January 21, 2016

Steampunk: How to Make a Collapsible Victorian Skirt Bustle Cage

Don't freak out - just because it's called a cage doesn't mean it's some of kind of torture implement. Actually, a bustle cage is something that Sir Mix-a-Lot would probably appreciate, since its purpose was to create a kind of giant artificial derriere to emphasize the tiny waists that were all the rage for women during the Victorian Era.

You know how very complicated flower arrangements require a hunk of floral foam to support and shape them? Well, the idea here is the same - a contraption that sits under a skirt or dress to shape it into an exaggerated round hump just below the waist. Here are some ladies illustrating what I'm talking about:

(Image via Truly Victorian)

All of which is to say that we have started working on our steampunk getups for The Steampunk World's Fair!

My first project was a bustle cage to eventually drape a giant skirt over. And you too can make one!

Step 1: Find a hula hoop that you don't mind destroying. Exhibit A: several hoops from the dollar store:

Guess which one got the nod? That's right, the blue bent one that was irrecoverably non-circular.

Step 2: Cut the hula hoop into arcs of increasing size. If your hoop is like mine, hollow and made out of plastic, a hacksaw will easily do the trick.

The smallest piece I have is about 7 inches long, with each successive one being about 2 inches longer than the last. After cutting them, I bent each one every 2 inches or so (you can see the fold marks on the pieces), to help with the shaping process later.

Step 3:Sew a strip of fabric to the middle of each hoop piece. I just cut two long strips (each about 1.5 feet long) off of an old tshirt and sewed them very tightly around the first hoop arc by sandwiching the plastic between two pieces of fabric and sewing them into a channel around the plastic piece:

You can see from the picture how stretched the jersey is around the plastic. As much as possible, sew so that there is no slack in your fabric. You don't want the plastic piece to be able to wiggle around.

Step 4: Continue sewing your fabric strips tightly around each plastic piece. Leave about 2 inches of space between each:

Make sure to attach the pieces in increasing size order, and to face them in the same direction.

Step 5: Shape the plastic into semi-circles with wire. Run a length of wire through the smallest of the plastic tubes. Make sure the wire is strong enough to bend the plastic - anything below a 14-12 gauge should be fine:

Also, this is a good time to use this first wire to push a strip of fabric (long enough to tie around your waist) through this smallest tube. You can do this by bending the wire end into a small loop and then tying the fabric strip to a it before pushing it through. Eventually, you'll use this fabric piece to wear the bustle cage.

Step 6: Complete the semi-circle. Pull the wire through the hoop piece, bending the plastic into a U-shape. Use the wire to hold this shape by making a hook-and-loop closure:

Do this for each of the hoop pieces, and you'll end up with a contraption that looks like this when you dangle it in the air:

Step 7: Now, do the same sandwiched fabric thing running down the sides of the bent plastic pieces. This will both cover any jagged plastic edges, preventing them from rubbing your eventual skirt fabric, and will also give the right shape to the hoop cage:

If you want to, you can tape the hook-and-loop wire closures you made so that all potentially scrap-y places are covered. And that's it! you're done!

Here is a shot of the finished cage from the inside

Here is what it will look like tied to your natural waist with the fabric strip you slipped through the top tube:

Tie it on and then try to sit down - it's no problem because this contraption is collapsible!

And finally, here is what it will do to any skirt you put over it:

Don't you feel like you could go discipline some new housemaids and then have tiny tea sandwiches in the parlour while pouring over visiting cards?