When I first started this blog, I was an unemployed costumer attempting to create period gowns and costumes with very limited means. Although now employed, I still try to be as thrifty as possible. I am still "The Broke Costumer"!

In addition to posts about the outfits I make on a budget, this blog includes short research articles on fashion, history, accessories, styles, or whatever interests me at the moment.

I hope you enjoy my journey into the land of inexpensive costuming and short articles.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My First Victorian Dress. 1872 Purple Early Bustle Gown.

Since joining the San Diego Costume Guild, I have had the opportunity to be in a few fashion shows. I really had nothing to wear, and actually had to borrow two outfits from my friend Val to wear in the Daughters of the American Revolution fashion show. Suddenly I was in charge of the fashion show at San Diego’s Gaslight Gathering Steampunk and Victoriana Convention. I just had to have a gown for this, as I was the MC and would be up in front of the entire room.

I decided to do an early bustle era gown using Truly Victorian patterns. I used TV208 - 1870 Trained Skirt Ensemble and TV405-1872 Vest Basque.

This would require approximately 14 yards of fabric, which included extra for the pleating I had in mind. I had to find something around $4 a yard, as my budget was approximately $75 for the entire thing. I had to purchase my supplies over a three month period as I was on a strict budget, having just been laid off.
Val needed to go to the Los Angeles fabric district, so I tagged along. I knew I wanted a deep eggplant color. After several stores and no luck, Val took me to her favorite store, Valentines.

I found the color I wanted, but the fabric was too expensive. Then I found the same color in a poly blend. He wanted $7 a yard for it.

Helpful hint: When shopping in the fabric district, bargain! The more yardage you buy, the cheaper it is by the yard. Do not accept the first price they tell you. Tell them its over your budget and start to walk away. They will follow you to the door, and offer you a reduced price if you buy from their store.

 By bargaining for a better price, I got it for $4 a yard!

I began in early February 2011. I wanted several rows of pleating around the bottom of the dress as well as the apron, with some sort of black trim in between the rows. I made the base skirt and apron. Again, Val to the rescue. She let me borrow her bustle petticoat so I could get the correct shape.  As you can see from the early stages the apron is too long for what I wanted to do.  I ended up shortening it quite a bit by the time I was finished.

Next, I had to make the pleats. I did all the pleats by hand, turning them on fork tines, pressing, pinning. It took many, many nights in front of the television to do this. I ended up pleating a 45 yard long strip! Phew! Then I started attaching the strips to the skirt.

In between the pleats I wanted to put a freeform black trim. I decided to make loose box pleats with black ribbon. Beverly’s Fabrics sells ribbon on spools by the yard for 33 cents a yard. I got approximately 50 yards of ribbon for this project.

The bodice followed. Luckily I have tons of scrap fabric collected over the years and I am able to use this for linings and interlinings. A bit of faux moiree for the vest portion, self pleating and more black ribbon trim completed the look. I modified the bodice pattern by not adding the collar and cuffs, and I shortened the back tail.

I could not afford to buy boning as my funds were completely gone. Easy (totally un-period) fix? Zip ties! They are long enough for bodice seams, and easily trimmed. You can find them in different widths. I actually whipstitched two together side by side, then inserted into double fold bias tape, which was then stitched to the bodice seams.

Here are a few photos of the completed gown. It won’t pass the historical test, but its fine for the events I attend.
Wild Wild West Con
14 yards of fabric: $56
buttons: $4
bodice lining: stash scraps
black vest insert: stash scrap
zip ties: $1 a package
50 yards black ribbon: $18
TOTAL: $79

Escondido Women's Club
Fashion Show


  1. Awesome! The amount of pleating that went into this was unbelievable.
    PS. I still use zip ties.

  2. I LOVE this dress! And the time you spent on all those pleated ruffles shows your dedication. Well done!

  3. Zip ties! Lovvee it! And the dress, love it too!

  4. Thank you ladies! I just asked Santa for a Perfect Pleater for Christmas...

  5. I am suitably jealous! It is the most gorgeous. I have the long Perfect Pleater and the Short one (somewhere), you will LOVE it.

  6. For someone who isn't a very good sew-er, you make beautiful dresses. And a smart shopper, too!

    Nice blog. Well done.

  7. Thank you Nancy! I appreciate it.

  8. What a gorgeous dress! I love the colour, and having done hand pleating myself, I know how much effort and time goes into it!

  9. And as Nancy said, for a person who says she isn't a good sewer, it's excellent work!