The bustle skirt was my favorite part of my Steampunk Batgirl costume. I wanted to create an item that was a steampunk staple, but still hint at the traditional cape that Batgirl is famous for wearing. The skirt is a simple six-panel skirt that is just missing the front three panels. Don’t know what that means? That’s ok, keep reading and I will do my best to explain. (I simplified some steps in this process, but it will end up looking just like my skirt.)
The first thing you need to figure out is the length of your waistband. Measure your TRUE waist, which should be the narrowest part of your torso, a little above your belly button. If you are going to wear the skirt under a corset subtract one inch from that measurement, otherwise add one inch to the measurement.
Example: Waist measurement: 28 inches
Under Corset: 27 inches
Not under corset: 29 inches
This will end up being the length of your waistband, including seam allowances. The under corset length is smaller to accommodate the smaller waist size and avoid uncomfortable bunching under the corset. Measure and cut a rectangular strip if your fabric, using your adjusted waist measurement as the length and a width of 4 inches.
Take your waistband strip and iron some interfacing on the underside of it. You don’t need heavy duty interfacing, just some regular weight stuff to give the waistband some structural strength. MAKE SURE THAT YOU BUY IRON-ON INTERFACING. It will make your life a LOT easier, so ask the store personnel if you are unsure. It’s really easy to buy the wrong stuff, and we all hate the walk of shame back through the fabric store that you left 20 minutes ago.
Before you start sewing, you will want to iron creases into your waistband because it will make things much faster. Fold it over length-wise and iron it until it holds the crease down the center, then fold half inch folds along each edge of the waistband and iron until they hold creases as well. These mark your seam allowances and the creases will make the sewing easier.
Fold the waistband lengthwise, with the interfacing on the outside. This should be folded opposite of the ironed seam that you ironed earlier. You will then sew the ends closed on the half inch creases that you ironed earlier, but make sure that the lengthwise half inch seams are sewn in the folded position.
Now you are done prepping your waistband! You will turn it right-side out later, but for now we will move on to the panels!
I traced my panels from a floor-length skirt onto large pieces of butcher paper (ok, so they were old DnD maps, sue me). Those panels are about 13 inches wide across the top, 34 inches wide across the bottom, and 42 inches long, but I added about 5 more inches on both sides and an extra foot to the length of my panel outline. The fuller you want your bustle, the more fabric you need to add to each panel. I used three enlarged panels to create my steampunk skirt. Remember, always trace an cut patterns length-wise according to the weave of the fabric, just like the picture to the right.
PLEASE NOTE: Only add extra inches of fabric to the panels that you are going to use for the bustle. You won’t want to add as much/any extra fabric to the panel pattern for the front of the skirt or you will trip all over it.
Then sew the panels together by matching the edges and stitching them together to form a circle or semi-circle, like the picture to the left. My skirt only used three panels since it only went half way around my body. Full skirts will usually use five or more panels. Make sure your seams are all facing the same direction on your skirt as you sew. After you sew your panels together, you will want to finish your edges on the underside of the skirt and hem the outer edges. This video shows you ways to do that.
Put it all Together
Now you will pin the panels to the waistband before you sew them. You will choose one of the lengthwise half-inch seam allowances and pin the panels to, and start by pinning the front edges of the skirt to the appropriate place on the waistband. For my skirt, I wanted the skirt to open right in front of my hip bones so that my bloomers and garters would show. The easiest way to do this is to safety pin the waistband on yourself, then pin the front edges of the skirt to where you want them on the waistband.
Once the front pins are in place, you will need to make pleats to gather the rest of the skirt fabric to the waistband. You will basically fold the fabric over itself, then pin it into place. This it the most tedious part of making the skirt, but remember that the pleats do not have to be perfect.
Once you are done pinning the skirt, carefully sew the pleats in place on the side that you pinned. Iron the pleats flat after you sew them, then close the waistband (be careful that the other seam allowance is folded up inside), and then sew it shut across the bottom.
Bustling the Bustle
Now your basic skirt is finished, it’s time to add the bustle. The easiest way is to put your skirt on the dress form and start pinning. There isn’t really a magic formula, just start pulling spots and pinning them to higher places to give it the tiered appearance. Once you have everything looking good, hand stitch each spot where you pinned. Don’t start sewing until your whole bustle is pinned, because you will probably change your mind… a few times.
The “bat” part of the skirt was actually designed to be a completely separate piece. It was made just like a cape, and is hand stitched into the waistband so that it can be detached and reattached very easily. I did that to give the skirt more versatility as a costume piece. I can now wear it with my steampunk batgirl, or remove it to be just steampunk!
I measured and drew the desired shape on butcher paper (another old DnD map) and traced one on the black and one on the yellow fabrics. I then carefully cut them out and pinned them together, starting with the point of each bat wing shape to be sure they lined up correctly. I then stitched them together and turned it inside out to hide the edges, just like a simple cape design. Originally, I had planned to add interfacing to give the wings some stiffness and shape, but I really liked how the material flowed without it. Then I simply closed up the top of the “wings” and hand stitched it into the waistband of the skirt, underneath the already finished bustle.
Have questions? Need clarification? Post a reply or email me at Kimi@goldenlasso.net