The Brontes then and Now,extracts from a “Symposium of Articles”

Source: The Brontes then and Now,extracts from a “Symposium of Articles”


More of the contributions from my old Brontes society booklet ,I am trying to get these finished as I wanted to donate the book to the parsonage I think it would be useful either for their archive or for the second second section in their shop

This is from the Russian Prince D S Mirsky and is from Leeds and a 1923 meeting of the Bronte Society

He gives his impression of how the Brontes appear to what he calls “foreigners” ,primairly he focuses on Emily

He became acquainted with their work late in life as apparently their Governess  thought badly of their works (incredibly she was an English woman from Bingley)

Here are brief extracts which give the overall tenor of the article

“Jane Eyre I came upon in the winter of 1917 to 1918 in the Turkish town of Erzerum.It was a terrible time the Russian front had already collapsed,and we the remainder of the Russian army in Armenia where waiting for the inevitable end,,,,

There I first found Jane Eyre ,I remember the intense thrill of  the first reading and still marvel at the red hot fire of emotion that seems to burn in its flames all the numerous inconsistencies and absurdities of the narrative .”

“Wuthering Heights I read in Athens ,I had it lent to me along with “The mysteries of Udolpho  “The lady who lent me the two books said “If you like sensational blood and thunder stories here you have them”

The Prince disagreed that the writers are in any way similar and goes on to consider the locations in which he read the novels  and makes the now well known links between Heathcliff  specifically and more general the rest of  Wuthering Heights with Emilys poetry before continuing,,,


“I do not hesitate to place both sisters among the foremost writers  of the world ,but of the two which is more likely to last .,,

“The homely sincere humanity of Charlotte or the  unearthly splendor  of Emily .Emily is certainly less bound to her time and if Charlottes was the more immediate success ,Emily seems now to have gained the upper hand  .She is well worth it ,well worth the greatest fame in the world.,,,,

“Wuthering heights is a well regulated and ordered universe ,obedient to the laws of its creator,a terrible universe ,,,that reminds one of the Mancunian legend that the devil created the world.”

Of all human vices ,,,Vanity is most common ,of this vice Emily was entirely exempt ,the opposite vice pride ,is one she had in profusion ..From whatever side we approach her she seems more inhuman and more like the hero of Miltons poem.

Only one point in her seems human ,her relation to her sister Anne,the only creature she seems to have loved .

It has  often been said that Wuthering Heights is a direct  product of the West Riding  ,that detached from its soil it becomes unintelligible, ,,

I think this view is exaggerated ,I cannot accept that Wuthering Heights   is a true depiction of the west riding ,or that the West Yorkshire is all  inhabited by Heathcliffs and Catherine Lintons.

Emilys novel is essentially outside time and space   ,and if it is nondetachable from the West riding ,then the West Riding itself must be outside time and space.




A brief introduction to Prince Mirsky ,I dont normally recomend Wikipedia but in this instance its accurate and concise

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A no or low sew cheats guide to making a Victorian outfit or gown


My final cheats no or low sew guide to cover Victorian era costumes,this doesnt as yet have any step by step guides ,I will add these as I go along but I am still working on my outfits,this is more a guide to help anyone shopping for an entirely  none sew outfit ,though it includes ideas for adding detailing.

I have added substantialy to this post as I managed to source more and more modern fabrics and garments suitable for reuse ,so its not quite as organised as I eventualy intend it ,but as its now well into the time when people are preparing for events I thought I will publish it now and tidy it a bit later.

A Victorian outfit is easier to create from a vintage victorian looking  blouse ,waistcoat or jacket and skirt combination than making a gown .These can look very effective and accurate ,with the right under layers and accessories


This is a Laura Ashley jacket ,a skirt which I made but full skirts can be bought cheaply or cut from Ballgowns or prom or bridal gowns ,make sure you cut enough of the bodice of the gown to make the skirt wearable .

Skirts such as this in assorted colours can be bought for around £30 new

30 skirt5

For a steampunk look try to find a waistcoat to wear with a strippy skirt.

If you wanted to try making a skirt the main thing you need to avoid is doing any hemming as this is the main amount of sewing needed .This skirt was made from silk fabric which already had a edge suitable to leave by itself instead of adding a hem so it just needed gathering at the waist and then tacking onto a piece of ribbon instead of a proper waistband ,to make ties either add more ribbon ,or velcro and make sure the back of the skirt is full enough to cover any gap



A  day dress is harder and will need some sewing however small but ballgowns are not particularly hard if you can fine a full skirts strappy or sleeveless gown  you just need to sew lace around the collar and add some Victorian accessories long gloves fans etc


For a fancy dress party you could just wear a bodice top ,evening or prom bodice and very full skirt over a hoop or net petticoat.To make it more authentic looking add lace around the collar and try to find a skirt and bodice thats the same colour.Again plain skirts are cheap to buy on ebay and elsewhere

images (3)

tw tone

I found the following on ebay though I have never used any of the sellers and cant be sure of the quality they are useful starting points and give an idea of what is available.

tulle bustle skirt.jpg

Per Una skirts are often very useful for either a bottom skirt for under a bustle outfit or as part of a layered outfit

Another useful item sometimes avaible and often very cheaply is a train from a wedding gown ,many gowns have detachable trains which can be taken off after the ceremony so the dress is easier to move around in ,used with panels or lace or fabric they make excellent bustles ,some have loops to enable them to be bustled up but even those without can be used to create a back bustle by just using safety pins ,if you avoid white or viory or plae colours for the rest of the outfit it wont look as though you have raided a bridal store for an outfit.




While bought contemport skirts are not suitable to form the main part of an outfit they can contribute and under layer or tier of a late Victorian bustle gown or walking outfit.

A strapless wedding dress with an interesting bustled skirt can be adjusted with a darker colour layer to form an outfit ,using dark blue or black or red with another colour or darker trims added .the trick with using wedding ,prom or bridesmaids dresses is to cover as much as possible of the bodice which is normaly what gives away the gown and add to or partly cover the skirt,adding blue or black trims around the skirt base a panel of black lace down the bodice front ect

bustle g.jpg

back bus.jpg

It would be too hard to transform the dress above into something similar to the ones below if you added waistcoats or jackets or trims or a velvet skirt or bodice etc cut and draped with the gown

red wh

You could add black or dark trims as for the earlier gown below

blakc th wht


wht sk.jpg

Or a hooped skirt bridal gown could have darker lace sewn onto it which would take a very few stitches which could be done by any one a friend of helpful child ,the gown below is printed but it would be easy to achieve something similar with wide lace.

blu lac

blue lace


A wide range of amazing lace fabrics with attached roses, flowers, bows ,beadedwork or embriodery are avaible most very cheaply the fabric below from china is £12.99

It would need using carefuly as its probably not of a hugely high quality but as bustling or a lower part of a skirt etc would be perfect.In general fabrics,trims and lace listed as bridal quailty will be much better than others

rose trim

this could be used to create a skirt like the one in this bustle gown ,though in the original the fabric is patterned.Its would be best sewn onto the skirt front but a draped effect with the fabric could be achieved with just safety pins an a very wide panel pinned either side of the dress and covered with the outer fabric from the bustling mworn like a kind of wide long apron

rose gown

for the remaining trims on the gown you could use the gold lace below if you have someone to sew for you ,or just drape it in with other fabric .l

gold lace.jpg

These give a wide rang of options and its possible to sometimes find skirts ,jackets, bodices etc of lace you can cut and tack  or even pin,possibly  glue onto a gown so avoiding even less sewing .The gown below is probably not actually lace and satin but sating with a lace “apron ” or over skirt tied round it ,a modern or vintage lace skirt could be cut in half an used which would need no sewing or if you wanted you could sew on two pretty ribbons as ties .Its quite cheap and easy to buy little black neckline fillers variously listed as shrugs,collars capes etc for the top





To add more interest an assortment of pleated ,ruches and gathered fabrics can be bought cheaply to drape ,pin or tack onto a vintage modern gown ,jacket or skirt,or to use to make sleeves for a ball gown and a matching front panel on the bodice


You could buy a length of this fabric fold it into a lop and safety pin it to a gown for a bustle detail ,or cut a piece and glue or tack or safety pin it under a waist coat or jacket to add some extra detailing  at the neck or cut down the front of a bodice and inset a piece then add a piece at the cuffs ,neither would take much stitching ,it may be possible to glue it ,a lot of fabrics can be glued but I have never tried.

ruff fron

ruf cuf.jpg

ruff lace

This purple could be used to recreate a simialr effect to the antique gown below


black ruf lace

Black is usually easier to match to a black bodice ,fabric ,jacket etc or a good colour for contrast.

bl kwh

Most of these would be evening gowns or for indoor events as the ruffled lace and fabrics are not very good if they get very wet  and are comparativly vulnerable to getting torn ,they are also not very warm.

To make a day dress  you could try to find a ready made gown with the right shape top ,full sleeved vintage velvet gowns are best,then use this as a base ,a bodice and apron front for example for a bustle gown,both of the gowns below where made using fabric but could be replicated using a dress over a simple bought skirt,a bridesmaid ,evening or prom skirt would work well ,the skirt below was made by the simple gather onto a peice of fabric method and was also fabric which didnt need a hem


red dsress.jpg

A dress such as this could be cut away at the front  if you can do a fair bit of basic sewing or have some to do it for you ,it only needs a very basic running stitch.

bustle jacket

or draped to create a bustle apron effect.,many bustle gowns had two or more colours ,the skirt being a different colour to the jackets or bodice and front drapery

2 col


You could also use a dress over a fuller skirt as a earlier Victorian style outfit,though the outfit below is 18thc it would only need a round hoop and some lace trim to make it look Victorian ,many 18c gowns ,bodices ,jackets etc were adapted to make Victorian gowns as fabric was expensive.Bustle gowns especially were made from recycled polonaise gowns from 18thc



Other options

If you cant find a gown,jacket etc with the right kind of sleeves or want to create a better effect than just a plain sleeve.You could add a lace trim

cuffs blog jacket.jpg

Or  try a variety of things with the sleeves .Many Victorian gowns had removable sleeves so they could be used for evening or day wear , so fashion with trims  at variouse points along the length of the sleeve developed to hide the places they were attached.You could consider buying a second jacket etc and cutting off pieces of sleeve to add to the main one,this needs some stitching but could be done quickly and by anyone you might be able to find to help even a child These sometimes had extra pelerines or wide collars to add to the dresses uses.




Photos from

for late victorian styles you could buy a goth collar  in a matching colour mostly this would mean finding a black bodice /jacket /gown ,though you can soemtimes get red,green or purple these would be harder to get a colour match for.


If you had a plain self coloured bodice of black  velvet silk etc finding a little cape and extra items such as collars etc is fairly easy .This is a very beaded evening style cape suitable for later gowns .



Though you dont need to create a gown as elaborate,knowing the shapes of sleeves ,bodices skirts etc is very useful as it often shows ways around the limitations of a bought item ,for example adding panels or extra length of sleeve.


A fashion for wide sleeves that ended at elbow level then had a separate pair of white under sleeves beneath them is a very handy style to try to recreate ,you could cut along a jacket with wide sleeves and then cut off the sleeves of a wide sleeved blouse to use under it.this not only provides a way to use a jacket which may not have long sleeves or may not look perfect as it is .Using the cut off sleeves of a white blouse is a very handy way to add authenticity to an outfit .

A  modern but Victorian looking blouse can have a surprising number of uses .

Alone with a wide belt ,a mans leather belt is a good option but a wide sash of fabric will work though is harder to keep in place.There was a fashion for Garibaldi blouses which is very easy to recreate with a wide enough skirt .


Over this often went a bolero style jacket ,equally easy to find ,just add some trim if you can do a small amount of stitching to make it look even more accurate.



You could layer this with a waistcoat and have the upper part of a victorian day outfit ,you then only need to find or buy a wide skirt or you can make one using the cheats guide to making a victorian outfit and ask a friend to stitch along the edges and gather it onto a peice of ribbon or tape,if you cut the hemline with pinking shears you can avoid hems which are the most time consuming part of making a skirt and the bit hardest to do if you have to limit sewing time.You can also use curtains or similar already hemmed fabrics


Looking for gowns or outfits that have more than one colour or fabric is a very good way to work out how to make a gown or outfit from an assrtoment of vintage or modern items .You could make the outfit below with a gathered up summer dress,bought evening skirt and a blouse .

If you can hold a needle briefly small bits of antique gathered lace can easily be found to make cuffs  because people tend to want  longer lengths and these could be easily tacked on by anyone in a few minutes, perhaps a friend or a child or grandchild ,it may be possible to glue them on but I have never tried.Likewise you cut cout off the sleeves of one thing and insert them into the sleeves of another ,or add panels




Lace is an excellent option for creating an evening gown either bustle or wide hooped skirt,lace can often be bought with scalloped or embroidered edges and needs no sewing at all to bustle just pull it up where you want it at the sides or back and fasten it with a safety pin,use two contrasting colours of lace to create a more elaborate bustle ,or layer lace over a plain hoop skirt,this will take soem but not much stitching as it will need tacking onto the skirts waist band or the bottom of a bodice


ba cg

Dont feel that if your unable to sew elaborate trimming is out there is a wide assortment of edged lace,pleated or gathered lace and pleated or gathered trims,ribbon roses etc,most if bought from China costs between £1 and £3 a metre most being the lower end of that price,mixing two different or contrasting colours is another interesting option or graduated colours of lace one other the other


The trim below came double pleated and I just added the rose,you can also buy ribbons and trims that already have lace sewn on.

lace vel





Another useful search for auction sites is to try typing in goth ,steampunk a lot of very useful accessories or detailing can be found such as these collars which would go under a jacket of dress

st col

I thought a few  further images would be helpful and I also include links to museum collections to search ,if you are familar with what is needed its much easier to find things to create the effect,shape and fabric is much more important than details or buttons etc.

The main collections in Museums are in the V and A ,the Met and the Kyoto institute ,with the museum at Bath also having a few interesting items.

A google search of costume dramas is also very helpful as these are often very accurate ,but also show what people expect a certain costume to look like,watching clips will give you a view in 3d of outfits



bustle jacket

two colour ballfgown cg

red jacket


aa1839449f106b3c79a2cea5568d08bc--female-clothing-metropolitan-museumblue j


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The Brontes then and Now,extracts from a “Symposium of Articles” and introduction

I stumbled on one of those gems of Ebay ,a little obscure booklet,these often go for pennies and offer the possibilities of hidden treasure .This has certainly been the case with this booklet .”The Brontes then and now ” was published by the Bronte Society  in 1947  and printed in Shipley by Outhewaite Bros Caxton Press .

Its has a introduction that reminds one of the austerity of post war Britain .It was published to commemorate the centenary of the publication of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (Its doesnt mention Agnes Grey)It consists of articles from assorted editions of the Bronte Society transactions from the previous decades ,but laments

“Owing to difficulties created by the scarcity of paper ,the volume is not as large as the society would liked to have published on so memorable an occasion”

Its aim was to collate “The best essays to show how the Brontes are regarded today” (though that is  not strictly true one article dates from the early 1920s ,)in general it is a accurate description of the essays and articles.

.I will reproduce long extracts from several articles over the next week or two as they almost all contain interesting little long lost views and ideas ,the writers rang from the Rev  J C Hirst the Vicar of Haworth ,Fanny Ratchford and  a Russian Prince ,Prince D S Mirskey who writes about reading Jane Eyre in 1917 /1918 in Erzerum  ( see footnote ),while in the Russian army at “a terrible time ,the Russian Front had already collapsed and we the remainder of the Russian army were awaiting the inevitable end ”

(I can only find a photo of the prince from the book cover above,he went back to Russia and died in a Gulag

There is a short article reproducing the causes of death of all the Brontes,those of Branwell ,Charlotte Emily ,Ann and Rev Bronte have the causes of death verbatim from the death certificates .”direct evidence from the registers office at Keighley” While another short article  relates details of their burial sites.This was written by the then  vicar of Haworth  J C Hirst (In his last year as vicar ,having seen Haworth through the seond world war)He was thr last Vicar of Haworth to live in the Bronte Parsonage prior to its becoming a Museum.

The photo below is slightly earlier and from the excellent site ,this site also contains invaluable primary sources .


Other articles comment on the views of people locally about the Brontes,which echoed the impressions I have gained from talking locally to those who had passed down family memories of the sisters

“I met with with more than one Lady who had known the Brontes  and ,,spoke with undisguised contempt,I was assured that they were “Not ladies and that they were not even succesful as governesses “( the writer used the quotes from a book “The Memories of Sir Weymuss Reid ).

Sir Weymuss was at one point editor of the Leeds Mercury ,he began working for the paper in 1870 and was there for  around 16 years giving him ample time to gain local knowledge from those who knew  of or had met the Brontes of the Brontes .

Hes quotes several parts of the book with regard to local feeling at the time of the Brontes and shortly after .

Other hidden gems include some quotes from famous authors ,including the comment that Thomas Hardy wouldnt read Wuthering Heights because he had heard it was depressing ,which coming from the Author of Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D urbevilles is a bit rich.

The Battle of Erzurum

“At the end of the offensive in the storming of the city of Erzurum itself, the Russians captured some 9 standards, 5,000 prisoners and 327 guns. The Ottomans lost about 10,000 men killed and wounded, as well as 5,000 prisoners.[2] The Russians lost 1,000 killed, 4,000 wounded and 4,000 became affected with frostbite.[ , The full text can be found here

He seems to have relied heavily on Elizabeth Gaskel and repeats the slanders on Patricks character long since known and proven to be untrue ,he may be one of the sources used by early biographers

“Only those who dwelt under the
same roof knew him as he really was. Among the
many stories told of him by his children, there is one
relating to the meek and gentle woman who was his
wife, and whose lot it was to submit to persistent
coldness and neglect. Somebody had given Mrs.
Bronte a very pretty dress, and her husband, who
was as proud as he was self-willed, had taken offence
at the gift. A word to his wife, who lived in habitual
dread of her lordly master, would have secured all
he wanted ; but in his passionate determination that
she should not wear the obnoxious garment,

he deliberately cut it to pieces, and presented her with
the tattered fragments.

On the other hand he is elsewhere very critical of Gaskel

“Unhappily, first
impressions are always strongest, and running through
the whole of Mrs. Gaskell’s story, may be seen the
impression produced at her first meeting with Char-
lotte Bronte by her nervous shrinking and awkward-
ness in the midst of unknown faces.

It was not thus with those who, brought into the
closest of all fellowship with her, the fellowship of
school society, knew the secrets of her heart far better
than did any who became acquainted with her in after
life. To such the real Charlotte Bronte, who knew
no timidity in their presence, was a bold, clever, out-
spoken and impulsive girl ; ready to laugh with the
merriest, and not even indisposed to join in practical
jokes with the rest of her schoolfellows. The picture
we get in the ” Life” is that of a victim to secret terrors
and superstitious fancies. The real Charlotte Bronte,
when stories were current as to the presence of a
ghost in the upper chambers of the old school-house
at Roehead, did not hesitate to go up to these rooms



alone and in the darkness of a winter’s night, leaving
her companions shivering in terror round the fire

He also relates local people where by far fondest of Branwell

“and any one
who cares to go to Haworth now and inquire into the
story of the Brontes, will find that the most vivid
reminiscences, the fondest memories of the older
people in the village, centre in this hapless youth.

” Before me lie the few letters which remain of
Emily and Anne. There is little in them worth
preserving. Both make reference to the fact that
Charlotte is the great correspondent of the family,
and that their brief and uninteresting epistles can
have no charm for one who is constantly receiving
letters from her.

In Yorkshire, indeed, the stolid people
of the West Riding were not greatly moved by this
enthusiasm. Just as Charlotte herself had seemed an
ordinary and rather obscure person to her Yorkshire
friends, so Haworth was still regarded as being a very
dull and dreary village by those who lived near it


I stepped for a
moment into the kitchen, where the landlord and
landlady were having a comfortable chat over pipes
and ale, with a companionable rustic of the place,
who proved to be a nephew of the old servant Tabby,
who lived so long, and at last died in the service of
the Bronte family. I joined the circle, and sat there
till long after midnight. Branwell was clearly the
hero of the village worship. A little red-headed
fellow, the landlord said, quick, bright, abounding in
stories, in jokes, and in pleasant talk of every kind ;




he was a general favourite in town, and the special
wonder of the Black Bull circles. Small as he was,
it was impossible to frighten him. They had seen
him volunteer during a mill-riot to go in and thrash a
dozen fellows, any one of whom could have put him
in his pocket and carried him off at a minute’s notice.
Indeed a characteristic of the whole family seems to
have been an entire insensibility to danger and to
fear. Emily and Charlotte, these people told me,
were one day walking through the street, when their
great dog, Keeper, engaged in a fight with another
dog of equal size. Whilst everybody else stood aloof
and shouted, these girls went in, caught Keeper by
the neck, and by dint of tugging, and beating him
over the head, succeeded in dragging him away.” I
extract this passage because of the confirmation
which it gives, on the authority of one who made
his inquiries very soon after the death of Charlotte
Bronte, of the account of some of the family charac-
teristics which appear in these pages ; n

Of Charlotte he  writes

Do not underrate her oddity,” said a gifted
friend who knew her during her heyday of fame,
while these pages were being written. Her oddity, it
must be owned, was extreme — so far as the world
could judge.

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A new kind of cheats guide for those unable to sew or wear accurately constructed costumes ,the low sew no sew cheats guides

As many of my blog followers know for several years now I have been more and more restricted by arthritis in my hands ,its nolonger possible for me to either make or in many cases wear historically  accurate costumes.But there are options especially with Victorian outfits ,the outfit below is  with the exception of the bonnet perfectly achievable without sewing and bonnets are not too expensive to buy ready made .

As I can now nolonger make costumes or do any extensive sewing or use my hands for too long, I thought a no or low sewing time cheats guide might be useful for anyone in a similar situation or who doesnt have time to sew for too long.Unlike most of my cheats guides the focus here is on cutting down sewing and trying to make the remaining sewing simple enough to be “contracted out ” perhaps to either helpful friends or children /grandchildren for making their own items or to a professional seamstress ,if using a professional then the amount of sewing needs limiting to lower their fees.The low or no sew cheats guides will sometimes be more expensive than the usual cheats guides because more needs to be bought .however this isnt always the case.They are more likely to be less accurate as clearly they relay heavily on already made items .But this is also not necessarily the case.Well chosen accessories such as bonnets and shawls can make a huge impact

They may also be useful to those making theatre costumes as they are also designed to be easier to get on and off.I no longer find it certain I will be able to tie small ribbons,fasten hooks and eyes  or fasten small buttons. I also no longer have anyone to lace me in and out of things so these are again issues considered in these guides.
I have tried to create as accurate as possible an impression ,but also to give an overall effect that will hopefully draw attention away from inaccuracies .Though for some occasions its perhaps unnecessary to have perfect accuracy such as  Victorian themed evenings or days .This is a bought velvet bodice worn with a huge tulle (bridal style net ) petticoat and a very full skirt ,the silk was nicely edged so didnt need hemming and wide full skirts can be fairly cheaply bought ,it would be a reasonably passable  Victorian ball gown for fancy dress events especially with a antique shawl or fan and more accurate jewelry .If you can find a bodice and skirt the same colour even better for accuracy and adding lace around the neck will give you a perfectly accurate gown

though the skirts more elaborate this is essentially a simple bodice and big skirt with a wide lace collar.Even  gown s with different coloured bodices and skirts were not unknown

A day outfit can be made using a similar skirt ,bought vintage waistcoat and vintage blouse ,this is essentialy not much different to some Victorian ladies “outdoor or sporting wear”

though long sleeved in esssence these are not dissimilar to the outfit above and identical to the one at the top of the post/
I will add links in the following months to the following cheats guides
Cheats guide to underlayers,petticoats ,hooped petticoats ,chemises ,etc

floral corset

these will be mostly focused on victorian era petticoats but are also appropriate for regency and Georgian /collonial /18thc .
rose sacqe back
cheats guide to accessories will include

Bonnets,hats,mittens,muffs ,collars and corset covers ,chemisettes .Also again suitable for Victorian and late 18th early 19thc c .Some extant work bonnets still exist and can be bought cheaply and will be suitable for a range of eras though primarily Victorian
vict bonnet.jpg
Cheats guide to Tudor ,Stuart,Elizabethan petticoats, gowns and layers,its harder to make an accurate gown but not impossible to create something similar to the gown below .


An Elizabethan outfit with a waistcoat is also achievable though you will need to buy the under layer and ruff

flora pet red ruff st

Cheats guide to outerlayers.
Cloaks ,jackets,mantles ,capes,spencers ,etc
red specner breeze
Victorian style jackets,simple cloaks and capes which can be adapted to most eras,the easiers form of spencer or cropped regency jacket,the simplest mantles and medieval overgowns.
Cheats guide to headresses
Tudor and medieval
Cheats guide to a faux victorian dress or outfit
cheats guide to a medieval outfit

Non sew options .
While most of these cheats require a little but not much sewing ,but some costumes from all eras can be created with none.
If your lucky enough to have some spare cash and be very petite,There are wearable fairly reasonably priced victorian outfits including gowns still surviving .These wont stand up to heavy use but could usually be worn for brief periods of time with care,usually just indoors ,you can then if they are undamaged possibly resell them after suitable cleaning for perhaps almost the same amount .I have made profits on victorian capes and mantles bought cheaply ,worn for a season then resold .

.Look for items that are mislabled when listed or described as needing TLC or cleaning .Most of mine where musty smelling or had moth holes .where faded or damaged trims or linings but this wasnt obviouse when they were being worn .The cape below was approx £30 and badly faded when opened flat with a few moth holes near the hemline but none of that showed when it was being worn .
Parasols that are not usable open are often very pretty looking closed often  sell very cheaply indeed ,Fans are easy to find listed cheaply and help make an outfit look authentic.The fan below is Charlotte Brontes but similar fans sell on ebay for under £50 and are extremely collectable so easy to resell

There are often capes and short cloaks availble .The cloak below is a vintage 1980s cloak but looks amazingly accurate,clerical capes and cloaks are a possibility also

Bag or reticules ,petticoats ,bloomers, chemises and chemisttes ,collars and mittens for sale very cheaply on ebay or etsy but only in petite sizes ,usually under sz 8 ,though I have bough wearable petticoats for myself and I am a uk sz 12/14 ,remember to measure your waist etc once you have your corset on as this reduces your waist several inseven when worn fairly loosely laced.
You can also buy commercialy bought petticoats ,chemise blouses and underskirts.I bought a chemise blouse for £6 from china and bought all my hooped petticoats the same way .Chemise blouses are often listed as gypsy or peasant blouses
show china chemise
Its impossible to find earlier gowns that mid victorian that could be worn ,but its often not impossible to find re enactors selling off their old costumes if you have long enough advance warning and time to spare ,these dont come up very often,I sold my own maybe once or twice a year but when they are availble there is often a full outfit for sale .I sold all of those below for well under £100 ,most for between £30 and £50
hunter green bustle dress

1830s bronte gown

18thc brown dress
I sold most of mine in January as I used the proceeds to buy new fabrics and trims to make my new years outfits.I occasionaly sold some on the run up to Christmas as that and New year is often when Victorian or Tudor events take place or when people need fancy dress outfits for parties.
American ebay sites are usually more productive of second hand re enactment outfits than UK sites .
There are also sites that sell off old movies costumes for varying prices often these are from extras ,I have seen costumes from “The other bolyen girl sold for under £100 though costumes usually start at several hundred ,they can always then be resold .
Lastly theres the pre made costumes,these can be excellent but extreemly expensive ,they will be made to your exact specifications ,but with underlayers etc added to the total can be prohibitive,making your own under ayers or cheats versions radically cut down costs but need to be already made before ordering your gown .Cheaper premade outfits from China can be bought these dont usually look perfectly accurate but would be fine for medival faires banquets etc and again can be resold to recoup some of their costs.You might possibly recoup your entire gown and headress cost if you could sell your cheats guide underlayers with them .

Shoes ,its quite easy to find shoes to match most eras gowns as long as they are not going to be the focus of too much attention,Satin ballet pumps are alomsot identical to indorr early victorian and romatic era or regency shoes.Theres pretty sude ankle boots that pass easily for regency and victorian half boots,heeled lace up mid calf boots to pass for later victorian shoes,any flat shoes with a bar fastening will be suitable for outdoor Tudor shoes ,satin bridal or Asian shoes for late Tudor ,Elizabethan ,Stuart and Georgian shoes.
Medieval shoes are harder but passable shoes can be found .
The easiest way to make a victorian ,Regency or Georgian outfit look authentic is the correct shawl and bonnet .

Very attractive authentic victorian shawls can be bought and the same versions bought as vintage items from Asian ebay sellers ,Regency and early victorian shawls were usually Dupattas or occasionaly part saris ,Asian stores also often sell very good quality Paisly shawls.

Bonnet bases can be bough fairly cheaply mostly from US or European suppliers but some from UK suppliers,If buying from overseas and you can group together with some one ese the costs are much cheaper as postage can be shared .There is usually more choice of styles from overseas .Decorating bonnet bases to create a bonnet reflecting your own style and tastes and to match your outfit is very easy and quick .

It can be done without sewing anything but the ties on, but even with the odd bit of stitching only needs a few minutes of sewing to fasten on ribbons or trims with big stitches and a big needle.

Some sellers sell hat bases ,most seller Bereger hats in assorted sizes,from the “scarlet o Hara ” wide hat to small hats suitable for later Victorian wear as well as Regency wear .Modern fastenator bases as long as they are black ,brown ,cream or plain straw are also usuable .Women wore riding hats very similar to mens top hats and a small size top hat with a wide long chiffon scarf tied around its band could be used.


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How to put victorian or replica victorian clothing on

corset sign

Just a very quick post on dressing in period costume as WGW is coming up and Haworths going steam punk in Nov

The most important thing is highlighted in the Goth day public service announcement

First some donts

If your wearing a steel boned or steel busk corset ,put  your stockings and shoes on first

Dont wear tights unless your not going to need the loo while in costume.

Next the layers

1 /chemise layer  ,this goes under your corset to stop the corset rubbing idealy a long chemise or camisole top and petticoat ,or you can use almost anything else a thin strappy long vest top ,a cotton strappy hippy top, a strappy nightdress



edwardian lace petticoat

2/ Corset layer

The corset now goes on any structural undergarments ,hoop ,bustle ,bustle cushion ,


Petticoats layer ,.

either one petticoat over the structural underlayers or one to add fullness to the skirts .I usually wear  at least one basic one and one decorated one with a taffeta or lace trimmed hemlines or a trained  petticoat with bustle gowns

For 1830s/40s you will need several petticoats but they dont need to be decorated.They can add a lot of weight however ,I found that I average between 1 and 2 stones of  outfit


Dress and extras layer

Put on your dress, add lace collar and cuffs or pelerine or  ribbon and lace collar etc ,this is what makes the gown look correct.

Avoid any jewelry with sparkly stones unless you playing someone very rich ,paste jewels were considered tacky by the middle classes ,black jet look-alike jewelry ,bone looking plastic, mother or pearl ,small pearl brooches or portrait miniatures work well

essential accessories

Fan ,,it’s no fun at all in hot weather or hot rooms wearing Victorian costume unless you have a fan to help you keep cool

Little bag/reticule /pocket

Its essential asd you wont have pockets or a modern handbag  to have somewhere to put change ,hankies ,phones fans

desirable Extras


Mittens or gloves

No lady would go out without gloves or possibly mittens and most wore mittens in the house and evening /opera  gloves which reached upper arm  or night time events or dinner (see above)


No lady would leave the house without a bonnet or hat

bonnet side view

Married ladies would wear a cap or some token piece of lacetrimed ribbon in the house in the early years of the reign

Shawl /cloak

Again no lady would leave the house without them and a shawl is handy if your moving around in drafty places in a wide shouldered dress

Parasol /Brolly

This is a pleasant extra as in hot weather it does stop you feeling too hot and in rain it reduces the amount of extra weight your likely to be a carrying from rain-soaked clothing any outfit will have around 10 metres of fabric and many up to metres so thats a lot of fabric to get wet

Vintage handkerchief

Faux vintage pocket watch.




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The Early Tudor white band unimportant mystery or the key to Tudor gown construction?

As I have been working my way through the Tudor era I have been doing further research on the puzzling white band that appears in many early Tudor portraits. The result is this rather long post. I have put forward an assortment of possibilities with arguments for and against each .The white band is a narrow strip of fabric that goes around the shoulders of ladies in an assortment of English portraits from the early and mid Tudor era.

annehorenboutThe band can be seen here going around the shoulders and down the bodice front .There seems no reason for this band in this portrait or most others .


the sole exception is this Holbein sketch were it appears to be holding up the skirts

YoungEnglishWomanHolbein white bandI do not however think that the white band in this case is necessarily holding up the skirts its seems to terminate a little above the garter but if it is indeed holding up the skirts I think it unlikely to be representative of its use in the portraits of upper class women All Tudor ladies seem to have usually let their gowns trail  as theres several comments about trained gowns and also about the middle class womens gowns trailing in mud .Where gowns were lifted they seem to have been back pined

three_ladies back lacing

I know there are several theory’s ,perhaps it is part of the undergown /chemise showing through much as the chemises in Italian portraits  do .

Italian-1520 white band

We have a portrait of Katherine of Aragon  wearing a gown in what appears to be a similar style so it is possible

kath sleeves

.It does explain its  appearance and disappearance  which can  be accounted for by a change in lacing in the gowns.

Early Tudor gowns front  usualy fastened  such as the one Elizabeth of york is shown wearing in  her famous portrait .


and in the Whitehall mural obviously front fasten and have no band

whitehall mural detail

A further portrait also  shows  Catherine of  Aragon wearing a gown that  appears to  fasten at the front,Though in Catherine’s case there is a panel pined across the front.On these gowns trim and neckline decoration is attached to the gown (This is the reason I usually attach trims to gowns which I design and sell as I feel there is some evidence to suggest that at least some less expensive trim was attached to the overgowns in the early Tudor age)


I  do think it possible Tudor gowns went through a side lacing phase as Holbein’s famous sketch shows a gown that appears to neither front nor back laced and the lady has the mysterious white band

holbein front and back gown.Later Tudor gowns either back lace or front lace with a panel pined across over the lacing and the white band accordingly disappears .


I think this unlikely however as both the Holbein sketch of a young woman walking and other sketches show the band with front fastening gowns.

It more likely that the Band in its early stages  is linked to sleeves style and attachment.Tudor gowns change shape in the early decades of the 16thc and it’s During this time the white band appears and perhaps may have covered  not just the side lacing of the  new style gowns  but also have covered the attachment lacing for the sleeves  or to cover pins and protect the gown from any pins etc used to attach the gowns sleeves.This function would hold good even for back lacing gowns as tie on sleeves would still need covering


Though I have to do further research I am also not convinced that all Tudor gowns acquired integral sleeves  either during the White band era or later as I have so far found it impossible to create the later  very wide necked and tight sleeves style with integral sleeves without the sleeves constantly falling off the shoulders.Its also very difficult to get any full sleeved chemise through these tight sleeves.I think its very possible some if not all Tudor gown sleeves were separate to the gowns

maria be medicei seperate sleeves

overgown undergown sep sleeves

Though I confess if this is the case I cant figure out how the sleeves attached as theres clearly no lacing holes in the Jane seymour portrait .The sleeves could only have attached to a layer under jewelled neckline billiment layer and so be hidden by the billiments as above and in later portraits such as the master John Portrait of Mary Tudor

princess mary tudor neckline

Perhaps  instead the tight top part of the sleeve was closed laced sleeve that devloped from tie /pin on sleeves


If you added underlacing to the sleeves above you would have a gown very like the Princess Mary Tudor gown

Or perhaps the  tight sleevs formed part of another gown with a sleevelss gown or bodice  of the same fabric above 1545 bodice  Christoph Amberger (1505-1562) A Woman

If the overgown was sleevelss or had tie on sleeves i also explains  how the undersleeves in so many paintings  such as the Jane Seymour portrait were attached and matched the visible part of the petticoat.Perhaps the expensive fabric  lower under sleeves evolved from separate lace on sleeves and did in fact form part of the undergown ensemble

Its also possible the upper sleeve was not a full sleeve but was merely a piece of fabric pined around the shoulders like a more complex version of the shawl partlets If you contrast the dress below with the image showing a shawl partlet it is a possibility.

tudor  sperate gowns CleveJoosPortraitAngietevavndenRijne

partlet fur hood

If this si so theres three gown sleeves showing in portraits.
The tight sleevelss or very short sleeved over gown ,
A longer full sleeve from an under gown
and a further sleeve from another undergown .
As with the skirts of any undergown only the visible part of these sleeves needed to be made of expensive fabrics ,while slashing in the lower parts would allow the chemise to show through. Some images  of earlier gowns suggest the undergown had eleborate and intergral sleeves covered by shorter overgown sleeves

under sleevs over sleevslucas-van-leyden-the-game-of-chess

However to return to the mystery of the Band .I feel it has implications that go beyond the gowns construction and influence headress construction .The band seems fairly sturdy linen perhaps even stiffened linen as it seems very similar to the linen that sticks out from the bottom of gable hoods .As mentioned earlier I dont belive it can have usualy been a chemise as it  also seems to appear in front lacing gowns were a chemise could not have been visible at the sides.(This can be seen in the second image at the top of this post where the woman has no a front fastening gown but still has the white band)The  preliminary  sketch for the portrait  also shows this (the sketch below is a later copy  but  to identical to the original except in the use of colour.(where I have been unable to find suitable online images of originals I have used these later coloured copies but only having compared them to originals)


The white bands always lie above any Chemise or lie under a partlet layer in both sketches and portraits such as this of Lady Moore.In this portrait there’s also a suggestion that the gable hood linen layer is a layer onto which is pined the fold of the lappets of gable hoods(This will be shown to be important later in the post)

More by follower of Hans Holbein (private collection) bottom

The Alice Moore portrait also shows the band seems to curve around the arm hole and stops at waist level quite abruptly

white band-Catherine_aragonIn the Catherine of argon portrait it also curves under the arms slightly and in other sketches

dauncey hoblein white band

I personally feel the most likely and flexible answer is the white band was used not just to cover lacing fixtures but also to hold billiments or other expensive trims and ,the jewels and beadwork could be tacked to the white band then a few limted pins could hold it in place and also that uit acted as a protective layer between the expensive fabrics  of the bodice in order to attach the  multitude of chains popular at this time ,it seems to serve that function in the Alice More portrait and the one below

white band mary guildford

The white bands  further use was perhaps to protect the bodice from Partlet fastenings or pins as some partlets seem to have been cape like and occasionally shawls were used.(I realise the portrait below doesnt show a white band ,however I could not find the portrait I wanted to use and did in any case merely want to show the cape /shawl like partlet as I doubt this style could have stayed in place without pins

partlet fur hood

If the white band served this function it explains why also used during the side lacing phase then its continuation could be accounted for by covering ties or lacing on the sleeves on later gowns but not on others which may have been in the back lacing or the earlier front fastening style though its possible what we assume to be a full overgown may not be but rather a  later tighter laced closed version of the early tudor late medieval gowns


If you lace the blue gown above closed enough for the skirts part to meet than add a panel to cover the lacing you have the typical Tudor gown

meltonconstableparr raised vlevletThus combining the Front lacing and over panel design with the earlier short sleeved gown

Why is the white band often absent if it covered sleeve  lacing holes on  early Tudor gowns ?

I would suggest the reasons its  puzzling compleat  absence  on some early portraits such as the famous National portrait gallery Anne Bolyn  one  below is also easily accounted for


These are later copies that removed what seems odd and unnecessary  items  or details ,perhaps also they were based on sketches that didn’t clearly show a band.The portrait above also simplifies the French hood and shows billiments attached to it  .The 1530s seems also to be a transitional phase in the White band ,non white band phase ,perhaps as it’s the time front and ,back lacing gowns begin to be more popular

Developement of the band

The white band if it  had an extra purpose  as place to pin billiments ahs other implication.I do not belive that billiments where integral to under gowns  once ,back and side lacing phases developed . it’s at this time it becomes popular to match billiments on hoods to those on gowns and occasionally even necklaces and girdles,the Billiments may have been attached to undergowns but this seems unlikes as it would make it harder to wear the billiments with different gowns .The  more elaborate  jeweled billiments  I belive were always pined onto linen and this includes those on Gable hoods  ,this seems to be the case in the existing portraits  such as those above  and can be seen more clearly on sketches

Holbein_gable_hood_eng construction layers

Or sketches of less aristocratic ladies where there is no distraction from Jewels.The one below also shows a brooch holding the lappets in place at the side further suggesting that Gable hoods were not complete whole but a headdress built up of mix and match layers over a base of stiff linen

English_Lady_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger hood and broochThis would explain their development as an early portrait shows a line linen gable hood prototype headdress

220px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGAnd also one with pined on veil over a white linen base


Though I have not had a chance to explore this using actual fabrics as yet it seems to me a likely explanation ,It’s also possible French hoods were layers of fabrics and trims rather than merely one complete headress.Early portraits of front fastening gowns with applied decoration show hoods in several parts often with matching applied decoration as below or with expensive fabric layers as ind in the Young Catherine portrait or the ones below


isablela of hapsberg frenc hoodThis of Isabelle of Hapsburg is very similar to Catherine’s hood and perhaps it was in fact Catherine of Aragon not Mary Tudor or Anne Boleyn who brought the hood over initially before discarding it like the spanish farthingale for more English fashions such as the gable hood

Later hood styles  appear to carry forward these layers or have layers mounted over bases

NPG 1119; Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard after Hans Holbein the Younger

frenc hoodsWhile some sketches such as the one above suggest a vague link between the french hood and english intermediate hood

HolbeinAnneCresacre1527 white band

Later hoods seem a mix of white linen or silk with added billiments  and with separate probably wired back billiments holding in place a veil as seen in this portrait of mary

PORTRAIT OF MARY TUDOR artist not known but in the style of Flicke, Painted onto wood, found at Anglesey Abbey

The English intermediate hood while worn over a coif  seems the only headdress which is actually composed in one piece ,all be it with applied layers of fabric .The shortened version of the intermediate hood appears to have been used for mounting  billments to create a version of the french hood.I realise these are sometimes seen as coifs but several portraits such as the one below show the layer to be quite rigid

french hood

The frequent appearance of white in french hoods ,or red supports the separate  billiments theory as they appear when hoods begin to appear with applied decoration that matches the bodices gold studs or embroidery but continue until late in the hoods history by which stage the trend to match bodice and hood billiments requires s=more complex and expensive billiments which would be too expensive to confine to one headdress or dress

Later also when the hood begins to gain height and acquire a steeper angle  when the billiment is relativity simple such as gold work  or  pearls they  appear to have become separate wired items used to hold the back veil in place

FrancoiseBrezeHead french hood

It’s still  likely the lower billiment is mounted on a linen coif as there is evidence for this

parr-smIf you remove the bonnet in this portrait and add a french hood panel the pearls will sit in the same place as front billiments  on french hoods and a couple of early portraits support this idea such as the one below where there seems to be a layer of peals or beads above the pleated underlayer

Jean Perréal (French artist, c 1451-c 1531) Anne de Bretagne

This pleated underlayer is a continuous feature  of french hoods and perhaps became pined back to become a coif for the hair to hold it up .

The snood in this image must I think have had the hair dressed under it and possibly covered by a linen snood to protect the expensive fabrics from the hair.Hair was unlikely to be as clean as today as lacking our modern complex shampoos there was nothing  to prevent grease and oils building up and some ladies do seem to have used oils to dress their hair perhaps perfumed .The image below also seems to show  the bottom pearls |(or faux pearl glass beads )mounted on a coif .While the back white panel of peals seems to be mounted on linen or silk and the neckline Jewels mounted on white fabric.

tudor-french-hood snood

I think this shows jewels were ordinarily sewn onto linen and not gowns ,headresses etc and confirms the use of the white band and white neckline trims for Jewels.I think the simple band that initaly covered sleeve lacings and prevented damage to delicate and expensive fabrics such as cloth of gold velvet but also began to be used to pin billiments onto .

I will add images of my own experiments with applied trims once I complete more Tudor gowns and also post separate explorations of both Gable hood and french hoods again when I experiment with the construction myself

I am indebted to the blog below for several images of French headdresses

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An easy cheats guide to making Victorian dress

As part two of my make your own Victorian outfit I will do a quick cheats guide to making a gown the instructions will create a gown like this.I also give instructions on how to make a  cheats bustle gown but this is a slightly harder project

To make this you will need

Some wide pretty lace or fringe or beaded trim  for the neckline,bought lace is easy to find on line and cheap ,or you can use lace cut from a vintage table or tray cloth

A commercial  boned evening /clubbing bodice such as this

This is to recover  for your dress bodice ,try to find ones that are well made  such as wit and wisdom ,top shop etc are best as they come with straps,Or if you don’t have or can’t find any of these you can buy a boned corset in the style  below  from ebay ,these are more trouble to work with as they can,t be cut to make a v at the front and will need the front fastening part sewn together then had a strip of fabric stitched over the studs to stop them showing through.

When choosing a top ideally buy a size larger than you need as once it’s recovered it wont stretch and you may also need to cut off a back zip will make the bodice even smaller.

The rest

you will need ,cotton and at least two needles,

scissors ,


around 4 metres of very thin curtain cord ,ribbon or thong,,

you need something around shoelace width ideally or as narrow as possible this will be used for lacing up the back of your gown.You can if your very short of time and resources use ribbon but this will look odd unless you make a very long back flounce to cover most of it.Cord by contrast isn’t really noticeable

You will need around 5 metres of fabric,,the dress above is Damask  but thats rarely used for Victorian clothing.Most of the others are taffeta which is an excellent choice as it is also usually washable and if you buy synthetic fabric it rarely creases.The taffeta below is called “shot ” fabric which means it has two colours woven in the fabric and shimmers in the light,I always use shot taffeta for dresses unless they need to look like working class or middle class everyday dresses and all the gowns below are the same style  fabric

green fit bustle gown





,but you can use fake  very plain  fake silk if you need an everyday middle class dress,this was a governess gown.

moor top2

velvet ,embroidered silk which is very realistic looking but can be expensive.


or satin but satin while cheap does pucker very easily and is a pain to hem..

you can buy taffeta fairly cheaply off  ebay from around £2.99 metre all the fabric above was that price or cheaper .It’s also possible to use a cotton floral duvet cover  such as this from Ikea.


which has become very popular with costumers as it’s almost a copy of late 18th early 19th c fabric.For a wide skirted dress you need a double duvet cover.

Patterned cotton is a good choice as its very easy to hide bad stitching or wobbly seams and looks really authentic

If your making a narrower skirted dress which isnt going to have a hoop you can use a single duvet cover such as the one below,also an Ikea duvet cover and again a pattern very similar to a genuine 1830s dress

1830s bronte gown

or  find a pair of curtains in a charity shop .The dress below is curtain fabric.

st ives bluebells 1830s gown



The skirt below is made from a vintage Laura Ashley curtains, making a skirt and using a Victorian looking blouse is a way to make a cheap Victorian looking outfit but it doesnt look as authentic as a dress.

laura ashley skirt

You can add a waist coat to the skirt which looks better


or a modern but Victorian looking jacket

victorian mourning outfit

The dress below also uses vintage curtain for the pink skirt.

pink bustle dress

This gown is made from a cotton duvet cover from a charity shop

green cotton bustle dress

I made an extra very frilled skirt with a slight train to go under the dress to make an extra outfit,I used an old duvet cover and a lot of cheap lace

me tills 1870s dress


If you are lucky enough to find some vintage silk or velvet curtains when you cut the skirt make sure you utilise the hem of the curtain,,its likely to look very machine sewn but you can always cover the line of hem stitching with narrow trim of ribbon,lace or fringe etc.I made a mistake hemming the gown below and used velvet ribbon to hide the old hemline

Mrs rochester3

(The  pelerine “collar” here is a tray cloth restyled )I dont advise using striped or checked fabric as its harder to match on the sleeves and bodice .

If you have a large  budget then kilt fabric is perfect as it doesn’t need any hems at all as  the edges are already finished,its not wide enough to use the edges for a single tier skirt but makes stunning tiered ones.The dress below also used the edges of the fabric for the wide sleeves which also didnt need to be hemmed and for a piece of fabric around the neckline instead of the usual lace,I am not sure how much fabric was in this as I used other for a skirt but theres at least 5 metres

red taratn vcitroain gown

You can make a similar cotton gown that will also have edges by using a sari or rather two ,you make it the same way by cutting three tiers.This is very authentic as many Victorian gowns used Indian cotton probably originally saris.

tiered gown



Make the skirt ,this is fairly easy ,hold the fabric against you until you can be certain you know where to cut to make it the right length ,,if your make a skirt that will go over a hoop or net petticoat make it at least 3 ins longer than you need as the hoop will make it higher ,if it’s going over a very wide hoop leave  at least 6 ins ,this may be too much but better safe than sorry .Mistakes at this point will be hard and time-consuming to correct so leave the piece longer rather than shorter .If you do make a mistake ,it’s not the end of your project  you can buy a wide strip of lace or contrasting fabric to sew around the bottom of the hem but its extra expense and trouble as its hard to sew trim on straight when a skirts already been sewn together and as can be seen below not very noticeable

Mrs Rochester


Having cut a long strip of your fabric or two strips if you’re using curtains or a duvet ,sew them together ,leaving a few inches at the top ,this will be the back of your dress and the gap will be at the centre back of your dress ,its going to need to fit over your head through.


cut a  wide (3/4 in) strip of fabric or ribbon exactly the right length to go around your waist


Run a needle and thread along the top of the “skirt and pull it into gathers until its the same size as your ribbon leave around 1 in   un gathered at either side of the gap and fold these over to make a neater edge.If you want a neater skirt you can pleat it but this is harder


Sew the gathered up “skirt” onto the ribbon ,it doesn’t  need to be overly neat as it will be hidden under the bodice but the stitches need to be close and strong ,,using the thread double is the easiest way .Fold the ribbon over the top of the gathered up skirt piece and stitch it down.


Its helps to iron the waistband as flat as possible as it reduces bulk at the waist but it’s not essential,,don’t forget to iron it inside out .
If the skirt needs hemming try it over the hoop then cut to length and hem ., do a narrow hem so your stitches are close to the floor when the skirts on as ,no ones likely to notice how neat the hemline stitches are so as long as its a colour of cotton close to the fabric you don’t need to worry too much about evenness or neatness.If you feel like going the extra mile you can add velvet ribbon or fringe etc trim to cover the stitches but it’s rarely noticed.

If you really dont have time or dont want to hem the gown you could use pinking shears or scalloped edged scissors to create a hemline .The Gown below has no hems whatsoever.

The gown below could also be made instead of a single tier gown if you have been able to find very wide but short curtains or two pairs of curtains not quite long enough to make a single tier skirt ,the curtains could be used individually as a tier each .If you can find a long skirt of some kind to sew them onto that would make life easier but if not you could use a sheet as the base for the tier layers .Just follow the original skirt instructions for any under skirt and the tiers

green dres

7 /optional

Make two puff sleeves ,cut two generous  long rectangles of fabric that are wide enough to reach your elbow or above depending on how long you want the sleeves.Sew the  sleeve ends together to make a cylinder,now gather the bottom ,keep trying it on your arm until it’s how you would like it ,now you can fold over the rough edge and stitch it roughly ,,cover your stitches with some gathered lace.,repeat with the other sleeve .leave the tops of both rough until you finish your bodice..Its not essential to have sleeves you can just add very deep  lace (see the green and blue gowns below). If you used curtains and dont have spare fabric you could  use a  different fabric for the sleeves such as tulle or lace .A deep venise lace flounce will usually look fine though.Try to avoid Nylon lace as it will be very noticeable at your neckline and its the lace which is the main feature of your gown,if it looks modern the dress wont work.

dark green gown

To make a long sleeved gown is harder but essential the same cut a rectangle but this time hold it against your arm to work out how it needs to be shaped to make a fitted sleeve ,Alternatively make the puffed sleeves elbow length

emily shoot pars

If you need long sleeves for an early Victorian dress you can use these elbow length puffed sleeves and add to tubes of fabric to make long sleeves.This was a long sleeved daytime bodice that went with the green tiered dress,making two bodices and keeping the skirt separate is a brilliant way to have two outfits for the price of one


Or if you have a blouse for under your dress you can make Pagoda sleeves ,for these you make the top narrower so its not making a big puffy top but keep the bottom wide ,it makes an upside down v shape and  you leave them un gathered at the bottom to make the wide flared Victorian sleeves below.Its also easy to make a short plain sleeve then make a wide sleeve for under it ,this will again give you twolooks for any dresses

cb birthday pars

pagoda slssve side

pagoda sle.For


Make bodice,first cut the front waist to the shape you want,start with smaller cuts than you feel might be needed just in case you make a mistake ,then trim a bit at a time.For most Victorian dresses a pointed front even a very slight one  is the most flattering.

parasonage red dress

,though early dresses had straight or slightly curved fronts some of which were higher.This is an original gown from the V and A Musuem


,,you can use either for bustle dresses as it wont show ,but a v shape gives crisper folds at the waist.

mina dress


Next cut off any back zip,if you keep this but cut off the knobbly base and remove the actual zipper it is useful to put this at the back edge of your gown between the edge and the lacing holes as this will prevent tears to the fabric

Now you  begin covering the bodice  place a piece of fabric in the centre front and tack it down.

bodice top layer

,If you have a pretty decorated piece of fabric it can create a nice focus

cavailer gown

or a jewelled panel from a evening gown(the panel above is from a cushion and the panel  below from an Asian Dupata ).


Any decorated piece of fabric can look very effective.

bodice front

but if not use the same fabric as for the rest of the gown.Make this piece of fabric wide enough to reach from strap to strap but no wider and lay it on the fabric

Next lay a piece of fabric next to the front panel at what ever angle you think looks best and so that the right side of the fabric is face down on top of the bodice  ,if in doubt you can lay it along a boned panel in the bodice so you can a stitching guide and can be sure each side will be the same .If they are slightly uneven or the seams not straight you can always cover the join with trim or lace as below.

cavailer gown2

The fabric panel  doesn’t need to be long enough to completely cover the strap you can patch this up later with spare pieces as its easier and the piecing wont show as its going to be covered by lace.

Now stitch  this second piece down leaving at least an inch overlap on the pieces so that is theres a later tear on the seam you dont automatically see the bodice underneath .Stitch this  row of stitches over again ,this stitching needs to be very strong ,flip the fabric over so its right side is showing and tack its edge down as you did the front piece ,now repeat the process  at the opposite side.

If your feeling adventurous you can try stitching  the two side panels over your centre panel almost covering it making a fake jacket closure

hathawys blue gown

Which ever style you choose  repeat it at each side with another strip of fabric on and so on until you have covered both sides of the bodice,For a typically Victorian look its best to use at least four.

brown bronte gown

and separate panels either side but you can use just three as below

Now tuck the bottom and top edges neatly under the bodice and tack down.

When you reach the back fold the edges of the final piece over and stitch it inside the bodice .If this is the right size then you can move on to the final steps ,if not add another piece of the fabric in the same manner as the other pieces ,however on the final piece slip the only zip tracking into the edge and secure with a few stitches,,this will give a firm edge to hold the bodice in shape once you add the lacing holes

lastly piece up any gaps on the strap parts and sew the puff sleeves into the bodice ,gather them as needed to make them fit ,Its best to try to keep the gathers at the top of the arms but not essential as the lace will  hide any mistakes.The finished gown minus the lace trim will look roughly like this


Add the gathered lace to the neckline,if you can find old lace ,or an old tablecloth or tray cloth to cut lace off it will make the dress look more authentic but it does cause problems for washing.

,Modern venice /venise lace is best as its easy to wash but looks authentic,this can be bought from ebay or fabric stores.

If you want a day gown not an evening gown you can use a long thin table runner or tray cloth cut it part way down the middle and cut a small semi circle out of  the top of this  cut to make a faux Victorian collar or pelerine as seen here,this could also go over a low necked gown to make it an day gown

brown bronte gown

lastly make holes at the back of the bodice to thread ribbon or ideally cord through the lace the bodice shut when on.It might seem when the dress is of the lacing cord looks clumsy and will stand out but this is not the case even when seen directly from the back.

back bustle dr4sss

from most angles is barely visible .

unquiet slumbers bst




If you have spare fabric its best to save a piece to put inside the bodice to cover any gap between the two back parts of the bodice once on.Even a small gap that shows skin or under layers sill stand out(.If you make this “modesty panel” a foot or so longer than the bodice it will tuck down and hide the closure gap in your skirt.You could also add a frill as below which would blend in with any frills on a bustle.

back bst

oh la lal moncrome

But you may wish to try the bodice on first as if it meets perfectly as above  you may not want to bother with this stage ,,though save some fabric just in case you need to do it later .

To make the holes you ideally need a pointy tool ideally  bodkin,but you can just as easily use a DIY bradel, a sharp kebab or similar skewer or any other sharp pointed object you may have to hand .Dont use scissors as they make holes that are too big and dont use a knife as it will slash the fabric and possibly your finger as well .I usually add holes at around 2/3 inch intervals but it’s entirely up to you and what you feel is needed .

To thread the lacing cord in seal each end of the cord tightly by wrapping cellotape or parcel tape around it to stop it unravelling.Now thread it though to make a fish bone type lacing design  or a straight one as in those seen below.Its essentially the same way you would thread shoe laces.

bustle dress back


Do not the x shaped one as the x shape will stand out and is inaccurate,While back lacing gowns were uncommon in Victorian times they were made so this closure is authentic and much easier than using buttons etc which would require a perfectly tailored bodice to fasten

Try on the bodice ,if it fits tack on your skirt ,you can leave the back gap in the skirt  as its rarely noticeable.You can easily hide it by making over laping gathers in the back skirt or making a longer panel for under the lacing cord ,no one has ever noticed a gap in my dresses ,even on film footage.


but if you prefer to have it closed you can buy velcro which is hard to stitch but much better than stick on velcro.

Bustle gowns

The bodices of these gowns can be made following the instructions above ,Leaving out very wide long puffed sleeves as this is not a style used in bustle gowns,you can use smaller puffs or gather  and ruche in wider ones.


.To decorate the neckline use either lace.

pink bustle dress

or beaded trim.


though its also possible to buy pleated satin ribbon .The decoration below is on an 18thc dress but the pleated trim is the same for Victorian gowns

detailing bodice

You could also add two wide lace panels either side of the neckline to make a v necked dress ,just cut two lengths of lace long enough to tack under the gowns neckline at an angle to meet front and back.





black dress side train


Or a piece across the centre  front to make a higher neckline



To make the front draped bit add a very wide and long blunted ended triangle of fabric  (ie cut and very long triangle longer at the front then chop two triangles off each side end .imagine ts going to be tied a bit like a scarf around your middle

.Now  stitch it to the bodice at the front dont stitch right from side to side but just across the centre front   .Make the bit were you sew it to the waist flat at the front.

green cotton bustle dress

gathered at the sides.

pull it towards your waistband and drape it until it goes all around to the centre back if theres enough fabric spare you can make an extra draped bit.Stitch it to the waistband.

bustle red


This should create at least a little bit of a draped front.If you fold it over in deep folds you can avoid adding any decoration ,pleats or trim to this






If you make this piece long and wide enough you should  be able to gather it into a reasonable draped shape by playing about the the blunt ends of the fabric panel.

If you use velvet or contrasting fabric this front panel is a major style point to the gown.The least amount of work taken on a bustle dress can involve draping this over a contrasting skirt to give a more or less complete dress,just add another draped piece at the back.

wycoll blue vel dress

To create both front and back drapery try sewing ribbon to the end  of the blunt ended edges or use a safety pin and keep experimenting with how to drape it.Dont worry if the v isn’t central some bustle gowns didnt have exactly central front drapes .

Instead of this front draped panel or as well as you could add two side panels ,like little aprons but at the sides,adding this under or over the apron front drapery gives a much more complicated look to the gown.

green dress detail

I will give instructions for creating the bustle bit further along but first the easy bit. The skirt can be made almost the same way but instead of gathering the waistline all the way around  leave the front almost straight as for this gown.


,just gather the sides a little bit  and back more .For the hemline instead of making it exactly the same all the way around cut the front higher and the back longer to give some extra length to go over the bustle ,,a trained gown is ideal so you do not  have to worry too much as getting the back length exact .The skirt in bustle gowns cant be sewn onto the bodice as theres another layer over it .You can just leave it without a proper waistline and add ribbon ties or velcro fastening.




The hard part of bustle gowns is the  actual bustling and this is difficult .I usually make bustle gowns in three parts sometimes more .The bodice ,the skirt and the bustle.For the bustle I use assorted sized pieces and assorted shapes .You can use a long wide piece of fabric and simply  gather it up at each end.then get a narrow piece and do the same and another piece this will give three gathered tiers add these to a long piece of ribbon and tie onto your waist over the skirt then put the bodice on.

Thats basically  what this bustle is .

green fit bustle gown


.Alternatively do one long gathered rectangle gathered as above and add either one or two more in decreasing sizes ,or cut  one  small long rectangle and gather it at the top  as below ,then sew a piece of gathered fabric to the bottom of the modesty panel used under the lacing  to make a little frilled back.

cherry tree back bustle dress


Or use a lot of draped or gathered  lengths intertwined over a long panel of contrasting fabric.You dont need to follow any pattern just make a lot of different lengths pf fabric and ruch them ,this gown has a front panel which was long enough to gather at the sides then drape up but this used a lot of fabric.


back heb

cut a lot of the little frills and stitch them onto a long strip of fabric,this is not  hard but does take a very long time.

bustle dress back

for a very simple bustle you could just use a panel of lots of pleats these take a while but are not hard to make.

back bst



Bustle dresses need a lot of time spent hemming but you can get around this if you add frills that are edged with pinking shears as in the red gown below


All the dresses shown in this post were made using this cheats guide  method and it can be used  to make Tudor , Elizabethan and restoration  bodices in the same manner but you will need different sleeves .For early Tudor gowns you can omit adding a front  v to the waistband and just cover the bodice as it is ,likewise for the Restoration gown below  for Elizabethan bodices ideally a longer v shaped front but its not essential

green and gold gowngreen tudor gown front

,please do comment at the foot of the post if you need any further help .

Further DIY clothing posts are here

and lastly ,though its a Regency bonnet the instructions will work for an early Victorian bonnet also

Posted in 19thc, brontes, Hathaways of Haworth, history, work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Charlotte Brontes wardrobe unlocked The going away Gown

This was a dress I had been hoping to examine closely as its one of the gowns which can be assigned to Charlotte with absolute certainty and one I had tried to replicate (unsuccessfully) from memory .It was the first gown that I caught sight of on my arrival at the library ,the hem just peeking out from its layers of careful wraping.The dress is made from good quality very crisp silk and the hem further stiffened with corded fabric edging so the skirt of the gown  stood out in stiff but graceful folds that for some reason brought to mind those statutes of ladies that recline on Tudor and Elizabethan graves their petticoats and gowns all falling in stiffly folded curves around their feet.

With so much to see I was unsure which of the gowns to examine first but as the mysterious Brown gown lay closest to me I decided to start there and leave the Iconic and well-known  going away /Honeymoon gown for later.

It’s a strange and moving item ,the stiffness of the fabric  and the gowns construction  almost creates an impression of an occupant and  its strange to imagine what is now laid out with such care  on a table was once hung neatly upstairs with similar care waiting Charlotte’s arrival from her wedding at the nearby church and just a few hours later would have been clothing Charlotte as she walked happily out of the Parsonage door to start her Honeymoon tour .I suspect it arrived at its destination hours later rather less crisp and pristine than it now looks but  such is the case with all natural fabrics  and the gown was an eminently sensible choice for traveling .

It’s beautifuly tailored with a  comfortably cut double bodice giving an extra layer of warmth  .The loose sleeves and front fastening bodice making it comfortable in heat  of the day or cold  of the evening and easy for tired travel weary figners to remove.The dark but elegant colours are  less likely to show mud spatters or spills.Smart and very fashionable but not overly showy,The collar shows signs  of the same (now)  gold silk fringing as the waistline and when new this probably shone attractively in the sunlight making  the gown look less dark than it seems laid out flat .

I  know some gowns can change colour over time and I am not sure how  or if this fabric has changed colour with age,I know is widely considered to have been mauve ,,though mauve was an exepnsive colour to buy in the first half of the victorian age,, ,it’s always been carefully stored so there’s no sunlight fading  or fading from washing ,discolouration from coal or woodsmoke fires etc and its doesnt look markedly different inside so  the colour change must have been within the fabric itself and I dont know enough about fabric conservation to know how early victorian dyes age,certainly later analine dyes can fade but this would have been pre analine .There does seem to be possible signs of shattering at the neck ,which is  no reflection on its conseravtion ,its tragicaly an unavoidable result of reactions within some silks to  metals used in the dying process so may be thats also caused discolouration. I think as its trimmed with the gold look fringing and the mid brown corded velvet fabric  it was probably always fairly dark ,though perhaps with more colour evident.

Sadly the dress shows very little sign of use ,the lining along the hemlines is pristine,There is areas of damage at the neckline but they may be fabric aging or from a brooch or caused by its outing on a model in the early days or the 20th c.Theres also some odd pin marks along the hemline which look like a previouse hem line but that seems odd as theres less than an inch difference .Despite these I dont think the gown saw major ,its impossible to remove hemline staining from mud or general pavement dust and debris (as anyone trying to resell a modern wedding or prom gown knows) and this gown has none of those which I am pretty certain it would have had it been worn around Haworth,for country walks or in a victorian town.

It’s possible it only saw one outing on the day Charlotte left for her honeymoon.

I did not however examine this as closely as the other items as while I was extremely careful will all the clothing I confess to being so nervous of damaging this gown that I had to will myself to move any part of it and the fabric does seem to be rather fragile in some places on the bodice .I am used to examining artifacts and usually  focus on the item before me to the exclusion  of other thoughts but in the case of this gown I  felt an almost unbearable sadness that this tiny  gown had seen such high hopes and happiness yet months later was probably hidden away in a trunk  it’s very sight a source of pain and sorrow .

The gown is  very full skirted like most of Charlotte’s later gowns  but is not in fact an actual gown but a two-part outfit ,as was becoming fashionable at the time ,this allowed for an extra bodice to be made to convert gowns to a secondary use without requiring a complete change of clothing ,,perhaps this gown also had a second bodice now lost,It is beautifully and I would guess professionayl made and much more detailed on a closer inspection that it seems when viewed in the small postcard images.

It has a very complex construction compared to the other gowns ,the pleated bodice being built on a more tailored underbodice.The bodice had a  detailed  waist trimmed with silk fringe.It is trimmed at the hem ,cuff and neck with mid brown corded possible velvet fabric .Its fastens  with hooks and eyes .It’s a telling contrast to the earlier Brown gown laid next to it which  while it was carefully and neatly cut and sewn  was almost certainly homemade with several signs of wear,the brown  gown seemed to me at  to shout governess or at least teacher as do some of the other earlier gowns in the parsonage online collection  .This outfit was that of a  reasonable wealthy fashionable middle class lady .

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Anne of Cleves ,not as bad as shes painted

The Lady seems to have had a bad press ,Henry’s wives tend to be used to embody almost every female stereotype that exists ,The faithful ,longsuffering wife,, Catherine of Aragon ,,the adventuress and other woman ,,Ann Bolyne, the  chaste ,gentle and quiet loved and tragically  lost young mother ,Jane Seymour ,the ugly ,stupid frumpy ,Ann ,the young silly strumpet,Catherine Howard ,the good  wise  older woman /stepmother Katherine Parr. The labels are usually wrong based on Victorian writers or hearsay and when  occasionally accurate tell nothing like the whole story ,,For example Henry VIII is supposed to have loved  the  virtuouos  and shy  Jane Seymour , yet Jane was quite old by Tudor standards,, well over 25  and a woman that’s very probably jane is caught sat on Henry’s  knee while hes still married to Ann ,which doesnt seem very maiden like behavior. Likewise Henry is supposed to have  been devoted to Jane ,yet when  he saw Janes newly arrived Ladies in waiting he was heard to say that had he seen them before he would never have married Jane ,within months of their marriage he had taken a mistress and though he was certainly extremely upset by her death  and actually wore mourning for several months ,the letters sent out to inform ambassadors of Jane’s death also mentioned he was inline for another wife .

In this light we should therefore reassess Ann.The first portrait we always see of Ann is the longer version of a miniature painted by Hans Holbein

The smaller miniature in its pretty ivory box seen here was part of a number of mail order bride portraits Henry commissioned so asses the merits of potential brides.

The miniature was enough to persuade Henry to send Holbein off to paint an expensive full length portrait of Ann and the full length version sold Henry on Ann as his next bride.Interestingly no one even Henry complained the portrait was inaccurate and Holbein remained Henry VIII and the courts painter of choice.The mystery may be partly solved by a side view image of Ann.

The features that look regular and attractive front on do seem rather sharp and angular side on and its been suggested Anns nose was much longer and the painting may have been retouched.Even so to me at least she still doesn’t seem that bad,She seems to be prettier than her predessor Jane Seymour.

and not unlike her successor the pretty Katherine Howard as far as facial features go.

In fact to me this portrait above seems more likely to be Anne than Catherine ,the attribution of the portrait as one of Catherine is based mostly on the fact the lady is wearing royal jewels and yet this portrait is nothing like almost every other portrait thats linked to Catherine or has in the past been said to be her.Other potential portraits of Catherine are always in the same basic style and shes always wearing the same style of clothing

I think it not impossible therefore that the minture portrait of the lady with a rich jewelled hood and the queens jewels  is  one of Ann .We think of Anne as always dressed in the highwaisted Flemish style but she quickly adjusted to English court life and did not continue to wear Flemish clothing long after her arrival but soon adopted English fashions.The lady in the miniature portrait is quite curvey as is Ann and has a similar stance and facial features ,she also seems older than the very young Catherine Howard who was almost certainly a teenager when Henry met her and may have been in her late teens as queen .

Its uncertain why Henry found Ann unattractive , when Henry remarried there were a number of occasions when both Ann and hes new wife Catherine were together at events,sometimes dancing together and Several ambassadors remarked that Catherine was not as pretty as Ann who Henry thought ugly.(when she took to wearing English dress for the first time after the wedding, one contemporary remarked that the fashion ‘set forth her beauty and good visage that every creature rejoyced to behold her’)( quote compliments of Ms sunydale)The problem Henry had with Ann appears to be less black and white than the Flanders Mare comments suggests.

Its likely that one thing Henry really disliked was her figure ,he singles it out for complaint in his comments to courtiers and she is far more buxom than his other wives ,Henry seems to have liked small breasted petite built ladies and Ann is always shown as curvy.Likewise her succesor Katherine was extreemly petite

It’s also  likely it was her lack of English ,social skills and “elegant accomplishments” that most soured the relationship.They certainly got off to a bad start as Henry who liked to play games of courtly love appeared to Ann on her arrival “in disguise “,Ann didn’t recognise him ,treated him rather coldly and when he tried to kiss her ,its possible she may have slapped him ,,not what Henry would have expected.Ann was probably never likely to make up ground from this first meeting .

Unknown woman at the court of Henry VIII suggested as either Ann or her sister Amelia

Despite being discarded I can’t help feeling of all Henrys wives Anne was the most fortunate ,,She spent very little time living with him,He was so nice to her while they were together she thought everything was fine more or less up to the point where she was “dumped”She got along ok with Henry but doesnt seem to have been in love with him unlike his unforunate first wives and she got a very handsome settlement during Henry life, a high position when at court and enjoyed a great deal of liberty not given to most women at that time and certainly more than she would have had in cleves.She also seems to have avoided Henrys amorous attentions which considering his vast build ,stinking leg ulcer and bad breadth was probably not a bad thing .While her fortunes were less good under his successors ,she survived both Henry and his other wives and apart from a slight run in with Henrys secret service was usualy left in peace .

Posted in 16thc/17thc, Hathaways of Haworth, history, Tudors, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Charlotte Bronte “this is her picture as she was”a short post about Charlottes portraits

This is her picture as she was

It seems a thing to wonder on

As though mine image in the glass

Should tarry when myself am gone.

NPG 1452,Charlotte BrontÎ (Mrs A.B. Nicholls),by George Richmond
I gaze until she seems to stir,—
Until mine eyes almost aver
That now, even now, the sweet lips part
To breathe the words of the sweet heart:—
And yet the earth is over her.
I am reminded of this poem when I consider the  portrait of Charlotte Bronte and the devotion of  the man briefly her husband ,Arthur Bell Nicholls.
To me it always seemed to be not just a representation of how Charlotte looked ,but of her value as a person and a testiment to how greatly she was loved.Despite  having a tragically brief time as a wife she was clearly treasured ,she was happy and she knew herself loved .
Arthur Bell Nicholls is not always given the credit due to him by those who tell the Brontes story ,as he committed the unforgivable sin of destroying private letters ,papers and possessions (something I deal with in a separate post ) .
He had to  leave the Haworth Parsonage when he was unexpectedly refused the position as  Patricks successor .Though he could take little ,he bore away with him to Ireland the portrait  of his love ,the Richmond portrait of Charlotte Bronte ,it remained in his main room  until his death ,,even though he did remarry many years after Charlottes death and he was placed before it in his coffin while waiting to be interred .
Later it was found he also had other portraits ,the Iconic “Pillar “portrait familiar to most people as the only certain image of all three surviving Bronte sisters,(The portrait is called the Pillar Portrait because it seemed to have a pillar separating Charlotte from Emily and Ann,though this was in fact a painted over portrait of Branwell ,which he for some reason decided to erase.)
and  we have a further portrait by Branwell  ,a fragment of the “gun group ” portrait which is almost certainly Emily ,though its been suggested it might be Ann
The Gun group itself seems to have hung on the Parsonage stairwell  and it also seems likely that it had started to disintegrate .Arthur Bell Nichols unable to take as much as he might have liked back to Ireland cut the portrait of Emily from it as he considered it to be very like her ,but didnt feel it faithfully represented the others.
The first image is a much damaged photograph of the painting
gun group
The sketch below gives the rough composition of the painting ,though it seems to be reversed .There are also tracings of the figures from the Gun group portrait though I dont have images of those .
brotne gun group
In addition to these which Arthur took with him we have one confirmed  portrait of Charlotte by
and an assortment of possible other unconfirmed  portraits that crop up from time to time
418px-CharlotteBrontePortrait thompson parsonage
Theres an interesting blog post about Charlottes portraits  and possible portraits here
We also have several  portraits of Anne ,who has more portraits than Charlotte and spread across a wider span of years
All the portraits below are by Charlotte
We  also have some vague sketches of Emily  or Charlotte  ,or /and Anne  in the diary paper Emily wrote
Which sister is which below its impossible to tell
bronte Sketch_by_Emily_Brontë_sgowing_herself_and_Anne_at_work_in_the_dining_room_of_the_parsonage. wki
And a sketch of Emily by Emily herself in another Diary Paper
It should be noted in fairness again to Arthur Bell Nicholls that we have most of these because he saved them and stored them.
There are excellent posts on these portraits
which is the national portrait galleries own description of the group portrait  known as the Pillar Portrait
and here with regard to the images of Anne
The portrait of Emily
To have and cherish an image of those who you have loved and who have long gone makes that image even more precious than it was while they lived,because while they lived you had the living breathing object of your love ,to turn and speak and to love you in return.When they have died you merely have their image to remind of you of those things.
I wanted to use this post to address the images that have appeared over the past years and which have claimed to be one or more or the sisters .
I have approached it from this rather drawn out route because I wanted the reader to ask themselves first ,
why didnt Arthur Bell Nicholls take these with him ?,
why did they not hang in his parlour daily reminders of his lifes  great love ?
or in the case of the photographs ,why didnt he keep them in frames near his bed or in other rooms .
Why also did none of their friends have photographs ?
And why didnt a publisher use any ,especially if like  Mrs Gaskell  they were contemporys searching for a photograph or portrait for her biography or ,printers looking for images for the sisters novels .
All kinds of papers ,fragments of writing ,clothing etc were shown to Mrs Gaskel and later biographers but never a portrait .
The Most recent to my knowledge is the so called Bronte sisters photograph
I have addressed this photograph is some detail in a post here
and the Parsonage museum features it and their views here
 There are other suggested photographs which even less credibility
and one which  was believed to be of Charlotte and for a while was listed as her in the Museum archive  but has since been identified as  most likely Ellen Nussey
I would like therefore to look at the Portraits
As this pretty portrait was I believe the first of the newly “discovered ” portraits I think it is probably a good place to start as what applies to this equally applies to many others.
The portrait  is presumed by some, to be that of the Bronte sisters and was at the time of it coming into the limelight was owned by Mr James Grozney.
It is also presumed to be by Landseer ,wether or not it is by Landseer  I do not know.
But it is beyond any doubt whatsoever not a portrait of the Brontes painted in 1830s.
This is not my own personal opinion but a fact ,if you were to show this painting to a dozen costumers ,they would all say exactly the same thing .
grozny bronte
This portrait has been around for some time and the debate has widened ,so it is interesting  to see a  post about the portrait written when it first began to come into the light ,especially as the post also contains considerable input by the  paintings then owner and other bloggers including myself  in the comments section.
That was continued on the authors other blog
I  am going to be fairly robust is denying the authenticity of the ” Landseer  “portrait ,so I would also like to reaffirm what I say in the comments in the Echostains blog ,that it would be lovely to have another portrait of the sisters but this is sadly not it .I took a great deal of care to try and find any possible way this could be the sisters ,because I recognise that what for myself and other costumers or historians is merely an academic exercise ,is for the portraits owners a matter of  personal belief and  financial interest.
Now I will explain why the portrait is not the sisters.
The clothing they are wearing is too late for the date attributed to it .Theres no possible way for it to exist as a 1830s painting.
I would also add it doesnt look like other representations of the sister which we know to be them but this is a comparativly inexact argument.The costume is not its fact.I have therfore kept to the issues internal to the portrait itself.
The portrait was apparently dated 1834.But I have also heard 1838 as a possible date
though neither is plausible.
The girls in the painting are wearing clothing from much later ,I would guess at the earliest from the mid 1840s and during the 1830s there was a radical change in fashion
there is no way to mistake a mid 1830s gown for a mid 1840s gown
The dress below is an early 1830s gown ,the V and A museum date it between 1830 and 1834 so it fits perfectly into the time line  mentioned in the article for the portrait
1830 1.jpg
This was the style of clothing at that time and paintings from that time show women in similar  gowns.Most frequently with a wide  neckline covered either with a lace shawl collar called a pelerine or an under collar or chemisette
Portrait of Laura Colton Chapin by William Sindey Mount 1833
High museum of Art .
which looks very like the neckline and sleeves in the gown worn by Emily in the portrait by Branwell
Below is another portrait dated to the mid 1830s
Portrait of a woman before a landscape by an unknown artist
woman 130w.jpg
This is clearly a much better executed portrait of a woman wearing clothing of a similar style to the clothes worn by the sisters in the Pillar portrait by branwell and with very simialr hair
The gowns are an almost identical cut and both have belts ,though Branwell has not added a buckle to Charlottes
If you compare these to the portrait there is absolutely no similarities whatsoever ,if you substitute the later date of 1838 ,the dresses are still not anything approaching those in the portrait .Though dresses sometimes had lower bodices by the end of the 1830s the bodices did not go as low as those in the portrait ,the necklines and sleeves were very different .
An  excellent guide to the era with an extensive collection of images and explanations of the styles key points can be found here
The post goes into detail on a year by year basis to show the fashions of the decade and most of the illustrations are of museum collections from the UK  choose any date for the portrait and compare it to gowns in the post
If the issue of the attributed date is removed and we assume that the painting is supposed to show the Bronte sisters then it has to have been painted while they were all at home long enough to sit for the portrait and have access to clothing seen in it sometime around 1845.I think this is theoretically possible there are times when all three sisters were at the parsonage ,but as this co incides with the time of Branwells decline and the time when they were not in paid work ,their savings were dwindling ,they were focusing on their writing and they had little income it seems unlikely they would have been splashing out on reams of silk ,spending hours making fashionable gowns and sitting for portraits.
Even had they all been employed as governesses on a good salary giving them £20 per year as “take home pay” The gowns in the photograph would cost far too much and take far too long  in sewing hours to make into a gown .
Theres a lot of fabric in the gowns ,when I was making Victorian clothing the barest minimum I could get away with was 5 metres of 52 inch wide fabric.Fabric was sold in narrower widths in the Victorian era.
Thats 5 yards for the Green gown “Emily ” is wearing ,5 yards for the one worn by the standing girl and probably  7 or more for the seated figure who is wearing a tiered gown.
Gowns were normally lined so that would mean a similar quantity of cheaper lining fabric .
So that would be  around 30 yards of fabric ,the greater quantity of it being in cream and pale lilac ,two colours of no practical use in a household with dogs and cats who would all shed hairs and bring in mud .Once outside the Parsonage was  surrounded by peat moorland on three sides and  any trip outside of the house into Haworth would mean avoiding dung and mud or at least dusty dirt .
In addition the gowns would take up a lot of space  when being worn ,the three girls in the portrait would entirely fill up the Bronte living room ,I have worn a similar style gown  with the same number of petticoats for work in the Parsonage .I have sat on the living room window seat and walked around the Bronte table and there wouldn’t have been space in any of the rooms for two other women dressed the same way to move about freely and still avoid the fire .It makes no sense to spend a vast amount of money ,making useless gowns when your short of cash and of time .
I  used to sew all my costumes entirely by hand and it took several weeks to make my Bronte replica gowns and they were by no means as complicated at the portrait gowns so the sisters would have also had to spend many hours a day making the gowns ,when they were writing,novels ,publishing the book of poems and keeping house and caring for Branwell and Patrick.
The fabric would need spreading out to cut  and sometimes to pin and tack,so we would have to assume they would sweep aside their writing desks ,turf keeper and flossy out of the parlour and spend their evenings cutting and tacking .The sisters would have needed new clothing ,but they clearly focused on simple practical clothes as  both the extent garments in the parsonage collection and reports of their first London trip confirm.
Though Charlotte equipped herself more fashionably for later visits she herself mentions that on this first visit they stood out because of their plain clothes.
With regard to other things mentioned in the reports
One claims that the
. The auctioneer says the artist also included two other telling features: a horse-hair sofa with a beaded-curve back (now in the museum), and an unusual tell-tale “dove-colored” tint on the walls.
Yet the girl is sat on a chair ,not a sofa and certainly not on anything even remotely similar to the sofa at the parsonage.
The sofa pictured below does have a curled arm but is a different colour and much deeper than the chair the girl is seated on,you couldnt sit on this sofa or stand around it in the manner the girls are grouped
That the auctioneer hasnt taken the time to check this very simple point shows a lack of concern for detail which should make one wary of believing any of the other claims.
As regards the “dove coloured tint” that is pretty much equivilent of saying a neutral coloured wall,painted in neutral colours ,in an antique painting which will have aged  looks identical to a totatly unseen other neutral coloured  wall ,which was painted at some past point in a colour of paint one person described as “dove coloured”.
As regards the items of jewelery I am not certain which items are concerned and nor am I  an expert in jewelery , I have not owned many genuine early Victorian items so I cant comment extensively,
However I believe that one of the items in question seems to be a mourning bracelet of hair,if the portrait is dated to the mid or even late 1830s then whose hair would be in the mourning bracelet ?
I do recall a  bracelet of hair jewelery in the parsonage collection  which looks like the braceet in one of the news reports ,but I belive that  it was mourning jewelery and that the hair was Emilys and Annes in which case I dont see how the claim that
 “The painting depicts an item of jewellery that Anne is known to have owned “
can possibly be true and that if untrue that it is a mistake made in good faith .
To not have checked what the bracelet was made from when using it for something as important as reasearch to prove the authenticity of a portrait is extremely careless.It is a further reason to reassess all the other claims made about the portrait .
My only other thoughts with regard to the jewelery issue is to say that then as now ,jewelery had fashions ,for example Whitby Jet Jewelery  was almost mass-produced ,the same motifs recreated time after time ,probably by the same  small group of skilled craftsman.Linked hands brooches and lockets designed to take a piece of hair or photograph are extreemly common as are certain designs or necklace and bracelet .
While Hair jewelery was proffesionally,you sent off the hair of your loved one and it was made into jewelery of your choice ,  so I assume that the jewellers provided a catalogue of designs that you could choose from  so just because one person owned a brooch,or bracelet  that another person in a portrait is wearing doesn’t mean they are the same person.
I feel this is already a much longer post than I had originally anticipated so I will leave aside the  “new ” Portraits of Emily for a second post
An excellent post on the Brontes confirmed portraits and their backgrounds can be found here
for other bloggers work on the variouse images covered in my post please see the following links
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Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre

Its been common for people to assume that Jane Eyre is somehow a literary manifestation  of Charlotte Bronte ,that Jane’s thoughts echo Charlotte’s ,her tastes are Charlotte’s tastes and her  views and morals are Charlotte’s. I believe this is for the most part wrong and that the linking  of Charlotte with Jane, alongside the biography by Mrs Gaskell has created a version of Charlotte at odds with the reality .

One problem we have with Charlotte is there’s no surviving sibling to write about her  and we base much of what we know on letters written to Ellen Nussey ,who was an almost lifelong friend of Charlotte’s,yet Charlotte did not share the secret of her authorship of Jane Eyre with Ellen until the secret was out and beyond denial.


We know what we do of Charlotte from Ellen because Ellen against Charlotte’s wishes kept all her letters.On the other hand Mary Taylor who Charlotte did eventually tell about her literary career destroyed all her letters.So we can never be sure if the Charlotte of Ellens letters is a perfect reflection of Charlotte .

It was clear from the Novels earliest days that there is a fair bit of Charlotte s life reflected in  Jane Eyre ,it didn’t take too long for people who had been there to recognise Cowen Bridge in the fictional Lowood,nor was it beyond the realm of possibility to guess that the authoress of Jane Eyre had been a governess .I am in fact always bemused that more people didn’t immediately guess that Currer Bell was a woman.Clearly Janes physical appearance is modeled on Charlottes.But whereas Charlotte was “small and Plain ” and hated it ,Jane isnt really over concerned about it except in so far as it would have aided her (along with money) to have won Rochester away from Blanche Ingram .

I normally hark back to physical evidence ,artifacts or  records of purchases etc  when writing about the Brontes and this post will be no different.I am convinced Jane and Charlotte are two separate beings that have only superficial similarities   because of their taste in clothes.


paisly gown top cb

Its a fundamental part of who Jane is ,even when given a choice and more or less limitless budget she buys plain fabrics for plain gowns and few of them,by contrast Charlottes trousseau was quite extensive .Jane doesn’t even want an embroidered wedding veil ,while at least two bonnet veils survive both with heavy embroidery .Charlotte made a point of buying laces etc from Brussels prior to leaving and there are a number of bows ,lace mittens ,collars and cuffs in the museum’s collection .

I cannot for one minute under any circumstances imagine Jane wearing this.Its a very bright pink wrapper gown

By far the most common colours in the Bronte museums collection of clothing and dress fragments are Cream,lilac or Mauve,green ,pink and blue ,with pink featuring in the most different items and the dominant colours usually being cream or mauve /lilac(I dont think the mauve items are linked to mourning as they are not plain mauve) .Frills ,flounces, fake flowers,bows  and ribbons also feature on several items ,one or two I am not certain of but which I assume are bonnets.

Description cream silk, many small tight ruffles, ribbons & bows; complete; h 185 x dm brim 580; silk, lace, stiffening; cream; fair, fragile, disintegrating; ribbon tie with design of roses, trimmed inside brim, bow at nape frilled, frill round back

NOr  can I imagine Jane wearing this


Nor would jane have worn a hair piece,which we know Charlotte dis ,at least for one London visit .Nor would Jane have added little boosters to the bust of her corset.

padded cup corset

These might seem superficial ,but whereas as Jane is perfectly content with her looks ,doesn’t like fashion ,doesnt seem drawn to feminine or particularly pretty ,cheerful colours or fabrics ,Charlotte was an intensely feminine woman ,she loved pretty clothes, she seems to have taken an interest in fashion.The sisters first trip to London is often cited to show that they had no fashion sense and its true Charlotte is occasionally referred to as old-fashioned ,but  she was originally  constrained by her income and by being in deep mourning for at least one visit .Mourning clothing was probably that bought ,or made  either after their Aunts or more likely after Branwells death and its unlikely Charlotte felt like buying clothing in the aftermath of Emily and Annes death .On later visits we see she has bought much more up to date accessories and wears much more up to date clothes ,Despite her claims to the contrary in her letters ,she also clearly bought more gowns ,bonnets etc than was strictly necessary ,,there are at least two barely worn gowns in the Bronte Parsonage Museums collection that are fashionable and very pretty .They are probably London gowns ,though they may be trousseau items it seems unlikely as they are not particular suitable for wearing in winter.

There is also a delightful pair of black satin evening shoes, which I doubt have been worn outside ,if at all ,these little satin shoes were like kid gloves essentially disposable items ,a little like our stockings and tights .It would certainly need disposable income to buy a pair of  flimsy satin shoes which would  become damaged very easily  by dust ,rain ,or general scuffing and clearly be useless in the cold parsonage .

shoes cb

Image from the excellent

Another radical  difference is  Charlotte never seems to have been fond of children and though she became fond of some it was the exception ,she also hated being a governess.Jane seems to like her charge Adel and doesnt seem entirely dissatisfied with being a governess until Rochester cruelly exposes her to the contempt of his elegant rich visitors .These attitudes are immensely different, Charlotte rebelled against taking orders ,living according to the rules and regimes of her employers ,she has for the most part nothing but contempt for her charges and took very little pleasure in teaching.Jane is in many respects much more  at peace, more passive and more willing to accept her lot than Charlotte .Jane has no inner world ,despite her unorthodox  and imaginative drawings Jane has her feet grounded firmly in the real world .

I am not even entirely certain Charlotte liked Jane as much as her readers have ,Charlotte was perfectly capable of creating heroines she didnt  particularly like,Lucy Snow for instance .But these women she then places in situations from her life ,she gives them some of her feelings and some of her actions.The burning anger felt by Jane at Helen Burns treatment is clearly that of Charlottes seeing her sister maltreated .But In Shirley neither Caroline of Shirley act in ways Charlotte would have ,indeed Shirley is based on Emily.While Caroline is far too passive as heroine for her to  share much of her creators personality .

I think its in many ways much harder to  work out Charlotte’s feelings and character than Emily’s or even Annes because her poetry lacks the personal input of Emilys.By contrast with Emily who had few if any friends outside of her family and who among strangers didnt make any effort to be different to who she really was ,Charlotte had close friends and made many less close friends ,but their input means while we have more information about Charlotte it may sometimes be misleading ,often  Charlotte is a different person depending on who she writes to and we have so much of this misleading half truth that finding the real person is harder because its tempting to just take her letters at face value .

We are all different people to the person our parents, our teachers ,even some of our neighbours or friends might perceive us to be .




























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The Brontes then and Now ,post 2 The Brontes causes of Death

The causes of death in this article  from my  vintage booklet “The Brontes then and now ” A booklet that commemorated the Brontes 1947 Anniversary year.This article was short and by Mabel Edgerley.I have added recent research on the Brontes causes of death and my own musings ,for those better qualified than me to consider.

Causes of  Death  of the Brontes


C Mabel Edgerley reprinted from the British Medical Journal of April 2 1932

The introduction notes that it was only from 1837 that  cause of death had to be included on death certificates .It also notes that Mrs Bronte died of internal cancer ,though it doesn’t provide a source and that Maria and Elizabeth where described as having died of “decline ” by Patrick Bronte.(I have added a footnote  of my own at the foot of the page  on these deaths from other sources )

Then follow the details from the certificates that the writer had actually seen at the keighley  Registrars office and which I will  therefore include in full .


Causes of death as listed by the magazine 


Patrick Branwell Bronte

Chronic Bronchitis,Marasmus

Emily Jane Bronte

Consumption duration 2 months

charlotte Bronte

Phthisis duration 2 months


Patrick Bronte  Jne 7th 1861

chronic Bronchitius ,dyspepsia and convulsions duration 9 hours



 Phthisis is a term describing a general wasting away ,wasting disease, most often used for TB at that time

Marasmus is a form of severe malnutrition , severe sickness,that can  but doesn’t automatically include vomiting etc.



Causes of Death Maria and Elizabeth Bronte

The School at Cowen Bridge recorded both Maria and Elisabeth as having TB before being sent home .

A typhoid  outbreak also swept Cowen bridge and several girls died at the same time as Maria and Elisabeth either at the school of after being sent home .The generally unhealthy conditions ,harsh regime and poor diet may have caused either latent TB to become full blown TB in Maria and Elisabeth or some other child and made its spread much more likely. Its very possible that Both Emily and Charlotte developed latent TB at Cowen Bridge.Anne was fairly seriously unwell the year before Branwells death so perhaps at that stage she also had latent TB (see footnote below)


There is an assortment of ways TB can manifest itself ,or it can lie dormant either permanently or until some bout of ill health ,stress or deprivations cause it to become active .

Variouse medical articles have been published on the Brontes causes of death and a short summary of the most common findings are below.

Miliary TB, seems the most likely cause of death for Emily as Charlottes list of symptoms in her statement for Dr Epps is a classic description of Miliary TB,even today this can be hard to recognise early enough to  treat effectivily,By the time classic TB symptoms develope the infection has often spread throughout the body.So it seems like its advanced quickly but has really been stealithly undermining health .Its very possible Emily became fully aware she was effectively doomed and therefore refused all help its was a common cause of death and its symptoms well known.Keats reportedly said

“I know the colour of that blood! It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived in that colour. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.”

Miliary TB can cause acute respiratory failour ,sometimes occuring rapidly when the patient may not have seemed to have worsening symptoms.This is still sometimes fatal and cause multi organ failour .It often manifests in extreme  breathlessness and oxygen starvation ,and patients need to be incubated and given intensive care quickly  in order to survive.This sounds like Charlottes descriptions  of Emily being torn, breathless and panting from life ,it maybe why Emilys death caused such a trauma in Charlotte but could have had nothing to do with Emily being unwilling to die ,she was just reacting to being unable to breath .It could also be why she suddenly said she would see a docture ahe may have thought he could relieve the symptoms.

I read a couple of studies that said mid twenties and early 30s adults alomg with the elderly ,post 60s where the most common patients with Miliary TB.

Its also a cause of sudden death.

.Miliary  TB would also explain the mass of symptoms exhibited by Charlotte ,who while she seems certain to have  suffered severe morning sickness  which heavily contributed to her death ,and  was pregnant at the time of her death ( its hinted at by several people though never expressly stated on paper).She also showed clear signs of some other infection ,she had a fever and as she coughed up bloody sputum ,she was diagnosed as having  TB and therefore I imagine thats why its given as cause of death ,Excessive morning sickness was not a entirely unknown cause of death so it seems odd if a GP diagnosed something entirely different without some certain proof .

Charlotte Bronte and her pregnancy .

A doctor came and confirmed a pregnancy according to Mrs Gaskell  and Mrs Gaskell privately  wrote a veiled reference to wishing she could have been there during Charlottes last illness because she would have persuaded her to abort the pregnancy and thus save her life .It was felt by her and possibly Ellen Nussey that excessive morning sickness was the cause of her death not consumption/TB.Ellen referred to Arthur Bell Nicholls are the man who killed Charlotte,I personally feel that can only be because she felt the pregnancy was in some way  the cause of death


edition). One of the reasons for the controversy
was Mrs Gaskell’s description of
Miss Brontë’s death, which was thought
at the time to be indecently graphic.
Recently married, Charlotte Brontë was
She was attacked by new sensations of
perpetual nausea, and ever-recurring
faintness . . . A wren would have starved
on what she ate during those last six
weeks . . . Martha [her maid] tenderly
waited on her . . . and from time to time
tried to cheer her with the thought of the
baby that was coming.
From this it seems that she died
of hyperemesis gravidarum (BMJ
2012;344:e567), though her death certificate
said phthisis/

Tb infection. Who infected who ?

TB is  extremely infectious, Anne could well  have contracted TB from close association with Emily or  Branwell .Branwell could have  contracted TB from either a associate or perhaps even Emily ,while it was only noticed that she was ill after Branwell died ,in the general chaos caused by Branwell in his last months other peoples  ailments would be largely ignored  .I couldnt find any records of any of Branwells friends dying  of TB so I do wonder if Emily was the person to infect him as she surely must  be the person to have infected Anne .Anne never went to Cowen Bridge and was not in contact with TB as a governess at Thorpe Green so she couldnt have contracted dormant TB earlier.She and Emily could both have caught it from Branwell but she doesnt seem to have been noticeably ill as early as Emily was ,so it seems more likely she contracted it from her .

An unlikely possibility is that all the Brontes were infected by a pet animal.Or perhaps that one was and passed the infection around, in which case Emily not Branwell would be the person to introduce TB into the family.

Though theres an assumption that the Brontes in general and Emily in particular had poor health ,I think I would disagree,their age at death was well above the Haworth average  .

They had pets.

They lived in an extreemly unhealthy place.I  have read the Babbage report and the Brontes must have had quite strong constitutions,.The house was cold and exposed,

Winters were usually long and harsh

They lived in extreemly close proximity to an overcrowded graveyard.



Their well had not been cleaned for 20 years .They frequently exercised in bad weather.

The Brontes where in what we would now see as a high risk occupation.Whereas most people had a limited circle of friends and those friends were all likely to be from their own social class and area .The clergymen and their wives and daughters were regularly meeting people from different areas,occupations and classes.Though there is the impression that they never met or spoke to visitors Charlotte herslef mentions serving tea to guests, receiving visitors etc.


In some inner city parishes active clergymen died regularly from cholera, Typhus etc ,,(William Weightman died from a disease he contracted from a sick parishioner )Another high risk occupation was added to this,working around children (in Sunday School ),I have heard children described as bug spreading machines,,they touch their faces,hair,noses ,mouth much more than adults.are more likely to cough without covering their mouths ,more likely to wipe their noses on their sleeves or hand,much more likely to pick their noses and to forget to wash their hands after visting the toilet or handling mud,animals etc.The sisters all taught sunday school at some point as I think did Branwel. Emily I believe  discontinued her duties as teacher  but does seem to have taught at least briefly.

Lastly the Brontes travelled abroad and seemed to have been good travelers ,suffering from little sea sickness or the main trial  of travel even today,upset tummies .Traveling even to Europe wad something that could not infrequently result in tragedy , one of their friends died in Brussels .


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Zechariah Barraclough returns, a gothic tale .


Regular blog readers might remember than some years back I was involved in a project that required the creation of a rough draft of Emily Brontes second novel,not in any great detail but in order to be referred to in a short play I was co writing.While most of it I quickly forgot I always felt one character deserved a life outside that limited existence bestowed on him by the little plot synopsis ,from time to time in moments of leisure I have pondered his fate ,now I have the results of my pondering s,written very much in the vein of the original synopsis without beginning and probably without a neat and tidy ending.I do not claim any literary merit for them I am not a author  and this was typed without reflection,but when finished  I think Zechariah can be laid to rest content.Its presented in the Victorian Gothic medium.


Chap 1

Looking back, I do not remember when he changed ,when  the iron entered his soul and the man of flesh began to die and all better feelings fall away from him like the old skin of a snake or spider.

I do however remember, when it most clearly came home to me that things where not, as once they had been.That he ,who I was bound to irrevocably for life ,was now a cruel all-powerful jailer and not a helpmate and friend.

Lulled by years of happiness ,I was slow to see that now ,I  lived with a different creature .I did not see that to this new being ,I was not an equal  and my life was not mine to live freely but merely to expend in his service .

I realised  this surprisingly suddenly ,though it had taken some years  for the evidence to accumulate and some months for me to organise it into such stark clarity .To think the unthinkable as it were  .

I realised it, looking out over the garden one day,a sunny day, surprisingly  for storms  I  gather are  frequently presented as more peculiarly  suited to revelations of misery and extreme distress) .We were due to spend several months alone in a distant and remote region ,surrounded by mountains ,far from the nearest town and in an essentially deserted village.

sg cover

The house we had charge of was large and isolated, perched precariously on a cliff edge, its only neighbour ,the lonely and half derelict church that was slowly edging closer and closer to annihilation, as the rock on which it was built crumbled and fell away .The once solid mass  of its foundations ,worn away after centuries abraded by the snow and  harsh gales of winter and the baking heat of summer .It seems not all houses built on a rock ,are in fact as safe and enduring as a superficial reading  of scripture leads us to believe.

sg 6 hou

I digress ,to return to my sudden epiphany. I  had just finished the creation of a “contract”  on which I had expended a great deal of thought and I tentatively mentioned it to Zechariah for his approval.

sg writ

I cannot now remember if I had written it in full or only my rough jottings lay before me ,but he refused utterly to consider it ,though he seemed in no way annoyed and calmly dismissed it before going off to finish some task  .

I should have picked up on the significance of this strange calm detached response. Surely outrage or hurt feelings ought to have been the natural reaction,I did not see because I was not yet ready to see .I did not then suspect that Zechariah was not only ,not what he had been ,but was also not as other men .

What struck me instead was my own ridiculous reaction,I was utterly wretched ,I had relied on his agreeing to the contract and to having it witnessed as my only protection against the months of time alone together .A time when his control over my life was going to be absolute.

It seemed unreasonable to me, that he chose to refuse me. He knew how the trust between us had become eroded, he had claimed repentance and a wish to make amends.He had earnestly expressed sorrow and regret , been unequivocal  in condemning his past misdemeanours.

These protestations however had been made before others  and I now see  they where merely for the benefit of his audience  ,a wish to seem reasonable and caring,a wish in short to be seen now  as  the person he had once been and not as the creature he had become.

I had expressed in the contract in some detail what I felt required in order to  feel able to place my self safely so utterly  under his control as I would soon be.Shortly I would be reliant on him for food,warmth ,medical aid,even water and in my soul there was an overwhelming sense of dread .

Briefly In the contract ( had he signed it ) he promised before God and the chosen witness  to provide certain necessities (I planned on having his signature witnessed and a copy of the contract left behind with the said witness.)

I insisted that, enough food be provided and in sufficient variety to ensure health,I spent most of the time invovled in formulating the contract on this section as I  felt a clear list of  foods was necessary ,not specifying exactly the required quantities and variety might result in a limited  diet of bread and butter or potatoes and water .I also specified that fuel enough to provide a decent heat source must be guaranteed as I did not plan on spending a winter in that high and drafty spot  without warmth.I specified access to water and  lastly that if I requested it I would be taken to the local town to seek medical aid ,whether or no Zechariah himself felt it was needed .


What struck me  forcibly and quite suddenly that day ,was how stupid it was to be so distressed by his refusal to sign the contract because it was a monumentaly stupid idea .I realised in that fraction of time,  how  blind I had been and how I had lost all touch with actual reality .

Why on earth was I so heartbroken at his “unreasonable ” refusal to sign the ridiculous contract?I realised then ,what I ought to have seen long before ,that there is something seriously wrong with your marriage when you have to rely on a water tight ,specific, highly detailed witnessed statement to ensure the person to who you are bound for life will provide you with the means of continuing life.That it is a sad thing to know you must have a witness and a  oath to ensure your husband will feed ,cloth and keep you warm.

I also should have realised much more was wrong  because I did not feel in any way comforted that Zechariah had  promised before God and witnesses to “love and to cherish”  me and  yet  I thought Zechariah is a man of his word and devoted to his faith But my inner self knew ,what my thinking self had not yet grasped,that no word or vow would be of any importance ,that Zechariah cared not one jot for breaking an oath to God ,or going back on anything he promised before men so long as he could give the impression of innocence .

I looked in vain for a way out ,an escape from the years of misery that stretched before me  but knew there was none .I was bound  for life by sacred oath and law to Zechariah and my actions must therefore  be guided by reality and I learned to look towards a future as bleak as grey day of interminable drizzle .I did not then see that the future might hold even worse.

Flight  and winter wanderings among lonely hills and mountains





I did not ponder that Zechariahs thoughts might also be moving  from the arduous task of  breaking his current wife’s will ,and towards finding a more accommodating life partner .

For Zechariah ,”till death do us part” did not present the same insurmountable  obstacle which it did to myself. He unlike myself, was not willing to hope for some unforeseen illness or accident  at some distant point in the future  in order to gain his freedom,he was thinking ahead and his thoughts dwelt on death .

So it was that I left friends,family and the restraining hand of civilisation and set my face towards the sea and mountains,,and whatever my future might hold

villette_edite_by_abigial709b-d46wsio wp




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The no or low sew guide to Victorian accessories ,easy and inexpensive costumes for those who cant sew .

This is the second of the cheats guides for those you cant sew or dont have time.Some will need very small amounts of very easy sewing ,maybe 5 minutes or so.But there are ideas for perfectly acceptable and in some cases quite authentic and impressive accessories without needing to sew or even do excessive amounts of cutting or gluing.The Parasol above needed nothing except the bottom clip taking off ,its a baby buggy /stroller sun shade or umbrella.To best judge what will and wont work or convert into something that looks impressivly authentic its best to google some images of whatever your hoping to recreate ,the Met and V and A collections are both excellent and I have included a few images and links at the base of this post.

I have written these partly  to help those who have no sewing skills ,time or access to basic equipment but primarily  for those who are disabled .I can nolonger sew neatly and I find it hard to thread needles and use them ,sewing for more than a few minutes is extremely painful and will make my hands sore for some time sometimes its impossible to sew  ,so none of these low or no sew cheats guides require anything more than I could accomplish .

With regard to many of the ideas or items they are also easy to get on and off ,or to fasten,I have problems with hooks and eyes ,buttons and occasionally zips,I try to use velcro where its hidden and there is stick on velcro,though I never found this to work properly ,Velcro is quite hard to sew ,so this would maybe be something you would have to ask a friend to do ,but it doesnt take more than 5 mins and any stitch threaded double works fine.Though I always used to cut out zips as they are entirely unauthentic,I now try to find side zipping items or those with zips which could be easily covered with lace or other trims.

For those who cant sew but can use scissors or have a friend willing to do cutting out the dress above would be very easy to make ,buy a bodice of silk ,satin or velvet and fabric in the same or as close as possible a colour ,sew some lace round the neckline ,wide lace so you dont need to add sleeves .

then get a friend to cut very long layers of fabric with scalloped edges ,these need stitching onto a base skirt with fairly generous width but this is also fast and doesnt need skill,I will go into details on gowns in a seperate post.The key elements which make both dresses look authentic are the accessories .

In the gown above long /evening /opera gloves ,a fan and a long piece of lace make what is in effect a modern 1980s style dress look victorian.I made the dress using a bodice recovered in the fabric to match the skirt but its still [possible to find these styles of dress or bridesmaid or prom dresses that will make into passable Victorian gown,especially off shoulder or strapless 1980s dresses ,putting lace across them will create the impression of a actual neckline.There are many pieces of victorian lace and even collars for sale online at very reasonable prices,Ebay and Etsy being the chief sources.

The collar below was slightly damaged and cost me under £10.I wore it in an assortment of ways with different costumes

To use across the neckline modern Venise or Guipure lace is excellent and very cheap but needs gathering and maybe a little shaping .

This is very close to Victorian originalsand would look even better with antique lace and wider skirts.

sleevelss ball;gown

Vintage crochet lace from old tray or table cloths or mats is a much better choice as its often v shaped or square or curved so will fit exactly,its not entirely authentic in some gowns such as ball, gowns but as a antique or vintage addition looks perfect ,means you can hide modern stitching ,untidy stitching on necklines,its a few minutes job to tack it on an d needs so skill or careful stitching ,some could be pinned on carefully.

Or buy antique pieces of less than perfect lace from pettiocat flounces or gowns and just drape this ,lace making a wide collar is pinned on the gown with just a couple of pins.You can also use a piece of lace cut from a modenr blouse or evening waistcoat in a simialr way as I will show at the bottom of the post.

Another excellent alternative if you want a wide early Victorian or even puritan collar is a table cloth or tray cloth either cut in half where the cut edge can just be  folded then ironed over,if you cant stitch it .Then fasten this with a brooch at the front ,this then can be done with no sewing at all.You need to find a very thin silk ,cotton lawn or cotton irgandy hwoever thick fabrics wont work.

again using museum sites is an excellent guide


If you cant find a thin fabric cloth use a smaller thicker fabric cotton or linen cloth.

Alternatively find a tray cloth,a long thin cloth thats been  embroidered with white cotton or add lace inserted or is plain enough to pass for a collar and cut this almost in half,stitch or iron over the cut edge and pin or use a brooch to fasten this on.

To edge a neckline if you can sew choose a tray cloth ,table cloth or mat the shape of your neckline and tack it one

Tacking trim or ribbon over it as above makes it look even better,if you are lucky enough to find a  vintage 1980 dress and jacket or shawl you can cut up the jacket to use for extra trimming .

alternativly use a modern little evening cape  of beaded lace or Victorian looking lace .or make a collar and mittens out of a modern lace blouse or waistcoat,I will show how to do this at the base of he post .

For winter gowns you could use a piece of fur from a scarf ,hat or a coat collar and cuffs or even a vintage fur collar,if you cant stitch it on, choose a wide enough stole to not need it ,this is an Edwardian stole so not much older in date than the style of gown its worn with.

or a cape less authentic as this is a late 1920s cape but it looks fine for Dickensian events etc

These could  not be removed at any event without showing the neckline but if your outside thats not a big problem .

Tacking on a bought modern or vintage fur collar and cuffs works better,this is an 18thc gown but would look fine on a victorian style jacket or thick gown if a different shape of collar was used

Or a velvet little  evening cape could be used  if your likely to spend some time inside.As can be seen above this looks very effecttive.

This works on medieval gowns as well.I will suggest Ideas for medieval and other era gowns in separate posts later.

Lastly a less satisfactory option is just using a shawl ,this can hide not just a neckline but a back zipper .

Both the shawls above are vintage ,the lower one is antique.But very good modern new shawls exist ,if you buy a Paisley shawl they are entirely accurate and often if bought from Asian stores of exactly the kind bought by Victorian ladies.

An even better option is a genuine Victorian or Edwardian cape ,mantle or cloak these are often available for under £20 if your happy to accept something less than perfect,or buy a better one and resell it .

The last option and perfect if your dress is less than perfectly authentic and your outside for the event is a cloak ,a cheap one can be bought online,I sold this for around £30 ,second hand from re enactors ,or a less authentic looking one could be bought new and a collar added for authenticity,try to avoid velvet and satin.

Occasionally genuine vintage or antique cloaks come up for sale ,though this is not an option to rely on unless you have a lot of time to brouse online,my cloak cost thirty pounds because it was faded and had moth holes but thats not visible once its being worn.

If your going to use a cape ,cloak shawl etc to hide an inaccurate gown or outfit its essential the item itself is authentic or authentic looking


For any event where authenticity is not important

you could use a lace shawl though they are much less authentic.


Bonnets and Hats

these are easy to make if you can do a small amount of stitching ,,five minutes or less ,you can buy a bonnet blank in a style of your choice ,these cost between £20 and £40 pounds plus postage ,they provide instant authenticty and only need ribbons sewing on ,with a few large stitches which you could then glue or pin a trim over .

This is perfectly authentic as can be seen from the antique bonnet below ,choosing the ribbons and trims are a very pleasant way to personalise your outfit,try to find moire taffeta,grossgrain ,pichot edged or velvet ribbons,satin is less authentic and less practical they pucker easily and slip undone as the satin is too smooth

Adding modern mulberry paper ,or vintage silk or paper trims makes the bonnet look even more authentic.You weill need at least one mtre of ribbon to use just for ties,two metres if your running it round the bonnet crown and three if you want to make bows etc.Its essentail to have generouse amounts for the ties .Where you fasten the ites will alter the shape of the worn bonnet ,fastening outside they will pull it closer to your face ,inside keep it away from your face.

If you can sew you can quickly make a bonnet using my cheats guide to bonnets ,the ones below where all made thats way

Or if your at a summer event or are one of the lower classes then a genuine antique work bonnet is a very good option ,this can easily be resold after the event and they are usually only £20 or often less


For mid to late victorian outfits a hat is a much better and often cheaper option

A 1980s hat can be made to look Victorian with suitable trims.Use feathers and veiling or lace

Or another vintage hat either recent or early if you pin or glue on veiling will look very authentic


Children little straw Easter hats are excellent merely pin or tack up the front or back or sides to reshape to your choice and add assorted trims ,you can pin or glue these on.Either modern silk flowers

feathers and lace and vintage trims or ribbon there is a huge choice.

Some of these are earlier Georgian styles but they would be equally acceptable for later victorian style.

Other accessories,Muffs Parasols ,gloves,mittens and fans

Muffs are an excellent choice for winter events as they will not only keep yours hands warm and look attractive ,they can alos be used to carry hankercheifs ,mobile phones and small amounts of money or make up ,some vintage muffs actually have inner pockets,its easy to create a space by using a fur coat or jacket sleeve and folding it into itself ,or if yoru sewing one leave a gap in the inside.

Its cheap and easy to buy bridesmaids or bridal muffs online

The easiest muff to make which needs no sewing and only a few minutes cutting  is to cut the sleeve off a fur coat or jacket and fold both ends over ,the cut on the uncut side ,folding them inside out ,this gives a muff and an inside space to put things.Spare fur can be used to edge a cloak or cape .

To add a nice detail you can stitch a piece of fabirc or trims round this ,

This is from a vintage dress

This from a vintage evening outfit

This was a scrap of fabric left over from a gown.You could do this without sewing by cutting off the sleeves of a somethign wider than the fur sleeves and sliding it over folding over the edges.

Using bought trimmings ribbon or braid which you just wrape around and tack works better for more authentic looking muffs

Or use the sleeves of a velvet jacket ot make a velvet muff

You could use some of the spare fur to trim gloves

Or some of the jacket fabric from collars or cuffs thats already edged


If you can do small amounts of sewing decorating gloves is another excellent way to make an outfit look special ,you can use scarps of fabric ,fur trim or bouy a half metre of fancy trim.Sewing this onto vintage chamois ,does skin or kid gloves works best as they are a nice shape and easy to sew through,but modern fake leather or suede will also work

You can often just use vintage leather ,doeskin or kid gloves as they are but often these are very small sizes ,if you cant find a part to fit then you can just carry them,kid gloves especially where almost disposable items as once dirty women tended to buy new if they could afford it .This shows and 18thc outfit but shows how carrying antique gloves can provide not only somewhere for change a phone etc but add a bit of dash .


Modern plain silk of cotton fans look very authentic and can be bought from china for a couple of pounds.Cotton lace fans can look almost as good .

Antique fans can be bought from around twenty pounds though perfect condition ones are extreemly expensive

Modern feather fans are less ideal but plain white ,black or Ivory can be passable and are very effective for keeping you cool.

Parsoles and umbrellas

Modern battenburg lace ones look fine and would look even better if you stitched on fringing

As mention earlier baby parasols are another good choice

You can buy interestingly shaped baby parasols that echo Victorian ones like my parsol at the top of the page.



Its still possible to buy plain slightly later era Parsols fairly cheaply ,for maybe thirty pounds.

While damaged ones which look beautiful closed but when open the fabric is shredded or faded ,carrying one closed looks very efective.

Snoods etc

A snood or caul can be made very quickly by either sewing some trim onto a hair net or bought caul

Or using a sleeve etc gathered onto trim

Very wide sleeves would be needed or use the edges of a jacket.


These are again easy to make by cutting off tighter sleeves and sewing a few stitches to make a thumb hole .I will put directions at the bottom of the post ,the same blouse or jacket can be used for a collar and sleeve trims and caul.


Though I will cover these in more depth in a seperate post its very possible to find fitted jackets ,Laura Ashely are a good choice which will look quiet authentic if you add extras such as bonnets and shawls

What you need is the correct shape, if you cant sew at all look for things that are a simple as possible with nothing too eye catching,simple buttons or fastenings ,no trims etc if you can do some basic stitching or have a friend to do it ,then ignore buttons or toggles or the wrong trim can be removed and replaced with more authentic looking trims without too much sewing and take only a few mins or longer if you want to use more trims to cover a lot of modern detailing

red jacket

Instructions on making mittens and collars .

These are very easy to make from any lace or net garment ,waistcoats ,blouses ,or beach cover ups.If your lucky enough to find something with crochet lace inserts the collar will need virtually no work except being carefuly cut away because where the lace meet the crochet insert will already be hemmed.It might also be possible to find a v necked or square necked garment so that you wont need to hem at least one edge.

Cut away the body part of the item in such a way as to be able to use it for either a collar or to tack onto a bodice or as an under blouse/modesty insert/chemisett.


Take a blouse ,waistcoat etc,cut off the sleeves.You will need the sleeves to make mittens so try to ensure each has a hemmed finished edge thats suitable for the finger edge part of the mittens.Then cut the bodice is such a way as to make a collar,there maybe be enough fabric left to make a snood which while a circular one is best can be any roughly circular or oval shape even with one straight edge as you can use that to tack onto a piece of trim.Or perhaps theres a piece  of fabric suitable for a muff or a bag  a sleeve top gathered at the bottom and trimmed with something fairly still would make a token reticule or little bag ,or if theres very few bits left perhaps theres bits that would do to trim a bonnet.


making collar blog 1.jpg

After cutting off the sleeves you need to cut a piece long enough to go to over your wrist ,longer mittens can be made but are tricker,the maxim would be a couple of inches above the sticking out part of your wrist.You need to cut the potential mittens in a curved shape as seen in the photo below ,Start larger as its impossible to correct mistakes,sew up the edges and pull them onto your hands,nip a piece of  the “mitten “top so that its pulled close between your thumb and the rest of the hand and give this  a few stitches ,

You can make wool mittens in the same way but using the sleeves from an old jumper.

making mittens blog 111.jpg check David Chalmers Bronte Liquor shoot for images of a pair of mittens made in this way though out of antique lace rather than sleeves from a top .

You could also use remaining  parts of the sleeve to make cuffs

cuffs blog jacket.jpg


Image resource

To help decide what items to buy for making Victorian costumes I thought some photos from the collections of Museums would be helpful


Both Pinterest and the museum sites below are very useful image sources ,Pinterest is the easier to use as a search for Victorian Jacket ,parasol etc will produce lots of results for museum sites its best to add a date ,eg Womens Jackets 1880  which will give you results from that decade ,,then repeat the search for other decades.

Heres a couple of piniterest boards

Jackets suitable for Victorian outfits are suprisingly diverse and trimming is what will have the effect of creating the correct era

crop jacket


blue j

bustle jacket


The V and A site is especially useful as it often shows a complete outfit .


Lastly Costume dramas are an excellent source as you can see costumes in 3d but also you get an idea for what people expect from a Victorian outfit,which is not always the same as an authentic costume.These dramas are what shape most peoples idea of Victorian costumes .


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The low or no sew cheats costume guide under layers,Petticoats chemises ,underskirts and the rest

Source: The low or no sew cheats costume guide under layers,Petticoats chemises ,underskirts and the rest

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The low or no sew cheats costume guide under layers,Petticoats chemises ,underskirts and the rest

This is the first of the new cheats guides ,I thought as with any costume it was important to start with the under layers.A cheats version of any costume can look better than an accurately made one made by a seamstress if its worn properly and with the right layers under it

For an example consider the images below

One of the most famous movie costumes of all time the magnificient curtains gown from Gone with the Wind

green gown

and its second movie outing in Bedlam


Many thanks to recycled Movie costumes for this and the gown images below.This is an excellent site to look over if your making costumes or reusing or revamping a costume as it shows the different ways gowns and outfits can look on different people and worn with different accessories


eliz green gown



The basic layers needed for any costume from Tudor  to Edwardian are  as seen below one layer under the corset,then the  corset and hoop bustle etc and one layer over the hoop etc

edwardian lace petticoat


1/ A base layer of some kind to go next to your skin ,something thats not bulky and either sleeveless or short sleeved.This goes under a corset or stays .Buying or making a seperate top and base for this layer is an option that while it adds bulk is cheap and easy to buy ready made using  either new  or second hand modern clothing.

Tops are easy to find new or vintage anywhere ,avoid any with fastenings such as buttons if possible but if not you can cut off the buttons and just pull the blouse acorss you before putting on the corset as it wont need buttons to hold it closed once you have the corset laced up.Cut off any sleeves if they are not needed to reduce bulk


photo credit

If you are lucky enough you should be able to find a skirt that is elasticated at the waist rather than has a zip ,if not you will need to cut out the zip and any button and replace them with ties

white skirt.jpg

or a modern new or second hand/vintage cotton dress would be another option


Try to avoid gathered tops like the one above if possible if they are going under a corset (for Regency gowns they are fine) But worn under a corset they are bulky and the corset which goes over them and is then laced up will make the ruched bits dig in.But there are plenty similar style gowns available.




I will add a few photos and instructions on making any of these more authentic looking if you cant find a perfect match ,but many of the gypsy/boho/hippie skirts ,blouses and dresses are based on Victorian and Edwardian or sometimes even Tudor and Medieval undergarments.

Structural layers





2/A structural layer ,these are the things that will make the shape of the particular era your hoping to create the costume for,these are the most important things to get correct ,because they will make the outer layers look their best and give the impression of historical accuracy.They can also radically alter how something looks


This is an 1830s gown worn with a hope and a Pelerine style collar,it shows all the pintuck detailing but isnt strictly accurate

Below is the same gown with petticoats


and by itself


Things like making a Tudor gown bought bridal hooped petticoat into a cone or A shape and the Victorian gowns into a dome curved shape rather than a too sharp pyramid shape .Bum rolls and bustle pads would be structural layers either worn alone or with other things such as hoops.You can make one of these very easily by cutting up a cushion to make a crescent shape for a bum roll as below  or even just cutting a small cushion in half to make a boost for a bustle or pannier.


You can also use net to make a bustle shape if you cant buy a cage bustle ,this wont take as much weight or bustling as a metal hoop bustle would but works well .Especially if you tie a cushion bustle above it ,

back tulle bustle

This is the gown worn over the tulle bustle above ,the little bustle cushion was tied over the tulle to take the weight of most of the bustling.


back heb

The other structural layer is a corset or stays ,the shape of the corset will create the shape of your upper body ,different corsets will give different shapes.If you want a flat front you need to get an over bust corset ,with a metal busk ,this is also better for 18thc and Elizabethan gowns .


For early Tudor gowns and Victorian gowns an shorter under bust corset is more comfortable and easier to fasten if you find fine motor movement hard I struggle with hooks and fastenings so I only use an under bust corset now for any outfit.

You can buy any style on ebay very cheaply ,steel busk ones are the best ,hooks and eyes are hard to manage  and not rigid enough while steel boned are a bit less comfortable and a lot more expensive


3/Overlayers .These go over the hoops or bustles or panniers and stop the lines of them showing through your outfit ,they are not essential if you have a fairly thick fabric for your gown but all costumes will look and move better if there is this layer.You can very possibly find another floaty cotton gypsy skirt in a bigger size and with more fabric


Again tulle petticoats make a decent alternative that are cheap ,under ten pounds normally

side tulle pet

4/This  is optional as its not strictly essential ,but is a good one to include if you possibly can both for comfort and effect .It is the layer that went either under the corset or over it but under a hoop or bustle .This is an under petticoat to cover your legs and protect the bustle or hoop from digging in to you.This i a pretty layer to make as its more or less the only one which will be seen eg if your lifting up your skirts going up stairs ,sitting down etc .A gypsy skirt like the ones shown in the base layer photos could be used and added to the first underlayer to give the effect of numerouse petticoats ,using a colour of skirt that matches your gown is another nice way to add a bit of interest.

petticoat_by_abigial709b-d46wp1y (1)

Also useful to give a feel of authenticity are little under blouses or chemisettes for Victorian or Regency gowns .These can often be bought quite cheaply as they are not something that most people buy .


a corset cover which is a little blouse type item that went over corsets to protect gowns from the corset boning could also be used as a chemiset ,though its hard to find corset covers in modern sizes if you bought one that was damaged you could cut it off at sleeve height.This is a corset cover ,the neckline detailing would show above a gowns neckline

corset cover 1


a cropped modern blouse can also double for this layer either bought as a cropped top or cut off,the buttons



The easiest of these layers to acquire are the structural layers ,corsets and hoops can be bought very cheaply online .My spare hoop skirts cost between £5 and £10  more expensive flounced or cotton ones are £20 to £25 but these are luxuries and not really needed unless your going to wear the outfit a lot.My corsets normaly cost between £10 and £15 and they are steel busk fairly well made ones.

Though slightly more expensive  bustles and panniers are reasonably affordable if you find an site like Ebay .

The seller below has cage bustles from £25 and panniers from £20

Also worth considering is buying a net or tulle petticoat as this makes a useful over layer rather than making an over petticoat ,you can also cut away bits of the petticoat net to give a more authentic shape to a bought hoop .Most victorian gowns were not perfectly circular almost all where much fuller at the back and slightly flat at the very front


While cutting away all the net /tulle from the front and pinning it to the back will give you some of the 18thc gown shapes

18thc red gown

The base layer or chemise

 Additional stages

If you can do some sewing or want to tweak a bought skirt to make it more suitable then there are a few options all of which need very little sewing.

Trim the waist or remove zips

If you have managed to find an elasticated waist skirt for petticoats you may need to do nothing,though I trim down thick elastic waistbands so theres less bulk at waist level

blog underskirt 1.jpg

If you cut out a zip use two pieces of ribbon as ties they will need a few stitches to attach the ties but not too many and the stitches dont need to be neat,use double thread and a big needle if needed.

I also cut a split up the back of my petticoats if I am making do with reused or bought vintage alternatives ,this gives you more freedom of movement,its best to hem and edge this cut if you can but not essential if your not wearing the outfit twice.Putting a few stitches at the top of the split would be advisable to avoid it tearing futher.

blog skirt hem.jpg




You could also sew your vintage or modern gypsy blouse to the skirt to avoid worrying about them coming apart or sew it onto a skirt panel cut off its waistband to lower bulk

petticoat and chemise blog

Its also possible to cut off bits of one skirt to sew onto another to make a bustle petticoat  or sew two wider bottom layers of one skirt together and sew them onto the bottom of a skirt to make the hemline wide enough to go over a structural layer .


hemline petticoat blog.jpg

Other eras

Though these are Victorian style layers the same system will work for Tudor or 18thc under layers the chemises/gypsy blouses come in assorted styles and if you google some images of under wear from the era you need ,it shouldnt be too hard to find a suitable blouse /chemise.For underskirts using a taffeta or silk skirt instead of cotton will work perfectly as long as you removed zips or buttons and sew on some ribbon to fasten them .Essentially you need  ,thin ,comfortable fabrics with the minim of bulk and fastenings.If you cant find taffeta or silk try using a black or red cotton petticoat style skirt instead.

Wearing the layers.

If you have problems with your hands (as I do) you may not always be able to fasten some modern cheaper corsets ,the kind with hooks and eyes ,though they take a little bit of practice the corsets with a front panel of metal with metal clasps ,the steel busk corset are much easier to get on and off as the d rings just slot onto raised little bumps and several will often click into place together and  will come off even easier .

I also find it easier to have long splits at the back of petticoats to make them easier to get in and out of and easier to move about in.

I have not included bloomers in the layers as they are impossible to make without a lot of stitching . You can cut up two skirts ,one with a farily fitted waist which will be the top of the bloomers and a fuller one wide enough to make two legs ,,cut the first skirt off at below waist level ,discard the remainder ,then cut the second  into two pieces and join each piece to make a tube of fabric and stitch those individualy  onto a base skirts waistband ,you need the bloomers to be open crotch or you wont be able to wear them comfortably or go to the toilet in your outfit.


If your making Pantellon length bloomers you could gather the bottoms and sew on some ready gathered Broderie Anglais trimmings to add a bit more length and make them bottoms look pretty ,you can buy this online fairly cheaply for one or two pounds a metre and in varying depths or colours

white bloomers

So now you have your underlayers


In the next posts I will suggest some ways to create low or no sew Victorian accessories or share ideas on commercially bought items that would look authentic,the “parasol” below is a baby buggy parsol/umbrella, they are made to clip onto prams or strollers so you just unscrew the clip fastening and wrap or glue some beads or ribbons round the remaining metal piece


The one below is another baby parasol but with trim stitched on,the outfit below is achievable with almost no sewing,the blouse is a bought recent vintage one,the waistcoat a later 1980s vintage one with a mans belt ,theres a bridal petticoat under it and the hat is a vintage 40s style one.The skirt would need to be bought or made but the rest would be achievable in an afternoons shop



A 18th century version uses an embroidered waistcoat and a bought tricorn hat with the net bridal petticoats cut and restitched onto other places to make a different shape skirt



I will suggest a  few bonnet Ideas


Its  often possible to buy original antique work bonnets very cheaply ,


and other accessories such as mittens ,shawls capes and collars


black mourning gown

I am currently working on ways to create outfits similar to those below and posts will follow in the next weeks



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