Thought I’d share my method for creating a simple, no stress, yet elegant bustle. There is no exact right way to do it. There are some essential steps, but for the most part the finished project will be whatever looks good to you.
If you’re creating a Neo-Victorian ensemble its helpful to have at least a little knowledge of the fashions of that era. Click the links to learn more.
This is a wonderful summary on period underpinnings.
Check out this excellent primer on the subject of fashion.
This company carries a lot of patterns under the heading Steampunk for both men and women…including many accessories. I’ve never used their patterns so I don’t know how the sizing runs, but they do have a customer service number.
Now some will say it isn’t a proper bustle without the right underpinnings. I say, “Go with what ya know, do what ya like, and leave “proper” to historically accurate re-enactors.”. This particular bustle doesn’t depend on a bum roll, wire cage, or asymmetrical petticoat. It can be worn as is or with the smaller of the aforementioned underpinnings. So, lets press on and ruffle some feathers!
NOTE: This tutorial is geared toward beginning sewers. I’ve included links to YouTube video tutorials for some of the basic sewing techniques listed here….I’m not super (tutorial) woman after all! The quick instructions below are for those who don’t want to slog through the detailed instructions….
QUICK INSTRUCTIONS: Use a long rectangle of fabric. (Approximately 2 1/4 yards x 54″ wide.) Hem the raw edges. Add a ruffle or trim to the short sides if desired. Starting at each hip, sew one long side of the rectangle to the bottom of a bodice, or ribbon that ties, buttons, or snaps around the waist, gathering it to fit. Randomly pinch a piece of the fabric, pull up and under to meet the fabric in any place above the pinched piece. Secure with two or three stitches and a small scrap of fabric on the underside of the stitches to stabilize. Continue the process until the bustle looks good to you.
1. Start with a rectangle of fabric. (I’m going to buck convention again and say use the selvage edges so you don’t have to hem!) My fabric is 54″ wide and 2 yards 17 inches long (89″ total). The reason for this is because that’s how much I had left over after making my bodice. I’m a large sized person and its just about right for me. If you’re quite petite, you could just go with an even 2 yards or so. If you’re over a size 18 add another half yard or so. The exact amount is pretty arbitrary.
2. To Trim or Not To Trim?… Now its time to decide on trimmings, if any. You could use a pretty embroidered trim, ribbon, fringe, bias tape, or a ruffle.
>>FLAT TRIM…If you want a flat edged trim, like embroidered trim, ribbon, fringe, etc, go ahead with the hem step above and top stitch your flat trim along the outside edge.
>>BIAS TAPE…purchase double fold bias tape and follow the instructions on (The Chicken Lady) Amy Karol’s awesome tutorial or the package. Skip the hem step above.
>>RUFFLE…This is what I’ve elected to add to my bustle. I often use a french seam on my ruffles if they’re going to be near the hem because I’m a little OCD about having a pretty underside if the wind should flip the ruffle up. Silly I know…especially since I like to break cardinal sewing rules.
***Your ruffle will be twice the width of the fabric. In this case my fabric is 54″ wide so my ruffle needs to be 108″ long. The ruffle can be whatever width you desire. Mine started out 3 3/4″ wide. Again, an arbitrary measurement. I happened to have one small piece of fabric leftover from my skirt that, when cut into 4 equal pieces, was perfect for this ruffle. Using a french seam, I connected 2 of the 4 pieces to make one long ruffle then did the same to make the second ruffle.
***Next, hem the short edges and one side of the long edge of the ruffle. If you have a narrow hem presser foot, and a light weight fabric it will save a lot of folding and ironing. If not, just use a double fold hem.(Below you can see the narrow hem foot in action, and the following picture is the finished narrow hem.)
***Now you’ll attach the long raw edge of the ruffle to the bustle rectangle’s two short edges. I used a french seam, but you could just attach it and serge or zig zag over the raw edge. You could gather the ruffle before pinning it on to save a little time, but I like to hand pleat my ruffles. (No YouTube for this one…here are the instructions.) 1. Fold the ruffle in half to find the center of the ruffle and do the same to find the center of the fabric. Pin them with right sides together. 2. Pin the end of the ruffle to the end of the fabric on both ends.3. Do the same folding in half technique to find the center, then find the center again, etc. and keep pinning until the ruffle is fully attached.4. Stitch the seam and zig zag to finish the edge if you aren’t using a serger or french seam, and iron the seam flat.
3. Making the bustle wearable… Its time to decide how your bustle will attach to your outfit. You could sew it to a ribbon or self made waistband that ties, snaps, or buttons around your waist to make it interchangeable within your wardrobe. But if you wish to attach it directly to the hem of a bodice, skip down to the “Attaching the bustle” section below.
Option A (Snapped or buttoned self made waistband)…Create a waistband by cutting a fabric rectangle the length of your waist + 2″, and whatever width you desire. (EXAMPLE: I want the the finished width to be 2″. The waistband will be folded in half and each long edge will need to be folded in so its finished neatly. If you fold each long edge in 1/2″ for the hem, you’ll need to cut it a total of 5″ wide (2″ front + 2″ back + 1/2″ hem + 1/2″ hem = 5″). Lets say your waist is 30″. Your rectangle will measure 32″ long and 5″ wide.) Now, fold the rectangle in half lengthwise and iron. Open the rectangle back up, fold each long edge in 1/2″, and iron. Fold the two short ends in 1/4″ and iron. Top stitch the open ends. Mark the point you’ll want it to fasten and add a snap or button and button hole. Proceed to the Attaching The Bustle section.
Option B (Ribbon, bias tape, or self made fabric tied waistband) If you’re making a fabric waistband, follow the instructions above for ironing and stitching. If using ribbon or bias tape, fold the edges over twice and stitch. Measure your waist and add 24″. See the next step…
ATTACHING THE BUSTLE…(This step is for attaching the bustle to either a separate waistband OR the hem of a bodice.)
You’ll need to mark your waistband or hem where your hip bones are. This is where the top front corners of the bustle will be attached. Make 3 or 4 pleats, one to three inches apart, along the waistband or hem, gathering and pinning as you go, on both sides. I try to get the bulk of the fabric in the back. You may need to top stitch the gathers down an inch or two if they pucker in a funny way when you start to gather the bustle. This picture shows the bustle attached to the waist before gathering….After securing the bustle fabric to the waist, its time to start gathering. Randomly pinch a piece of the fabric, pull up and under to meet the fabric in any place above the pinched piece. You’ll need to stabilize the stitches for each gather so the fabric won’t tear during use. Use a small scrap of fabric, preferably a heavy fabric, in a similar color to your bustle. If you don’t have a heavy fabric, you can use a scrap of your fashion fabric folded in half. Place the stabilizer scrap under the gather where you have it pinched together. Hand stitch through the stabilizing scrap, bottom of gather and top of gather with two or three stitches. Continue the process until the bustle looks good to you.
I like to finish my bustles by attaching a pretty bow, flowers, or other doodad. Here are two variations with the same piece of fabric. On the left, the bustle was pulled up in fewer large gathers. The right side shows more small gathers.Now pat yourself on the back! You’ve just constructed a lovely bustle, and probably angered the sewing gods with my “cutting corners” instructions. I certainly hope you’ll give this easy project a try. Please feel free to email me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
One final note: I LOVE my Dritz EZY-Hem guide. It has saved me hours of frustration over the years and costs less than $10. I highly recommend this simple yet effective tool for your sewing repertoire.