Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tutorial: How to Make a Bustle Skirt from a Window Panel

I'm a big fan of getting fabric for costume pieces from places other than the fabric store.  The main thing I look for at thrift stores are things to use as fabric.  Sheets are one of my favorites.  In the past I haven't really  found a lot of awesome window treatments to use.  But on a recent trip to Goodwill I got a couple really nice window panels.  The one I'm going to show you today is even 70% silk.  And it cost me $2.99.

In deciding what to make with this awesome piece of fabric I considered that it was a nice large piece of uninterrupted fabric.  Unlike cutting up a prom dress for fabric I didn't have to worry about seams or anything.  I also wanted to use as close to 100% of the fabric for one project, for maximum impact.  So I decided to make a long bustle skirt.

One full-length window panel.
Plastic Drapery rings - I  used 5 for this skirt, so one small package should get you a couple of bustles.
Thin ribbon, probably needs to be smaller than 1/2" wide and of coordinating color with your fabric in case it gets seen due to passing breeze.

I didn't take a "before" picture, but this is the curtain and the
lining, showing where I cut them apart.
This project borrows a lot from one of the patterns that I sell, my Tie-on Bustle Skirt.  Because I'm looking to sell this bustle, I went with a tie-on waist to fit pretty much anyone.  If I was making it for myself, I would probably make a waistband to my measurement and put a button closure on it.  The bustling technique I use in this tutorial is something of an experiment for me, and is not the same as what is used in my pattern.  So this is a free tutorial with some similarities to the pattern I have for sale, but also some significant differences.  Just in case you're wondering.

The first thing I did was to cut the fabric off of the lining.  I just cut inside the seams attaching the two pieces of fabric.  I could have tried to keep the side seams intact, but I didn't want any of the white lining to remain, so I cut it all off.  I kept hem at the bottom of the panel because it looked nice and neat.  I usually make my bustles with a rounded edge, but I left this square to preserve the nicely finished hem.  I then cut enough off the top for my waist tie.  I cut two strips off the top that were both 3" wide.  If you're making a waistband instead of a tie, you might only have to cut one strip.  I used my narrow hem foot to make a tiny narrow hem along the edges.  If you don't have a narrow hem foot, you can just turn the edge under and under again.  You might want to make your band thicker to allow for this.

You can see the zigzagged top edge and hemmed side.

Then I hemmed all the way down the sides of my panel, pressing the fabric under by about 1/4" and then again 1/4" to hide the raw edge.  I could have used the narrow hem foot again, but it sometimes leaves strings and this is a very fray-able fabric.  For the top edge where it will attach to the waistband, I pinked it and then did a zig-zag stitch over it.

The next step is to gather the top of the panel.  To do this, just run two lines of a large basting stitch along the top and pull the threads to gather the fabric.  You can choose how much to gather based on how wide you want the finished bustle to be.  Because my window panel is slightly smaller than standard 45" fabric, I didn't gather it all that much.  Hold it up to your backside or a dressform to get an idea how big you want it.

Center your gathered panel on your waistband or tie.  I like to pin it so that there is extra seam allowance from the panel so it's not too bulky at the waist.  Stitch.

Now it's time to work on the bustle poufs.  I decided this was an opportunity to explore the ribbon and drapery ring bustling method.  I talk a bit about this method and show an alternative way of achieving it on my post about the Burda 7880 pattern.  This time, I wanted to use ribbon instead of ring tape, and loose single drapery rings.

Ribbon pinned in place.
The first step is to attach the drapery rings to the seam allowance of your waistband.  You can find drapery rings in the home decor or drapery section of your local fabric store.   I decided to start with three rings, one in the center and one on each side about 5-6 inches from the edge.  To attach them I lowered the feed dogs on my sewing machine and used a zigzag stitch with the length set to zero.  If you prefer you can hand-sew these on, but if I can avoid hand-sewing I will.  Attach the rings securely.  These will be supporting the weight of your bustle.

After attaching these rings, I suggest either putting the skirt on a dress form or a hanger and experiment with gathering the bustle however you like.  Like I said, I knew I wanted to attach the bustle at at least three points, so I just had to decide how much fabric I wanted to gather up in the first tier of the bustle.  (Using this method of bustling, you end up with pretty distinct tiers of flounces.  I suppose unless you decide to pick three different heights to attach to your rings.  Great, now I have to go try that ASAP.  I was busy making these all line up straight and stuff.)   So essentially you're pinching a spot of fabric from the wrong side and pulling it up to attach to the ring above it, to see how you like the drape.  I know this is a little confusing, sorry.  When you decide roughly where you want your flounce to attach to the ring, mark the spot and go get your ribbon.   I didn't measure the lengths of ribbon I cut, but make them fairly long, maybe 15-20 inches long.  One of the benefits of this bustling method is that you can adjust the look slightly, so you might want to tie it up more loosely to get a different drape.

You probably can't see the stitching, but I did
a rectangular box right on the edge of the ribbon.
Pin your ribbon to your panel at the spot you marked, laying the ribbon out perpendicular to the length of the panel.  I sewed my ribbons on for about three inches.  You want the sewn part to be in the middle of your ribbon length, with two ends dangling which you will tie to your ring.
Probably can't see this either, but this is
the stitching from the right side.

The stitching won't show on the right side once it's tied to the ring because it will be under the rest of the pouf, so don't worry about that.

Each ring has two ribbons tied to it, one for each level.

So I sewed on three ribbons under my three rings.  Then I decided to do a second level of poufs to tie to these same rings.  You could add more rings and attach the next layer at different places, or sew rings somewhere other than at the waist.  (More on that in a bit.)  So for the second layer of poufs, I did the same thing as before, sewing three more ribbons in a row further down the panel.

To bustle the skirt up, you tie your ribbons through your rings.  In the above photo, they are tied in bows because I am still adjusting them, but for actual wear they need to be really well tied so they don't come undone and let your bustle down.  

Here is the skirt on a dress form with these two levels of poufs.  (Pardon my crappy photoshop.  You didn't want to see the mess around this.)

I decided to do another level of poufs, but with only two ties in between my other three tie points.  And because I wanted this pouf to be lower than the others, I sewed the two new rings to the folded edge between my previous level of ribbons.  In the photo at right you should be able to see where the lowest level of ribbons is tied to the waist.  Between these ribbons, on the fold of fabric made by tying the bustle up, I stitched my new rings, one on each side of the center.  I jumped down a ways directly beneath each of these new rings and sewed on my third level of ribbons.

Once I tied everything up, it looked like this:

Fabric with a flash.  Extra prettiness thanks to my cat Oliver.
He's a princess who LOVES  pretty fabric.

As I mentioned, the benefit to doing the bustling with ribbon and rings is that you can adjust the bustle a bit.  You can let some of the poufs hang lower if your ribbon is long enough.  It's also a great technique if you want to have a skirt with a train at times, and be able to gather it up at other times so it doesn't drag.  I would probably recommend wearing this bustle over a small-ish bustle pad just so it doesn't get totally flattened by sitting on it, but it's not strictly necessary.  Especially if you have someone to pouf you back out again when you stand up.

I hope this was a helpful tutorial and it made some sense.  (I promise my bustle pattern actually is much better explained with lots more pictures, I just kinda did this tutorial on the fly.)  Let me know if you're confused and I'll try to help.   This bustle skirt is for sale.


  1. Very handy! Thanks for this! :D

  2. Old Woman of MargateJune 1, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    Thank you, great info

  3. Oliver is GORGEOUS. So is the skirt. Thanks!

  4. I like the skirt's color and shininess.

  5. I made myself one like this and all I can say is THANK YOU!
    It turned out amazing and I love it and! OMG EASY!

  6. Wow! Thank you so much. I'm heading to Goodwill now.

  7. Sweet. Did you made an apron for the front? Add some funky fringe and it would really pop.