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The Costume Trunk: The Incredibly Easy Bustle Skirt

October 7, 2010

It's a staple of a Victorian wardrobe, but it can also be used for all kinds of dress up fun: the bustle skirt! Fairies, princesses and even fancy female pirates can all use a good skirt with some pouf to it. And the best part? This is a shockingly easy project!

 This is a great project for all kinds of fabrics. I used a striped home dec fabric, but silks and taffetas are also fantastic. Whatever you love that has a bit of body to it. I would not recommend this projects for lightweight or sheer fabrics.

The cutting:

You will need to cut three identical pieces for the skirt front and skirt sides, similar to the diagram below.


Line 1 = ΒΌ your waist measurement

Line 2 = the distance from your waist to the floor, plus 5"

Line 3 = 3x the length of line 1.


The 4th piece you need to cut (which will form the bustle) is a simple rectangle. I used the full 60' width of my fabric, 2 yds long. If you would like a less ample bustle, you may reduce the measurements to suit your taste.


The stitching:

-          Sew your three front and side pieces together. Since they are all identical, order is of no concern.

-          To attach bustle, stitch it flat to the side pieces 5" down from the waist, and 12" up from the bottom, leaving the rest of the seam open for now. You should have a longer amount of the bustle piece left loose than you do the side piece. (I had a remaining side length of 24" on my skirt side, and 56" of bustle left.)

-          Pleat or gather the remaining bustle fabric into the seam. I like to use binder clips to hold the pleats while I test for placement. Once you have things the way you like, stitch 'em down!


-          Repeat pleating on opposite side of bustle, matching pleats/gathers to the first side.

Turn your skirt right side out. You're probably thinking "I made a big wadded up tube!" and to some degree you're right. But now we will sculpt said tube into skirty awesomeness!

-          Leaving your three skirt front and side sections flat, pleat the bustle in at the waist to reduce it to the size of your waist, leaving approximately 9" unpleated and loose at center back. This is a time when a dress form or similarly-sized friend is indispensable. Again, my love of binder clips shows.


-          Baste waist pleats into place.

-          Cut a waistband out of any scrap of fabric long enough to encircle the entire waist of your skirt. I used a scrap of satin cut about 3.5" wide.

-          Use this waistband scrap to encase the waistband. Stitch the waistband to the the skirt, right sides together, all the way around the circle of the waist opening. (For a nice, clean finish, fold in the raw edge of the waistband where you start stitching. )


-          Flip the remaining waistband fabric to the inside of the skirt and hand or machine stitch it in place.


-          At the center back of the waist, sew in a heavy-duty hook and eye. Yes, you'll still have 9" of waist fabric flapping around with no tether.



-          Fold remaining waistband fabric to form two even pleats across center back. Sew skirt hooks onto waistband to secure pleats. Now you can put on your skirt and it won't fall off!




To form the bustle - (here's where patience and play meet):


-          Sew 3 30" pieces of grosgrain ribbon at the waistband of the skirt so they dangle free inside the skirt. Attach one at each skirt hook, and one on either side of the center back closure.

-          Using safety pins, tack your skirt fabric to the grosgrain ribbon to create the bustle shape. Fold and billow your fabric however you like - there are no hard and fast rules for this!

-          Once you have your fabric bustled to your ribbon, be sure to put it on a dress form or friend to check the shape and placement. What looks good flat on a table doesn't always translate on a body. If you're like me, it will take several passes to get things where you want them.




       If you like the ways things are looking, lock it down! Stitch the fabric to the grosgrain and remove all safety pins. Cut any excess ribbon that dangles past your last bustle point.

Try on your skirt to check the length, then hem either by machine or by hand.

Voila! A Bustle Skirt!



There are many places you can go from here. Add trim if you like. I cut about 300" of 7" wide bias and pleated it to make the two rows of ruffles pictured on the sample garment. Trim is always a fun way to really customize a piece like this one. You should also feel free to change the method of bustling if another makes more sense to you. Make a shorter version for a less formal feel. Remember, this is your creation - have a ball!






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Great idea for both Halloween and the upcoming holiday parties.

Love it. Just in time for Halloween for Trick or Treaters of all ages. Bookmarking it for possible future reference.

Love it. Just in time for Halloween's Trick or Treaters of all ages. Bookmarking it for future reference.

omg this is so beautiful..envious in upstate ny

This truly is amazing. I have to try this. Thank you so much for the tutorial.

I am making a bustle skirt out of an old curtain. This tutorial is easy and it looks great! Thank you!

This looks fantastic!!! I would love a bit more instruction if I could get some please please please with sugar on top!!!

Hi, Christine! Do you have specific questions? If so, fire away!

I am a little lost. It sounds like you sew the front and side pieces together but leave one seam open and attach the bustle between 2 side pieces. I'm just confused at that point. I love the look of this and would love to make one for my Mother.

If I understand you correctly, you have it exactly right.

Think of the three triangular-ish pieces as the front, and the bustle as the back. You join the front to the back at the sides, but the back is gathered or pleated to match the length of the front, which creates the bustle volume.

Does that make sense?

Sounds right! Going to take a stab at it! Thanks for helping! You should design patterns!!!

I am making a bustle to add to the back of an existing dress. This has been a HUGE help. Thank you, Holly. -Linda

LOVE this. i now have a way to afford to incorporate a bustle skirt into my ecveryday ware, THANK YOU!!!!

This skirt sits at the waist? or at the hips? Chances are I'll need a pattern to create something like this, how would you suggest drawing this out on paper for a pattern?

Hi, Kimmy!

The skirt sits at the waist. To start a pattern of this nature, it may be easiest to draw out an actual triangle slightly larger than the measurements I listed above, then draw in your actual cutting lines for the waist and hem from there. Because this is a custom-fitted skirt and the waist closures can be placed wherever needed to fit the wearer, exacting the pattern isn't really necessary. It's always a good idea to make a mock-up in an inexpensive fabric to test your pattern and get the hang of the assembly.


I am currently working on this pattern and am having difficult time with the vertical pleats on the waist band, after pleating the fabric left over completely covers them, is that supposed to happen?

Thanks for your help!

Wow! This looks great and really easy! I'm a bit confused though so could you please answer some questions?

I'm not too sure I correctly understood a few if the instructions. So, if I'm correct, then I should sew the back rectangle to the front but not exactly in line so the hem and waist aren't equal to the front? Eg. The hem of the back is a few inches higher than the front?

Also I'm a bit confused about the pleating. So do I pleat horizontally on the inside of the skirt using the extra material of the back? (Id have to understand my first question for this one,) sorry I'm bad at description!

Also approx how much fabric did you buy for this including wastage and what fabric did you use?

Tried to male a prototype today and I got really really confused at the bustles

Can you please help?! I want to finish this before a party but I really need your help.

Do you pleat the bustle horizontally first then once it's attached pleat it vertically to fit your waist? I'm so confused

This is an incredibly easy skirt to make. Take it *slowly* and read all the directions. Draw out your pieces with tailor chalk to get them exact. and use your imagination. I made a shorter version with stretch cotton velvet. It's stunning! Any lighter weight drape-able fabric will work. I plan on making one in linen. Thanks!

My mom and I are getting ready to make two of these, but we are not quite sure how many yards to get. I see above that you mention the width as 60". How many yards do you think I should get for each skirt?


P.S. Amazing DIY tutorial :)

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This page contains a single entry by Holly Frey published on October 7, 2010 4:13 PM.

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