A Victorian Bustle is simply a dress train that was tacked upward toward the hips. Over time this became exaggerated until it was the fashion. However, it’s difficult to source or create a dress with that much fabric hanging off the back in a modern setting. The solution is to create a detachable bustle that coordinates with the dress and seems to be a part of it. This has the added benefit of being transferrable to other dresses. This tutorial will teach you a fast and easy way to make one of these bustles that can be worn in any way you see fit, as part of a Victorian or steampunk costume.
- Yards and yards of standard width fabric (Standard width is 44” and the type and length of fabric depends entirely upon you. If you want a bustle that is full of poofs, go for more yardage of a stiffer fabric like polyester satin. I bought five yards of black poly-satin in black, because my dress is gray and the entire costume will be black and gray. It is also better to purchase a fabric similar to your dress’ fabric, meaning that if your dress is satin, don’t buy cotton, unless there’s an aesthetic reason)
- 6 yards of grosgrain ribbon or ticking (depends on your waist)
- Small safety pins (a crapload)
- 50-80 small 4-hole buttons, or large beads
- Thread that matches your bustle fabric
- 4 or 5 hook-and-eyes
- Needles for hand sewing
This entire piece was sewn by hand, but you may try using a swing machine. It is extremely difficult.
Be sure to have all undergarments I.e. petticoats or hoops on the mannequin along with the dress. You need to sculpt the shape on the actual gown and undercarriage
- Using a mannequin (or having someone do this for you on your body) cut a length of ribbon or ticking that wraps around the waist. It’s important that you determine now, how you want the bustle to look. If your bustle will part in the middle, the two loose open ends will end up exactly in the front. If you’re doing a side-swag like me, the opening will be to one side. You may even decide to have only two pieces, so that there is a front and a back wit an opening on the side. This is important, because it determines how you will follow the next step.
- Now that you’ve determined where your opening will be, find the “center back” of the belt-ribbon. Again, this will be different, depending on where your opening will be. On a side-swag, for example, “center back” is not the true middle of the ribbon.
- To the “center back”, sew a length of ribbon that spans from the waist to the ground. Be sure your stitches are doubly and triply reinforced. This ribbon will be holding a lot of weight, so it has to be sturdy
- A few inches away on either side of this tail-like ribbon (about where your sides end), attach two more ribbons of equal length. You should end up with something that looks like this :
- Near the opening-ends of the belt-ribbon, attach two more tails. These can be shorter. So now you have a belt-ribbon with five tails.
- Take the end of your bolt of fabric and do a basting stitch to prevent the fabric from unraveling (usually done with a sewing machine).
- Pinch pleat and pin the width of the bolt. You want the fabric gathered to slightly more than the width of the three ribbon tails .
- Attach this to the belt ribbon, so that when the belt is on the mannequin, the whole bolt of fabric hangs down the back of the mannequin.
- Now, beginning at the middle, or “center-back” tail, pinch the fabric and draw it upward to create a fold or poof of the desired fluffiness. Anchor this with a safety pin to the central ribbon. I found it easier to do the middle first, from the butt area all the way down to the hem, and my poofs were tighter at the top, becoming looser toward the hemline.
- When you’ve done the whole middle ribbon, move back and forth between the two side ribbons and anchor your poofs. You can turn the edges inward, or you can do that later, as I did. It doesn’t matter.
- Once you’ve created all your poofs and have them all anchored as you like, trim the hemline of the fabric. I cut mine in something of a parabolic curve, because I knew where I was going.
- Take the bustle off the mannequin. At every point where you have put a safety pin to create a poof, stitch with quadrupled thread, through the fabric and ribbon, but put a button on inside and out. Why? Well, the bustle is heavy, and if you only use thread to anchor your poofs, and someone steps on your bustle, it’s likely to tear. However, if you anchor the fabric and ribbon between two buttons, it cannot tear. Stitch: button, ribbon, fabric, button. The buttons will be hidden by the folds.*I had a very specific way I did this. First, anchor the thread next to the safety pin. >Second, feed a button onto the thread and put the needle back through about where the tail sticks out and pull tight. Third, go to the backside and feed another button onto the thread and try to get the needle back through the fabric about where the other button’s holes are. This makes certain the two button’s holes line up perfectly. If you’re using beads, this isn’t as much of an issue.
- Taking the end of the fabric again as you did in step 7, baste and gather or pleat it once again. Now stitch this gather to one of your two empty waistline areas.
- Pleat or gather, pin and stitch the side of the panel to the front ribbon tail.I also did this part in a specific way, so as to conceal the stitches. This was done by stitching only through the pinched section of the pleat into the ribbon. This hides the stitch behind the pleat that overlaps it but is super sturdy.
- Determine the way you want the swag to look and stitch its other end to the edge of the bustle.
- Repeat steps 13-16 for the other swag. Making sure the two swag ends are of equal length when pleated and stitched. I accomplished this by cutting the tail ribbons to the exact same length so that I could use it as a guide.
- Hem the entire bustle together as one piece.
- Use hook-and-eye closures to anchor the swag across.
- Stitch the hooks and eyes where the two swags touch and use them to keep the bustle closed.
This piece can now be used with any gown, corset, or costume. If you’ve made a separate skirt out of the same material, it will all look like one piece, but I personally like the way it contrasts with the skirt beneath.
I have also added to mine a detachable bottom ruffle in a coordinating fabric that is super easy to do.
1-2 yards of any standard width fabric
Snaps (very heap at fabric store and can be bought in black to conceal)
Spool of ribbon
1. Measure the hemline of your completed bustle
2. Cut the fabric into strips that total up to roughly twice the length of your bustle hem. Stitch these together into one long, continuous piece. The width of these strips depends on how wide you want your ruffle to be, allowing for hems. Mine ended up being about 5 inches wide, so I cut about 7″ wide strips.
3. Do a simple hem stitch on the bottom edge of your ruffle. This means folding the fabric over twice and stitching with a straight stitch.
4. Fold over the top edge, making sure that you create a wide enough fold to insert your ribbon, and stitch down (close to the open edge of the fold, so that the fold is like a belt loop through which you can feed the ribbon.) Think: curtain rod/pocket curtain
5. Cut a piece of ribbon to the exact length of your bustle hem.
6. Insert ribbon into ruffle by attaching it to a safety pin and feeding through the pocket you have made. Pin the ends of the ribbon just inside the fold so that the ribbon end is just barely hidden inside the fold.
7. Stitch the ends of the ribbon into the ends of the ruffle. This ensures that the ribbon will not come out of the pocket, and also forces the longer ruffle fabric to gather along the shorter ribbon length. Now just fluff out the ruffle so that the gather is evenly spaced. If you want to, you can tack it down at intervals, or just run it through a sewing machine. I found that the snaps were enough of a securing point for the gather so that it did not shift, but I was using a very light weight fabric. If you’re using a heavy fabric, you may want to secure it more carefully.
8. Going along the upper edge of the ruffle, right over your ribbon pocket, attach the “male” side of your snaps at equal intervals, doubling up or shortening the gaps toward the ends and middle (or what will be the center back) . This is just in case someone steps on your ruffle, it will be truly secure.
9. Attach the female snaps to the underside of your bustle hem at the corresponding points
Now your snaps are hidden and your ruffle is detachable. This means that you can change it to match the underdress or the occasion. For my black bustle and grey dress, I did a simple cotton floral print in black and grays, but if I wanted to go a bit saucy, I could do a different ruffle in a stripe or geometric. Or if I move my black bustle to a red dress, a red ruffle In a similar fabric. It just allows you maximal flexibility.
I also made several bows of corresponding colors/patterns, by grouping different patterned ribbons together and tying. By attaching snaps to these bows and to the bustle, I can add bows, or take them off, as the case may be. I chose to add snaps at key points of the bustle, like along seams between swags, or at the edges. The ribbons add just a touch of flare, and give that festive, gothic overworking so reminiscent of the period