1870’s Early Bustle Dress: an Update on the Overskirt

Despite having my fingers in many things at once lately, I have been working on the bustle overskirt and making steady, if somewhat slow, progress.

At some point I realized that, as a result of making the lining side of the apron the front side, I was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with the silly thing in an effort to make that blue stripe running down the center front look like something that I did on purpose. Concepts that looked good on paper weren’t making me happy. Ruching, appliques, pleats, fan folds…nothing worked for me.

...or maybe I could add some diamonds in black and sew tiny buttons at the side points then put little bows where the diamonds touch...

…or maybe I could add some diamonds in black and sew tiny buttons at the side points then put little bows at the points where the diamonds touch, or…

So the lining side became the lining side once again and I moved on. The ruffles were going to have to do the heavy lifting here.

The double layer of net interlining does a nice job of supporting the draped apron fabric so it doesn’t collapse when it is pleated at the sides. However, as my sister pointed out, eventually I’ll want to wash and press it so sewing in permanent pleats isn’t such a good idea. Instead I created a finished edge that I can pull up and let out to make ironing a whole lot easier.

I know there are “proper” ways to do this, but I used what I had at hand to make it work. In essence, I faked it. Since the edge of the apron won’t show, I’m not worried about matching fabric. So I used some double-fold bias tape to reinforce the edge and finish it at the same time.

Here’s how the apron looks hanging flat with the bias tape on the edge.

2015-09-27 11.48.19


This shows how the back side section of the overskirt covers the apron edge. The overskirt is getting a ruffle along its edge, so the concealment will be even better.

Here it is from the other side, with the back side section of the overskirt covering the apron edge. The overskirt would be getting a ruffled edge, as well.


Next I added buttons and fabric loops on the inside. They will allow me to pull the edges up into folds when worn, then unbutton so the apron can hang flat when stored.

I used bits of stiff ric-rac for the button loops. I’ve found the zigzag design helps keep buttons in place better than smooth fabric loops and since they won’t be seen their looks don’t matter. After some rooting around I discovered some perfect old buttons in my button box. They have good size shanks that will stay put in the loops. And I just happened to have six, so that was a happy find.

I marked the pleat lines on the back side of the bias tape along the apron edge. To make sure I remembered which was is up, I put little arrow heads over the dots where the loops would be sewn. I also added “ease” to the loop position in order to allow for the bit of drop in the loop when it’s secured around the button. That was probably a bit of overkill, but for some reason it seemed important at the time.

2015-09-27 11.55.56


2015-09-27 11.58.13

Which way is up? Aha!


2015-09-27 12.01.38

The loops are sewn toward the direction of the waistband.


2015-09-27 12.54.02

Buttons with good-sized shanks and heads that won’t slip out of the loops very easily.


All the buttons and loops in place.

All the buttons and loops in place.


Here’s the apron buttoned into pleats for wearing.

2015-09-27 13.00.22

2015-09-27 13.01.36

The last step for the apron is sewing hooks and eyes at the edge to keep the folds in the upward “crumb-catcher” position. I’ll be sewing those in this evening.

And this is the finished look with the apron pleated and the ruffled overskirt hiding the apron’s edge.

Lookin' good, with Sophie at the ready in case things get out of hand (aka, napping).

Lookin’ good, with Sophie at the ready in case things get out of hand (aka, napping).


All in all, I think it’s working out rather well.

I played around with the two back tails, as well. The overskirt looks good without them. And it looks OK with them, too. So I’m undecided, at least for now. If there is time left over after finishing the waist (hah!) I’ll play with them a bit more.

Yes, the clock is ticking. I don’t do well with tight deadlines and that sense of pressure slows me down. I still have enough time on the calendar to get it done, but I acknowledge that I may not finish up in time for the exhibit. If that’s the case, I’ll go in “civvies.” But, no matter what happens, I will have a nice Victorian gown ready for next year’s Victorian Heritage Festival and that is a definite plus.


2 thoughts on “1870’s Early Bustle Dress: an Update on the Overskirt

    • Thanks! I’m using Truly Victorian patterns: TV 201 (1870’s Underskirt) and TV303 (1873 Side Drape Overskirt). The overskirt comes out looking different than it does in the pattern illustration, but it still looks quite nice.

Comments are closed.