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.
you will need ,cotton and at least two needles,
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
,but you can use fake very plain fake silk if you need an everyday middle class dress,this was a governess gown.
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
or find a pair of curtains in a charity shop .The dress below is curtain fabric.
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.
You can add a waist coat to the skirt which looks better
or a modern but Victorian looking jacket
The dress below also uses vintage curtain for the pink skirt.
This gown is made from a cotton duvet cover from a charity shop
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
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
(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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
,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.
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.
,If you have a pretty decorated piece of fabric it can create a nice focus
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
from most angles is barely visible .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
.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.
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.
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.
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.
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
,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