Having Dolly Varden dresses on the brain, I decided to make a Dolly Varden ensemble. One essential component is the bustle. This underpinning gives the all-important extended, poufed back.
Photo: the completed bustle...
Unlike the 1880s bustle, which was an aggressive shelf-like structure, the first bustle era silhouette is a large, soft, bunchy pouf. While you can make a bustle for this era using a small conical hoop plus a separate small bustle tied on top, many bustles were constructed in one piece. The one I am almost finished with is one of these: the pattern is TV 108, the Grand Bustle. Like so many seamstresses who have made up a bustle using this pattern, I found it superb.
Image: TV 108, the Grand Bustle, from Truly Victorian.
The below is a dress diary detailing the construction.
I won't go through each step, because the pattern is so clearly written, but will detail spots where I used specific techniques to get the best result or where you have to watch what you're doing.
The bustle pattern comes in just a few pieces, well matched and well marked. Make sure you place ALL markings on your pattern; since you will be sewing a curved garment, it would be a pain to put the markings on after you seamed up the garment.
A Note on the Sewing Machine
I used an early 20th century Willcox and Gibbs chain stitch sewing machine, electric. The machine produces a fine, perfectly straight, elastic stitch, and the attachments produce high-quality hems, tucks, ruffles, and so on. Further, the design is so cool: it's such a pretty thing. This machine is nearly mint, and was loaned by my sweet friend Johnny: I love it and have named it Laura, because it's elegant and conservative: the W&G never changed its design much. If it works, why alter it?
Image: sewing seams on the Willcox and Gibbs in my mother's back garden
Stitching Flat-Felled Seams
The first steps are to stitch the front pieces together properly.
I used flat-felled seams on this garment, which show on the exterior, like a pair of jeans. They are strong seams since they're composed of two lines of stitching, and the raw edges are entirely covered so they can never fray. They're also smooth: there's no seam allowance sticking out.
Here's how to make them:
Stitch the seam per normal, right sides together. Unless you want to work with very small seams, which is possible but a tad fiddly, use a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Press seam open.
Trim one seam allowance to a scant 1/4 inch.
Press the edge of the remaining seam allowance inwards just over 1/4 inch. I finger pressed it.
Pin neatly in place...
...and if you're picky like me, baste.
Then topstitch along the edge you just turned in. Voila! The completed seam. If you look carefully, you can see the basting just below the top line of stitching.
Note: I could have used one of the Willcox and Gibbs hemmers to do the felling, but chose to stitch it manually. It's not perfect, but it's pretty straight.
Stitching on the Boning Channels
The next steps involve applying the channels in which the boning will be inserted to the back panel.
The pattern calls for 1-inch single-fold bias tape to be used to create the channels. Like at least one other person who has recently made the bustle, I could only find 7/8-inch bias tape, and used it without a problem.
The pattern directions do not say how much of an allowance to top-stitch the boning on with: I used 1/8 of an inch.
Most of the boning channels are sewn to the outside of the bustle. However, one is sewn inside, and its channel intersects some of the channels outside. Remember to start and stop the stitching on this bone so that it doesn't go over the exterior channels!
Photo: boning channel for bone number 7, on the interior of the bustle. Note how the stitching starts and stops over the stitching for the other boning channel (on the outside of the bustle).
Here's the back panel with its channels:
Adding the Ruffles!
After almost all the boning channels were added, it was time to add the ruffles that fluff out the bustle back. That process was fun!
According to Heather McNaughton of Truly Victorian, there are many ways to sew on the ruffles. Among them:
- You can sew them down right side to right side. Since only the top ruffle's stitching connecting it to the back panel shows, the rest being hidden by the ruffles just above them.
- You can sew them wrong side to right side (that means that the ruffles are upside down when you sew them on) and flip them down to hide the join.
To make the flounces, first I seamed all the strips together to make what seemed like a mile of fabric.
Then, I narrow-hemmed each long edge of the flouncing. I used the Willcox and Gibbs' narrow hemmer. It produces a superb 1/8-inch hem. Look at the pictures of the gathered flounces to see the hem.
Photo: miles of flouncing being hemmed.
Note: when using a hemming attachment, the hemmer will often get stuck at vertical seams where strips are joined. To get over that problem, cut a long, steep nick off the edge of the seam allowance joining the strips. This gets rid of the bumpy join so that the hemmer won't get clogged.
Photo: nick cut from seam allowance of a seam joining two flounce strips.
After that, I used the W&G's "Improved Ruffler" attachment to produce the 2:1 ruffling. Again, that was fun!
Here are the ruffler and its original box:
Here the machine is ruffling. Again, miles of ruffles!
Here is the result. You can see the narrow hem on the inside of the ruffle header:
Then I applied the ruffles to the back panel. To make sure I had enough ruffles, and to make sure they were applied straight, I basted ruffling from the strip on, and then cut the ruffle from the rest of the strip only when I had reached the end of the row that ruffle was to be sewn onto. Then I stitched each ruffle down, the line of stitching being just outside (towards the header edge of the fabric) of the gathering stitches, again to keep the maximum amount of gathering fullness: I didn't want to flatten any ruffling! The long stitches are the hand-sewn basting stitches.
Photo: Ruffle sewn wrong side to right side (that means ruffle is upside down until flipped over) the gathering stitches are the chain stitches; the stitching to the back panel looks like a regular stitch, although it's a chain stitch too, just seen from the front side.
Here's the first row of ruffing, completed. Because the ruffle is fairly tightly gathered, the ruffle header is full, and its position underneath the ruffle really helps the ruffle to stand out:
Sewing Bustle Panels Together
Once the ruffles were applied, it was time to sew the panels together to pull together the bustle structure.
The pattern instructions tell you to "catch" the ruffles into the edges of the side seams. To do that neatly, I basted them first. Plus, catching the entire second-to-lowest ruffle to the side seam would prevent proper positioning of where you need to put the final bone channel in (a later step). So, I pulled the latter half out of the way (it will get hand-whipped to the seam as a finishing touch).
Photo: Basting the second to last ruffle away from the edge that will be seamed. The pencilled lines mark the last ruffle as well as boning channel number 5. Note that had I caught the lower edge of the ruffle in with the seam, I couldn't have sewn the last ruffle on properly.
Because you have all the ruffle layers and boning channel layers and so on at the seam edges when you sew the side seams, it's a good plan to smooth everything into place and pin it so that nothing bunches up when you sew the side seams.
Photo: Stitching one of the side seams. Note how I have the layers of fabric pinned to hold them in place, so they won't creep and get caught in the stitching by mistake.
Here are the front and back of the seamed-up bustle! After these photos were taken, the next steps were to add the final boning channels and to pleat the waist and apply the waistband.
Photo: back of the seamed-up bustle.
Photo: front of the seamed-up bustle. Note that the placket is right at center front.
Adding the Final Boning Channels and Waistband
This was straightforward, with nothing out of the way to worry about.
Adding the Boning
Uh-oh, here is where I had my -- temporary -- Waterloo. As I wrote the folks at Truly Victorian:
Am so proud of my new bustle, but it's a tad deflated...the bustle, I mean...because the top 4 bones refuse to go in!
Left a 3/4" opening (actually, a little more) per row as directed, but not necessarily at near the outer edge of the rows of boning channels.
So when I go to put in the bones, said bones aren't flexible enough to bend to the degree needed to worm the second end into the channel after the first end is set in: the bone gets into a tight U shape and the fabric gets so tight that nothing goes anywhere. I rather dented bone #1 trying to get it to go in, for example, and have really stressed the bustle stitching there :}
What do I do?
Close up the current openings and open some stitching down near the end of each row? That's rather where the picture has the opening set but at the time, I didn't pay exact attention.
Heather wrote back:
Yep, sew up the hole you have, and make a new one at an end of the chanel. It's the only way to get them in. Actually, you probably don't even need to sew the old one up. The bone won't slip out, just like you can't get it in. So rip a few stitches out on the end, slip the bone in, and stitch it back up again.
I know there is another pattern out there that has you leave a hole in the middle. But that doesn't work, and people have told me about their trials with the idea.
So, that's what I did. Now the bustle is completed (except for a bit of seam finishing, a hand-sewing project), and I am very, very happy with it.
The Completed Bustle
Here's the front of the bustle:
The bustle fabric isn't particularly stretched tight over the hoops, and that's as it should be, says Heather. She says ease is necessary, so that the hoop lines won't be prominent and liable to show through the outer skirt.
Here's a side view:
Here's a back view:
Phew! Now, on to a petticoat...