Mid to Late Victorian Era gowns were graced with a bustle, and while the profiles may have changed, the most famous and instantaneously recognizable is the backswept narrow profiled bustle. This means that the dress, usually very long, had its train swept up and tacked to the butt of the gown, creating a poof of ruffles and frills.
In the 1880’s the bustles were highly structured, some held up with massive metal cages
others held up with modest “accentuators” called bustle petticoats or bustle pads. These were made from all sorts of materials like horse hair, or scrap fabric.
It is the easiest bustle structure to make, and by far the most comfortable to wear at a long convention or in the hot sun of an outdoor fair. You may attempt a bustle cage, but if I were you, I’d be sure to watch more than a few tutorials on YouTube before attempting, as many of them are made from wire, or rebar tie.
What you’ll need:
- About (depends on the size of your caboose) 1 yard of 44” wide fabric (it can be a scrap, or it can be a fabric that will match your dress or bustle) Mine is a black satin I had left over from making the bustle itself.
- Matching thread
- Sewing machine (you don’t need one, but damn it makes it easier)
- Flat foam, pillow stuffing, polyfil, scraps of fabric (basically whatever you want to use to make the pad puffy, but do consider weight. The heavier it is, the harder it will be to keep up)
- A few yards of lace trim (not mandatory, but it provides additional structure, and looks cute
- A couple yards of half inch grosgrain ribbon
- A large sheet of paper bigger than your backside
- Sit on the paper and trace your ass. No seriously. Then fold the paper in half and make it even, but be sure to flatten the upper (toward your back) edge of the pattern so you can tell which way is up.
- Cut out a template of your symmetrical behind.
- Fold your fabric in half so that when you trace and cut out your butt-pattern, you cut out two identical shapes.
- Trace and cut
- Decide which of these two fabric pieces will be facing outward, or in other words, which piece will have all the ruffles, and will fill out your skirt, and mark on the good side of the fabric every couple of inches moving from upper butt cheek to bottom of the bottom. Ehem. Make sure that these rows are closer together than the width of your lace trim, because you want the rows of lace to overlap
- Using these marks, attach the lace trim in rows, stopping about a half inch from the edge of the fabric for seam allowance. This will create a pretty cascaded ruffle pattern
- Take the other piece of fabric which will be facing outward toward your fanny, and attach the grosgrain ribbon to the inside (bad side), upper edge. (You’ll want to do a really reinforced zig-zag stitch so that it’s completely secure.
- On the good side of the same (fanny) piece of fabric, pin lace trim around the round edge, with the ruffly edge facing toward the center! This is very important and you’ll see why in a minute.
- Making sure all the ruffles are pushed or folded toward the center, pin the two pieces of fabric together, good sides (ruffles) facing in and stich all the way around, but do not stitch the upper flat edge with the ribbon or you wont be able to stuff your bustle pad. You’re making a pillow, and to stuff it, you have to leave one side open.
- Turn this fabric shape right side out. All your ruffles should now pop out and lay properly .
- Using your paper pattern, trace onto your foam ( I used several layers of egg crate like foam that came inside a box, wrapped it in batting, and then stuffed around it with polyfil batting I had lying around)
- Stuff your bustle pad, making sure that it is not flat or boxy looking. You want a rounded poof. The more lift or oomph you want, the more spherical and tightly packed your bustle pad should be!
- Stitch the open edge closed by hand, or with amazing sewing machine skills, making sure to reinforce as many times as needed.
This can now be secured to your corset, beneath your gown, worn outside for a “woman of the night” look, or, as I am for this costume, worn with the belt-bustle attachment (see other tutorials in this costume)
This bustle pad will be light, washable, poofy enough for your bustle, and has the added feature of making any chair a comfortable affair.