The event was lovely. Everyone was perfectly attired in their best bustle wear. Laughter resounded throughout the night, goodies were consumed with delight and smiles were shared for hours.
Then you get home and upload the pictures to your laptop…. Oi!
“Why didn’t anyone tell me my bustle was protruding from my left hip?! I look ridiculous and now feel stupid. Great. Now all those photo ops I stopped for will show this weird skirt thing.” ‘sigh’
I think this is one of the most frustrating things when dressing in period costume – you spend hours on a project only to have it twist out of shape the day you wear it, sometimes even without your knowledge.
This time the bottom horizontal tape was tied – too tightly – to the other side’s middle tape. Yep, that’ll make the bustle lopsided.
So you fix that issue and look at the skirt again. What’s wrong?? It looks fine on the dressform but horrible when on….
I’ve found that when sewing and wearing bustle skirts, there are a few tweaks you can apply to make that sucker stay in place.
One, make sure your actual bustle support garment is big enough for your back side. It shouldn’t be wider than your hips at the fullest point but it should cover a good amount.
Same thing the other way – make sure the bustle/lobster tail/pad isn’t too narrow. Petticoats can only fill out rounded hips so much. Below is a lobster tail bustle with petticoat over it that I made in 2008. The bustle is just too narrow for my back side. The top (well, the whole bustle) needs to be widened at the top so it comes closer to, but not beyond, my full hip curve on the side (black line on far left).
Another trick – whether or not your pattern calls for them, add horizontal tie tapes that pull the back of the skirt together so it lays right on top of the bustle.
Most bustle skirts are made with a full panel at the back so it can pouf up and over the bustle. Great, but all that width pleated into the waistline can shift when half-way down the skirt. Side tapes sewn at two or three spots on the side seams will help keep that full width under control and to the back – where you want it. The tapes are tied together (horizontally) and lay over the bustle.
Also play with how tight to tie these side tapes. You may find that a bit tighter is better for the silhouette you’re going for (like for 1880s shelf bustles). Sometimes even just a gentle pull from the sides can help keep that back panel in place.
Also look at the pleats on the side seams that help form the back poufs, you know, the deep knife pleats on the sides. They are crucial to the development of your bustle poufs and help support them too.
This one here (used for the quite popular 1870s Bustle Tutorial) shows seven pleats pinned. (Oh, and make sure your pleats are facing UP. You don’t want a sagging back side!) Feel free to throw the pattern instructions out the window and adjust the pleats according to the fabric qualities and what you want it to look like.
There’s no definite number but have at least two. Play with the depth too. Eight smaller pleats will look different than three deep ones. And the location on the side seam matters. Keep them high and within at least 7/8ths of your poufy part so they help support the silhouette.
And one more thing to keep in mind when dissecting your poufs on where to fiddle with them enough to get the shape right – make sure you’re using long enough vertical tapes to evenly space the poufs.
I don’t have a specific ratio but 8″ to 12″ seems to be a good length between tack points on the tapes or marks where to tack to an underskirt base. If there’s too much vertical length of fabric between tack points, the poufs will sag and hang over each other. Not enough length and they’ll look pitiful and amateurish.
And make sure the tack marks on the fabric are set in straight rows (3-5 is good) & columns (3 vertical ones are best) BEFORE you start pinning to the tapes. Of course these are adjustable just like the poufs.
There is a method to all the poufy madness that makes up a bustle silhouette. Keep a keen eye out for how you see originals & good reproductions pouf. Sometimes all you need is to move a tack mark over 2″ or release the pouf just slightly and the odd folds will magically disappear.
There! Now don’t you feel better about attacking that funny issue across your bum!
P.S. Flatlining your bustle fashion fabric in netting, organdy or organza will help immensely in keeping your back side fluffy. 😀