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 .



About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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