Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bustle-Skirt Making Madness

I will warn you in advance, this is perhaps less of a how-to, and more of a "how-I-madly-made-a-bustle-overskirt-without-a-pattern-or-a-clue."

What I started with:  a very long piece of 60-inch wide brown crepe (lovely stuff to work with).  I started with 4 metres, and after much draping around a dress form, I ended up using approximately 2.28 metres (or 90 inches).  I also had two apalling blouses (pictured below) which I planned to poach for trim.
Blouse One
Blouse Two
Detail Blouse Two
My inspiration was the following two vintage images:
Pinning my 60 inch crepe to my model, with one selvage at the top (waist) and the other selvage at the floor, I decided to gather the entire fabric width (60 inches) at the sides, where my side waist was.  I made 2 parallel rows of basting stitches at each gathering point.  In rough Paint sketch below (Fig 1), the brown rough-like edges are the cut ends of the fabric, with the more solid dark outer edges being the selvages.  The red start points at centre front waist.  The brown arrows indicate where I gathered the sides, after sewing the 2 (shown) parallel lines of basting stitch.
Fig. 1
This was easier said than done, as I gathered the entire 60-inch width down to a tight 15 inches, as shown in Figs 2 and 3.  I broke many gathering stitches, which resulted in having to resew the rows, and had very sore fingers.
Fig 2
Fig 3
 The next step was figuring out trim ideas.  I decided to use the gold ruffle from Blouse One.  I cut it from the blouse and pinned it to the overskirt, on one side starting at the top of the gather and going down across the bottom front, and then down the side of the front toward the back, to see what looked best.  See Fig 4.  I decided to go from top of gather across bottom front, and up other gather side, as the ruffle stuck out on the side front toward the back.  At this point, I also decided to add a narrow plaid ribbon (25 cents/metre) to the gold ruffle.
Fig 4
Fig 5
Note in Fig 4 you can see how nicely the front ruches, with the gathers.  At the top of the front, you can see the selvage edge naturally folding over.

I pinned the narrow plaid ribbon I'd selected, to the gold ruffle and sewed it down the middle, as shown in Fig 5, so it's outer edge was just over the gathered line of the ruffle.
Fig 6
Fig 7
I then pinned this to one side gather and across the front, and up the other side gather.  It took me a while to figure out whether to leave excess at the back, to decorate whatever I decided to do for the back.  However, I decided to trim it off - any decorate ruffle for back could be added later.  I hand-basted the ruffle in place, and then pushed my machine's limits by overstitching the whole thing in place, through the depth of the gather and all.  Looking good from the front (Fig 8) ... but what to do at the back ...
Fig 8
Fig 9
Pinning it up as shown, looked good (Fig 9).  So, I took the hash of pleats I'd made (Fig 6), evened them out manually while still pinned to the mannikin, and sewed straight across them to fix them in place (see Fig 20 at the end).  Now, keep in mind the back that you see here, is the two ends of that long length of fabric ... so there are 2 ends of fabric meeting.  In Fig 9, I stitched the two fabric lengths together,  from the bottom selvage edges to 21 inches up, which is where it seemed to hang best when pinned to the centre back waist.  (Note good pics of this are at the end, Figs 17-19).  I then hemmed the bottom, which actually meant hemming from the side gather back, all around that length of fabric that lays on the floor (see Fig 7).

I decided to cover the hem entirely, using the ruffles from Blouse Two.  I cut off all the ribbon segments from the blouse, sewed edges together to make one long ruffle, and then did a gather stitch down the middle to gather it slightly more for added fullness.  I decided to add the narrow plaid ribbon down the centre, for the outer edge of the skirt.  I also decided to cover the underside hem with the dark brown ruffle as well, in case it was visible at times (ie, if I ever wear the bustle skirt on it's own).  I opted NOT to decorate the underside trim with plaid ... I was having enough work as it was.
Fig 10
Fig 11
Fig 10 shows the detail of brown trim with plaid ribbon, and Fig 11 shows a portion of the hem, showing outer edge and underside folded over, to show the two ways I've dealt with the brown ruffle.  I admit, at this point, the back isn't looking quite as I imagined pinned up.
Fig 12
Back, then, to the waistband, and how to actually attach the pinned-up bit to the centre back.  Not knowing how to make a waistband, I decided to use dark brown grosgrain ribbo.  I used a double layer, so that I could sandwich the skirt between two layers of grosgrain, which would have the added avantage of being very sturdy, to handle the weight of all the fabric.  I used very large black snaps to close it - using two, again, to help handle all the weight.
Fig 13
Fig 14
To attach the back "drape" to the centre back, I decided to attach a loop of flat cording to the centre point of the back drape, exactly at the point where I had stopped my 21 inches of sewing from the bottom (as mentioned earlier) - Fig 15.  I also covered the 21-inch seam with more of the brown ruffle (Fig 17).  I did a bit of handstitching, as shown in Fig 15, to sort of neaten up the way the drape hung.  I then attached a large button to the centre back waistband, on the grosgrain ribbon (Fig 16).
Fig 15
Fig 16
I'm not 100% happy with how the back looks, and some times it looks worse than others.
Fig 17
Fig 18
Fig 19

Fig 20

To show some more detail, here are a variety of views of the back, with the "train" up and down.  Fig 17 shows it done up, and the detail of the ruffle trim on that 21 inch length.  Fig 18 shows the train undone, and with the 21" trimmed length more visible.  Fig 19 shows it train undone, and shows the gap (hidden when train is buttoned up) from top to 21" from hem.  Fig 20 shows a closeup of the pleats.  (These pics are to try to help show what I've done).

However, it looks great from the front, and it looks great on:
I may tweak it further ... and if I do, I will post the details and pics on my blog.

If you have any questions or comments about what I did, or how I did it, or want more explanations, please add a comment.


  1. It looks great. I love the fabric and the trim. I made a bustle recently, but I haven't gotten decent pictures of it up at my new steampunk blog yet. In order to get the back to look right, I used two layers of material: one my actual pretty material and a smaller piece of plain lining material. Then you tack the outer layer to the inner one to create the floofs (for lack of a better term) wherever you want them.

  2. this is great. probably the easiest bustling I have ever seen!

  3. Well done!!! I am a historical seamstress and I am MOST impressed with your lovely overskirt!

  4. Ooh, Violet, please post pics of your bustle! I plan to work on more overskirts and bustles.

    Thank you Marisa!

    And thank you very much, D. Leigh.

  5. If you wanted more fluff in the back, you could make a bustle frame out of wire to go under it. (Saw that in the threadbangers steampunk vid on youtube.)

  6. Um... You might want to credit the store Truly Victorian for the images of your inspiration.

    That aside lovely work!

  7. Whoops hours of image googling and saving all pics in one huge vintage pic file. Apologies.

    The two pics in inspiration are from, and can be found in the skirts section.