Well, as much as I love flowing trains swishing behind me, there is no denying the sheer elegance and practicality of a walking-length costume. Considering that we do quite a lot of Victorian interpretation work in all seasons, particularly the muddy ones, I had to consider making one that would not suffer damage when working on muddy floors or streets. Last winter we were hired again for Victorian Christmas celebrations at Holkham Hall, this time for 4 days; although I had already decided to make a nice winter polonaise with a train, I simply needed another outfit – and a practical one too.
A perfect excuse to make a walking dress, if I ever saw one, and since I had picked up some interesting silks at a recent market, the decision was made.
The inspiration – Harper’s Bazaar, Autumn costume 1883
Cotton for lining, 6m
Silk brocade 5m
Silk twill 3m
Interlining for the waistband/front vest
Cotton tape (5m)
Velvet ribbon (2m – but cotton tape can be used here as well)
Bodice: my own – well, I did adapt my wedding bodice pattern (again), experimenting with how to best achieve the front with the ‘false vest’ effect . A similar pattern is available from Vena Cava (http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1884_French_Vest_Bodice.html)
Skirts – again, I have adapted the pattern from my wedding skirt, simply by making it shorter at the back, so that with the bustle it was an even length. Similar pattern of a plain underskirt can be found here – http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1885_Four-Gore_Underskirt.html
Apron front – adapted from: http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/Products/1886_Autumn_Overskirt.html
If this is the first Victorian skirt you have ever made, then I recommended that you make a simple toile in calico, just to get the length, darts etc right. It is much easier to get the desired even hem when draping it on a dummy than when trying to wrestle with maths. Also, you can use the calico pieces as a template for future skirts, saving you loads of time.
- Cut out your pieces (in my case: front, 2 sides, 2 backs, plus waistband) in top fabric.
- Place the pieces on lining and pin together. (You can cut the lining first and then the top fabric – up to you!)
- Cut carefully, but DO NOT unpin – leave the pieces as they are, pinned together. If your fabric is ‘slithery’, baste the two layers together.
- Sew in the darts on the front piece, and press.
- Place the side panel onto the front, right sides together, and sew through all 5 layers. Repeat for all the other panels, making sure you leave the back seam open a little at the back – that’s your placket opening.
- Press the seams open. You can pink the seam allowances to limit for fraying before couching them down – or simply fold under and secure them with small stitches. For the placket opening, simply fold the edges under and stitch on the machine – even easier if you are using the selvage as I did
- Put the skirt on the dummy. Make sure the dummy is wearing correct undergarments – a bustle cage or pad, and a petticoat. Pleat the back panel: knife pleats towards the back work best in my opinion. Pin the pleats in place and take the skirt off.
- Prepare the waistband – either baste in the interfacing material, of if using a fusible one, fuse with the top fabric.
- Pin the waistband into the skirt, right sides together, and sew. Press, flip it over, securing the edges of the skirt and pin on the other side – then fold the raw edges of the waistband under and sew – either by hand or by machine.
- Work the button hole and sew on the button.
- You can add a proper placket – a piece of fabric to cover the opening; since my skirt is to be worn under the apron, the opening will not be visible anyway, so I decided not to bother in this case…
- Put the skirt on the dummy again –this time you are working on the hem. Play with the arrangement of the skirt itself, as well – more often than not it will need tapes attaching at the side/back so that the fullness is contained over the bustle and not at the sides. Only once you are satisfied with the fullness distribution/tape arrangement should you have a look at the hem.
- Adjust the hem length as necessary, making it even all around. To finish it, fold the hem under and stitch. You can also add ruffles etc.
- Since my skirt was to be used a lot, I decided to reinforce the hem by using a strong cotton tape. A ruffle would go on outside of the skirt, (though you can also attach it on the inside – both work 🙂
- Ruffle – mine is of the silk twill, with cotton lining. Cut the ruffle (3 times the length of the hem usually works for me). Place the top fabric and the lining right-sides together and sew along one edge.
- Flip on the other side and press, positioning the seam not on the very edge, but slightly up on the wrong side, so that the lining is now longer at the top. Stitch the top edge together, cutting out the excess lining.
- Pleat – Either pin every pleat, or cut corners- use machine ruffler (I love mine!) or a pleater.
- Press and starch.
- Once ready, pin and sew your pleats onto the skirt, right sides together.
- Fold down and press. You may further secure the ruffle by stitching it to the hem by hand,
- Your skirt is now ready! 😉 – here the inside view
- Cut out the pieces in fabric (and the lining, if you are lining it).
- Sew the darts into the front section
- Hem the pieces and add ruffle or any decoration you would like to use
- Mark the pleats at the sides and sew the pleats in place.
- The back – hem this, including the placket opening. Pleat according to the diagram on the pattern, then pin.
- You now have the apron, the back, and the waistband. Try the pieces on, pinning them to the dummy, or on yourself; Check that the pleats look the way you want them to . If all is ok, sew the back pleats and add the waistband.
- Position the back and front pieces on the waistband and pin in place. It will overlap a bit with the back piece on top, this is ok. Try it on yourself, or on the dummy, to ensure that the fabric hangs properly. If necessary, you can still change the position of the pleats.
- Sew on the waistband, and finish as with the waist on the skirt. Finish all buttons and buttonholes.
- The front pieces will require a tape, as they will pull the apron into position. Stitch a length of tape (enough to tie over the bustle) at each side as indicated by the pattern.
- Your overskirt is now ready!
Again, if it is your first bodice, do make a mock-up – do not rely on the pattern to fit perfectly well onto your corseted form! Needless to say, wear your corset for all fittings. I made a mock up with two different fronts – one sported one dart and the vest part sewn along the second one , and the other had 2 darts and a vest added in a third seam. The first option worked much better for me, so I tweaked this side and used the pieces as a pattern for the proper bodice.
- Cut out your pieces in top fabric.
- Place the pieces on the lining, pin together and cut. Do not unpin – treat as one layer. If the top fabric is slippery, baste the pieces together. Again, you can cut in reverse order as I did – lining first,
- Prepare the vest part – I decided to interline the silk twill to make the buttonholes sturdier. I also used the silk brocade as a lining for the twill. Sew the piece right-sides together along the front edge and bottom, press open, poke the corner, and flip onto the right side, press again. Pin or baste the other edges together and treat as a single piece.
- Sew the darts onto the front piece first.
- Sew all pieces of the bodice together, (don’t worry about the sleeves or collar for the moment), and try it on. This is the last opportunity to make changes to the fit, neck or arm scythe shape, so DO take your time checking the fit.
- Time to work on the sleeves – sew the parts together, hem the cuffs and add ruffle, decoration, etc as required. Pin into the bodice and try on.
- Once everything is in order, sew the sleeves into place.
- Press all seams open, or to one side; pink the seam allowances ( or fold over and secure with stitching)As for the seam connecting the sleeves to the bodice – use a cotton tape to enclose the seam, a simple, neat and period technique.
- Collar – place both parts (plus interlining) right sides together, sew along the top edge.
- Trim seam allowances, turn over, poke the corners out and press.
- Pin the collar into the bodice,( the top fabric and interlining but not the lining part) and sew. Fold over the lining and stitch, hiding the seam.
- Now for the edges – either pipe them, or bind them – I made binding in the brocade and bound all edges apart from the vest part. Sew the binding first, right sides together , flip open, press and fold over the seams, then sew the inside by hand.
- Mark the buttonholes and work them – either on the machine or by hand
- Sew on the buttons.
- Pleat the peplum as indicated on the diagram , or as desired – and secure it with a few stitches (or a piece of tape)
- Cut a piece of ribbon for your waist tape, ( grosgrain is best, but other tight-woven ribbons about 1inch wide will work as well), and stitch this at the back seam. Pin the tape at your waist, at the seams. Attach hooks and eyes in front – the tape will take some of the strain from the buttonsJ you can also attach the tape over the bones – will work just as well.
- Mark how long you want your boning to be and cut the bones. File the ends and enclose the boning in the channel (here I used a few readymade ones).
- Sew the channels onto the seams, placing the boning over the tape . An excellent article on the boning and waist tape position in the bustle bodices can be found here- http://historicalsewing.com/boning-in-bustle-bodices
- Your bodice is ready!