Putting Bustles On Your Wedding Gown

UPDATE 2/25/23: Read this post all the way to the end and then go back and read Making French Bustles, Even Easier Than Before for a shortcut on one of the steps. You’ll be glad you did! You’ll see why this dress ended up with a bustle in the location that it was and how to make one for your customer or yourself!

I have been altering wedding gowns for 25 years now, beginning with my own, 37 years ago!

One of the things I often do is put bustles on wedding gowns.

Do you need one on yours?

Let me show you how.

Today we are going to learn how to do an under bustle (some folks call them a French Bustle).

Pinning up bustles on the wedding gown, 632

An under bustle is probably just what you thought… it is brought underneath at any point on the back side of the dress and secured underneath.

None of the ties, hooks, eyes, buttons, etc. will show from the outside of the gown.

All the workings are hidden beneath.

I’ve used a loop and tie method for years. It has worked wonderfully and it is very simple to do.

Once again, don’t be intimidated.

First, measure the distance from the spot where the bustle will be hooked up, to the floor.

Let’s say the measurement is 24 inches.

Now, measure up from the edge of the train up 24 inches and put a pin there.

Bring the place where the pin is up and under the dress and match it to the place where you’ll fasten the bustle.

It may be off by a little, so adjust what you need to.

Put a pin in the dress on the outside of the dress to hold that bustle in place while you have the bride look at it and see if that’s where she’d like it.

Always pin on the seamline, never in the middle of the fabric unless there is no seamline. If there is some lace up the middle back, that would be a good spot to hide a bustle. Each dress is different and you’ll just have to play around with pinning it in several places until you get what the bride likes.

On this dress, the bride wanted her bustle in the middle, just above the decorative embroidery that you see along the bottom edge of the dress.

I put a pin in between two of those covered buttons to hold the fabric in place.

Pinning up bustles on the wedding gown, 632

I also pulled up fabric to the left and right of the middle bustle and pinned those along the side back seams. (Side back seams are not the center back seam and they are not the side seams. They are the seams that run vertically halfway between the center back seam and the side seam.)

So, this dress needed 3 bustles to get all the train up off the floor.

Normally, I like to make the bustle that is in the middle, a little higher than the outer two, but it didn’t work in this case. The train was of a shape that didn’t allow me to do that.

You’ll find that each dress is different. What works on one dress, won’t always work on another. This gives you creativity in how to place the bustles.

Sometimes, I make the bustles very near the bottom edge of the dress. It just depends on what you can do and what the bride likes.

When making an under bustle, just know that you can’t put the bustle any higher than where the zipper ends on the center back seam. It needs to go at or below the lowest part of the zipper.

Now, let’s talk about how to make the workings of the bustle.

You don’t need many items to do this bustle.

You need some tiny scraps of fabric that don’t ravel.

I’ve always used a quilting product called Warm and Natural. This feels like a very soft blanket.

You could also use felt.

You could really use any fabric, but if it tends to ravel, finish the edges with a zig zag stitch or a serged edge..

Whatever fabric you use, use one that is off white in color. If you use white with a white wedding gown, it may show from the right side.

Cut a rectangle of said fabric about 1 inch wide by 2 inches long for each bustle.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, just estimate.

Then, take a piece of grosgrain ribbon that is  1/2 inch wide. Cut a piece that is 5 inches long for each bustle.

Referring to the photo below, fold the grosgrain ribbon in half and sew the two raw ends to the rectangle of fabric like you see in the photo below.

stitching ribbon for a bustle, 04f7

Stitch straight across the ribbon, back and forth, securing it tightly. Cut your threads off.

Now, just flip that grosgrain ribbon over the top of the stitching you just did (see photo below) and stitch straight across again.

sewing ribbon onto thermalam for bustles, 049

This is what you end up with:

ribbon sewn onto thermalam for bustles, 057

Now, you need to attach this to the dress.

To do so, you are going to need to look at the dress again.

At each spot where you have the fabric pinned up, you will need to mark not only the top spot where the pin is, but you’ll also need to mark where the fabric has been pinned underneath. I do this with more pins or tailor tacks.

I don’t use a marking pen because it may not come out.

So, for every bustle, you should have two marks. One will be higher up on the train than the other, but they should be along the same seamline.

If you find that you didn’t pin exactly on the seamline, that’s no problem. Just move the marking over to the seamline.

Once you have all the markings marked, you are going to attach your loop to the dress.

You’ll have one loop per bustle.

On the inside of the dress, transfer the marking from the outside to the inside of the dress with either a pin or a tailor tack.

pinned area for bustle, 614

Working with the top marking only at this time, place the bottom  edge of the loop (that you made earlier) at the pin placement. This means the whole loop contraption is sitting above the pin or the mark you made. (The reason for this is that when you tie the bustle together, it will meet exactly where you want it. If you don’t understand now, you will later when you see how the bustle hangs).

stitching ribbon and thermalam to dress for bustle, 615

Pin that fabric square onto the dress.

From the right side of the dress, stitch right in the seam to hold  the area just above the loop to the dress. (If we stitch from the wrong side of the dress, the stitches may show if we didn’t line the dress up correctly, and it wouldn’t look very good.) See the talior tack down below the pin? I left that in so you could see all the steps involved.

tailor tack on dress for bustle, 619

From the wrong side, it will look like this:

ribbon sewn onto thermalam for bustles, 057

Ok, now we’re going to make sure that the fabric square is really held on good. It is already held on well, but this gives me peace of mind.

Turn the dress inside out again and find the loop.

The bottom edge of this fabric square is not sewn down.

So sew it down.

I do it by hand because I don’t want another bit of stitching to do from the front side in case I get it wrong, there’s less chance for error. So, sew it down to the lining only by hand like this:

stitching down ribbon and thermalam to lining only of bustle, 621

Now let’s go to the second marking on the dress,  below your newly attached loop.

Again, mark the inside of the dress, making sure that the lining and the dress are in the correct position and that they lay flat. This time I use a pin, pinning it vertically along the seamline from the right side of the fabric.

Take a piece of 1/4″ wide off white ribbon that is about 20 inches long.

Now, turn the dress inside out and thread that ribbon through the pin that you placed along the seamline. It will be in the perfect position now. See how it is threaded through the pin in the photo below?

sewing ribbon onto dress for bustle, 616

Turn the dress right side out and  make sure the ribbon isn’t all scrunched up underneath. Smooth it out and then stitch along the seamline back and forth a couple to times to secure it.

view from the right side of the dress, bustle hidden, 623

It is barely noticeable from the front. Your guests won’t notice it.

Now, after the ceremony, just have a bridesmaid or someone else who is nearby, lift the skirt and take each ribbon and run it through its corresponding loop.

Tie the ribbons just like a shoelace.

(With trains that have lots of bustles, I have been known to stitch the very ends of the ribbons with a different color (pink, blue, green, etc.) and coordinate them with loops of ribbon of the same color. That way, it makes really simple work out of alot of bustles. The bridal gown helper will be so happy you did that!)

Then, drop the train and smooth it out.

That’s all there is to it!

Pinning up bustles on the wedding gown, 632

****Note: After having been to many weddings, as a coordinator and a guest, I just have to say….make sure the bride wears off white under garments. If you/she is wearing a white dress, this is so important because white undergarments will show under a white dress. But, the off white won’t show, unless you are using a yellowish off white under garment. And please don’t wear a colored pair of underwear under your wedding dress! That looks so tacky. Wedding guests everywhere will thank you!