I had an idea of what I wanted: a draped front and a cascading bustle of fabric in the back. I looked at various online resources, like this one and this one. But they weren't exactly what I had in mind, so I looked at commercial patterns for sale.
I did spend a lot of time at Truly Victorian studying their patterns. Although their stuff is awesome, I just didn't see exactly what I had in mind. Their patterns are authentic, and I actually wanted something simpler, sleeker than actual Victorian designs. Finally, I found this Burda pattern and it is very close the the style of dress I eventually want to make. Plus, the draped overskirt is exactly what I wanted. The pattern is out of print, but available to download, so I bought it, downloaded it, and printed it. I've never used a downloaded pattern, and the process of laying out the sheets in the right order, gluing them together, and finding the pieces I wanted took a while. Tissue paper would be easier.
But once I looked more closely at the pattern, I was disappointed with the back of the overskirt. It's really just plain skirt with some vertical pleats over a padded bum roll. I wanted something more like the bustle on this dress. I already owned that pattern, having picked it up in a $0.99 sale. The actual dress looks more 18th century than 19th century to me, but the bustle is very easy to make and buttons on to a waistband.
So I set out to make a skirt with the front of the Burda pattern and the back of the McCall pattern. For someone who only learned to use a sewing machine about 5 months before, this was a pretty big deal. The front was pretty easy, and the bustle was fairly easy, but putting them together was a little tricky.
Because I think the technique on the bustle would be useful to some people, I'm going to try to describe the process. There are two layers of fabric, your desired show fabric, and a lining. I used home decor fabric in a sateen stripe. It's a good idea to use pretty heavy fabric to get it to drape correctly. The underside of the bustle is an elongated trapezoid slightly less wide than your desired width of the bustle. The actual bustle is much larger and is cut in two long strips almost as wide as the fabric and then sewed together in the middle. Along the sides of the bustle there are three large pleats that are folded and then the whole thing is sewn to the underside piece, right sides together. So you have the bustle as a large piece of fabric sewn to a much smaller piece, leaving the fabric loose and billowy. You then tack the bustle to the lining in three or four places, to form the flounces however you want.
I apologize for not having step by step pictures to illustrate the process, but I made this in November, before I started this blog. I tried to draw an MSPaint illustration, but really, you don't want to see that. Hopefully you can get a sense of what I mean from the finished product.
As for attaching the two halves, I only finished that recently. For Dickens on the Strand, my bustle was held on with safety pins. But I finally attached the bustle on one side of the waistband and created a series of button holes in the waistband to attached the bustle firmly to the skirt.
If I had it to over, I would have made the bustle panel wider and used a stiffer material for the under layer. I have since improved the look with my new favorite fabric trick: starch. After starching the under layer and the bustle itself, it looks better when worn.