The bustle itself is made of wire. It's probably steel wire, though it shows no signs of rust. The wires have some "memory" to them; that is, if you apply a little pressure to them, they resist the pressure rather than denting. The strength of the shape is assisted by the way the structure is made: the wires are woven almost like a very wide window screen (do you feel an idea coming on, bustle lovers?) However, the memory isn't that strong, for there are some small dents in the structure.
Of what the tapes are made, I do not know; they feel like cotton, but I've never felt linen tape and so cannot tell. The tapes themselves are pretty, if discolored. The central part of the width is herringboned, while the edges, to some 1/4 inch, are tabby-woven selvage. The effect is discreetly architectural.
Total weight? An ounce or two.
There are no labels or other manufacturing marks on the bustle.
Construction, So Far as I Can Tell
The bustle appears to have been made as a wire tube, which was then bent into a crescent and a fold introduced into the wide side. Each end was then squashed into a nub perhaps 1/4 inch thick, and capped like this, so far as I can tell:
- A length of the same tape appears to have been wrapped about the nub. I cannot see it except where the outer covering, described below, has worn away.
- A length of the same tape was folded. At the end of one long side it was sewn into a seam the width of the bustle nub. The tape was then turned inside out to protect the seam.
- The nub was inserted into this little pocket.
- The covering was stapled twice at each end of the forward edge of the tape, where the bustle itself starts.
- A length of tape long enough to go around the waist was cut.
- The bustle was laid alongside it, off center, so that the tape belt would buckle at the side! That is accounted for by the fact that one end of the tape is longer than the other, and the short end is cut raw, folded once, and stapled. The other end is raw. The buckle is missing.
- Another length of tape with a tiny seam allowance on each end was laid underneath the waist tape, so that it doesn't show when the bustle is worn. It's like a facing. It is as long as the distance across the interior edge of bustle where it would sit at the waist, but measured straight across from nub to nub. This means that when worn the bustle wire may not touch the wearer too much. Instead, the tape comes under stress and pulls each end of the bustle closer to the wearer.
- Both short ends were turned and sewn under.
- The long edge was sewn to the waist tape at the edge closest to the wearer.
- This made another, very long pocket. The end of the outer nub wrapping tape was stuck inside, and stapled with one staple close to the nub. I cannot tell for sure, but I don't think the side of that tape is caught in with the facing each seam, and there is no other stitching holding it to the waist tape.
- The other long edge of the facing was not sewn; you can see in the images that part of it has folded back.
- In the middle of the facing pocket is another nub of tape, stapled. The edge is broken off and it doesn't stick out of the facing pocket. What it was for I do not know. You can see it in the image where I am holding the waist tape, just below.
I do not believe the metal itself would touch the wearer's waist
The Bustle's Age
An example of this very model of bustle was sold by Augusta Auctions some time ago as part of Lot: 521, March/April 2005 Vintage Clothing & Textile Auction, New Hope, PA, labeled as bustle pads from 1880 to 1890. That bustle pad was in better condition than mine is. If you look at the other examples, you can see some of the variety of bustle pads out there.
Was It Meant for an Adult or a Child?
I did a little experiment. I carefully wrapped the waist tape to the mannequin. The tapes wrapped with an inch or two to spare. However, the result is just eeeny-weeny, and although the skirt would puff out a little, the bustle horns don't wrap well around the waist; you can see this on the back view, especially. Very out of proportion, sitting so awkwardly that it feels tippy. The horns of the bustle pad don't stretch to wrap the waistline enough so that the tension on the belt helps hold it close, but not too close.
If worn by an adult, the tournure given to the skirt would be narrow and miniscule. If the waist was 24 inches, and not my 29 inches, the pad would fit better, and so perhaps would suit the very tail end (sorry, couldn't help the joke) of the 1890s.
Look at the variety of bustles sold in that Augusta Auctions lot. "My" bustle pad is at the far right and is smaller than the others.
However, it might fit a young girl nicely, because the waist and hips would be narrower than an adult and the horns of the bustle wrap naturally and in proportion.
Not being a bustle expert, I just am not sure. I'd want to try it on a properly sized and fitted dress of the era to see. Can anyone illuminate this further?
How It Was Worn
Let's have a look at a few fashions.
Augusta Auctions sold this skating dress from the 1880s in lot 205, November 2009. One might expect smaller padding for this activity, but the tournure produced is still sizeable. The auction page has multiple pictures for you to peruse.
This September, 1890 Godey's fashion plate shows the very last gasp of the bustle era. Perhaps in this year my modest bustle pad might have worked?
Here's a girl's bustle dress from the 1880s, sold by Augusta Auctions, lot 326, April 2006, New Hope, PA. See that little bump on the back? Bustle...
What Can You Do with This Information?
As I examined this little bustle bad, methought, one could take an old window screen or other wire, and do something similar with it, for either a child or an adult. The result would be a modest bustle effect, but light and less uncomfortable than a full tail would be.
Sure hope someone takes this idea and runs with it!
In Other News...
I am rethinking the Madame Cobweb 1869 dress project. For some reason, despite initial enthusiasm, I became sated with the style after researching it during vacation. Since 2008 I have aged some, and what seemed handsome then, now, after years of Regency wear and looking at robust 18th century originals on which the early 1870s inspired themselves, feels prettified, rather child-like, and out of my current mood.
Further, there are some house projects burning to be done: a cushion for the big early 19th century Empire settee in the upstairs hallway, curtains. While I am at Mom's, I could make at least one of those projects.
Hard to say.We shall see.