You’ve heard it before, I’m sure: you need the right foundations to get the silhouette right.

Sometimes you need them even when you re-purpose historical dress as everyday modern dress, and discard the corset.

I’ve been working on an 1890s wool skirt to just wear around the house this winter. I drafted it from an original set of instructions in the Keystone Jacket and Dress Cutter, with a smooth front, and a back that explodes in acres of gorgeous pleats.


Keystone Jacket and Dress Cutter, 1895


I should have guessed that this plan would lead to an engineering snafu: the considerable difference between the weight of the skirt at the front and the back.


Weight in the back pleats, causing the skirt to sag


The back sags under its own weight, especially since I’m making this at a manageable ankle length. Ugh. What to do?

I felt foolish – of course you can take the skirt out of the 1890s, but you can’t take the foundations out of the skirt. I probably need a corset and a bustle pad to create the shape. So much for slouching around the house in this thing.

Buuut… I took a chance and made the pad first, hoping that that would be enough to hold the skirt up.

So what do the small bustle pads of the 1890s actually look like? I couldn’t be sure. There are lots of bustle pads out there, but they’re a bit like a generic chemise – so simple that they’re not an easy thing to date, so it’s hard to trace an exact history of exact shapes.

I wanted a little volume at the back, but not too much, so this looked like a likely candidate (unfortunately a Pinterest orphan with no details.)


Bustle pad


And here’s mine.


My bustle pad


I made it from a scrap of black cotton without much of a plan, except to roughly copy the shape.

It was a little wide, sticking out awkwardly at the sides (and causing the skirt to do the same.) I’m counteracting that effect by simply storing it rolled up and tied with the strings, and wearing it with the edges naturally curving inwards.


My bustle pad, rolled and tied for storage


Of course, this is the point where I found a much narrower pad on Pinterest, which might have worked even better. Oh well… progress, not perfection!

But in any case, it actually worked with just the pad, keeping the back of the skirt lifted. So I can successfully slouch on the sofa in this all winter… although this skirt might be a little too smart and lovely for that after all!