Once upon a time there was a girl fascinated with all lovely things Victorian. Her dress-up box (i.e. closets and hat boxes and shelves) was cram-packed with dresses and accessories made in luscious silks, light cottons, and other wonderful things.
She had so many delights to be satisfied for a century, but it wasn’t enough…. The foundation of any good-looking Victorian costume hanging in that closet is, well… the foundation! Bustles, pads, hoops, panniers, and the like were also stuffed into shelves in that closet (what a thoughtful idea to have shelves in there!).
But they just weren’t right for all the new gowns she was planning in the coming year. Yes, she needed new foundations. And not just one would work. No. A whole trunk-full must be had. So off to work she went humming a merry tune and preparing for the task at hand.
“Well, I say! If I’m to make an 1887 dress with full bustle shelf then my flimsy little wire support that happens to be too small for my womanly hips won’t cut it at all!” she exclaimed. “Why that lovely merchant Truly Victorian has a new pattern, I believe, in the ginormous shape my skirts need.”
So off she went to purchase the 1887 Imperial Lobster Tail Bustle pattern. Not for being boring YET AGAIN with white undergarments, the girl selected a period appropriate paisley cotton for her new support.
The pattern was very straightforward. The red fabric – fabulous fun (of course)! When all was said and done out popped a tail of enormous size. Huge!!
The appendage fell over her hips, gently easing out from the sides to create a smooth silhouette. Even the wide ruffle at the hem fell nicely – a great touch to keep her skirts from breaking at the bottom wire of this tail.
“How fun is this!” she squealed with laughter. Bouncing along she threw on a new petticoat and danced in the garden.
She had such a wonderful experience with this project she decided to teach others how easy it is to make one for themselves. So off she pranced to make new friends….
Now that the girl had a fun new bustle tail to support that upcoming project, it stirred her mind that there were many more dresses on that list that needed new supports as well. The old petticoat bustle was entirely too small for her womanly figure, and having an improper silhouette is just not the thing to be had in this part of Bustle Land!
Back to the trusty merchant for a new copy of the Petticoat Bustle pattern (because sometimes it’s just easier to start over, if you know what I mean kids). She even decided to skip dealing with the cutting and gnashing of hoop wire by ordering pre-cut pieces from the merchant.
Keeping with the trend of avoiding white underwear, the girl decided to make this new bustle from, what else? A striped cotton! Blue stripes, you know, as black and white should be reserved for Worth gowns and prison costumes.
The idea of making a ruffled petticoat (here, the overlay of the bustle) was nothing new for the girl. Frills are Fabulous! And appear on a variety of her petticoats already.
But after years of being dragged down from petticoats made from heavy muslin (ugh!) and invisible lead sewn into the hem (it’s hard to dance in the meadow with such weight!), she decided to go with super stiff, serve-tea-on-them-layers cotton organdy for the ruffles.
Her friend Mr. Ruffler Foot came for dessert that evening and chewed through all 442″ of hemmed organdy strips to make a pretty mountain of rolling organdy hills.
Quickly she mounted the hills into neat little rows (six to be precise).
The wires were inserted and tied with blue ribbons into their curved shape. Oh, for pretty bustles! Now it’s time for a hoedown in the garden to shake and wag that poufy tail.
Exhausted from dancing and laughter, the girl dropped to grass. “My, but all this bustle making is so exciting! I should make a third one!” cried our heroine.
“But what shape do I sew now? I have one that looks like a lobster and one that’s puffy like clouds roaming through an azure sky.” Hmmm… She thought and thought.
“I know! I need one that’s tailored. One in a funny shape to help hold the train of my princess gowns” (because as we all know, every girl is a pretty, pretty, princess!).
Remembering her Obsessive Pattern Collection™, the girl dug into the depths of the bins to find just the pattern – the Laughing Moon Hoops & Bustles pattern – for goodness knows, she ain’t about to draft that thing herself. No way! Dressmaking awaits and there’s no time to dawdle with fiddly bits like drafting a bustle pattern.
Now after two other bustles, you would think this one would about make itself. Well, this girl doesn’t own a wand or have magic pixie dust, but she does have experience going for her.
The marking of the hoop lines took forever – you must be precise with this as this is not your usual everyday bustle for visiting wear. No, the lines must be right on target. And once they were the twill casings went on smoothly.
But the waistband instructions were… what exactly? Pithy. And their technique didn’t allow for enough support for holding up the bustle on the body. “Seems rather unsupportable and weak and unfinished,” the girl thought, and then figured out a new method that pleased her immensely.
Then came the panels. With grommets. And bones. And the fat tears from the breaking of the marble that had been so lovingly used for grommet pounding for over 10 years. But the grommets went in. And so did the bones. “How on Earth am I to sit down in this thing with bones going straight up my back side??” she thought aloud.
Later the girl was frustrated with the bones as they were too short to sufficiently support the entire row of grommets. If she could share her knowledge, she would pass on the note to use 11″ long bones for the top panel instead of what was listed. Ugh… changes only found out at the end of a project… yeah, those suck.
After a lengthy session of severing plastic covered hoop wire into nine pieces, nearly stabbing her kitties and blinding herself, the girl then wrangled them into their proper casings. Before this, she was so frustrated at the lack of information on how long to cut each wire. No pretty little chart with numbers sitting in a row telling her exactly how long each row needed to be. Nope.
So she measured and cut and glued tips to the ends and inserted the wires into the neat rows trying to keep the whole thing from twisting into a bad origami lantern that should have come from China but instead from a Kansas tornado.
But oh no! The bustle part turned out rather flat instead of a rounded form. As she finished tying the panels together, holding back frustrated tears at a project she wanted to love but found lacking, she sighed at the completion of the thing anyway.
Putting on the new tailored undergarment, she floated around, noticing how high off the ground the hem landed, how the support didn’t move much (which she was grateful for)… and how flat that bustle back side was.
Then the girl had a thought. A marvelous thought. Yes, the girl had a marvelous, wonderful thought. “Why I’ll just add a pad between my hips and the stay. Then the bustle will jut out, rounded out in its way.”
The ideal thing did this solution present. For now she had the perfect mid-to-late 1870s silhouette. Brilliant!
And that, my friends, is the splendid tale of how a girl, who had too many Victorian undergarments to count, ended up with three more bustle tails for her overstuffed wardrobe trunks. Now back to the regularly scheduled dressmaking – gowns to wear over these pretty new bustles!