A 1910s costume, part nine: a c.1916 bustle

This post is the ninth in a series in which I endeavour to create a historically-accurate late-1910s outfit to the best of my ability. From using an antique sewing machine, finding modern patterns of historical designs to using contemporary sewing manuals, this project is a huge challenge and one that I’m super excited about. I hope you will enjoy following along with my baby steps in historical costuming.

When I initially planned this project, I did not intend to make a bustle – I didn’t even know they could be a part of a late 1910s costume! However, a number of factors coalesced yesterday which led to me making one:

  1. I was bored. I have been waiting for materials which are essential to the 1910s coat project and I’ve done everything I possibly can on the coat without them.
  2. The day before my Mum had done a clear out of our old bed linen, gifting me a bin bag full of cotton for mock-ups or other spontaneous projects.
  3. I had seen a number of bustles on Instagram and Youtube which are great projects for stash-busting scraps – of which I have A LOT.

So I did a bit of research. I looked up patterns and Youtube tutorials and quickly realised that the bustles I had seen before were only really appropriate for the late Victorian era. I do intend to make a 1890s costume in the near future but ideally I wanted something I could wear with my current project. Then I remembered I had seen something that looked very much like a bustle in Butterick’s The Dressmaker, a book from 1916. This bustle wasn’t going to be a stash-busting project like I had initially though it would but, despite the very brief description, I reckoned I could figure out how to make one.

The description really didn’t give me a lot to go on. Also, see the quite frankly insensitive advice in the paragraph above.

As this was a spontaneous project, I decided I wasn’t going to be too concerned with historical accuracy in terms of materials or method like I have been with the other garments in this project. I still used my 1907 Singer sewing machine but I wanted to use this project as an exercise in sartorial detective work and improvisation, as well as an opportunity to try out my ruffle foot! I knew this would only take a day to do and I really wanted to have fun with it.

Cut a piece of lining material the size and shape desired for a foundation, and hem or pink the edges.

The first thing I did to make this bustle was draft a pattern piece for my base. There was no exact science to this: I measured from my waist down the approximate length I wanted the base to be and across my back for an approximate width. The measurements came to about 8 inches in length and 7 inches in width. I folded a piece of A4 paper in half so that I would end up with a symmetrical shape and, using these approximate measures, sketched a pear shape. I sketched in a slight curve at the top to accomodate the curve of my waist and then cut it out. I held it up to myself and it looked about right so I carried on!

My pattern piece.

The instructions from the book suggest that you hem or pink the edges but I decided to cut out two pieces from my old bedsheet, sew them together with 1/4 inch seam allowance (leaving the top open) and turn it right sides out. This way I didn’t have to worry about fiddly hems and I thought the double-layered base would provide more support for the rows of ruffles I would sew on later.

My finished base.

Make ruffles four inches wide, and treat their edges in the same way.

The instructions for these ruffles is the only part of the description in the book where you get actual measurements so I made sure to use those. I folded my bed sheet in half and cut five strips that were 4 inches wide using my pinking shears (not having miles and miles of hemming definitely made the project far more fun). This gave me strips that were about 180 cm/ 70 inches wide – I definitely did not need this much, I only ended up using about three of the strips.

Now I could get started on the part of this project I was really excited about – using my ruffle foot. I have a previous blog post all about this foot but I’ve never actually used it on a project and I thought this would be the perfect one to give it a test drive. The ruffle foot has a guage on the side from 1-4, I haven’t figure out what this guage actually measures yet, or if it measures anything exactly, but the higher the number the deeper the pleat. I did a couple of test strips and I decided to go with 3 on the guage. Then I simply sewed all my strips under the machine – the ruffle foot is so satisfying and I love the result (watch me use any excuse to add ruffle trim to all my future projects!).

I could spend hours and hours sewing ruffles.

Sew several rows of these ruffles across the foundation piece

This is where my detective work started as it wasn’t entirely clear how the ruffles attached to foundation piece. When I looked closely at the image, it looked like the long ruffle which goes around the foundation was sewn over the rows of ruffles except for at the bottom where it looked like the long ruffle goes underneath the last row of ruffles. So I decided to sew the rows of ruffles first. Even though the instructions suggest you sew ‘several rows’ of ruffles onto the foundation piece, in the image it only looks like there are three so that’s how many I started with.

Figuring out the placement of the ruffles was a bit of trial and error. First I layed out the ruffles where I thought they should go and marked those on my base but this didn’t look right so I went back to the illustration in the book for a closer look. It looks like there is a gap between the top of the bustle and the first ruffle which I estimated to be about an inch and a half. Then I placed a second and third row of ruffles at inch and a half intervals below that. This proportion looked much better.

You can see my different placement attempts.

To attach the ruffles, I simply topstitched them onto the base using the gathering stitch as a guide. Then I trimmed down the edges so that they were in line with the edge of the base using pinking shears.

Sewing on the ruffles.

Once I had sewn on the three rows of ruffles I held the bustle up against me to see how much volume I was getting. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the amount of floof and, as I had the blessing of the Butterick book to use ‘several rows’, I decided to sew an extra row of ruffles both above and below the second row of ruffles. Then I got worried about wrangling the long ruffle around the bottom row of ruffles so I removed it but we’ll come back to that.

Four rows of ruffles.

… and one all around the edge except at the top.

Now for the long ruffle. I did pin the long ruffle all around the bustle but without the fifth row of ruffles it looked really out of proportion. When I added the fifth bustle back on, I left 1.5cm of the foundation piece on either side for me to attach the long ruffle on to. This made it far easier to transition from the long ruffle going on top of the rows of ruffles to below them.

My way of tackling this awkward placement was to attach the long ruffle on top of the edges of the first row of ruffles then layer the next three rows on top of each other and push them towards the centre of the foundation piece, leaving the base exposed for me to attach the long ruffle to.

The finished bustle without the waist tie.

The completed bustle may be attached inside the skirt, or it may be hung around the waist under the corset by means of a narrow tape sewed at each side.

The instructions in the book suggest a couple of options for how to wear this bustle and I went with neither of them. I didn’t want to attach my bustle to my skirt because I want to be able to wear it with multiple garments and I don’t really want to wear it under my corset because I’ve already fitted it to my body. Instead I decided to attach a waist tie to the bustle pad and wear it underneath my petticoat.

The waist tie is the only part of the bustle pad which isn’t made from natural materials. I have been endeavouring to use natural fibre materials as much as possible for this project but I had a synthetic tape on hand which was very convenient to use. I cut a length of the tape long enough for me to tie around my waist, used a water-soluble marker to divide it in hald width ways, sewed it to the bustle then folded it over and sewed it in half.

Adding the waist tie.

With that the bustle pad was complete! I think I did a really good job recreating this garment using just the image and the brief instructions in the book, and I’m really surprised by the difference such a small garment can make to the silhouette of my skirt. I half-expected the weight of the skirt to crush the ruffles but that isn’t the case at all! The bustle pad holds out the gathers in the skirt nicely and I think that it will balance the voluminous blouse. Overall, this was a really speedy and fun project – I really enjoyed the opportunity to improvise!

Left: without bustle; right: with bustle.

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