Sunday, February 4, 2018

When Your Bustle Is Like a Tea Tray

Happy February,
I missed posting last week, as we were out of town.  But I am back with another Past Project Post!

Back in 2015, I had the grand idea that I would finally make myself a Late Victorian Gown. Or, rather I succumbed to the idea, in an effort to have more costumed events to attend here in the Pacific Northwest.  I readily admit, I do not care for Victorian women's fashion.  It appears utterly uncomfortable, with tight corseting, cumbersome skirts, layers of undergarments, and regimented rules of form and etiquette that defined what a woman wore, and how she wore it, according to class and station.  Not to mention the burning question: How does one sit, with a bum like a tea tray??

But I started my research, and decided I would accept the challenge.  It would eventually take me an entire year to complete the project.
I was originally attracted to the Natural Form (1877-82);  I loved the look of the Age of Innocence, specifically Winona Ryder's archery dress.   It seemed less artificial or contrived compared to later styles. I had heard good things about the Truly Victorian patterns.  Unfortunately, when it came time to place my order for the patterns, the cost made me pause. The average price per pattern is $16.50, and each pattern piece is sold separately: Cuirass, underskirt, overskirt, various undergarments.  This makes them interchangeable, but not budget-friendly.  I reluctantly put the project on hold.
Hearing of my dilemma, a friend suggested the Burda #7880 "History 1888" pattern.

It is more costume-y, but at $5.99 on sale, I reasoned that I would most likely be wearing it for neo-victorian or steampunk events, rather than any serious historical re-enactment.  And, I thought I might be able to alter it to suit my taste.  As a bonus, it came with a bustle pad.  This was a good alternative for me, as I did not think I could manage to make (or wear) a cage bustle. I wanted a nice walking dress, suitable for park promenades or teas.

I am most familiar with English Regency and French Empire fashions. In comparison, fashion of the later half of the nineteenth century is somewhat mysterious and daunting.  Looking at the inside of extant garments, they seem to be marvels of engineering.  I have already noted my prejudice towards Victorian women's fashions, so I did a lot of preliminary research to gauge the differences in fit and tailoring methods.  I went to my usual tomes "Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century", "The Cut of Women's Clothes", "Costume in Detail 1730-1930", and "20,000 Years of Fashion" to get some late Victorian visual basics.  Then, I moved onto online museum collections.  10 years ago, there were not the many museum collections available online. These have proved invaluable to my learning curve in the last 5 years or so.   I am also very grateful to those more talented costumers on various personal blogs, for sharing their fearless forays (and sometimes failures) into such fascinating artistic territory (of all eras).

For visual guidance of period garments, I came to rely most heavily on "Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail", by Lucy Johnston, and Alison Gersnsheim's "Victorian and Edwardian Fashion, A Photographic Survey". 
I had my heart set on a striped ensemble like this, but with a burgundy underskirt instead of silver grey.

I also found this alleged extant gown online.  Regrettably, the website is no longer available, so I cannot confirm it is truly from the Mid-1880s.  I believe this may be in a private collection, and the original post noted it was reworked from a more capacious 1860s gown. 
Dress ca.1885-87. Striped silk taffeta from ca. 1866, when dress started as cage crinoline gown.. Photos courtesy of corsets and crinolines

Alas, the project came to a screeching halt, when I realised I had inadvertently purchased two different dye lots of the burgundy/beige pinstripe fabric.  This meant three, of the seven, yards were unusable.  I was not willing to give up the stripes, so.....
Finished skirts.  Someday, I will have to adjust the waistbands. Again. 

I had to redesign the entire ensemble to compensate. This is when the challenge officially moved into "franken-project" status.  This is when a art project becomes so convoluted and entirely off-track (i.e. Alice Falls Down The Rabbit Hole),  as to take on a life of its own.  In retrospect, in actual time I believe I spent nine months researching and designing, but only three months sewing.

To my dismay the solid burgundy, meant to be the top skirt draperies, was no longer available. I settled with just the back bustle portion being solid coloured, in favour of the jacket.  I went through my stash to find a suitable lining for the drapery lining as I did not want to use stark white.  I ended up using a bronze cotton. Then, I found a fashion plate that had a reversed colour scheme on which to base the redesigned jacket.

 Although I decided to make up the two skirts as outlined in the Burda pattern, I made the brilliant decision to entirely revise the "bodice" into a jacket with faux waistcoat.  I based it on the extant gown below.  I was tempted by the asymmetrical skirts, but again was denied by the lack of available yardage.  I decided to leave well enough alone.

Page 26-27 Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail. Paris 1885

Apparently, sizing issues with commercial patterns are well known. But I had yet to experience it on such an irritating scale. --Please allow me to digress a moment to praise both "La Mode Bagetelle" and "Sense & Sensibilities: Elegant Ladies Closet" patterns.  I highly recommend them for Regency impressions, and they do not make one yell in despair-- This apparent common knowledge did not stop me from being entirely vexed, the smallest bodice size in the Burda pattern was still 2 sizes too big for me.  As well, the waist bands of the skirts are still too large, even after taking them in several inches.  I finally gave up, and just moved over the hook and eyes.  And, while having two separate skirts is not uncommon, I find it fiddle-y to wear.  The over skirt drapery is looped up and attached with ties to the underskirt. FYI another costumer friend suggested lining the top draperies with tulle to keep it fluffy even after sitting. I wish I had  know this tidbit before.
I substantially altered the bodice pattern, creating a muslin toile that I later used as the jacket lining.  I did trace the revised pattern pieces should I lose my mind, and decide to use this pattern again.  Not bloody likely.

The pattern does not indicate boning is to be used.  However, extant garments used boning, even though women were also wearing corsets underneath.  I used heavy duty zip ties, and laid them along the curved seams, making bone cases such as those seen on page 169 of "Nineteeth-Century Fashion in Detail".
Here is the finished jacket.  It closes with hook and eyes.  I used antique lace on the collar and cuffs. The brooch is actually a dress clip. It did not want to stay "clipped" when I actually wore the ensemble, so I will have to come up with other accessory embellishments.

 I dearly wished for a silly chapeau to go with this equally ridiculous and vexing garment.  I used the Truly Victorian pattern, and it was the most fun I had with this project.  It went together easily, and is my favourite part of the whole franken-project. 
The finished tall crowned hat. It is perfectly obnoxious!
Mini Tea-Tray Bum
At the Deepwood Estate, with my friend Lynelle.  She was clever and used the Truly Victorian pattern. Be like Lynelle.

 The moral of the story is: all the careful research, planning, and design are wasted when one stubbornly uses an inferior pattern. I spent more precious creative time, cursing and tearing my hair, than I saved in the initial "frugal" investment of $5.99. 
For undergarments, I have the Folkwear pattern camisole and drawers. A proper uptight victorian would wear a petticoat for additional modesty.  I opted out, as I lined the base skirt in muslin. I reckon the two skirts must weigh at least 10 pounds.  I made up the Burda bustle pad as directed and added lots of ruffles,  which essentially turns my skirts into a giant pincushion.  I am wearing a lightly boned modern "fashion" corset.  This is a less accurate alternative, but more comfortable.  It provides a smooth foundation, in addition to the jacket boning, but otherwise there is no waist reduction.
It is interesting to note the difference between my modern impression verses historical fit in the photographs below.  As a stylish 1880s woman, my current 26 inch waist would probably be cinched down to 22, and my jacket tailored much more tightly through the bosom and arms.

I wore the ensemble twice in 2016, and will make a third presentation  later this month. I was kindly asked to model at a fashion show & tea, hosted by the West Linn Historical Society.  I will write a future post on my accessories, as I plan to break out some treasures from my antique collection.