How to make a Victorian cage bustle

18. bustle worn, side view

   AS promised, another of my articles – this time on making bustles! enjoy!

The underwear we are dealing with in this article was created to go with my Victorian wedding gown (more articles on that to follow soon!), but they can be used for any other late Victorian outfit – or a modern Steampunk one. The items we will be making are the following:

  1. A steel boned, (lobster tail) bustle, traditional or a steampunk inspired
  1. A bustle pad


 The bustle


Authentic Victorian:

1.5m of cotton twill (

5m of flat steel boning, (Sew Curvy)

7m of linen tape, 1.5”wide,

8m of embroidered trim (Ebay)

Steampunk variation – silk, or any other fancy, non stretch fabric, trim, bones – if the bustle is just a fashion item and not used for support of heavy skirts, plastic boning will work too.


Adapted from Jean Hunnisett’s, page 129, or Corset and Crinolines, p.96


Similar patterns are available from Vena Cava


  1. Cut the pieces out – 2 outside backs, 2 sides, 1 back inside, 1 waistband
  1.  Place the two back right sides together and sew.
  1. Unfold and press the seam.  Either stitch the seam allowances down, or , if you are working with silk, pink them
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pinked seam on the Steampunk bustle

  1. Lay it flat.  Round the point at the bottom end, and then mark the places to sew on the boning channels. The amount of channels varied greatly in Victorian Era, but the heavier the skirts  you want supported are, the more boning was needed.
  1. Pin the tape alongside the markings and sew.  You can place the channels outside, especially if they are supposed to be decorative – they look very classy if made in contrasting fabric! I chose to place mine inside, since my tape was far from decorative.

back pieces sewn together and the channels sewn on


close up of the boning channels

  1. When sewing the top channels that cross over, make sure you leave the parts of the channel on top unstitched at the place of crossing: you can secure it later by hand, making sure it doesn’t obstruct the channel underneath.
  2.  Continue for all the channels.  The bottom hem channel can be done differently – place the tape on the right side of the fabric and sew along the edges.
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bottom channel

Then flip it onto the left side and sew forming the channel. No need to hem the fabric then J

  1.  The channels are now done.
  2. Add decorative elements on the right side, if you are so inclined – I was lucky to get my hand on some lovely border trim with embroidered lilac twig, so used it to cover the channels on the outside. Sew the decoration as close to the top channels’ seam as possible.
13. decorative trim applied on the outside

decorative trim applied on the outside

For the Steampunk version, use whatever trim you like – here I used a black organza with metal elements!

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sewing decorative trim onto the Steampunk bustle

  1.  If you want to add the bottom flounce (not necessary but very useful if you have heavy skirts and want to dance! – Looks pretty too!), cut a length of the fabric, hem it, add any decoration and arrange it into box pleats. Sew onto the bottom of the bustle, just below the last channel.

Trim box-pleated, ready to be pressed and sewn onto the bustle.

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Box pleats sewn onto the bustle, applying decorative trim over the top.

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  1. If decorating the sides, sew the decoration on first.
  1.   Add the sides and the back piece- it is a bit tricky, but it is possible to sew all three elements in once go. First, place the side and the back right sides together. Pin.

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  1.  Then place the back inside on the top and pin three layers together.

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Sew  through all the layers. You should now have the following shape emerging:

 Bedford Borough-20120917-01019

  1.  You can now place your boning into the channels. Cut the boning, making sure it is just about an inch shorter than the channel. Secure the ends of the bones and insert the boning into the channels in the back piece.

Push as far as the seam, and secure the open ends of the channels with a pin, to prevent the bones from interfering with the second seam

Place the other side piece on the other side of the back piece.

 Bedford Borough-20120917-01020

Now for the most difficult part – reach for the inside back part and pin it together with the side piece. You will now have a 3d shape to deal with, so go slowly!

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  1. Optional – if you want your boning to be removable, simply make the channels shorter, or provide openings in the channels.  Then you can sew all the parts together and add boning later.
  1. Turn the bustle on the right side.

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  1. Pleat the back top so that that it fits onto the waistband. Secure the pleats with the pins.
  1.  Place the waistband onto the top edge of the bustle, right sides together. Pin, and then sew.

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  1.  Turn the waistband over the seam and sew over, covering it.

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  1. Attach the ties and sew on hooks and eyes.  You can also use buttons, or longer ties, if preferable. Finish off any raw edges and cut off stray threads.

 16. bustle pleated and attached to the waistband

  1.  Your bustle is ready.

Both bustles when worn

18. bustle worn, side view

Traditional cages can come in colour or in patterned fabric too!

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 The bustle pad

The bustle pad can be worn on its own, particularly for Natural Form era, but it can also be worn on the top of the bustle, as a bustle improver, in which case the resulting silhouette is much more rounder – very typical of the later 80ies bustle styles.


0.5m of cotton twill, or simply cotton,

1.5 of lace or decorative trim, if desired,

Fabric scraps or cotton waddling for stuffing.

Linen tape for ties.


  1. Cut out the pieces – a small one, reflecting the real size of the bustle pad, and another one, in the same shape, but larger – I added 2 inches all around.
  1.  Mark the top hem line, the bottom hem line and two lines in between the two on the smaller piece – these are the lines where the two layers will meet.
  2. Draw the same lines on the bigger piece, making sure that the distances are greater – the lines should still dissect the pad into 3 even parts.
  3.  Set your machine on a longer stitch, with a looser bobbin thread and stitch alongside the lines on the bigger piece. You will notice than with those settings it is easier to gather the fabric by pulling the thread out – the technique used in the period for ruching
20. the bigger piece with ruching stitches for gathering the fabric

the bigger piece with ruching stitches for gathering the fabric

  1.  Pull the threads along the seams, gathering the fabric till the size of the piece reflects the smaller piece. Distribute the gathers evenly and pin on top of the smaller piece, making sure that the gathered seams match the previously drawn lines on the smaller pad.

two pieces pinned together, the bigger one on top.

  1.  Sew over the gathered seams, including the top and bottom seams.

The two layers stitched together, along the ruching stitches, top, side and bottom. One side left open for inserting the filling

22. two layers stitched together, along the ruching stitches , top, side and bottom. one side left open for inserting the filling

  1. Stitch the pieces together on one side, but leave the other side open – you can use it now to insert your filling.  Whatever you use for that purpose, kapok, fabric scraps, cotton etc, make sure it is distributed evenly.
  2.  Stitch the other side shut.
  3.  You can now bind the edges with a bit of bias binding or simply fold the edges over and secure with a slip stitch. Sew on your flounce – the decorative border here does serve a more important function, so it is worth the trouble. The frill not only looks pretty, but also blurs the outline of the bustle pad under the skirts, making the skirt fabric lie smooth.

23. filling inserted, pinning up the flounce to the sides

  1.  Add a waistband and/or ties
  2. The pad is ready!

24. ties attached, busle pad ready!

The inside of the pad.

25. inside the pad

and an example in fancy fabric…


The pad or the bustle?

Some skirts can be worn on either, depending on the style and dating.   The pad is great for walking and, in my case, I made one for my wedding gown. I was riding side saddle just after the ceremony and there would be no time to change – so the pad worked very well.

The long bustle was simply amazing for dancing. My wedding gown had a long train which bustled for dancing, but the weight was substantial, and it was still trailing on the ground. The bustle kept the excess fabric away from my legs, making waltzing much less difficult!  Despite the steels, the bustle is very comfortable to sit in too – it simply collapses flat!

You can also wear a cage and a smaller pad – the bustle improver – on top of the cage – giving the rounded bustle silhouette typical for the second bustle era.

Victorian wedding gown – skirts and train worn over a pad.

31. side view of the day bodice

The same gown, though with an evening bodice, worn over the steel boned bustle.

 34. side view of the evening bodice and the decoration, copyright Lensmonkey Photography

 happy sewing! and if you cannot be bothered, you can always get one from our shop – we have a few bustle cages in stock:-)  in our online shop – here


Jean Hunnisett, Period Costume for Stage and Screen, Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909, Players Press, Inc, 1991

Norah Waugh,  The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600- 1930; Faber and Faber, London, 1994

Norah Waugh, Corsets and Crinolines, Routledge/Theatre Arts Books, New York, 2000

Stella Blum, Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar 1867-1898, Dover Piublications, Inc. New York, 1974

The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute; Fashion, a History from the 18th to the 20th century,  Taschen, 2002


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