Recreating a Bustle Ensemble

This semester, some objects from our collection of historic clothing fell under some intense scrutiny from members of Kenisha Kelly’s Advanced Draping class here at Vassar. Each student was assigned one object from the collection to study and make a pattern for a reproduction. Some of the chosen objects, like the one discussed below, are not in good enough condition to re-mount on a mannequin for display, so the reproduction is the only way that we can truly appreciate what the shape of the garment would have been like on a body. This post is the first in a series with some students’ reflections on this process.

As a member of the Advanced Draping class, I was assigned the Blue and White Striped Day Ensemble from the historic collection (see it online in our collection database at  At first when I saw the dress, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of details; pleats, gathers, and other fabric manipulations covered the ensemble.  However, upon further examination, I found that almost none of them effected the structure of the garment.  Another immediate difficulty was that we viewed the dress on a flat surface, even though the dress is defined by the way that it creates shapes on the form, especially as this is a dress with a bustle.

As I started work on creating the top, I ran into problems with the pleats that run down the back.  First I had to figure out how to connect the pleats at the base to the peplum in such a way that it splayed beautifully over the bustle.  Then, after stitching I found that the pleats were not holding their shape, and it took a lot of hidden stitching to allow them to be structurally sound while being able to open and give motion to the back.  The most exciting things I found while working on the top skirt were the triangle tucks I had observed, created the body of the bustle.  The little tucks that had not looked like much when the skirt was lying flat on the table suddenly were the excitement of the skirt.  It mimicked the bustling that would happen under some skirts (thus the name the bustle) without having any contraptions underneath the skirt.

There was one aspect of the skirt that I did not attempt to replicate, simply because of the time that we had to work, but I found fascinating.  The lower skirt had cartridge pleats at the waist to allow for the extra fabric to cover the bustle (I used normal pleats).

It was amazing replicating a fully created ensemble, because it allowed me to just do techniques I saw without knowing what their final effect would be as well as figuring out how to create effects without knowing how they were caused.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
This work by Vassar College Costume Collection is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.