1950s | 1960s | Dresses | Vintage Sewing

Petticoat Dilemma

November 9, 2012

Hello Friends!


I have been a long time reader but I’ve never actually posted before but I finally need some collective advice!

I found this pink ballgown at a vintage shop and I whipped up a pretty substantial petticoat for this dress. I knew the pink “bustle” in the back would need some significant support so I designed the petticoat to have about a dozen shorter, thicker, fuller layers of netting in the back and the front has a flat  panel and then two layers of support around the bottom. The effect I was trying to achieve was that the front would lay relatively flat with just a little support and the back would have that gorgeous bustley look to it and the pink fabric would drape well.


Well, the petticoat was ok…but not really what I wanted. The pink fabric is really quite heavy and kind of droopy. As you can tell from the front I got that gorgeous bell shape but I am just not getting the back to work out.

Suggestions? Do you think I need to stuff the bustle itself? Add bones to the petticoat? Has anyone experienced something like this?  The fabric itself loops under to make the bustle shape.


There are a few more pictures here though I don’t think I have any detailed construction photos at the moment.

Thanks for your help!

  1. I agree with Katherine: At this point I think you need to address the pink overbustle itself. Stuffing it gently with tulle is the simplest approach; next in difficulty would be horsehair braid tacked to its inside hems; followed by fully lining it with stiff tulle or organza, which it probably should have had from the beginning. I wonder if the pink fabric was originally sized or starched.

  2. Okay, first, I loooooove the dress. I am green with envy that you: a) own that dress, and b) have such a lovely, slim figure to dress with such a confection.

    I can’t quite envision the structure of the pink bow bustly thing. Is it possible, (Perhaps using a tailor’s ham and/or a steamer) to finish it with some spray sizing? Part of the problem seems to be that the fabric is too limp, not enough body. I often use sizing when I iron clothes made of fabrics without enough “backbone” to hold a pleasing shape. And then, if that isn’t enough (which it probably won’t be) I would be tempted to underline it with tulle and horsehair the edges. And then of course, at the ball, don’t be a wallflower — dance the night away, as sitting will crush the effect you’ve worked so hard for.

  3. I can’t believe you found that dress! What a score!

    I agree with the other posters that you need to address the bustle, and I also agree that stuffing it with stiff lightweight tulle is a good bet. I also think the horsehair braid is a good idea.

    On a side note, this dilemma made me think immediately about the American couturier Charles James. He was known for doing dresses with elaborate understructures. I’m specifically thinking of the “Butterfly” and “Four Leaf Clover” dresses. If you’ve never explored the Costume Institute archives at the Met, it’s a definite treat:


  4. Thank you all for all the lovely advice! I think I’ll be stuffing the dress and maybe putting some horsehair braid in it – my personal policy for vintage is “First do no harm” so stuffing the bustle and using larger tailors tacks seems to be a good solution because it can be gently removed. I have a significant amount of over the top or really old clothing in archival storage and this looks like a candidate for that one in a year or two so I’d like it to be semi permanent solution.

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