How to Make a Victorian Costume

Written by melissa j. bell
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The Victorian fashion era, which includes the years between 1837 and 1901, is largely characterised by a move toward modernised sewing and dyeing techniques, and a move away from the rounded skirts of previous years. Although there was plenty of variation in style during this period, ranging from full bustled skirts to fitted sheath gowns, the most popular Victorian costumes today are the soft-bustled and straight-skirted gowns of the late Victorian period. Consisting of a separate skirt and bodice worn over a vast array of structured undergarments, the costume can be fairly complex to construct.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Sewing equipment and supplies
  • White cotton fabric
  • Corset outer fabric
  • Coutil fabric
  • Corset boning
  • Grommets
  • Grommet punch
  • Gown fabric
  • Bodice lining fabric
  • Skirt lining fabric

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  1. 1

    Create a Victorian chemise out of white cotton by either following one of the patterns in the Resources below or drafting your own pattern. To make your own pattern, cut a rectangle of fabric that is your own width and would reach your knees. Take a spare T-shirt, fold back the sleeves and lay it on top of the rectangle to copy the armhole curve and shoulder seam. Curve the neckline, then cut an exact copy of your rectangle. Stitch the two together at the sides and add sleeves, then gather the top neckline. This chemise is worn under all other layers.

  2. 2

    Create pantaloons out of white cotton, using a premade pattern or drafting your own from an existing pair of nonstretch sweatpants. Simply cut the sweatpants to the knee and take them apart at the seams to use as patterns. Stitch the pantaloons together in the same way the sweatpants were made, but run a drawstring through the waistband instead of elastic. If you want to be truly historically accurate, leave a large section of the crotch seam open. Wear the pantaloons over the chemise.

  3. 3

    Make a corset, using a commercial pattern like the Laughing Moon Silverado linked in the Resources below. Corsets are difficult to construct the first time without a detailed pattern, though you can find public domain corset panel designs online to use as pattern pieces. To construct the corset, cut the panels in three layers: outer fabric, coutil and cotton. Baste the outer layer of fabric to the cotton, then stitch the front and back pieces to their lining, and insert the busk and grommets. Stitch the side panels together and attach the lining, then stitch the boning channels and insert the boning. Bind the top and bottom edges, and lace up the back.

  4. 4

    Make a petticoat from a pattern or by cutting two wide rectangles of fabric and stitching them together, then gathering the top and attaching it to a drawstring waistband. The petticoat is worn over the corset.

  5. 5

    Create a Victorian skirt from the pattern of your choice, or make a simple circle skirt out of five pie-shaped sections of fabric. Clip the top of each piece straight, so that they match up to your waistband measurement. The waistband should rest at the natural waist, so make sure to take that into consideration for your skirt length measurements. Stitch the skirt panels together at the sides, leaving an open placket at the upper back seam, then sew the panels to the waistband. Fasten the waistband at the back with a hook and eye closure.

  6. 6

    Make a bodice that matches your skirt using your choice of pattern, or draft your own bodice using a plain, fitted nonstretch T-shirt. Put the T-shirt on your body and cut the neckline to your liking, then trim the bottom into a pointed curve like in your reference pictures. Cut the sleeves off completely, then mark the centre front and center back with a fabric pencil or marker. Also mark the centre of the sides, and a line at the centre of each bust point. Take the shirt off and cut along these lines, then cut the shoulder seam open. Use the T-shirt pieces as pattern pieces, adding seam allowances, and sew together the bodice like you did the corset. Use buttons at the back instead of laces.

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