Tag Archives: Truly Victorian

A long awaited party (dress)

Back in the day…

Way back in 2015, I started coordinating a little monthly get-together I like to call the Victorian Sewing Circle, based out of the Marr Residence, the Oldest House in Town* that the City operates as a sort of mini-museum. I was hoping to indulge my latent interest in historical costuming, meet some like-minded people, and give myself a venue to WEAR at least some historical stuff. Since the house was built in 1884, a mid 1880s outfit seemed like a good goal.

Inspiration dress

I picked an inspiration dress from a reproduction of the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalogue, acquired a ridiculous amount of discount wool blend suiting in my favourite muted blue colour, and ordered two Truly Victorian patterns for the bodice and overskirt, TV462 and TV368.

I started work on the skirt in October of 2015. Later that winter, I got sidetracked and made a “quick and dirty” version to actually wear to our little meetups… and then my progress on the blue “good copy” slowed to an utter crawl. And then when I got pregnant early in 2019, it stalled completely. And what started as a planned hiatus of a year or so turned into three, and I didn’t dust things off until this past fall.

At which point pretty much every measurement on my body had gone up 4-5”. And the “quick and dirty” outfit (the first pic in this post) no longer even remotely fits, so making the blue version wearable became a lot more urgent.

I was pleasantly startled, actually, when I pulled everything out again, at how close to complete it actually was. The skirt just needed the waistband finalized. The bodice just needed boning—but it also no longer fit, and I had accidentally used a very rigid ticking for my underlining, which wasn’t ideal in any way. And (which I had completely forgotten), the overskirt was complete, just needing a way to connect the back tails to the front apron. And perhaps some trimmings.

New waistband, new waistband pleats

Adjusting the skirt wasn’t going to be a big deal—I had only basted on the waistband, and it needed length taken out at the top. I marked the new length on the front, basted and trimmed down to it, but then for the back I folded the extra down and just stitched the edge of the pleats to the waistband, so the seam allowance doesn’t add bulk to the waistband. This is a technique I’d read of in both historical sources and costuming articles, but never actually tried before. The transition from “seam allowance in” to “seam allowance out” is maybe not perfectly smooth, but every original Victorian skirt I’ve examined (which isn’t a high number, granted) had the most half-ass slapped on waistband, so I have a hard time being too fussy over it.

I had made a whole new corset, back at the end of summer, so all I had to do now was adjust the waistbands of both petticoats. For one petticoat this was no big deal as I had originally made it far too big and had to put in two large tucks in the waistband to make it fit. Ripping those out took about 30 seconds and it was good to go.

The second, on the other hand, was snug even when I first made it, and by the time I last wore it in 2019 I had already added a hair elastic looped through the buttonhole as a makeshift extender. But that no longer did the trick so the only option was to unpick the gathered back portion of the waistband and attach a substantial additional piece, then re-attach my painfully stroked gathers one by one, just spread out over a larger space.

It’s definitely an improvement though. I think even my hand-worked buttonhole is better, not that it’s a thing of great beauty.

And then there was the issue of the bodice.

I had steeled myself, frankly, to make a new bodice from scratch. The seams were only 1/2” and already somewhat frayed from a ridiculous amount of handling, and the rigid ticking underlining made the whole idea of altering just seem unpromising. I had enough fabric left over, just. But every time I went to start tracing out a new size of the pattern, a wave of exhaustion struck me.

I decided to try, just try, and see what happened if I let all of the back and side seams out as much as possible. Some of them, especially the waist, had been taken in quite a bit in my previous fitting adventure. And while 1/2” seams don’t allow for a lot of letting out, there are quite a few of them. I tried the bodice on again… it wasn’t enough. In particular, actually, the BACK just didn’t seem wide enough. Not at the waist, but the upper back, and there was still a stubborn 2” gap all along the front. I did toy with a plan where I could add a panel to the centre front, creating an “open jacket” look that is pretty common for the era. But the back still felt uncomfortably tight. If only I could just add more fabric, right at the centre back seam.

Well, why couldn’t I?

So I ripped open the CB seam, from just below the collar to about mid back. Try on. Rip a little further. Try on again. And lo and behold, after ripping it all open except for about 3” at the bottom, it closed in the front.

So I pulled out my scraps, cut a long, tapered spindle-shape, and set about stitching a panel into the back.

It’s not an ideal fix—it’s added some of its own fit issues and ripples, and makes boning the CB of the bodice difficult. But it’s also saved me an immense amount of work. Which these days, I’ll take.

My joy when the alterations actually allowed me to close the bodice!

After all that, all I had to do was add all the boning to the bodice, which I wound up doing by stitching the casings on by hand since my seam allowances were both narrow and quite irregular. Unfortunately, I also had to pull off the bias facing at the front hem to add the bones to my darts, because past me got ahead of herself in the finishing department. Mistakes like that played a huge role in why this damn thing took forever to make, by the way.

I swear in real life the hem looks symmetrical.

Anyway, the bones definitely help smooth out the look, though I might need to redo my buttons to get a truly smooth front. I’ll face that some other day.

After a fair bit of waffling, I decided to attach the tails to the overskirt apron the same way I did with my first version, with elastic loops and large buttons. It’s not historically accurate, but it’s easy, comfy, and highly adjustable.

And, at last, I finally got to wear it!

There are a few more tweaks that could be made. The back of the skirt, where I had omitted one of the overlay panels, looks a little plain. I’m not sure that my draping of the bodice tails or the back of the overskirt is finalized, and I do have some black tassel trim that might look good there.

But after a saga like this, wearable, in any degree, is a huge step forward. And for the first time in ages, I can actually say to myself “what’s next?”

(Actually, I finished this back in early December, so what’s next was the Edwardian skirt. But I really wanted some pictures that weren’t taken in my hallway. Thank you to my mom for digging out her good camera to take most of these, and for braving the technological minefields of iCloud and Dropbox to get them to me.) Next up… an Edwardian-style blouse to go with the skirt. Unless I get highjacked by one of my children, anyway…



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Truly Edwardian

K I’m on a bit of a costuming binge, though a lot of it hasn’t hit the blog due to waiting for pictures (never a smart thing for me to do). Maybe I just like wearing corsets right now, maybe I’m just not feeling mainstream sewing fashion, maybe I actually have enough clothes… anyway. I bought the Truly Victorian 1906 Ten Gore Princess Skirt back in the fall, probably like everyone else who watched Bernadette Banner’s video around that time. I finally got it printed in early December, and over the holidays began very, very slowly poking away at it.

The process began with an epic hunt through the fabric stash. I had a feeling, not even a memory really, that I should have an appropriate length of black suiting somewhere in stash. My (arguably excessive) stash these days lives in a series of clear plastic bins stacked along one wall of my sewing room, and while this isn’t an ideal setup by any means it’s space efficient and protects the fabric from at least some of the hazards of a basement storage space. I usually have a rough idea of where most things are, but in this case I wasn’t even sure that the fabric I was looking for existed.

Anyway, my quest wound up taking me through approximately three quarters of my bins. I (re)discovered a half-forgotten length of black linen, several suiting pieces that would’ve been appropriate except for size, a VERY large length of brocade I had completely forgotten about that wants to become a tea gown of some kind, and several other pieces that would make nice skirts. But then finally, after a couple of hours and creating an impressive amount of mess, I reached the bottom of the last stack of bins (well, technically there were two other stacks, but no way I was tackling them that day)—and there it was. Five metres of soft wool twill suiting, light and drapey and utterly perfect. I can’t describe my exultation.

Anyway, once the fabric was located (and at least some of the mess tidied) the work could begin. I steamed the wool in the dryer. I muslined the lining/corselet pieces for the upper skirt, after doing a small swayback adjustment on the back and side back pieces, and determined (as I expected from the pattern measurements) that I needed to go down a size in the waist. In hindsight I wish I’d gone up a size in the hips, too, because it’s quite fitted over the hips and I always like more room there, but I should probably just let the hip seams out a bit anyway. A small adjustment gets you a fair bit of room when there are ten seams. A slightly larger swayback adjustment might be in order for the next version.

Centre back section with satin lining and hooks applied.

Like most of my sewing this fall (or the last few years) construction has proceeded in incremental fits and starts. I spent a lot of time researching my construction via a number of original sewing manuals, both electronic and paper. Not that there’s anything wrong with the methods the pattern describes, they are historically accurate and in the end my deviations were quite minor.

My biggest curiosity was on how to do the lining. I’ve sort of had it drummed into my head that historical (Western-style) clothes were flat-lined (aka underlined.) This is how Bernadette Banner constructed her lovely version of the skirt. However, that’s not the directions for the pattern, and I was curious about the disparity.

It turns out that in the 1890s, a new method of lining skirts started to gain popularity—the “drop skirt.” This is made by sewing the lining (and materials like taffeta and “lining material” are mentioned rather than cotton) entirely separate as its own skirt/petticoat, or sewing separately then sewing both skirts into the same waistband—aka a modern, free-hanging lining. By the early 1900s, the separate lining is considered the preferred method with flatlining being distinctly old-fashioned, and my 1908 copy of the American System of Dressmaking states the following:

Anyway, eventually I settled on an unlined (except for the waist area) skirt, and hopefully I will make the appropriate “drop skirt” eventually.

To line the waist/hip area I used a heavy crepe-backed satin. A lightweight coutil or heavy cotton might have been better—I thought the black denim I used for my corset was too heavy, and most of the other black fabrics I had around seemed too light. We’ll see how it wears, I guess. On the other hand, having a slippery surface on the inside may come in handy since it’s pretty hard to hook up the back placket behind myself so I often end up turning the skirt around backwards to put it on. I added a tiny red tag to the inside of the front to make it a bit easier to make sure I end up with the right seam in the right place.

I considered binding the seam allowances, as would have been period appropriate. Then I serged them. I didn’t make a lot of concessions to speed in this project, but I feel like I’d still be binding seams if I had take that route. Sometimes speed is just what you need.

I added piping to the top edge as I thought that would be a nice touch, and it is, except for the part where it’s almost invisible since it’s black and this will probably mostly be worn with blousy tops that will cover it anyway. There is a narrow bias facing sewn on the inside of that to finish the top. Potentially it might have been easier and less bulky to just use a wider bias tape for the piping and use that for the facing, but having a bit more structure at the top of the skirt also doesn’t hurt. It is VERY bulky right around the top hook, though, despite some very aggressive trimming of the seam allowances in that area.

I added a piece of spiral steel boning to each seam, more or less the length of the inner corselet/waist lining. This keeps the portion of the skirt above the waist from folding down, and smooths over the upper hips, but it did also cause the skirt to stand out from my corseted waist in a way that the un-boned skirt hadn’t. I added a waist stay to combat this effect, but I’m thinking that either the waist shaping wasn’t an adequate match to the corset or my fabric + lining combo still has too much give. On the other hand it means that even though the skirt was cut with corset-wearing in mind, I can wear it uncorseted as well.

The pattern calls for a bias hem for the facing, made out of self fabric. I wanted to add a velveteen binding to the bottom of my skirt. long story, but basically velveteen seems to have been a material of choice for this purpose. Or braid. I do actually have a length of vintage braid that I think must be similar, but it is only about 3m long and the skirt requires over 5m, so that won’t work. But I did have a lovely little remnant of black velveteen, that turned out to be just enough for what I needed.

Most of the descriptions I read of the velveteen have you apply it after creating the hem, faced or otherwise, but one from 1903 mentioned how the velveteen could serve as a facing. Since the pattern calls for facing the hem anyway, that’s what I went with. And also I’m a lazy 21st century person disinclined to hand stitch around a hem like this three times, which seemed to be what most of the descriptions called for. I will say, intentionally rolling a facing out so that 1/16” of velveteen showed at the bottom of the skirt felt VERY unnatural, and there are definitely places where it doesn’t show as much as it probably should. Will I go back and fix that? I’d like to say yes but, um, probably not.

I wasn’t sure how to finish the top of the velveteen, but eventually decided I didn’t want the bulk of folding over the hem. I didn’t have 6 yards of black seam binding in stash, but I did find a rather lovely red vintage rayon seam binding, so I went with that. It did NOT like being sewn to the velveteen, and stretched it out terribly, despite my best efforts, so it’s incredibly wrinkly and gathered in the final skirt, but I don’t hate the effect.

So the pattern is drafted to have a finished length of 41” at the front, from the waist down. My measurement was 42”, so I added 1” to the skirt length all around when cutting. Now I’m not sure if it’s just that my soft wool fabric is prone to stretching, but when it came time to hem I wound up turning up close to 2”… so I could most likely have saved myself that added effort and fabric. Oh well.

Anyway, I’m super happy to have this in my wardrobe, hopefully bridging the (ever diminishing) gap between costume and everyday wear. Before the twins I had a black wool gored skirt made from a 1970s Burda pattern that was an absolute workhorse, and I have missed it sorely. The only thing this skirt is lacking is pockets, which I may yet decide to add… I don’t want to interfere with the gorgeous line of the hips, but I really, really like to have pockets at work. Next: definitely need to start planning a lacy blouse to go with.


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A draped overskirt

Last weekend I continued to futz with the Victorian outfit. The waistband is still a mess, but I hemmed the skirt. And hemmed. And cried. And hemmed. And it’s not perfect but it’s hemmed (not pinned!) and doesn’t look too terrible from a safe distance, so we’ll go with that.

 The next (almost final?) phase of the half-assed Victorian outfit is the draped overskirt. They’re not quite mandatory for 1880s outfits, but pretty darn close. My texts say either “these things are crazy, go get a pattern” or “use about this much fabric and go to town.”

And of course, “But be tasteful.” The Victorians were big on taste, apparently. But also sure that basically no one had it. Personally I’m pretty sure I will fail at taste, so I’m not going to sweat it.

I did, in fact, buy myself a pattern, last summer, Truly Victorian 368, the “Waterfall Overskirt”. I wanted to see a basic idea of how they went together. It was very interesting, and also very simple, once you had it it laid out for you.

I’m planning on using the waterfall version for my blue dress, so I wanted this one to be different.  I had a vague mental image of the overskirts that leave one side ungathered so there is kinda a point at the bottom. 

To start, I eyeballed what I had left of my grey suiting (around 2m) and estimated what I wanted to drape over the front, and cut that much off.

After some experimenting, I took my general shape (a rectangle with a bit more length on one side—mostly to do with the shape of the fabric I had remaining) and added the lining and an interlining of some random stash drapery sheer that was thin and a little crisp, on the theory that it would give my thin and drapey suiting a bit more body.

I was all set to put in darts when I decided I didn’t want the disruption in the stripes, so I cut a curve out of the top instead to go around the waist. There followed a lot of futzing with pins and playing with pleats until I had it arranged to my liking. I’m very glad I took the time to adjust the dress form for wearing my corset—it took a fair bit of wriggling and padding but with the corset it actually approximates my corseted shape quite well—kind of like those skin-tight covers they talk about making when you pad out a custom dress form. Unlike anything it has ever done for my un-corseted shape.
But doing this kind of draping without a form would be tricky.

 The back drape I cut into some shallow points at the bottom, finished the edges (it’s just lined and turned, with the same interlining as the front), and then started pleating and pinching and messing around.

 I ran a piece of grosgrain ribbon down the inside of the back to anchor the central tucks onto. On its own I actually liked it better without it being all tucked up in the middle, but once I layered the bodice tails over I added some more tucking.

 I had messed around with pinning up the tails before, but I think I have a much better arrangement now.

 And I like the button. I think I need to move my waist stay down a bit in the back, so the bodice hugs the back a little better.

2016-02-16 06.02.37And then I need to bite the bullet about trim. I have a ton of 5/8″ satin ribbon in the right red, some pleated, some not… But what, where, and how much is enough? Or too much. Is it possible to have too much of anything on a Victorian getup? I think we’re straying into “taste” territory again…


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A Half Ass Victorian


Truly Victorian 462 – 1880s tail bodice

Since the next Victorian Sewing Circle was coming up, last weekend I decided to muslin the bodice for Truly Victorian 462. In my memory, back in the fall I had calculated my size via their weird-ass method (basically you select your back size based on on the width across your back and your front size based on the difference between your back size and your full bust, and then twiddle the shoulders to fit. It’s meant to help you skip the FBA, I guess, not that I’m usually an FBA candidate…) and traced out the pieces. Well, it turned out on inspection that I had picked my size, traced out about half the pieces, and then completely not written down what size I was tracing. >_< Thanks, Past Tanit.

Comparison of my traced pieces with the original pattern and some cryptic notation I had left on the instructions eventually led me to conclude that I had been tracing size C for both front and back. Great! I finished tracing it out, made my most basic adjustment (removing 2cm total length, 1cm above the bust and 1 cm below) and cut my first muslin out of some old curtain last seen in a pair of Ellen pants, if anyone remembers what those are. Um, that was over five years ago. Wow. Blog is turning six pretty darn soon. Who knew?



Version # 1

Muslin version 1 revealed some problems. Um, TOO SMALL, much? I re-took my measurements. Apparently, with the combo of corset and bra, my bust is closer to 38″ than its actual 34.” And for the Victorian silhouette I do want the boob paddage. ALL THE BOOBS. However, everything else seemed really good—back size was great, shoulders maybe needed just a little tweak for squareness—I just needed a little more room in the front. Perfect candidate for an FBA, thought I. Never mind I’ve never done one before. How hard can it be?


Yeah, you can stop snickering now.

So I slashed and spread and ended up actually with quite an improvement, except that there was a bunch of extra fabric right along the CF line—like enough to take out an almost 1″ dart. So I did, and rotated that fullness into the two waist darts.


Version 3

This seemed like it did the trick. V. 3 fit basically like a second skin. Although looking at them now, I think the darts could maybe be spread out a little more evenly across the bodice front—they are both very close to the CF after all my futzing.

But. I wasn’t ready, after all that messing around, to jump right into my good fabric. So I went deep-stash-diving, looking for a suitable fabric that I had enough of that wasn’t otherwise earmarked.

Eventually I settled on this striped suiting. The fabric is some completely non-historical, soft and drapey thin suiting, mainly rayon by the feel. I have absolutely no memory of where it came from except that it must have been a gift. If it was from you, thank you! Anyway, it looked good and felt nice and there was plenty of it.

The deep stash also provided an underlining, in the form of this bublegum pink almost-light-canvas-type fabric (much less drapy) that I was quite happy to find a use for.

12729550_1003650139696488_884951134_nEspecially once I discovered the fabric tag. Yup, this fabric was received at Fabricland on 06/05/85. Over thirty years in stash, people.

I wasn’t overly concerned about authenticity at this point—just going for a fit test here. I didn’t bother with seam finishings (in hindsight I should’ve just serged my underlining to my fabric as the inside is fraying like crazy.) But despite that I was still going for as much “authenticity” in my construction methods as I could handle—so there’s boning, and the edges are faced with bias tape, and I generally tried to follow the method described in Plain Needlework and Amateur Dressmaking. To the best of my limited comprehension and/or patience, anyway.

2016-01-29 19.23.58It felt like it took basically forever, though really I got it done in a week so that’s actually pretty fast.

2016-02-21 18.51.53


The guts aren’t pretty but they are complete—boning in channels, plus a waist stay. I think that’s a good idea with the long tails on this pattern. My materials range from vaguely plausible (cotton twill tape for the bone channels) to completely inappropriate (poly grosgrain ribbon for the waist stay. Rayon suiting)

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Bodice interior from Plain Needlework and Amateur Sewing

And then there were the buttons. Plain Needlework suggested 1″ between buttons. In hindsight (funny how perfect it is) this was a bit much for the size of button I ended up with—I think 1 1/2″ between them would’ve been adequate.

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Fabric-covered buttons!

Still determinedly stash-busting, I settled on some smallish coverable buttons that I had three packs of for some reason. I’ve never had much luck with covered buttons before. These went really well, in that I could easily pop them on to their bases once they were fabric-covered, but less well in that they tend to pop back off again quite readily.

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Lots of buttons. Also, a possible neckline trim.

They look nice, though. I did have all the stripes lined up, but as the tops kept popping off it was too annoying to try and get them back on straight. I made the buttonholes on the machine. I’ll drive myself nuts with the hand ones on the Good Copy.

(Oh, the pattern itself has a curve out at the CF bust area. This is a bit of an odd feature, but I gather is period. I had reduced it a wee bit with all my dart-moving, but I wound up making it completely straight for this version due to the stripes. Will I keep that for my “good copy”? If I don’t, my whole test fitting idea becomes kinda useless… if I do, my authenticity quotient goes down (not that I am expecting this to be overly high, mind you…)

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Sleeve with bias facing.

I muslined with long sleeves and (gasp) didn’t even add any length. I did take some width out of the sleeve, especially around the elbow curve, and tweaked the hell out of the sleeve-cap/armscye. It’s still not exactly perfect, but I have a pretty decent range of motion. The sleeve as drafted came just above my wristbone—which, actually, looking at my pinterest boards, seems to be accurate for the period, but would drive me absolutely batty. So I cut back to 3/4″ sleeves. Those I can handle. As per Amateur Dressmaking instructions, I faced both sleeves and bodice with bias tape made from the fashion fabric.

2016-02-16 06.02.37Back in the fall I was playing with some satin ribbon and my ruffler and made this pleated trim. The slightly rusty red colour is perfect—I’m a bit torn about whether to use it or not. I actually like the simplicity of the plain bodice with the menswear-type fabric, but the lower neckline I chose is more of an evening style (which does not go with the menswear fabric at all, by the way, but it’s my party and I’ll show off my upper chest if I want to) and should probably be adorned. We’ll see how I feel once the skirt is gussied up a bit more.

2016-02-21 00.09.06Which brings me to the skirt. Um, yeah. I didn’t have quite enough of the striped suiting for the skirt, or at least not for the skirt plus whatever overskirt draping I might eventually want to do. So I ended up breaking my stashbusting streak and picking up a few metres of this rusy red “wool crepe” (allgedly 65% wool… I am dubious). It was cheap, though, so it’s ok? Anyway, right down to the wire I managed to get it cut into gored panels, mounted on some black broadcloth underlining (salvaged from the same curtain as the cuffs for my blazer, so the walk through Deep Stash was not entirely finished). At 10:30 am Sunday morning, I had to admit, even as I finished pressing the hem facing, that it wasn’t going to be stitched in the hour I had left before I had to leave the house (and be showered and costumed), so I reluctantly but effectively broke out the safety pins. And I won’t even show you the joke of the waistband (more safety pins), but it covered my bottom half adequately, at least once I managed to half-ass a bustle for it.


Bustle, otherwise occupied.

(I made a perfectly good bustle already, but it’s adorning the mannequin that is holding my half-constructed blue skirt at the Marr Residence, so not actually accessible for wearing to said residence. I never said I had good planning skills. (Incidentally, yes, this does mean that I got further on my red skirt in approximately three hours of work than I have on the skirt I’ve been working on since October.)

2016-02-21 11.00.35I did have a teeny little bum pad I made last spring, fairly softly stuffed—probably perfect for an 1890s “figure enhancer,” but not what I was looking for here. I decided to amp it up with a bigger cousin to get something a little more satisfactory; I stuffed it with fabric scraps (serger offcuts work well as they’re so teeny) from the sewing room garbage bag and had to largely hand-stitch it to the other as I couldn’t get the seam allowances anywhere near the sewing machine’s presser foot. This is a much heavier and less convenient option than the collapsible wired bustle I made before (especially for driving) but it was definitely functional, and didn’t collapse much, which I’m a bit worried the wired one will.

2016-02-21 17.04.12

1880s outfit!

It made for a very plain ensemble, but at least the silhouette is there! Well, as close as I am likely to get to it, anyway. I meant to get some pics while at the Marr because DUH, but of course completely forgot. So rather than a beautifully restored period setting, you get narrow-cropped kitchen shots of my bathroom door. Which is probably close to period (well, early 1900s, anyway, and the only original door in our old wreck of a house), but not exactly gorgeously restored.

2016-02-21 16.38.19

Back view. 

I thought the plain tails of the waist (aka bodice) were a little, well, plain, so I tried pinning them up. I think the general principal is sound, but should probably be done by someone who can actually see what they’re doing, and not by me just randomly grabbing bits and pinning them blindly behind me while already dressed.

And just in case you aren’t thoroughly sick of this half-ass outfit yet have some mannequin shots of the half-finished skirt!

2016-02-23 19.07.00

Skirt, front

Why did I let it sit wadded up on the ironing board for two days before I took these?

2016-02-23 19.12.11

Side view. I think my other bustle definitely has a nicer shape (the fluffy petticoats would help, too.)

Pleats in the back. Also, the half-ass waistband. It’s just the black broadcloth (thin yet strong) basted quickly to the inside, and held closed with safety pins. I’ll do something better for next time.

2016-02-23 19.11.54Why yes, there’s a dress form beside my front door in half-Victorian costume.

2016-02-23 19.12.29I’m kinda tempted to leave it there all month.


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