Bird of Paradise Bustle Gown



Sarah Coombs

(click images to to enlarge)

Other Credits

Photographer: Lyric Itinerant

Outline the story …

I knew from the onset I wanted to do a late Victorian bustle dress. I think they're such wonderful canvases for ornamentation! Deciding on the bustle dress style was the easy part though...for quite a while I had many different ideas for the "nature" theme kicking around that I couldn't decide between.
I've been fortunate enough to get to visit Hawai'i many many times over the years, and I've always loved the color tropical flora there, especially the Bird of Paradise flower. Despite this, I wasn't originally considering anything tropical for the competition, but then one day I glanced at a picture of the flower, and suddenly had an image of the colorful petals fanning over a Victorian bodice, and that was that! I was off at full-speed ahead with only six weeks to finish, but I got her done!

Outline the construction…

For the bustle undergarment, I combined patterns from several books (see below). The corset I used for this dress was made by me a number of years ago during my Master's program. The skirt was made with lots (and lots!) of draping experimentation rather than a pattern. Thankfully, a while back I'd made a custom dress form of my corseted torso, which was a huge help in draping the bodice. The Bird of Paradise petals that decorate the bodice were a big challenge! The design/draping process for them went through several iterations as I played with the dimensions and tried to figure out how to neatly turn the edges of something so narrow and pointy, and I very much wanted get them right since they were the most evocative feature of the flower theme of the dress. The petals are made of an orange-gold silk dupioni and a dark purple cotton batik which I appliqued on with stab-stitching, with the center petal hiding the front hook-and-eye closure. The dress is made of a lightweight medium-green brocade for the bodice and skirt side panels, and a dark green quilting cotton for the drapery that I loved for the striped pattern that evoked large tropical leaves. The Bird of Paradise-patterned satin for the skirt front was custom-printed by Spoonflower. I also assembled the floral trim used on the skirt by twisting together two strands of leaf-shaped trim, then hot-gluing on the orange and purple rosettes.




  1. Avatar Denise Denise Hendrick on April 26, 2023 at 7:23 pm

    I love all the color and texture in this gown! It’s so bright and cheerful. What a wonderful execution of the theme.

    • Avatar Sarah Sarah Coombs on April 30, 2023 at 3:18 pm

      Thank you so much!

  2. Avatar Steffi Wee on May 9, 2023 at 1:33 pm

    This is magnificent! I could just picture you in a Victorian fancy dress ball

    • Avatar Sarah Sarah Coombs on May 12, 2023 at 3:24 am

      Thank you!! I definitely had Victorian Fancy Dress styling in mind when I was making it!

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