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!

IMG_0100 IMG_0107IMG_0104


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 Ticker Tape Timeline of Panic: An 1890s Costume for Candlelight at Dallas Heritage Village 2014

The Panicked Plaid Walking Dress, circa 1897

After Georgian Picnic, I got to start my new job! It’s a bit more complicated than anticipated, but otherwise it is working out well. The only tangle is that Saturday hours are required. Many Guild events are on Saturdays, so I was worried I would have to miss the December events, Lantern Light and Candlelight. Lantern Light was actually a last minute event. We were invited on the fly to attend for free if we all come dressed in 1890s garb. I love the 1890s! And free? Everybody loves free!

When the schedule rolled out at work the following week, however, I was scheduled to work that Saturday. It broke my heart, but Lantern Light was off the table. The Thursday before the event, the schedule suddenly changed and I got the day off, but by then other plans had been made, so I still missed it. I was, however, now free to attend Candlelight. I planned to wear my 1856 day dress since I thought it was “Christmas-y” enough to fit the mood. Plus, December events are frequently frigid, so yards of heavy quilting cotton would be a welcome haven from the chill.

But the seed of discontent had been sewn by my missed 1890s opportunity and the unruly Texas weather only helped that discontent grow…

Saturday, December 6th
(7 Days until Candlelight)

The forecast predicts that the weather, which has been unbelievably warm for December, will continue to prove the existence of global warming throughout the week. Highs are listed in the low 70s through the following Saturday. I wonder if six yards of quilting cotton is the wisest choice.  I have that summery cotton 1890s dress that’s much lighter. Maybe wear that? No. It’s too spring-like. I want to be festive! There’s a new Walmart down the road with an awesome fabric department…no! There’s no time! Plus, my 1850s dress is super cute.


Maintain the course, Lizzie! You’re too deep in already, what with this new job. You don’t have time to make anything new. No more last minute sewing!

Becky is a busy bee at work and has no time to sew, so we troop over to the neighborhood Goodwill to put my Easy Edwardian thrifting tutorial into action. Hallelujah! The perfect lavender formal skirt appears! One flouncy silk shirt, pair of perfectly plum pumps, and a swanky sheer jacket later and we have the perfect basic Edwardian lady! We part discussing hats hats hats. I love hats…especially 1890s hats.

Sunday, December 7th
(6 Days until Candlelight)

O…M…G…This Walmart polysatin looks so fabulous! And look! A matching plaid! I need this plaid. It is sooooo 1890s!

The Delineator January, 1898

I’ll just stash them together since they’re practically made for each other. It’ll be a good project for later. Can I get some help in the fabric department please? Thank you. Is it okay if I start stacking bolts here? Fabulous!


Ahem! What? Nope! Nothing to see here! Carry on!

Monday, December 8th
(5 Days until Candlelight)

Wow, is my head stuffy! I hope I’m not getting a cold…

Tuesday, December 9th
(4 Days until Candlelight)

Yup. Cold. Dammit.

Wednesday, December 10th
(3 Days until Candlelight)

Becky is going Edwardian. Chris is (was) going in his blue Edwardian coat. I wanna match eras! A stupid idea this close to the event, but–themes! Plus, I have this awesome, festive plaid that is just screaming holiday without being too kitschy. Yup! Totes making an 1890s dress! Simplicity 4156 has lots of pieces, but I’ve made it before and I’ve refined the pattern to the point where it fits pretty well. Sewing the skirt would take up a big chunk of time, though. Time for some thrifty cheating!


I have a red satin formal skirt I used for my Edwardian hack, and it matches pretty well. I’ll just use the bodice portion and forgo the skirt. But housework first. I’ll start tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11th
(2 Days until Candlelight)

2:34 pm: Wow, work was a bear! I’ll just lie down for a short nap to recover. Better take some medicine, too. I should probably lay out my pattern pieces fir–ZZZZZZZZ….

5:53 pm: Whoa, I did not mean to sleep that long. Time to meet Becky at Hobby Lobby for hat decorations. Feathers! Flowers! Fabrics! Trims take the most time to shop for, at least in my case, plus, you can never have too many ostrich plumes!


Chopping up a cheap Christmas wreath yields the perfect touch of Christmas cheer for my hat, too.

Friday, December 12th
(1 Day until Candlelight)

10:00 am: Probably should not have slept this late…


<abject panic and flailing for about 2 hours>

Maybe I’ll just wear my 1856 dress after all. But that would be quitting. I ain’t no quitter!

3:40 pm: Hmmm…I don’t really want balloon sleeves this go-round. Mutton sleeves sound better. Internet tutorials to the rescue! There are lots of methods, but I need to stay simple. The easiest two are the vertical slash for a very full, tapered sleeve and the curved slash that concentrates that fullness at the top:

Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The vertical slash method is on the bottom.


Leg of Mutton Sleeve Pattern Diagrams, circa 1940
The “Gill” method is on the left.

They produce very similarly shaped results, but I don’t like the amount of fullness the vertical slash method creates down the length of the arm when used for long sleeves (for short puffs it should work just fine). Both would be correct, but the more fitted forearm of the “gill” method is much more flattering. The sleeves take almost a full yard of fabric by themselves!


I would have gone bigger, but there was no time to do another mock-up.

4:50 pm: All pattern pieces cut! I scrounge for lining and end up having to line the sleeves in cotton rather than net, so they won’t puff as much as I like. If you can, flatline mutton sleeves with net if your fabric is soft and drapes. Crisp fabrics usually don’t need it, depending on how you want the final result to look. Another option is to make 1980s-esque shoulder pads. I had time for neither, so my sleeves flop a bit. Oh well!

5:50 pm: Time to go to dinner with the family and go to Journey to Bethlehem at church.

9:40 pm: Chris drops me off at the house on his way to Magic the Gathering.

1:15 am: There’s so much to do! The lapels are giving me lots of trouble because I’ve worn out the needle and I have no more! Chris has the car way across town, so buying a fresh one is a no-go. I hand crank the needle through the thick lapel interfacing, which works great….until I realize I’ve just sewn one lapel backwards! Crap.


2:27 am: Wailing and gnashing of teeth.

3:15 am: Chris picks me up after Magic the Gathering and we buy fresh needles from Wally World.

4:40 am: Bed.

Saturday, December 13th
(The Day of Candlelight)

9:00 am: Alarm goes off.

10:00 am: I decide I needed to make life even more complicated by adding a faux belt front to the bodice insert. I bought the buckle off eBay about a month ago for a few dollars. I didn’t really know why I bought it at the time, but it works perfectly. Must have been fate! Also the hand of fate: I have a red silk shirt from Goodwill to recycle into a belt that pretty closely matches the skirt color.


11:30 am: Insert done. The collar came up an inch short, but there is no time! Hide it with a brooch…

12:05 pm: The peplum requires a ridiculously long piece of facing. I don’t have time to hand-tack it to the lining. Iron-on hem tape that sucker!

1:25 pm: Sleeves done.

1:30 pm: Wait, I was supposed to be curling my hair this whole time?! Noooooooooo! I forgot!

2:00 pm: Becky arrives and we get her all gussied up.

3:15 pm: Chris is hollering at me from downstairs that we need to go and I am still sewing feathers on my hat. Also, he has decided to go in his western vest rather than in his more formal vest and one button has fallen off. Sew it on while stuck in Dallas traffic.

4:55 pm: Arrive late, but look oh-so-fabulous! (Sorry for making you wait, Jen!)

1910s and 1890s

1910 on the left, 1897 on the right!


Our cozy little group, complete with a pair of handsome gentlemen!
Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre (and the woman who so kindly took the photo for us!)


Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre


Photo (filtered B&W) courtesy of Festive Attyre


Becky made her hat from a sun hat that she covered with velvet and trimmed with silk hydrangeas and sequined ribbon. Her first Edwardian hat-making project ever! The sequins caught the light so well.


Edwardian hats are large horizontally while 1890s hats are large vertically, so I went for big, tall feathers and flora. Like many 1890s hats, I put a big V shaped bow at the back to create the “setting hen” look that was popular at the time.

Festive 1890s Hat Cost Breakdown

Wool hat base – $18.95, Go-a-Hat
Fabric for band and bow – Scraps, so free!
Various greenery from dismembered wreath – $4.95, Hobby Lobby
Red feathers – $1.99, Hobby Lobby
Cream plume – $3.99 Hobby Lobby

Total: $29.88


Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

Panicked Plaid 1890s Dress Cost Breakdown

3 yards navy polysatin – $6, Walmart
1 yard plaid cotton – $1, Walmart
Red silk shirt for belt- $2.15, Goodwill
Gilded brass belt buckle – $4.49, eBay
Red formal skirt – $5.49, Goodwill
1/4 yard interfacing – A gift, so free!
White beaded purse – Technically it’s my sisters, so, um, free?

Total: $19.13

You might notice something missing from this list: fasteners! indeed, there isn’t a single fastener down the front of the bodice! It’s held together by the belt, brooch and two strategically placed straight pins, but thanks to the fit and front pleating, you can’t even tell. Not bad for being totally on the fly!


Happy Holidays!

Saucy Chartreuse: 1890s Walking Suit for Frontier Fort Days with the DFW Costumers Guild

Making Sunday’s Best out of Walmart’s Worst

I mentioned that I’d found a chartreuse shirt at the thrift shop recently. Well, the timing couldn’t have been better because I was invited to go to the DFW Costumers Guild’s Frontier Fort Days train ride. I could have worn my Mrs. Mauve dress, but I didn’t want to deal with the huge sleeves in the wild Texas wind, so a new dress was in order– short order!

I had found some super-cheap cherry blossom print cotton at Walmart in the clearance section for $2 a yard. It was love at first sight, even if the first 4 yards of it had snags all over the place!


Japonism was hugely popular in the 1890s. These cherry blossoms are perfect! I think I actually squealed when I found it, but I don’t clearly remember. I do remember hiding the bolt so no one would take it while I finished grocery shopping, though….

Since there were only 7 yards of the cotton print and one full dress would take 6.5, I had to use every last bit, even the snagged parts. I cut the lining and enormous back skirt panels from the chewed-up bits. The pleats hide any little nips perfectly! The pristine fabric was saved for the skirt front and bodice.

I used Simplicity 4156 again (my Precious), but I modified it a lot. So much so, in fact, that I really had no idea what the dress was going to look like in the end because I’d deviated not just from the pattern design, but my own design as well!

The original Simplicity 4156 design


My first draft design: smaller puff sleeves and no lapels, standing collar, or peplum.

Originally, I was going to pair the grey fabric with some buttery yellow velvet, but when I put the two next to each other, it just didn’t work. Then, on a whim, I tried the chartreuse shirt…MAGIC! So I redrafted the design again:


Design draft #2

I omitted the lapels and stand-up collar, and didn’t have to fuss with a peplum and facing, so the bodice was a breeze! The sleeves, however, were a hot mess:

I took TONS of in-progress shots…all of the finished sleeves. Yeah. Just the sleeves. Mostly because I was so glad to be done with them!

I used Ol’ Trusty, my favorite sleeve pattern again. Usually sleeves fit too tightly on my upper arm, but bag around my wrist because my arm is very muscular up top, but twig-like by the time it reaches my wrist. Perfect for 1890s sleeves, but I used applied balloon sleeves instead of drafting a tapering mutton chop sleeve. I just like the look better, but golly, was it a pain! I had to resize the fitted sleeve about three times and re-sew the puffs twice, once because I sewed one on inside out and another because I caught up some of the pleats. Since I wasn’t using the huge, original sleeve-puff pattern included in the envelope, I drafted my own complex sleeve-puff pattern which involved calculus, cracking the Da Vinci code, and blood sacrifice….

Actually, I just took Ol’ Trusty, figured out how far down I wanted the puff to go, then traced around the entire thing 5 inches out:

sleeveAnother one of my highly-technical illustrative masterpieces displaying my intense pattern drafting (and computer illustration) prowess.

It wasn’t elegant and likely could have been done much better, but it worked! I’m usually not much for cuffs, but the sleeves (even with the puff) were much too plain. I cut some triangular cuffs out of the chartreuse silk and was delighted to discover how Starfleet-eque they looked! Two covered buttons later, I was promoted to Lieutenant:

Starfleet Forever

Ah, tiny touches of geekery…

I tacked back the collar with some matching covered buttons to tie the look together. Since I had omitted the lapels and collar, the bodice was rather plain on its own. I had some lovely, drapey lace I had bought to make into 18th century engageantes, but the lace was just a tad too limp in my opinion, so I’d stashed it. However, it was just right for a jaunty jabot, so I upped the haughtiness level of the bodice with a swag of smarmy lace:

Smarmy” and “lace” aren’t usually paired together, but jabots always make me feel like one of those pretentious rich ladies or an Edith Wharton character. It’s like a costume’s costume: I’m playing the part of someone playing a part!
…I think my English Major is showing…

So at the end of day (a rather late end to the day, too), I ended up with something that, while slightly reminiscent of my original design, was much fancier than I originally planned on making:


I used every last bit of the chartreuse shirt! All that’s left are tiny bits and strings scattered everywhere throughout the house thanks to the kitten.

I really, REALLY highly recommend the Simplicity 4156 to intermediate costumers, or even ambitious beginners, in need of an 1890s pattern. The basic pattern goes together well, plus it’s easy to manipulate, fit, and redesign by mixing and matching the pieces. It is currently out of print (a tragedy! Please reprint it, Simplicity!), so it is expensive. It goes for about $35 online, but I was lucky enough to find a copy for $10 from a theater costumer closeout sale, so there are bargains out there!

Construction Notes

The front closes with hooks and eyes and I used 1/2 inch wide cable ties to bone the front, sides, and center back which helped the fit immensely!

For coolness, I didn’t add a full-sleeve interior lining.

My dress form is about 2 inches longer in the waist than I am, so pardon the gap! I am much stockier than Simplicity the Dress Form is, so the bodice actually meets the skirt when I wear them.

I also need to add a waist tape and some hooks and eyes to hold the bodice and skirt together, but I ran out of time. This dress is my new “event” dress, though, so I have lots of time to finish it up for the next go-round. For the train ride, a few strategically placed safety pins in the bodice held everything together nicely!

This braid was in my stash for YEARS because I had no idea what to do with it. It’s really shiny (the picture makes it look less so, but it’s 1980s costume-jewelry gold) and stiff, so it holds the hem out nicely without being too heavy. Plus, it was cheap. I remember paying something like $2.50 for 10 yards of the stuff!

To get the hem to flare out in the 1890s lily shape, I used some gaudy metallic upholstery braid. The green and yellow 1890s dress in my collections used two rows of cording around the bottom to the same effect. Other options include: crinoline (horsehair), cotton duck/canvas, interfacing, and/or lots of fluffy petticoats!


No walking outfit is complete without a hat, so I decorated a thrifted straw sunhat with the leftover lace, a black feathered bird ornament, and a pleated fan shape made from the cuffs of the chartreuse shirt:


I’d originally bought this hat to wear with an 1860s dress, but I decided at the last minute I needed a big sunhat since I didn’t have a parasol. Boy howdy, am I glad I took a sunhat! I would have been (even more) red as a beet by the end of day if I hadn’t. Sun protection is important, folks!

I also made sure to wear a good pair of walking shoes.


They started off as metallic pastel 1980s shoes, but I painted them last-minute with some cream acrylic. They flaked a bit in the creases, but overall, they worked well. I plan to remove the acrylic and repaint the shoes with some proper leather paint later.







I need a good pair of taupe pumps! These are nice because they have a low heel and make my feet look fashionably long and skinny despite them being wide and duck-like. They are almost comfier than a pair of tennis shoes…almost!

A little scuffed and flaky after walking all afternoon on the bricks, but no blisters, no bunions, and no sore arches!

My sister’s elegant ivory purse and an antique silver locket rounded out the ensemble:

This beauty is currently listed in my Etsy shop.

We all had an excellent time at Frontier Fort Days in the Fort Worth Stockyards, surveying the longhorn cattle parade through the streets behind columns of Civil War era troops,  attending a mortar (cannon) loading and firing demonstration, and, in my case, ordering a burger and fries:


Dressed a decade too early for the hamburger. Just call me food-fashion forward!


Chris investigating the artillery.


A lumbering lot of longhorns!


Some of the lovely ladies of DFWCG representing every decade from 1870 to 1900.

Jen of Festive Attyre took tons of photos of the event and everyone’s handsome costumes. You can find them all on Flickr:


See more pictures here!


The Walmart Fabric Trio!
Each of us made our dresses from Walmart fabric finds.
(Photo by Festive Attyre)

It was 90+ degrees outside (32° Celsius), so I was really glad I took a hat and fan! By the end of the train trip, we were all madly fanning ourselves, glad to be back in the air-conditioned coach. Despite the afternoon heat, I was actually quite comfortable until I sat in the “parked-in-the-sun-baking-all-day” car!

Me and my no-fuss frizz both fizzled out!

All in all, a good, old-fashioned day out with the gals (and some handsome cowboys)!

Dress Stats:

7 yards of cotton print – $14, Walmart
Chartreuse silk shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Cream silk knit shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Queen-sized cotton sheet – $1.99, Thrift Town
1/2 inch cover button kit – $4, Joann Fabrics
Hooks and eyes – $1, Hobby Lobby
1 full spool of thread – $2.99, Hobby Lobby
5 yards gold braid – $1.25, personal stash1 yard net lace – $4.99, Etsy

Total: $39.22

If you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (or willing to meet up), the DFW Costumers Guild is an open group that welcomes historical and fantasy costumers alike. You can read more about the group, read the guild blog, and get details about future events on the DFW Costumer’s Guild website or Facebook page!

Mrs. Mauve Undergarments: A Review of Orchard Corset’s CS-411

“Scandaless” Undies!


Yes, there is a dress attached to those SLEEVES.

Well, I did it! I have finished sewing the pink polyester-whatever dress– which I have named “Mrs. Mauve”– and all that is left to do is trim it, figure out how to trick my hair into assuming a vaguely 1890s syle, and find some time to take photos!


Pragmatic anachronism at it’s finest!

I mentioned in my earlier posts that I was fitting this dress over improvised undergarments. I got a few questions about them, so I decided to use this as an opportunity to introduce one of my costuming staples. The corset I fitted my Mrs. Mauve dress over is my Orchard Corset CS-411. It’s a really comfortable, inexpensive underbust that, while not perfect for 1895 (underbusts came onto the scene around 1893, but weren’t common for daily wear until 1900), is a good option for Edwardian era costuming and an great companion for flouncy vintage dresses. For the Mrs. Mauve dress, I paired it with a underwire sports bra and a cotton tunic shirt for a chemise. Together, they helped hold the bust up to the proper place and prevented overtly modern jiggle.

CS-411 Corset Overview:
Price – averages $75 plus s&h
Fit – underbust to upper-hip, 10″ long
Shape – Hourglass curves

Short length
Doesn’t squish bust
Sturdy construction
Flattering shape
Fun fabric

Laces too slick
Not enough curve
Bulky fabric


Company photo of Orchard Corset’s CS-411 in Black Pinstripe

Price and Fit

My underbust-to-lap measurement is 9-9.5 inches (depending on how much I slouch). The CS-411 is 10 inches in front and 8.5 inches on the side, making it just short enough for my torso. I do get a little extra “uplift” in the bust, especially when I sit down. It is one of the shorter ready-to-wear corsets on the market at the moment and one of the cheapest– most Orchard Corset styles average about $75 but are often offered on sale (O.C. recently added an even shorter cincher, the CS-201). Besides my pinstripe version, the CS-411 comes in a variety of fabrics, including satin, cotton, and brocade. The brocade and pinstripe corsets are thicker than the satin corsets, so they are very sturdy, but your outside measurement will be larger because of the added bulk. For example, even cinched fully closed, my 24 inch corset has an outside measurement of 27 inches. If outside measurements concern you, the satin is your best option. They also offer this style in breathable cotton, but I have not tried it yet.


According to Orchard Corset, the CS-411 is a Level 3 silhouette. Level 3s are the curviest corsets the company currently offers. I definitely get eye-catching curves, but I wouldn’t classify them as extreme. There is a 9 inch difference between the hips and waist on my corset which remains fairly constant through all Orchard Corset Level 3s. It is perfect for tubular and round body shapes. Pear shapes might find the hips a bit tight. Ladies with natural hourglass curves might be underwhelmed by the CS-411’s shape since it may closely mimic your own body, fitting to it instead of shaping it.


I really like this corset. Though I bought it primarily for costuming, I wear it as a modern accessory, too. I have worn it to Thanksgiving (and eaten in it without trouble) and to the mall. It goes wonderfully under vintage pieces as well, which I love. Compared to an overbust corset or a longline corset, it is very easy to move around in. Since it is an underbust, it doesn’t squish my bust down or give me “quad-boob” as many off-the-rack overbusts do, nor does it rub my underarms– a big issue I’ve had with corsets in the past. I also love that I can sit normally in it without the bottom edge jamming into my thighs. It’s great for my posture, too!


The pinstripe fabric I chose is a thicker poly fabric that has held up very well. When it is cold, the thick fabric gives me an excellent, warming hug! The construction of the corset is very nice quality; all Orchard Corsets are lined and have a waist tape, plus the CS-411 is double boned at each seam. The flexible spiral steels conform really well to my body and the cut of the corset gives a nice, swooping curve without rubbing my hips or ribs. It makes me feel very regal, but devious– always a good feeling to have in my book!


There are a few things about the CS-411 that bother me. The biggest gripe I have is that the laces the corset comes with are very stretchy and slick, so getting it to lace tightly is an exercise in futility unless you keep the tension very precise and constant when you are tying the laces. It also tends to loosen as you wear it, so even if I close it all the way and tie it tightly, half and hour later there will be a 1 inch gap in the back. Orchard corset does sell other laces, or you can re-lace it with something sturdier, but I wish they would just put good laces on the corset in the first place. The corsets are inexpensive enough that I would be able to afford, and would gladly pay, the extra $8 to have my corset come laced with good laces right out of the package.

As I discussed earlier, the CS-411 has really nice hourglass curves, but if you are particularly curvy yourself, you might not be as impressed with your transformation. The fabric I chose is very thick, so while my waist inside the corset is ~24 inches, my outside measurement is ~27. Buying a corset to achieve a “proper size” isn’t how you should go about buying one, but if you are concerned about a smooth fit under clothes, the thinner (but still strong) satin is probably a better choice because it won’t have as much bulk as the poly-brocades do. The brocade also takes longer to break in and doesn’t mold as readily to your body. I would definitely buy a satin or cotton version next time. I am considering their shorter CS-301 for my vintage gowns since the CS-411 has a difinitive line around the hips that shows when I wear it under close-fitting gowns and in pants (the CS-411 does just fine with fluffy dresses, though).

All in all, the CS-411 is a good corset for the money. For historical costuming, it works well for 1890-1912 (or earlier with a firm bra and a cavalier attutude towards pure authenticity). The CS-411 does its job, and would be a good corset for a beginner, stage performer, or casual wearer. I’d rate it a 3.5 out of 5.


I am not paid by Orchard Corsets to give reviews. I simply wear their corsets and thought that others might appriciate a review about their use in historical costuming (there are plenty of waist training and general reviews of this corset online if you are looking to wear this corset with modern clothing).

For more information on corsets, please visit Lucy’s Corsetry. She is one of the best modern-corsetry experts on the web and covers everything from drafting your own corset to corsetting health concerns.

(The wild skirt is an Indian belly dancing skirt that someone was using for swing dance before I got ahold of it and decided to use it as a tawdry Edwardian petticoat!)

Other Corset Reviews:


Corset Story’s Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores

Tricky Trims: Buying Sewing Trims Online

I’ve lived in “craft deserts” almost all of my life: most of the areas I have lived in didn’t have the population to support art supply stores. To get fabric, I had to rely on what Walmart provides or drive 20-30 minutes to a Hobby Lobby or JoAnns. Now that I have moved to a larger city, getting craft supplies is less of a chore than before. There is a Walmart for fabric and a Hobby Lobby just down the road where I can get painting supplies easily. Fabric stores, however, are still a drive thanks to traffic and construction, but they have a much larger selection than any of the fabric stores I’ve ever been in! The only thing all these stores are missing is trim.

I am super picky about trims because they can make or break an outfit. Most modern trims are stiff, shiny, and plastic. Crunchy lace is my enemy! While polyester satin ribbon is abundant and there are good trim options if you persevere, if you desire something more specific, you will be hard-pressed to find it at most craft shops. In a world without the internet, I would be a very sad puppy indeed, but I am blessed with abundant internet access that allows me to browse thousands of trim options from around the globe! I’ve been looking at trims for my 1895 dinner dress for about a month now. It’s very pretty (and pink) as it is, but it’s rather plain for an 1890s dinner dress, so I know I want some fabulous black beaded trim to lend a little bit of sophisticated glitter:

Evening Cape, circa 1895
I really love the sequin trim on this cape! The 1890s were all about layering textures. This cape not only has sequin trim, but lace, ruffles, and mink fur!

Emile Pingat Evening Cape, circa 1895
Color inspiration! I found lots of capes with beautiful decorations. While the gowns underneath wouldn’t have been so heavily covered, they would have coordinated.

Jacques Doucet Ball Gown, circa 1897
More color inspiration!

American Evening Dress, circa 1893
This is my main inspiration dress. Though mine looks little like it, the textures and silhouette are quite close. This dress is much fancier than mine will be, but I love the dangling beads and curly appliques!

Buying trims online does have its downsides. For example, determining actual size is difficult online. Even with excellent photos and measurements, sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly how something really looks. Often, something will be bigger or smaller than expected, which can be quite annoying if you have a very specific look/placement in mind for things like jewelry or trims. I don’t want to buy trims that won’t work, so I created a way to try out internet trims before buying them!


So many options! Where to begin?

First, I find the trim’s measurements and draw a rectangle with the same dimensions on a piece of paper.


Then I try my best to copy the shape of the trim onto the paper and cut it out. I never worry about being perfectly exact, just that I get a close approximation. I have picked out about 15 possible trims so far and many of them are similar, so I like to label the design and write the price on it so I can keep track.



Close enough!

Then I can hold it up to my dress to see how it might look. In this case, the trim looked the right size onscreen and even in-hand, but it was just a little too wide for my lapels.


With some trims, you can tell as soon as you make the initial rectangle that it will be too big or small. Others may surprise you! The “Long Tassel” design below, for example, I thought would bee too big, yet it was much smaller than it appeared even though it was displayed on a mannequin in the shop’s photos for size comparison:


My paper cutting method is not perfect (paper is stiff whereas a beaded trim would drape) but it lets you approximate the look. It helped me greatly narrow down my trim options! In my original dress design, I wanted to put some black beaded appliques on either side of the waist to accentuate it, but when I pinned a few options in place, I found that it was hidden by the large sleeves and lapels, so the appliques didn’t really add too much to the outfit overall. I still like the idea, though…

I Need Your Help: Sewing Plans for 2014

Join The Cheer/Brute Squad

I am, as I have always been, addicted to possibility. Every new pattern, fabric, button, trick, or tutorial makes me giddy. I am notorious for gathering all the materials for a project– pattern, fabric, notions– but never actually start work on it. Even after starting one, most recently Simplicity 4156, I get backlogged and frustrated. I’ve been working on this latest project for almost 3 months now! I am nearly done, but if I had put my mind to it, I could have had it done weeks ago.

dress designThis was my early design for the dress. The colors have stayed the same, but the belt detail, sadly, had to go, and I’m rethinking the trim (worked better on paper than on me). Otherwise: it looks just like this!

It may seem a little late to be posting Sewing Resolutions for 2014, but I’ve begun to lag behind. I just don’t have the “get-up-and-go” to make things. I need a little motivation! All of you– my readers, fellow costumers, family, and friends– are the best motivation ever and I don’t like to let you down! I’m going to post a few project ideas here because I know that if I promise to complete them for you all, it will give me that extra push I need to get back into the groove and put my stash of fabrics to good use.

Despite taking so long with it, I am really in love with Simplicity 4156. Now that I have it fitted to better suit my body and know what to expect from it, I’d like to work more with it. I have lots of stash fabric that would work brilliantly for the pattern as well, including two cottons and an oatmeal herringbone in particular that scream 1890s to me:


My favorite of the bunch, but sadly, a little chewed up (you can see one of the many pulls on the left). However, it would…no, WILL…be a great rough-and-tumble day dress!


Slightly more Edwardian than the last print, but still applicable to the 1890s, I think. It’s a fine cotton with subtle woven-in stripes in the background. The flowers are much punchier in person: a very crisp cornflower blue and black. It WILL make a lovely spring/summer day dress.


I don’t know what fabric this is as it was a remnant. It reminds me of poly-wool blends, though, and is very drapey and smooth. It WILL make a great walking dress for cooler days.

One of the funnest parts of my addiction to possibility is getting to draw all my future dresses! Making a fashion sketch keeps me from wandering around a project (and the fabric store!) without a clear direction. They really do help with focus! I don’t have photoshop or any other fancy drawing program, but I do have a paper sketchpad and Microsoft Office PowerPoint. So I sketched a basic outline of an 1890s dress based on Simplicity 4156, photographed it, and imported it into MS PowerPoint to add color. Ta-da! My plans for the three fabrics I’ve chosen:


The Rainy-Day Dress
For the chewed-up-but-perfect grey cotton.


Fine China Day Dress
For the blue and white floral (it reminds me of my grandmother’s blue willow china)


Business and Pleasure Walking Dress
For the oatmeal herringbone weave. The center fabric is a fun one. It’s not really period-perfect, but it’s got pizzazz…and I’m all about pizzazz! It was a happy accident: I found it right next to the oatmeal fabric–a work of fate!

You’ll notice that there’s a big difference between these designs and my current dress, which is made 90% true-to-pattern. Here’s the original 4156 dress design sketch that’s published in the pattern:

Excitingly, my current dress is going to turn out almost exactly like this! YAY! I am so proud that I actually got those sleeve to work!

The design is very large and over-the-top. It’s fabulous for my dinner dress, but it’s a little too much to manage if I want to go to events, especially outdoors. The gigantic sleeves are very apt to catch in the wily Texas wind and flop around like two unruly balloons! I also want to make some dresses without the peplum. The peplum is really nice because it neatly hides the place where the waistband of the skirt meets the bodice white adding to the illusion that you are wearing a separate jacket, and peplums were all the rage in the 1890s:

Wool Suit Fashion Illustration, circa 1894-97

 Ladies’ Demi-Evening Toilette Dress for a Paper Doll, circa 1896
This paper doll’s dress is almost a perfect match for Simplicity 4156!

However, I wanted to make something less fussy. In the process of doing research for my current dress, I found lots of wonderful dresses with straight-across waists combined with sash belts that were directly sewn onto the dress:

House of Rouff Dress, circa 1897

April 1897 Fashion Plate
It’s just like my little yellow sash!

Garden Party Toilette for a Paper Doll, circa 1895


A photograph I bought from a local antique store. I really love her dress! It’s a later design, probably around 1897-99, but it’s just so darling. It has an applied sash around the bottom that doesn’t meet at the front. The bodice she has on could easily be made from the pattern pieces I have right now: just make two “collars” and apply them on either shoulder under the lapels instead of at the back of the neck! Hmmm…ideas…

Luckily, all three of my fabrics are perfectly complimented by mustard yellow, so I only have to purchase one small piece of velvet to make sashes from. Added bonus: they will all match the same hat! I even have a hat base picked out that will work perfectly:

Hat Base by Humboldt Haberdashery on Etsy

I hope posting all this here will give me the motivation I need. I don’t like to disappoint people, and so long as you are here to support me and jab me in the ribs if I get a little slow, I think we can get through these dresses together! My goal is to get all three done by the end of the year. It’s only three dresses, but there are plenty of other patterns and stash fabrics that need attention, too, and I’m working on plans for them as well.

I’ll keep your updated on my progress (with plenty of pictures, I promise)!


Much to My Chagrin: Why It’s Been So Quiet Around Here

I’m not Dead nor Costuming Comatose…just more Penniless than Usual!

As embarrassing as it is to admit it, I am currently unemployed. Being such, I find that I have an abundance of time on my hands that any other normal, employed person would kill for. Plenty of time, therefore, to do whatever I please: sew, paint, collect, and the like. I have taken advantage of this time by painting a few more portrait miniatures and bolstering my small, but satisfying Etsy shops.

Tineseile on Etsy

Vintage Renaissance style and antique Victorian jewelry for costumers, living history participants, collectors, and jewelry lovers, plus my OOAK historical handicrafts

Raoul – Christine’s Locket
A double-sided locket inspired by “The Phantom of the Opera”

Erik, the Phantom – Christine’s Locket
I’ve been filling the quiet house with a haunting sounds of the original 1986 cast recording, sewing along with it, doing dishes while singing, and finally being inspired to paint it!

A Million Stars
Antique French Cut Steel Buckle in my Etsy shop: Tineseile

Vintage Pocket Watch Mechanism in my Etsy shop: Tineseile


Vintage jewelry, clothing, and kitsch from 1940-1980 (plus some interesting crafting supplies!)

1950s Atomic Flower Earrings from my retro Etsy shop: Atomic Amelia

Retro Pin with Pink Purple Rhinestones from my retro Etsy shop: Atomic Amelia

It’s been rather slow, mostly, I suspect, because like myself, everyone out there is struggling a little more than usual. If you find something you like, just enter PRAGMATIC in the code box at check-out for either of my shops and you’ll get 10% off anything you desire! I usually don’t like to use my blog as advertisement space, but my costuming and painting endeavors are funded solely on what I make on Etsy. Mama needs some new sewing machine needles and acrylics!

In reality, I have completed little of what I want to/should get done. I have an exciting project I’ve been plugging away at for over two months now, but I’m hardly as far through it as I should be. I’d drooled over Simplicity 4156 since high school. It’s out of print now and horrendously expensive, but back in November, I managed to find a copy at a manageable price. Then I let it sit for two weeks, terrified of even unfolding it, afraid of soiling its rare, complex glory:


After reading an interview with the indomitable Andrea Schewe herself about this very pattern, I got the guts (or the gall) to finally dive into it–nevermind that it is the most complex pattern I have yet tackled alone! Here are a few various progress and construction photos:


My first toile. The first one I prematurely shortened and it didn’t fit one bit! I have a “petite” torso, so most patterns usually need to have the distance between the bust and waist shortened. As later pictures show, it turns out the the bust on this pattern was actually already low enough, but the shoulder-to bust difference is what needed to be shortened.


The second toile. You might remember this photo thanks to this rant.
Surprisingly, I got the most “hate” mail I’ve ever gotten (indeed, probably the first quantifiable) about that post. Apparently, I am neither busty nor skilled enough for my problems to be worthwhile! However, I have dealt with both ill-fitting bodices and ill-intended messages before, and both were attended to as decorously as possible.


“Worthiness” of my bust-fitting issues aside, the construction of the bodice allowed me to add and subtract as needed easily (still not 100% satisfied, but I can at least close the front). This is a shot of my second toile that I have sliced and pinned in order to find out what pattern changed needed to be made. I didn’t want to apply any alterations directly to the paper pattern since it’s such a wonderful, rare addition to my collection!


After one last toile test, I felt comfortable enough to cut my fashion fabric. It’s a cheap pink poly-something that cost $1 a yard at Walmart. Lovely hand feel, but as you can see, it’s a little unruly. You can glimpse one altered bodice piece on the left that I cut out of white tissue paper so I could use it again in the future. The slate-blue piece is a skirt panel and just below it (and nearly as large)  is the balloon sleeve pattern!


Massive! I removed 6 inches after discovering they didn’t drape well with my armscye alterations. They’re still parachutes, though. Fabulous, fabulous parachutes!


Outer shell halfway complete. I couldn’t find a velvet that was the right shade (though Linnie from Linnie Darling was kind enough to send me swatches), so I settled for an odd, but soft faux suede that Chris found for $3 at Jo Ann’s. It’s really thick, but it sews nicely.


Simplicity doesn’t always print the clearest instructions, but I figured them out eventually! The collar pattern wrapped around the neck and closed at the side, but that left one side of the bodice unattached so it would need bias binding and snaps to be presentable. After sewing it, I realized it just wouldn’t work for my neck, so I ripped it all out!


Using the original collar (which was fortunately marked with a center front and back), I drafted a center-closing collar like the one on my bright red 1890s blouse. This collar is very, very tall! Instead of using rigid boning, I cheated and used strips of commercial bias tape–which has a similar stiffness to horsehair canvas– and some *gasp!* iron-on adhesive to make soft vertical “bones” around the entire collar. It worked perfectly! I’m thinking about tacking the tips back for some added comfort and flair.

Right now, I’m working on the most complex part of the entire operation: those enormous sleeves:


I decided to go with “Ol’ Trusty,” my favorite sleeve pattern, rather than the arrangement proposed by Simplicity 4156. There were too many interior seams in the original, but Ol’ Trusty has only two pieces and mimics Victorian sleeves much better. I had to lower the height of the cuff, though. The pseudo-suede is just too thick to fit over the elbow comfortably. I’m not as enamored with the lengthened puff, but it will be much more comfortable!

One is already complete, but midway through the second one, my sewing machine went completely bonkers and now eats thread no matter what I do–like really eats it: the upper thread winds all around the bobbin housing. I’ve done everything from changing needles, to adjusting tension, to taking the bobbin case out, lint cleaning, re-winding the bobbin in every possible way, trying new thread, re-threading everything, different test fabrics…pretty much all the things that should fix it. Whatever the cause, it is now out of my range of expertise, so I might need to find a reputable sewing machine repair shop if I can hunt one down. I suspect that the timing may be off. I’m letting the machine “rest” for a while. It’s amazing what a little time and a bit of fresh fiddling can fix!

Anyway, that’s what’s going in the Pragmatic workshop. I promise to get back to posting more regularly in the next week!