Cosplay is fun at any age. No matter how old we get we can still enjoy popular anime, comics, video games, and movies. And we can definitely have fun dressing up as our favorite characters when the opportunity arises. Dedicated to the older cosplayer. For the kid in all of us.

You're only as old as you choose to be in your mind and heart.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Making a Steampunk Bustle from a Thrift Store Skirt

Cosplay on the Cheap
Carol Holaday

1871- origin unknown
In the latter part of the 1800s, the hoop skirt that was so popular during the Civil War period was replaced by the bustle. A bustle is a device or framework used mostly in the middle to late nineteenth century that was designed to hold up and enhance the fullness of the drapery attached to the back of a woman’s skirt. Many women liked having a bustle, because it helped balance the push-up effect in the upper bodice front, created by a tight-fitting corset that did nothing to enhance the backside. 

Most bustles were worn on top of the skirt and were a bit less voluminous than crinolines had been, which women loved because the new bustles allowed them to enjoy the bell shape of crinolines without the annoyance of cumbersome hoops.

Over its lifetime as a fashion accessory, the bustle took on many forms, sometimes as a cage or roll covered with fabric, and sometimes as a complete piece that required no underpinnings. The period of bustles was fairly short, approximately 1870s-1890s, but the bustle has been given new life in the late 20th and 21st century in bridal fashions, and as a Lolita or Steampunk accessory.

Here are two examples of 1870s bustles from Harper’s Bazaar, 9/21/1872.
If you have basic sewing skills, you can repurpose an old gathered skirt to create your own Steampunk bustle. It can be fun to prowl through thrift stores in search of gathered skirts in dressy fabrics. In fact, the thrift store can be a great place to find many items that can be repurposed for Steampunk or Victorian cosplay.

This is a purple satin skirt I found at a Goodwill store in Scottsdale, AZ. The skirt cost $4. The first thing I did with the skirt was use a seam ripper to carefully open one side seam and remove the elastic form the waistband.

I folded the opened side seams under twice, and I stitched them to create finished edges.

Next, I ran two rows of basting stitch along the folded-over top edge of the skirt, where the gathers had been. You can see my first row of basting. When I was done the rows were about 1/8-inch apart. When I ran these basting stitches I knotted the thread at one end and left it dangling at the other so I would be able to pull the threads to make the gathers.

Once the basting was done I pulled the threads of the two strands of basting stitches and gathered the skirt until the waist was about half as wide as my full waist measurement. For example, if your full waist measurement is 33 you might want to make your bustle between 16 and 17 inches wide so it fits neatly across your backside with just a hint showing on the sides.

After I tied off my gathering threads, I cut a piece of 2” wide satin ribbon three times my waist measurement. So if your waist is 30 inches you want 90 inches.  You can always cut off the excess if you feel it’s too long but it’s not as easy to add it back on. I pinned the edges of the ribbon so that they met on either side, and then I stitched them together so that my gathering stitches were hidden and the ribbon formed a waistband. The ribbon cost $3.99 and JoAnn Fabrics.

Once the ribbon edges were stitched together I ran another stitch down the center of the waistband to add support. I also stitched the waistband ends shut for the same reason.

In order to give the bustle fluff and body I decided to use ribbon ties, like they do on bridal bustles. So I measured the width of my bustle and then created alternating rows where I could attach ribbon ties. They need to be offset so that, when tied together, they will make little puffs in the fabric.

At each marked point I attached a 12-inch piece of ¼ inch wide ribbon, at the center, so there were six inches on either side of the attachment point. I tacked them to the skirt with needle and thread. Then I just tied ribbon halves to other nearby ribbon halves until I had the fabric bunched up just the way I wanted it.  

After I tied the ribbons together this was the result. By the way, I stitched this entire project by hand just to show that you can do these things even if you don’t have a sewing machine. It took longer, but I think it turned out great!

This is me at a Burlesque show wearing my new bustle.
I can wear this bustle with all kinds of costumes—Burlesque, Steampunk, Victorian, Lolita and more! Total cost, $8.

This is me at a Burlesque show wearing my new bustle. I can wear this bustle with all kinds of costumes—Burlesque, Steampunk, Victorian, Lolita and more! Total cost, $8.