How to Sew a Bustle Dress
Fashion from the Past
Bustle dresses were extremely fashionable during the 1870s and 1880s. Today, bustles are rarely seen except on wedding dresses. Most wedding dress bustles are more functional than design driven, because they allow the bride to hike up the train for ease of moving around during the reception after the ceremony. Dresses designed for bustles are generally more complicated to sew than non-bustle dresses, so learn basic sewing skills before attempting to sew a bustle dress.
1870s bustle dress
Measure for a good fit. The back of the sewing pattern has a table that helps you determine which size to use, but many people do not measure to just one size. Measure the wearer and compare her measurements to the size table on the pattern. Alter the pattern to fit her size for the best possible fit. For example, if she fits all the measurements for a size 12 except that her waist is too large for a size 12, use the size 14 guidelines on the pattern just for the waist portion of the pattern.
Create a mock-up. Since fabric tends to be very expensive for bustle dresses due to the large amount of yardage involved, make a mock-up to ensure that the dress will fit before you cut into the expensive fabric. Cut the pattern pieces out of muslin, and assemble the dress according to the pattern's instructions. Try the dress on the wearer, and make any adjustments necessary for a tailored fit. Make a note of these adjustments on your pattern pieces by drawing the lines larger or smaller. For example, if the sleeves are too long by 1 inch, draw a line on the pattern indicating that the sleeves should be cut 1 inch shorter.
Cut out the actual fabric using your adjusted pattern pieces. Assemble the dress except for the bustle, which will be constructed after the rest of the dress is made. For a bustle with extra pouf, add layers of ruffles to the back of the dress. Cut 8-inch strips of fabric that are double the length of the back of the dress. Sew 2 rows of long basting stitches along one long edge of each fabric strip. Pull on the ends of the threads to gather the strips until you have ruffles that fit across the width of the back of the dress. Sew the ruffles in horizontal layers across the back of the dress.
Cut out the piece for the bustle. If you do not have a pattern piece for the bustle, you can use a single piece of 45-inch wide fabric. Gather one 45-inch end of the fabric, so that it fits across the back side of the dress. Sew the gathered end to a piece of twill tape to steady the gathers. Cut 3 lengths of twill tape that are the same length as the length of the back of the dress. Attach the 3 lengths of twill tape to the gather steadying piece of twill tape, 1 length right in the center of the bustle and the other 2 lengths about 2 inches in from the side edges of the bustle. The 3 lengths of twill tape should hang down loosely underneath the bustle.
Make pleats along the sides of the bustle from the top of the bustle to about 12 inches from the top. To make the pleats, fold up about an inch of fabric underneath itself, and secure the fold with a straight pin. Space the pleats evenly. Once you have pinned the pleats, sew them in place with your sewing machine. Fluff up the rest of the bustle, and use straight pins to attach the bustle's fabric to the lengths of twill tape resting underneath. The twill tape keeps the fluffs of the bustle from sliding down. Adjust the poufs of fabric until the bustle looks symmetrical and as fluffy as you want it. Use a needle and thread to tack the fabric to the lengths of twill tape.
Sew the bustle to the back of the dress by hand to keep the twill tape from showing. Hem the bottom of the bustle by cutting the back of the bustle 1 1/2 inches longer than the rest of the dress. Fold the hem up, and press it before stitching it with your sewing machine. You can use a regular straight stitch for hemming, or you can use a hem stitch if your sewing machine has a hemming foot and hemming stitch.
Patterns and Helps
- How To Make an 1870s Bustle Skirt — Experiencing 19th C Fashion – Sewing Instructions | Sewing Patte
Check out this tutorial for more information.