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icon freeThe bustle was allegedly invented in the mid-1860's when a society hostess's crinoline collapsed and her maid re-pinned the excess fabric to the back of the gown. This story, while entertaining, is almost certainly apocryphal, and the design probably came about much more naturally as the train on a crinoline took on larger, more sweeping proportions.

The bustle increased and decreased in size over the following years, depending on the season's fashions, reaching its largest in the late 1880's before giving way to the more flowing designs of the 1900's and the Edwardian era. I think it one of the most flattering and desirable styles of the Victorian era. Incidentally, this ornamentation at the rear of the skirt had seen popularity before, during the late 1600s, when Mantua trains were pinned elaborately to provide a waterfall of drapery.

Let me show you how to create a small boned cage, based very loosely on Hunnisett's 18th century pocket hoop pattern in Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1500-1800.

This is not a totally historically accurate reproduction but it creates an exceptionally easy-to-wear support that gives a lovely period silhouette. Bustles were made from all sorts of things, from ruffles and flounces of stiff horsehair, cork and padded cushions to half hoops of steel, and there are several from the 1870's in museums which are similar to my design. Feel free to lengthen it if you like and add more ruffles.


Pattern for back and hoop Pattern for main tapped section
Bustle pattern for underneath and back Bustle pattern for main tapped section



I am making this (rather saucy) bustle, in red satin with black tape, at a slightly shorter length so it can be worn Burlesque style with just drapery and fishnets as well as under a long historical gown. For plainer bustles omit the satin layer (steps 3 and 4) and make your frills and waistband from calico/drill.


Bustle Side Bustle, back Bustle, side view



You will need:


  • 1½ m (1¾ yd) of satin
  • 1m (1+1/8yd) of calico/drill to mount the satin on
  • 3½ m (4yd) of tape wide enough for your boning
  • 3½ m (4yd) of boning (either steel or faux whalebone - rigiline is NOT stiff enough)
  • 1½ m (1¾ yd) ribbon


Step 1

Pin your pattern to the calico/drill and cut out all pattern pieces with a ½" (1cm) seam allowance all round.

bustles, step1

Step 2

Mark the edges of the pattern and the boning lines, using your preferred method. I use a pattern wheel and dressmaker's carbon paper.

Bustle step 2

Step 3

If you're using a fancy fabric like my red satin, place the calico /drill pieces on the satin, making sure they sit on the same grain and cut round the shapes exactly.

Bustle step 3

Step 4

Baste each satin piece to the calico/drill one by hand using fairly large stitches in the seam allowance.

This is just to make the satin stronger and more stable. Make sure your chalked lines show on the underside and the satin on the top.

You can also overlock (serge) round all the edges at this point if you wish.

Bustle step 4

Step 5

Pin and then sew on the tapes, matching them to the marked lines on the calico, but sewing them onto the satin side.

Leave plenty of tape in the seam allowances - you can trim later.

Bustle step 5

Step 6

Make up the 3 ruffles by cutting strips of satin 5" (13cm) by 60" (150cm). For a nice stiff ruffle, baste the satin onto a larger piece of dress net, and then cut the net to the same size as the satin strip.

Sew a gathering stitch up one long edge (I do mine by machine). Hem the short edges by machine or by hand. Then finish the other long edge with bias binding.



Bustle step 6

6a -

I like to machine down one edge of the binding...

Bustles step 6a


...then finish it on the inside with an invisible slipstitch.

Bustles step 6b

Step 7

Gather the ruffles to fit.

Sew the ruffles to the main taped piece, positioning them right sides to right sides so the top edges of the ruffles are hidden when the bustle is worn.

Place the end of the ruffle at the seam allowance, not the edge of the fabric. You don't want them to get caught in the side seam.

Bustles step 7

Step 8

Cut strips of boning just long enough to slip inside each channel to the seam line. I use imitation whalebone, which can be rounded and softened at the ends with a heat gun.

If you use steel, make sure you wrap the ends with tape so they don't cut through the fabric.

Bustles step 8

Step 9

Insert the bones and staystitch by machine down each side of the fabric.

This holds the bones in place while you put the bustle together.

Bustles step 9

Step 10

Pin the small rectangle underside of the bustle to the taped and frilled section, right sides together and sew down the side seams.

Match it from the bottom edge. It will be approx 2" (5cm) too short at the top.

Press the seam allowance over. Hand stitch down if you like.

Bustles step 10

Step 11

Pin the horseshoe shaped piece to the bottom of the bustle, matching corners of the horseshoe with the seams you just sewed.

Sandwich the seam allowance of the bottom frill between the two pieces.

Sew round the horseshoe shape first then sew a separate seam on the straight part. You can't do it all in one go...

Sew carefully as the boning makes it tricky to manoeuvre under the machine. Don't get your frills caught!

Bustles step 11

Step 12

Turn the right way out, allowing the bones to move in the tapes, easing any that stick into the new position.

Bustles step 12

Step 13

Cut a strip 12" long and 4" wide of satin for your waistband.

Find the centre back and mark with a pin. Iron the short edges over to neaten and hem by hand or machine.

Bustles step 13

Step 14

Find the centre of the bustle top edge, mark with a pin and pleat up the top of the outer frilled bustle to the same size as the under piece.

Make sure you have equal numbers of pleats going in opposite directions each side of the centre pin.

Bustles step 14

Step 15

Sew to the waistband right sides together, matching centre points.

Fold the waistband over, ironing in place and sew up. I like to slipstitch this invisibly too.

Bustles step 15

Step 16

Thread a ribbon through to tie round the waist.

The finished bustle
Creating a Simple, Easy-to-Wear Bustle by Jema Hewitt
Jema, this is possibly the BEST "how-to" article I have yet seen. You must be a natural-born teacher! The step-by-step photos are outstanding, and the patience with which you have detailed the project is extremely helpful to those of us just trying to visualize how on earth we would venture into something so intimidating. Thank you for raising the bar, even in this exalted space!
Oh thankyou so much!
Thank you for this wonderful article! I am particularly interested in this era!

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