Thursday, 3 December 2015

Making a lobster tail tournure (pt.1)


Next step in my Victorian outfit is the bustle support that goes under all your skirts, to make the famous big victorian butt! Back in the day, these came in lots of different varieties and a lady probably had more than one, to suit her different dressing needs.


From the V&A museum.


I decided to make mine without a pattern. If you think about it, it is just a simple half-dome shape that needs to be collapsible (lengthwise) for when you sit down. And with all the excellent photos around of extant garments, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

I also did look for tutorials online, and remembered seeing one at the American Duchess blog. I used that as my starting point. To make the back panel that holds the boning channels and gives the whole thing it's shape, I started with a piece of fabric 30x32 inches, that were folded in half along the shorter side. I drew on the curve for center back, cut off the excess, and made a french seam along this now curved edge and all the way down.

Pardon the wrinkling, this is actually on the inside
of the thing. Mid construction.

Next was marking the boning channels. Now, I made my bustle using just a single layer of fabric, so making channels would require a way to encase the boning. I didn't want two layers of fabric for the whole thing, as the muslin I used would get very heavy if doubled. There is finished boning tape on the market, but since I now find myself on a budget, I had to think of something else.

In hindsight, I don't know how smart this was, but I decided to make ruffles! They certainly add volume, but I am not sure how they will behave under petticoats. I only hope they don't get all lumpy. If it all fails, I've learned a valuable lesson, and it is quick to make a new, unruffled one. Also, when thinking about it, the bustle is probably heavier now, with ruffles, compared with using  two layers in the back panel.... Doh!
Oh well, if anything, it looks cute...

So I marked the boning channels on my back panel first. By the way, I suspect the drawing on the AD page to have an error. If you look at how the channels are placed on the sideview drawing, the ends of the two top ones are further apart at the sides. In my head this does not make sense. They need to be closer together, to form a rounded dome shape. (Other than that small niggle, the tutorial is fantastic!) So at this point, I put aside the tutorial, and went with my instincts.

I sewed the gathered ruffles ontop of the marked lines, and then did a second seam (7mm) under it to form a boning channel. The ruffles are placed so that they cover the top of the next one. The sides of the top two are tapered towards the sides, because the channels are closer here. I found it looked better like this.

Top ruffles are tapered at the sides, so wider/longer at the centre.

 For boning I went to the hardware store and got a drain cleaner! These are better value for money than corset boning, and I didn't have to order it from the UK. It came in a 7.5m coil, which I then cut into the lengths I needed. I filed the edges round, and applied 5 coats of nailpolish to every end. I left them to completely dry for a couple of days. These steps are important, so the boning doesn't cut its way through your fabric.

If you ever decide to try drain cleaner spring steel, get a decent quality. I first bought a very cheap one, that I could bend with my fingers. Obviously, this would not hold up to wear and would quickly get dented and loose it's shape if I were to sit on it. Get steel that spring back to it's shape when bent and released. Most does this, but just be aware.

I decided to just bone the top half, so only four bones. I don't think it is necessary to bone it all the way down, but I might be wrong. I also wonder if it needs to be this long, but I'll leave it for now.
One of my bones ended up slightly too long, so this is how far I have come with my bustle. Just waiting for the nailpolish to dry on the new bone now :)  Next is attaching the tie strings on the inside, and then the side panels and waistband.


  1. The most successful reproduction bustle I've seen was made by one of my friends, and he used plastic whale bones for the boning. It gives gracefully when you push it, and springs back into shape easily. I made one using crinoline boning, and I must admit I wasn't too crazy about it. It felt very rigid, and was rather heavy. It's a pity as I've still got some 3 rolls of the stuff. Can't bring myself to toss it. Also - I've never used nail polish to cover the edges of boning, but I have used silicone (the stuff you get for bathrooms etc), and that worked really well :) Best of luck with the project, I read each new instalment with great pleasure :)

    1. Thank you, Suna :)
      This is really a trial-and-error project for me! Lets face it, I just don't know what works and not, so it will be interesting to see how this all works when the whole outfit comes on top of it. I've never even worn a bustle before, so I will get many aha-moments, I suspect :) I actually thought about silicone myself, but I worried it would be too soft to hold up in the long run. I also considered hot glue. I might try it some other time.
      How wide is your crinoline boning? Maybe you are interested in selling it?

    2. The boning is some 11mm wide. Here's a link to it:

      I was wrong about how much I had. I gave some of it to charity a while back, and I have 2 full rolls left. I wouldn't mind getting rid of it. If you pay the postage you'll be welcome to it :) Or if you're planning on visiting Lillehammer soon you could pop by and pick it up.

  2. That looks like it would take a lot of work to make :) Great thinking with the drain cleaner stuff!