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 https://www.pinterest.co.uk/source/antiquedress.com/

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


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
This entry was posted in low sew no sew costumes, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Kristen Hice says:

    I recently acquired a royal blue jacket bodice which appears to be genuine old 1890s. Very very similar to royal blue jacket you have pictured. It has tiny metal buttons. Could you send pics of buttons?kriswalt

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