koshka_the_cat was a wonderful help in pointing me toward the resource of Wooded Hamlet Designs' Cage Crinoline Kit, including links to images and video of her own experience building with the kit (including process shots here), which comes with an instructional DVD and all the requisite supplies. The Wooded Hamlet site also has a page of comparison research photos, illustrating components of an original cage crinoline circa 1850 and corresponding components on their own repro kit.
By a stroke of fortuitous luck, we also received a donation of impeccably-preserved historical garments from Ms. Helen Tibbo (the subject of this post here) that included a bustle cage constructed in the same fashion.
Some details and structural elements to note here: the openings in the hoop structures at the front panels, so ladies may step into them easily, the specialized weave of the vertical tapes which have integrated channels for the wires to pass through, and the small metal "spots" that hold the wires firmly in place in the tape-channels. Also note that the bottom-most hoop is significantly thicker and sturdier than the other hoops in the crinoline.
Now, take a look at the donated cage, originally purchased and worn by Mrs. Isaiah Howes of Nantucket, MA:
side view of Mrs. Howes' cage
booty view of Mrs. Howes' cage
Look at the lacing panel that controls the width of the bustle arc!
...& what's that big red label?
text reads as follows:
Will please notice that these Skirts
are made OF EXTRA HEAVY FRENCH
WIRE, and will not crawl up the same
as the light wire. Warranted to
keep their shape.
You can also see the handwritten name and a fragment of the date stamp in the left corner of the photo. The date reads "March 6, 1877."
hoop anchor hardware detail
We purchased two of the kits from Wooded Hamlet, which i can definitely recommend as being straightforward, easy to comprehend, and geared toward someone stitching in a home-shop situation (i.e., many of the tips are for assembly without access to a cutting table or industrial equipment). Since we were going to be altering the shape and silhouette of the crinolines through the course of three different rounds of fittings, we didn't follow the instructions exactly, and we omitted the copper "spot" studs from the process, instead tacking the hoops with heavy thread so they would be easily altered if we needed to reposition the tapes in a fitting.
What we didn't foresee was that we'd wind up changing the circumferences though (after we already had finished off the hoops with the butt-join connectors), but the folks at Wooded Hamlet were helpful and prompt about rushing us two more sets of additional hoop connectors. We also noticed a difference in the thickness of the hooping wire between the two different kits that we purchased, perhaps due to our having bought one of the 120" circumference and one of the 108" circumference (maybe the wider circumference crinoline was packaged with sturdier wire?).
I would cheerfully recommend the kits, both as a concise follow-the-steps package for the intermediate home costumer and as a starting point or materials source for professionals and advanced home costumers wanting to construct customized cage shapes.
Should one decide to tackle this type of crinoline without the benefit of the kits, say from salvage due to budget, or as a design choice, there are some things i would advise to bear in mind:
Wires/hoops--The ones in the kit are actually very very narrow flat steel, with a woven fabric sleeve similar to candlewick. Whatever you choose in place of this type of material ideally should not bend or kink easily--memory wire or piano wire would be a good choice--or you will go crazy trying to keep the hoops in decent shape.
Tapes--These MUST have channels in them (you could make them by stitching two pieces of belting or ribbon or twill-tape with channels 1" apart). The hoops MUST be secured in the channels easily or they will slide around and deform the shape of the garment. The kits come with two-pronged studs, but you can do it by hand with thread as we did.
Bottom hoop--Make sure it is sturdy! It helps to guide the general finished shape of the entire garments. Also, it is helpful to concentrate the hoops closer together in the areas where the shape needs support.
Now, check out these press package images of the crinolines in action on our stage set!
Janie Brookshire in The Illusion
Janie Brookshire and Allison Reeves in The Illusion
foreground: Allison Reeves and Janie Brookshire
background: Ray Dooley and David Adamson
Yes, it rains onstage!
Hope you enjoyed reading and seeing all this. I'll post a separate post later once i get all the photo call pictures with a more general overview of the costume craftwork in this show!