1870’s Bustle Dress Update – Time to Play with Trim

2015-10-14 12.33.46

The mound that’s left after the lengths for the apron and right half of the overskirt were cut.

My weight has been going down a bit lately (yay!) so I’m holding off on cutting the waist (i.e., bodice) for a while. That means work on the bustle dress is now focused on the trim. Lots of trim…nearly 15 yards. This dress represents 1870-73, so there is no such thing as too much trim. It’s a time when “if in doubt, just add more” seemed the operative phrase in dressmaking. That’s a good enough reason to go a bit nuts with it all, and so I have.

It’s double-layered (ribbon on top of pleated organdy) and each side of each layer gets sewn down one edge at a time. That’s a total of 60 yards-worth of edges and I’m doing it all by hand, so the going is slow. (Plus it’s gotten a bit chilly both outside and inside so what I really want to do is knit and bury myself under piles of cozy wool.)

I preferred the bias check, but there wasn't enough.

I preferred the bias check, but there wasn’t enough.

Bringing this concept to life was possible thanks to a handful of 50% off coupons from a big box store that still carried some of the black pleated organdy trim I used on the black and white fichu. I bought all they had, which was just enough. Unfortunately, the bias check ribbon trim was long gone so I substituted with a straight check woven ribbon trim in two widths: a bit wider for the ruffle at the hem and smaller for the rest of the trim.

The concept is to run the black organdy around the top edge of the fabric ruffles, then sew a band of black and white check ribbon down the center. The ribbon not only adds a bit of visual interest, but is just wide enough to help keep the pleats open so they don’t collapse in on themselves. I hope it looks as good when it’s done as it does in my head.

2015-10-14 12.02.27

2015-10-14 12.03.34

I tackled the trim on the overskirt apron first, since is was a short run. It took less time than expected and looks right.

2015-10-10 17.05.28

2015-10-10 17.06.25

At this point, I’ve sewn along one edge of the pleated organdy on the right half of the side-back overskirt. Here it is, roughly pinned over the underskirt and the overskirt apron so you can get an idea of how it’s going and how it looks compared to a photo before the time. (For some reason, they are both a little out of focus and so, hopefully, a reasonable comparison.) I have enough trim to edge the long tails at the back of the overskirt, but I’m not sure whether that will look “right” so I’m waiting until I’ve finished the rest of the overskirt to make that decision…even though I’m pretty sure I go ahead and trim them, too.


There was just one isty, bitsy problem with the overskirt apron. When I cut the checked ribbon I mis-judged the length and came up short, even though I measured twice, so I thought I’d show how I mended/fixed/fudged my way through it. Necessity truly is a the mother.

As you can see, I wasn’t short by much…just enough to require mending.

So I added a snippet and tried as best I could to align pattern at the short end. The stuff is a bit slippery, so I couldn’t get a perfect match – but at this scale it’s not a problem because, fortunately, close enough really is good enough.

Ends matched as closely as possible, including some overlap of the new piece over the original ending.

Ends matched as closely as possible, including some overlap of the new piece over the original ending.


I tacked the cut end, burying the fine black thread in the ribbon’s woven pattern.

Hard to see, but the end is sewn in place.

Hard to see, but the end is sewn in place.


Then I sewed the top edge in place to the edge of the apron, stitching it underneath the bias fold tape to make a finished edge, then stitched along the bottom edge.

It doesn't take much - just a tiny dab will do.

It doesn’t take much – just a tiny dab will do.

It was looking pretty good, but the raw ends have a tendency to fray. This is when I use FrayCheck (TM). First, I test a small area to make sure it doesn’t darken as it dries, which it sometimes does. When faced with small areas like this, I use a drop of FrayCheck (TM) on my fingertip and use the tip of a needle to place tiny drops of it along the edge or area in question. This way I avoid huge blobs and can use the needle tip to work it into the fray itself and smooth it down. It always works. (And if I had more than 2 hands, to do it and photograph it at the same time, I’d show the process in detail.)

Here the FrayCheck (TM) is still wet and looks a bit dark.

You can just barely see a dark-ish spot where the mend is.

But when it dried the mend was, and remains, barely noticeable up close and invisible at a distance.

Dried and not noticeable at all.

I hope this helps if/when you’ve managed to find yourself in the same kind of pickle. 🙂


3 thoughts on “1870’s Bustle Dress Update – Time to Play with Trim

    • Thanks! I frequently have a hard time accepting a change in concepts and I was so wedded to the idea of using the bias check that I’m still having difficulty getting used to the straight weave check. But the more I use it the more comfortable I’m getting with it. Thank you for making it easier for me to like. 🙂

      • No problem. 🙂 The general idea of playing with check on solid lace is a very clever one and it would look great with either kind of check, bias or straight…

Comments are closed.