Before I get going, I’ll warn you all that I’m only a self-taught seamstress- no formal training. If you’re a professional, please don’t be laugh too hard.
I’ve done only a little wedding and formal dress work, but I’m good with concepts and finding out a way to make things work.
My dear cousin Judy got married in July (on one of the hottest days of the summer!)
Here’s her dress- un-bustled followed by bustled. (Thanks to my sister for letting me use her pictures!)
I’m not sure what exactly you would label this dress type as, but it is a wrapped/folded fabric style with a bubble style skirt bottom and train, and because of the way the fabric wraps on the dress, it makes it kind of asymmetrical (At least the outside fabric is- the inside skirt is not). All those factors in place, my cousin loved the dress and it fit her perfectly- no alterations needed, so she bought it. The dress shop told her it would be a $300 bustle job (if it could be done at all). She decided to skip that and try me instead.
I searched a bit online and came up with a basic concept to follow- the ballroom bustle. It bustles by pulling the train up underneath the skirt. There’s a diagram and some pictures at the Wedding Bee.
I could not pull the skirt up in the back and attach to the outside of the dress to bustle, since that bubble skirt has it’s secrets of how it’s formed so readily available once it’s lifted. I don’t have a picture of the underside of the dress, but it basically looks like this (dress from my little girls bubble dresses I posted about here).
So under we went with that train.
This bustle is done very simply- some ribbon, buttons, and a hand needle and thread were all the materials I used. I did put the dress on a form for ease of working, but not necessary.
After a trial pin underneath, I decided that simple pull points underneath the skirt would not work well. I would need many, and even then it might not cooperate to lift/bustle evenly.
Here’s what I did instead. (The goal with gathering instead of just pull points is to make an easier, more even pull for bustling.) For a hand drawn diagram that maps out what the bottom of the dress looked like as I describe below, check this: drawing of bustle structure.
Underneath the skirt a few inches from the edge is where the inner tube dress meets the outside fabric to form the bubble bottom to the dress. In my cousins dress, there was a bit of stiffener fabric inside, with a generous overlap of the fabric. I stitched a channel along the entire bottom seam, from side to side. I only had to take out a few stitches at the side- very easy to stitch back shut- and I just hand sewed a running stitch from outside- I didn’t open it up. That meant I needed to stitch carefully so that I didn’t catch the skirt or the inner lining skirt with my stitches. (I did have to go back through to re-do a few places where I accidentally got the inside skirt- easy to fix).
This channel ended up being something like 110 inches long, so it takes a bit of time, but not terrible or technical.
That’s the big part. Now that the channel was in place, I took some simple 1/4 inch ribbon and sent it through the channel with some extra on each end for loops- one on the very end and one to hold the gathered train (more on that to follow). A button at each end kept the loop from sliding into the channel when the train was down.
I gathered the train and tied a slip knot to experiment with button placement on the underside of the skirt to get the train up and the bottom even. The gather should be evenly dispersed. It will gather to approximately the same length as the front of the dress. You want the bustle points (following) to be straight pull lines, not drooping between points. Once you’re finished with your pull points and bustle points and sure the length of the ribbon is correct, mark the ribbon at the best length, then make a loop on each side at this mark. When bustled, this loop holds the train in the gathered position via the button at the end of the channel. Then you can let it loose again and when completely flattened out, make your loop at the end of the ribbon. This holds the ribbon from disappearing into the channel while the train is down.
The pull points at the bottom of the dress were spaced symmetrically and fairly evenly- 7 points- one on the center back seam and 3 on each side- seams being key reference points. I relied on inside seams, not outside ones as my points to bustle because of the wrap/asymmetrical aspect of the outside. I pulled to 7 button points- on in the center back, and 3 on each side of center. The diagram at the Wedding Bee shows basically the same thing. This seemed to be the sensible number for this particular dress. You may need more or fewer. Two landed on seams, one in-between seams. For the in-between seam, I stitched a bit of fabric on to reinforce the lightweight fabric where the button was sewn.
I pinned and marked my points, checked and double checked, then stitched on loops. NOTE: Don’t stitch your loops to the ribbon inside of the channel. These loops were made out of the same 1/4 inch ribbon I used in the channel and were just simple loops tied of ribbon just large enough to go over the buttons I used. The loops stitched on the underskirt of the dress just above the union that forms the bubble bottom. The knot went up, the loop went down (loop goes up around the button when the skirt is bustled). I did have her try on the dress before I finally stitched the buttons to make sure she liked it and that it was even on her, not just on the dress form.
A note on what layer to bustle to: I went to underneath the crinoline, but outside of the innermost layer of the skirt. This just worked in this case, but if the train had been longer, I would have had to stay outside of the crinoline since the crinoline started around knee level and a longer train would have needed to be pulled higher up to keep from dragging. Either placement would be fine. I chose inside because I felt it did a better job of disguising the bustle underneath and shaping the outside of the skirt once bustled.
A few more notes. Since this is a bubble bottom, asymmetrical wrap skirt, there are places where depending on how the fold “flops” at a given moment in time, it may look uneven. The thing is that the dress does this everywhere on the bottom edge without the bustle, so don’t be terribly concerned if you look at it and it looks uneven at the bottom. Do, however, make sure that those uneven bubbles hit the floor evenly around the entire bottom of the dress.
If needed, you could number or color code the buttons and loops to help prevent confusion. I worked form one side to the other and designed/made it, so it was no problem for me to figure out. You will also need to fluff/ re-sort the crinoline layer once the train is bustled so that it lays neatly again.
And a last detail. The ribbon that gathers the train when bustled hangs out quite a bit when bustled. Here’s what to do with it so that it doesn’t drag. After all the loops are on the buttons, pull the extra over the center/highest button bustle point, then put the loop over one of the button bustle points on the opposite side of the dress. repeat with the extra ribbon and loop from the other side.
This took about 6 hours total- from the time my cousin arrived with dress in hand until I stitched on the last button. That included a lunch break and my planning time to figure out how exactly I was going to do this, and pinning a mock channel to try before I sewed it, and some other experimentation time- and hand stitching everything. $300- ridiculous! I’ll do any bustle you want for $50+ per hour!
Actually- I’d do them for a lot less. If you’re in the WNY/NW PA area, I like to make and work on formal dresses (if I’ve got a bit of spare time). I’m too old for high school formal dances, so I have no excuse to make a dress for myself anymore!