to make sure the bodice pieces, mainly bodices pieces 1 and 2, fit my body. Buy some cheap fabric, second hand sheets work perfectly, and make a mock-up of the pattern to gauge where you’ll need to make changes to the pattern, if any.

Many 1850s dress have very low dropped shoulders. I have wide enough shoulders as it is, so I find dropping the sleeves to be a bit unflattering. I decided to drop the sleeve only two inches, which I achieved by adding to the shoulder of my pattern:

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This is only an inches worth of drop which I tried for my first mock-up. I later extended it to two inches. Sadly, I didn’t get many action shots of this dress’s progress, for which I apologize!

The only other major change to the pattern pieces was turning the straight sleeve into a pagoda sleeve. I wanted a nice, fairly fitted upper with a generous lower bell that ended above my wrist, so I took the long sleeve pattern from View A and marked where the elbow was (this is where the flare would begin) and where I wanted the sleeve to end. Then I drew a gentle curve out about 3 inches between the two points. This hastily-drawn image explains it much better than I can:

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It doesn’t take very much extra flare to make a really full sleeve. For extremely wide sleeves, you can begin the curve above the elbow almost at the shoulder line. I had to make a few mockups before I got a curve I liked.

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Too much curve! This is what happens when the angle of your curve is too sharp and too wide.

Cutting

For a front closure, I needed two separate halves instead of a single piece. So instead of placing the bodice front piece on the fold, I placed it on the selvedge. Make sure your skirt panels are the right length (remember that you may need to add some extra length if you are using hoops larger than about 100 inches) and to cut them the full width of the fabric if you are using 45″ fabric to get maximum volume. Otherwise, follow the cutting directions provided by the pattern. I also had to account for extra yardage for my sexy new, voluminous sleeves (about 2/3 yard extra). I flat lined my bodice using a thrifted cotton sheet. Sage advice: Flat line all your Victorian bodices. It’s not only period correct, it also makes  taking things in and letting them out so much easier!

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Assembly

Assemble according to envelope, but instead of inserting a zipper in the back, sew the two back pieces together and leave the bodice front open for hooks and eyes. I added a modesty placket so if there is any gapping, it will be much less noticeable. Since that created an overlapping closure, I used bars instead of eyes:

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Modesty placket

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Front opening

To make the placket for the front opening, I followed this surprisingly simple tutorial from Sense and Sensibility patterns for a slash/lapped placket:

I bag-lined the sleeves with some cranberry cotton, using the scraps to make some pinked-edged ruffle trim for the sleeves. After everything was assembled, I sewed on some showgirl-worthy tassels. You’ll notice that my original drawing had a square design on the bodice. On paper and my dress form, a square looks great! On me….not so much. So I took inspiration from this dress (really, its the pelerine, but it counts!) and went for a much more flattering  sweetheart design.

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Obligatory “Kitty Helper” picture!

 So after, two months and three sewing machine needles later (don’t ask), was my 1850s dress successful?

Find out in Part 2!

One Pattern to Rule Them All: A Bustle Dress Made from Simplicity 3723

One Pattern to rule them all; One Pattern to make them; One Girl to sew them, and with some changes, fake them!

Bustle Dress circa 1886

Ah, Simplicity 3723! I am not afraid to admit it: I have a not-so-secret love affair with 3723.  It’s the catch-all pattern designed to make basic “Pilgrim, “Colonial,” and “Prairie” style dresses using as few pattern pieces as possible. None of them are historically accurate by any means, but the shapes and styles are very easy to manipulate even for someone as ham-handed as myself.

Simplicity patterns get very little love in the historical costuming community, which is a shame. They may not be historically accurate, but they are readily available and in the case of Simplicity 3723, supremely modifiable– great for fitting practice and flexing your creative muscles! You can literally make a dress from almost any era with just this one pattern and plenty of chutzpah. One of my previous costuming projects involved transforming Simplicity 3723 into something a little more historically accurate for the 18th century:

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My 18th century Lady’s Maid Dress

It’s the heat of the summer again and I felt like I needed another Simplicity 3723 project (maybe it’ll become a summer tradition, who knows?). I’m more penniless than ever before, so I had an extra level of frugality to wrestle with, but I was feeling ambitious. I needed a bustle gown and I figured I could whip one up in a jiffy if I played around with the pattern pieces a bit, and by golly, I was right! With a few tweaks, I was about to create a fairly decent bustle silhouette!

Sadly, in my haste, I neglected to add extra width to the shoulders, so I didn’t fit into the dress at all. A lovely lady in Germany offered to give it another chance, so off went Bustle Dress #1 to a new home! After a good cry and a few months/projects later, I was ready to try again. This time I made sure that I fitted the shoulders properly! That’s one of the glories of this pattern: the pieces are very simple to alter.

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When I finally get all the alterations right, I trace my new pattern onto interfacing (the sew-in kind, not the iron-on). It’s strong, durable, won’t unravel and is hard to tear. Label the new pattern with the original pattern and piece number, any sewing marks, and what alterations you made. Adding a date created and/or the measurements is also helpful. Bodies tend to change over time!

Luckily, I had bought the whole bolt of faux suiting and found some more green velour at Walmart, so I could stick to my original design and stay within budget. Huzzah!

The Design

Simplicity 3723 doesn’t have a “bustle” option. Indeed, it’s well nigh impossible to find a decent all-in-one bustle dress pattern from the Big 3, mostly because bustle dresses are often large swathes of fabric carefully caught up into shape using tapes, gathers, drapes, and a strategically placed gore or three. All these large tissue pieces mean that a full bustle dress pattern is very bulky and hard to fit into a regulation Big 3 envelope. However, by choosing the right pieces and fudging them a bit, you can make View A (the “Prairie” style dress) into a fairly nice bustle dress for Steampunk or theatrical purposes!

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I’m notorious for not following pattern directions, but for this dress, I decided to limit myself to no more than five pattern alterations (aside from those needed for fit):

1. Front Opening – The original dress pattern is made to zip up the back. To make the dress more historically accurate (and so I wouldn’t have mess with sewing in a zipper), I opted to make the bodice close in front with hooks and eyes.

2. Separate Skirt – Unlike Simplicity 3723’s dress, bustle-era dresses usually didn’t have the skirt attached to the bodice.

3. Bustle Shaping – In order for the dress to sit smoothly over a bustle without the hem of the skirt hiking up in the back, the back of the skirt needs to be longer and rounded.

4. Add Skirt Gores (or would they be darts of sorts?)- To keep the large amount of fabric in the skirt from bulking up the waist, bustle-era skirts generally had triangular gores cut out of the top so there was less fabric to pleat or gather.

5. Bustle “Overskirt” – To emphasize that luscious booty!

Step 1: The Pattern

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Making a bustle dress out of Simplicity 3723 only takes 8 pattern pieces. Measure yourself wearing your undergarments of choice (especially if you plan to wear a corset) and choose the closest pattern size to your measurements. I recommend choosing a pattern size according to your bust measure, but generally speaking, this pattern is pretty true to size with a good amount of ease (2.5 inches in the bust) built in for the average, active wearer. As I painfully reiterated earlier, I needed to make a few additional alterations to make the pattern fit. I like to use the basic “Pattern Alterations Guide C-228” published online by New Mexico State University, but many other similar pattern altering guides are available online and in sewing books. Since the bodice pattern is so simple, it’s very easy to manipulate even if you’ve never done pattern alterations before.

You’ll notice all the pattern pieces I used were from “View A,” the prairie-style dress. The other two pieces are the “apron tie end” that I used as a waistband pattern and the “drape” pattern from the “Colonial-style” dress which would become the bustle overskirt.

Step 2: Layout

This is where most of the magic happens–and the key to making those all-important changes that will turn this into a bustle dress.

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Something like this, depending on your fabric.

Once I had all my pattern pieces in order, I needed to lay them out on the fabric. Since I wanted my bodice to be front-opening, I didn’t lay the bodice front on the fold as instructed (though you still can; you’ll just need to cut it apart at the fold afterwards). To make the collar open in the front as well, I simply put the center back on the fold instead of the center front. A bodice looks much better when it is lined, so I cut the exact same pieces out of a nice old cotton sheet!

The most complex change, though, was the skirt:

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In order to get that bump at the back that would make the dress curve over the bustle without the hem hanging funny, you have to have a curve at the back. Piece 5 is actually the front skirt piece, but it has that lovely curve already built in. I used it for the back of the skirt instead!

What I did:

First, I flipped piece 5 so it was on the selvage instead of the fold, then I extended the curve out until it met the fold.
Piece 5 is shorter than piece 6, so you have to extend the bottom of the piece to match the hemline.
Piece number 6 is going to be the front of your skirt. I only cut one copy of 6 because I didn’t want too much fullness at the front.
I cut a 12 inch long triangular gore out of the center waistline of piece number 6. I made mine about 5 inches wide at the top, but how wide you make yours depends on your waist size and how full you want the front of your skirt. Smaller sizes will need larger gores, otherwise there will be too much fabric at the waistline to gather/pleat down to the proper size!
I used piece 16 as a guide to cut a waistband for my skirt. I cut it 2 inches longer than my waist size to allow for finishing and overlap for the closure.

I decided to leave my skirt unlined because my fabric was fairly heavy. However, most skirts from the period are lined and lighter fabrics definitely benefit from a lining!

I chose to make the collar and drape out of a contrasting (and very annoying) green velour contrast fabric. I only cut one drape. It doesn’t look that impressive when it’s flat, but when you sew it together, it’s amazing how much fullness it has!

Step 3: Assembly

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The draped overskirt is attached to the bodice. It’s not period, but it makes getting dressed a cinch!

Sew the bodice according to the envelope, but close the back seam instead of leaving it open for the zipper and leave the front seam open to add your hooks and eyes/invisible zipper/buttons. I attached the velour drape around the back, using the front darts as my stopping points. Sadly and rather embarrassingly, I ran out of hooks and eyes, so I couldn’t close the bodice all the way to the point! Whoops! Let’s  just say it’s an artistic design element, shall we?

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I’m 5 feet 5 inches tall (41 inches waist-to-floor) and I didn’t alter the pattern’s skirt length. In 2 inch heels, it hits just above my toes in the front.

The skirt I pleated instead of gathered because 1) pleating was the preferred method of fabric control in the 1880s, 2) it isn’t as bulky as gathering, and 3) pleating is just easier for me. In order to get a bustle skirt and not just a plain trained skirt, you actually attach the curved side of the back skirt panel to the waistline instead of the straight side. It makes a little “pooch” for the bustle to fit under and keeps the hemline even. Often, heavy skirts with lots of fabric in them have a tendency to collapse around your legs at the hem, tripping you up and generally looking a mess. The Victorians loved full skirts, so to combat hem collapse, they faced their hems–sometimes up to 12 inches deep! I didn’t go nearly that far. Instead, I just used some 48mm Wright’s bias tape hem facing. It’s stiff, easy to sew, and bends nicely around the curve of the skirt. I wish I’d found some black or even green hem tape, but all Walmart had was white. Still, it does it’s job admirably!

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Step 4: Decorate!

Bustle dresses usually have tons of trims, so feel free to go nuts decorating. When in doubt, add more trim! My finished dress looked very much like a uniform– camouflage colored, square shouldered, and stark– so I decided to keep it that way. Plus, I’m broke, so lots of fancy buttons, passementerie, and the like were pretty much out of my reach. I had a swathe of green velour left from making the drape, so I cut some strips from it for decoration. Normally, I would sew the trim on, but since this velour stuff is a knit, it was hell to sew. In a moment of frustration, I broke out…THE HEATBOND.

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This stuff is super vintage, too. It’s probably only a few years younger than I am!

It worked surprisingly well.The velour didn’t stretch and shed and it kept the crisp lines. It’s not as neat and tidy and sewing it on, but if you’re pressed for time or patience, the stuff can work miracles.

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To get the velour tabs on the shoulders just right, I ironed them on while the dress was on the dressform. That way, I didn’t create any weird creases and I could fiddle with the positioning.

The Finished Dress:

(and some poor-quality photos)

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A silly pin-up picture showing my insufficient hooks and eyes and the giant feathery poof on my impromptu 1940s-hat-turned-bonnet. What a tart!

For undergarments, I wore my swanky new corset from Hourglass Attire, a cotton tank top, a white hippie skirt, and my homemade bustle:

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The bustle is just a stuffed fabric crescent that I drafted from, of all things, the sleeve head:

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Then, I added ties and a circular, ruffled tablecloth I found at the thrift shop, creating an utterly ridiculous, yet surprisingly effective, bustle in just the right size:

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Cost Breakdown:

1880 old fashioned
Dress and bustle:

5 yards polyester “suiting” – $15, Walmart
2 yards obnoxious green velour – $6, Walmart
Queen-sized cotton sheet – $1.99, thrift shop
Heatbond – FREE! (Thank you, Reva!)
(Not enough) hooks and eyes – $1.69, Hobby Lobby
Brown poly-cotton thread – $1.98, Walmart
Ruffled cotton tablecloth – $1.99, thrift shop

Total: $28.65

While it’s certainly not re-enactment worthy or particularly flashy, it’s easy to wear, fun to make, and I didn’t have to buy any new patterns. So, I’d say the Simplicity 3723 Bustle Dress experiment was successful!