Introduction: Victorian Bustle Dress

This is an afternoon/evening type dress from what is known as the Victorian era in the 1800's.

I love studying histories from around the world, and have always been interested in making things from the past. My inspiration for this particular project came while I was watching the movie Romeo and Juliet at school. I thought "Hey, wouldn't it be so cool to make a dress like that?!".

This dress is not meant to be a historical replica, and it also not meant to conform to any specific fashion from any particular time period. Although it is definitely similar to fashion during the 1800's. My dad has always told me fashion is what everyone else wears to fit in, but style is something you create for yourself that defines you. This is my first time making something this big without a pattern.

A final word before I begin; has thousands of great pages and links for sewer's of every variety. I found many wonderful websites and patterns, both historical and modern, through that inspired me and helped me on my way towards becoming a better sewer.

Step 1: Materials

This is a rather expensive project. My materials cost approximately $50, and it took about 14 hours to complete. I started with 10 yards (3 dark brown and 7 light brown) at a 45 inch width. You need a lot more fabric than you might think because of all the Victorian drapes, ruffles, and, of course, the bustle.If you need help constructing a bustle I have published a bustle instructable, but I'm sure there many other interesting bustle making resources out there.

I generally wear a corset with this dress. There several great corset making tutorials on instructables, and the internet in general, if you want to make one.

You can use just about any fabric that suits you fancy, but I used 100% cotton calico.

This project is quite challenging. I would only recommend it to someone who is really familiar with sewing, especially if your not using a pattern. Because I wanted to create something totally unique and am too cheap to buy an expensive pattern on the internet, I had no pattern. This was extremely challenging.

So, you will need...
  • fabric (3 yards and 7 yards)
  • thread
  • lace ribbon (for edging)
  • ribbon (for lacing)
  • small eyelets
  • a bustle
  • sewing machine (optional)
  • a corset (optional)
  • determination and patience

Step 2: The Idea

The first step is to use your imagination, and create something perfect for you! I browsed the internet for both modern and historical examples, and then drew what I imagined for myself.

Overview of the Structure
I have heard the Victorian woman likened to a cake, all layers. Closest to the skin were the drawers, chemise, and stockings (in modern language that underwear, undershirt, and socks). Following this was the corset and camisole (shirt covering the corset). Next came a petty coat (an underskirt). Then, the bustle or crinoline (a system of hoops to support skirt and give the full appearance). That was followed by another underskirt, then, finally, the main skirt, and finished with the bodice (the top shirt part).

Step 3: The Plan

If your not using a pattern you need to think out how everything will fit together. You need to combine your measurements with your design to figure out how much fabric you need. Remember, Ruffles can take over double the fabric they would be if they were flat. If in doubt, get  extra fabric. You can always use the scraps for other projects.

Step 4: The Petticoat (Skirt)

This is the main part of the dress. I made mine in two parts. This is the first part. The main purpose for this was to use the different colored fabrics and allow for easier fastening. In the Victorian era, the back of the skirt was ruffled and flounced to hide the ribs of the bustle.

I made the back and the front in two pieces then joined them and added the lowest section. The back is basically a panel of fabric with the with ruffled strips sewn on. The front is simply gathered at the waist. The very bottom is sewn on last, and it gave me some flexibility with the length.

The fastening is just a drawstring.

Step 5: The Upper Petticoat (Skirt)

This section of the skirt is fairly simple. It is a rectangle of fabric gather at the waist with two lines of gathers on the sides.

To gather, simply set your sewing machine to the longest stitch and pull one of the threads after sewing. then, stitch over it normally to secure the gathers. Again, the fastening is a drawstring.

To finish the skirt, I sewed on a strip of dark brown fabric to the bottom edge.

Step 6: The Bodice

This is one of the hardest parts because it is fitted, and also,I find sleeves difficult.

Step 7: Camisole

A camisole was an under-shirt that covered the corset. In this case, it both covers the corset and is decorative (because you can see it through the laces.

Basically, it is a rectangle of fabric joined into a cicle with straps sewn on; a very basic shirt.

Step 8: Sleeve Cuffs

In this general time period people did not have sleeve cuffs like we do today. Often they were completely separate. I sewed rectanles into circles, and gathered the top with a drawstring. The drawstring also serves as a fastening mechanism.

Step 9: Finishing

Now, layers, layers, and more layers.

Have fun wearing your creation!
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