1880s Wool Ensemble – The Bodice and Finished Outfit

1885 Wool and Velveteen Day Dress

In the last post about this outfit, I talked about apportioning rulers and how I made the overskirt/apron for this outfit. I promised you I’d follow up soon with information about the bodice, so here goes!

This bodice started out as Truly Victorian TV420 1879 Cuirass Bodice, but it was too small for me and also too early for the bottom half of my outfit. 1879/80 was still very Natural Form, so it was never meant to fit over a bustle, and the pattern also had slightly dropped shoulder. It still served as a good start, and with hacking, taping, pinching, nipping, slicing, and smooshing, somewhat morphed into Truly Victorian TV460  1885 Cuirass Bodice, which I don’t own, but need to (it would’ve saved me a lot of work!)

Frankensteining my pattern on the dress form. You can see where I slices and taped in extra pieces to expand the too-small bodice to fit over my corset, bustle, and underskirt. I made the apron before I started on the final bodice, so I could fit the bodice over it as well as the other pieces.
The flat pattern. The two pieces on the left are the bodice fronts, showing the funky curve created for the black velveteen piece.

The major changes I made on the bodice were to de-drop the shoulder, cut my own shape for the hem, add the center back pleat, and convert one set of the front darts into the curvy seam that forms the black velveteen section on the front.

A quick fit and adjustment of the soft-paper pattern before cutting the final fabric.

I did quite a lot of fitting and fiddling on this bodice. The many seams and darts on Victorian bodices make fitting accessible and precise, but the form-fitting nature of these garments means they have to be fit on you. I start with finishing the front closure and machine baste the whole thing together, leaving the darts free in the front. I fit the side and side back seams, put the bodice on, and then fit the center back seam and darts temporarily.

On Victorian bodices I always do the front closure first, on the straight, and the darts last. I leave my darts un-cut, even though it creates bulk on the inside, because I may need to let the bodice out in the future.

Then comes boning. I follow the instructions in Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques for sprung bones. It’s taken me awhile to figure out what a sprung bone is and how it works, but I think I’ve got it now. I’m not sure how to explain it simply, but it involves securing the boning to the bodice in an arced, or sprung, position, as it will be worn on the body, thereby creating a smooth surface on the outside. I will do a tutorial on this later, which I hope will explain it thoroughly.

With the bones secured, I revisited the center back seam and the darts, and took in any additional areas that needed fitting. For instance, I needed to pull up the shoulder seams on the back pieces to remove some buckling, and pinch in a bit on the basque at the back so it lay a bit more smoothly over the bustle.

Lots of fitting. Lots.

The final result is a bodice that fits really really well.

The last bits were the sleeves, hem, and collar. I’m happy with everything except the collar, which doesn’t meet in the front (there had to be something, right?), but I applied this piece with a whipstitch, so it’s super easy to take off and replace at a later date. Even not meeting in the front, I’m still very happy with it…and hey, I can at least move my head.

The only bit of color I wore with this outfit was a pair of coral drop earrings by K.Walters At the Sign of the Grey Horse – these earrings are part of a set I will be reviewing soon.

I’m so pleased with this outfit! It fits, it’s fun to wear, it’s swishy and feminine, yet buttoned-up and somewhat militaristic, which I have always liked. I may at some later date add soutache braidwork for embellishment, which would make it more military-inspired, more Russian, as was the original intent.

1885 Wool and Velvet bustle dress – done and fun!

I’m sure I left stuff out, so please feel free to ask questions. 🙂


  • AuntieNan

    February 3, 2016 at 3:31 AM

    You've done a magnificent job of creating this look! And I love the collar shape — it fits the shape of your jawline so nicely.
    Would love more descriptions, if you have time, on the ins and outs of the shaping of this.
    Nancy N

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 3, 2016 at 8:35 PM

      I've had several requests for more information about the innards of this thing, so I'm planning to put it all on my dress form inside out and talk about some of the whys and hows

  • Caroline

    February 3, 2016 at 4:48 AM

    Oh that last picture is perfect!! I really like this one. Grey and black and simple. My kind of outfit! Well done! As always 🙂

  • Bianca Esposito

    February 3, 2016 at 5:29 AM

    Gorgeous! The work you did modifying the pattern was really worth it as the result looks so smooth. I'll have to use your tip on fitting the darts last for when I finally make a bustle gown myself. I love the little silk tassel on the skirt too, such a fun detail!

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 3, 2016 at 8:39 PM

      Yes, the darts make all the difference. There's a lot of basting, ripping out, basting again to get things just right. There are some trouble spots on my bodice here, still, but because it's not lined, I can keep working on it in the future.

  • Anonymous

    February 3, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    SUPER STUNNING!!! Very very nice — great dress, beautiful model and smart photography! Pat yourself on the back — this is a home-run! –chantel

  • Robin's Egg Bleu

    February 3, 2016 at 4:15 PM

    Beautiful! Perfectly trimmed, not overdone, clean and elegant. Wish I saw more in this era done in this manner. I think we all tend to think of "Victorian" as everything roses and lace, when in fact the downright truth of it is that the normal, everyday dress was probably as unfettered as our modern everyday dress tends to be. A little bling, a touch of lace and not much more. Your ensemble is a perfect example of the typical middle to upper class late 19th century woman.

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 3, 2016 at 8:41 PM

      Thank you so much. I too believe that not all Victorian clothing needs to be uber-trimmed. I like clean, crisp, tailor-made stuff, even if others feel like my outfit is "unfinished." I've seen plenty of 19th c. photographs of women dressed in similarly trimmed outfits without all the froof.

  • Miss Tonia

    February 3, 2016 at 7:11 PM

    This is stunning! I love how it turned out. I haven't sewn in over 3 years, and this has done a lot to inspire me to get back into my sewing room.

  • Gina

    February 3, 2016 at 10:51 PM

    Oh my laaaaaa! This looks so wonderful and Sharp on you! I love the colors! Everything went together so well…loving the bustling in the back and the tassel on the side. Huzzah for a bustle dress on a lovely lady!

  • bluefalling

    February 6, 2016 at 6:41 PM

    Wow, what an inspiration! You are making me severely jealous of actually having a dress form that fits. Am about to embark on an 1881 gown and your ability to test a paper paper pattern is sooo much easier than what I'm facing.

    Love the little detail of the tassel on the side.

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 6, 2016 at 7:16 PM

      Well, it *kindof* fits. One of the challenges I had in fitting the bodice is that I made it fit the dress form precisely, but then it didn't fit me, so I had to rip out and re-do a lot of the seams. I can get only so far on Victorian stuff with the dress form, although it seems to work much better for fitting more conical silhouettes.

  • Kara

    February 7, 2016 at 8:27 PM

    This dress is absolutely gorgeous! I like it with less frills and trimmings.
    Do you make fabric toils, or do you just do the adjustments on the paper pattern before cutting out the real fabric?

    • Lauren Stowell

      February 8, 2016 at 1:02 AM

      Thank you! I sometimes do draping and toiles in muslin. I've been using this Swedish tracing paper more lately because it's cloth-like, somewhere between paper and fabric. It can be sewn on the machine, drawn and written on easily, and is still pliable enough for draping.


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