Monday, May 2, 2016

1880s Dress-Improver: HSM #4

The April Challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly was a real figure out what to do.  See, the challenge is Gender-Bender; Make an historical clothing item which is either for the opposite sex, or has elements inspired by the opposite gender.

As a guy, the second option is almost out--you don't see historical menswear inspired by lady's fashion.  My first choice was men's stays, based on a late Regency pair which is essentially a back brace, complete with spring elastic (made of....springs); unfortunately, this had to be discarded due to issues sourcing good quality boning of the right width (I would still like to make it someday, though).  Other options that came to mind was the Skjoldehamn find, which we don't know gender of (using Schrodinger's Authenticity to slip it in, as it was remarked by one person I asked).  Other thoughts I had were possibly a pair of boots or shoes with heels (I have seen it stated that heels started as a male fashion, and as a female one), or a coat from the 1820-40s, as male and female fashions at the time sorta mirrored each other (wide shoulders, narrow waist, wide/full skirts); both those these would have required a fair amount of research, and some arguing--not against doing so, but I ran out of time.

So, when a friend remarked that she would like a bustle "but not one of those ones made out of tulle", I kinda jumped on it as an idea.  Bustle pads (rather than the ridged framed bustles) don't require much in the way of fabric or time, so it could work. (I did the majority of the work on this the day it was due for the challenge).

Even though this was a mostly spur of the moment, and not heavily HA focused project, with me winging it (and you can really tell I did so--made a couple stupid oversights), I did look at extant pieces from the bustle era.  I had decided that a two level bustle pad would work the best, especially if they were differently shaped and could be worn separately to give different effects according to desire.

As near as I can tell, there is a nearly infinite variety of bustles and bustle pads out there--the pads especially seem to be a "made at home, according to taste and/or need" item.  I am defining bustle pads (as opposed to true bustles) as being made without a stiffener; no cane, wire, or whalebone.  I should probably say here that the word bustle was apparently considered rather vulger in the Victorian Era, and the word tournure or dress-improver was used [Source].
In general, the pads were made in two varieties (which often combined) for various effects; padded ones made of a lightweight cotton (polished, plain, muslin, etc), which are decidedly pillowlike and stuffed with horsehair, or (theoretically) cotton wool, or straw.  Or ones which make use of the springiness of horsehair canvas (such as is used to shape the breast of suits) to give lift. 
Horsehair canvas dress-improver From the V&A

My main examples I am using are a two-leveled red bustle from the Harrowgate Museums (all I had was a credited, but broken pinterest link, so I contacted the museum for verification.  The response I received will be in an endnote), and a variety which is flatter against you, to not give a shelf-like effect.

Harrowgate Museum
Image Source.
I had intended to include the ruffled effect, which I theorize would help the skirt drape more smoothly, but I (honestly) forgot until I had done the sewing.  And with a combination of lightweight fabric and extremely small machine stitching, stitchripping it was risky....I tried.

I drafted the under pad as a fairly simple, semi-circle, based on the later one above (which I forgot to take a look at before drafting, of course), with pleats on the top layer only.  That would be the dumb mistake I mentioned earlier.  I did go off of a variety of original bustles to figure out how deep I would need to make it--between 5 and 9 inches seems fairly common.  Rather than adding the needed extra for pleats to the center....I added it to the sides.  Don't know what I was thinking....don't do that, folks!!

Halved, of course

I chose to go with a lightweight poly-cotton (Symphony broadcloth) for outer fabric.  This was chosen for ease of washing, and because it has a similar level of smoothness to the unglazed cotton examples.  Muslin would have been a first pick, but the recipient wanted black (white, and purple.  I chose black as it is the least obtrusive and most versatile).  Poly-fil stuffing was used; again because of ease of washing and cost (and my local fabric shop doesn't seem to have anything but polyester filling....).  The project was machine sewn and hand finished, as is normal for me.  At least by the 1880s, straight stitch sewing machines weren't uncommon.

Sewing has been finished on the bottom pad.  As you can see, I decided to compress the pad somewhat.

And the second pad finished and set on top.  The second pad is just a simple semi-oval, and about 10" narrower than the underpad (which I had intended to help pad the hips as well)

 Being modeled by B.O.B.  He really didn't like it, but didn't have a choice.

Both bustles together.  The ties are extra long, since I figured tying the back would be the least obtrusive; ties are just fabric tubes. (I ran out of the black fabric, and had a use the purple which was intended for trimmings.  There is also a tab on the larger pad which the ties can be run through to help prevent shifting.

Small pad only.

Small pad under the large one, to push it out.

The Challenge:  Gender-bender.  I am a guy making a female garment (or accessory) for a friend.
Material: Poly-cotton.
Pattern: My own.
Year: 1880ish?
Notions: Does the stuffing count as a notion, or as a material?
How historically accurate is it? Not very, honestly.  The overall look of the fabric is fine, even if it contains poly.  The stuffing is likewise, but even worse.  Methods of construction, and theoretical design is fine.  I would give it maybe 50-60%, and am considering making another (duplicating the Harrowgate museum example) to do things right.
Hours to complete: 4ish
First worn: Not yet, but being delivered tonight.
Total cost: 7$ and change, and I only used around 1/3 of the bag of filling.

The email from Harrowgate Museums:

Dear Mr mac Finnchad,

Thank you for your enquiry about the red bustle pad. It is from the Harrogate Museums collection and dates from the 1880s.

The dimensions for the bustle are: Width: 245mm, Height: 185mm and Depth: 100mm.

It is made from cotton and from the stitching it appears that it was homemade.

I hope this information is helpful. It would be great to see an image of the bustle you make based on this one in our collection if that would be ok.

Kind regards

© John Frey, 2016. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.

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