How to Install a French Bustle




Introduction: How to Install a French Bustle

Alterations for a wedding/prom/formal dress can be very expensive! Here are instructions for a 1 to 3 point French bustle, sometimes known as an underbustle, that you can do yourself, for a fraction of the cost!

WARNING: This project is NOT for the easily-distracted, impatient, or procrastinating person! It is VERY time-consuming, and for the most part, boring. And for some it could be scary. Just relax! Remember that in all reality, a formal dress is JUST FABRIC (albeit expensive fabric!). But most importantly, make sure you give yourself 2 or 3 full afternoons to work on this (with many 10-minute breaks!) And wash your hands every 20-30 minutes, to ensure the oils from your hands will not soil the fabric. The finished product is SO worth it!!

Wedding/Formal dress (works best on satin A-line dresses with 3 seams in the back, and a chapel train or longer), dressform/mannequin (OR a friend who's about the same size as the bride WEARING heels) measuring tape, grosgrain ribbon (preferably, in 3 different patterns or colors), 1 sheet of felt, sharp straight pins, thin needle, white polyester thread.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 1)

Cut 6 (one-inch) squares of felt. Cut 2 (6-inch) ribbons of each pattern/color. Seal the ends of the ribbons with clear nail polish or glue (OR, you could heat seal them over a flame from a match or candle). Sew a ribbon onto a felt square VERY tightly. I lock-stitched all of mine. (You can Google "how to sew a lock-stitch" if you're not sure how to do it. Very helpful, and it's a very strong stitch). This is what they should like when they're done:

Step 2: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 2)

Start in a large working area. Spread an old sheet or blanket on the floor to protect the dress. Place the dressform in the middle of the blanket. (If you can, adjust the measurement settings on the dressform about 2 inches smaller than the measurements of the dress. You don't want to stretch the fabric.) If you have a crinoline/petticoat, fluff it in the dryer, then put it on the dressform. Put the dress INSIDE OUT on the dress form over the crinoline. (If the dress has a lot of beadwork, put a sheet over the dressform before putting the dress on it, to protect the beadwork).

(In this picture, the bustle is already completed, so the ribbons are already attached; just ignore the ribbons!)

Step 3: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 3)

Find the center seam of the train (should be at the longest point). Flatten your train so you can see how long the train puddles on the floor. Find the "floor length" - where the hem of the dress would be if it were floor length, IE, without a train. Measure from this point (on the center seam) to the hem of the train.

(Again, ignore the already-placed ribbons in the pics!)

On my dress, this measurement was about 23 inches. Remember this measurement!

Now, make a mark on the center seam somewhere near the butt-area (for lack of a better term, LOL) on your dress with a straight pin. Measure down from this point the measurement from your train (on mine, I measured down 23 inches from the pin). Place another pin at the bottom of this measurement. Again, these pins should both be on the center seam.

Stand back and look at where the pins are placed. This is where the center (and the biggest) pouf will be on your finished bustle. The bottom of the pouf will be in the middle those two pins. If this is not where you want your pouf to be, just move your pins up or down to your preference; just make sure the measurement in between the two pins stays the same (with my example, 23 inches).

Step 4: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 4)

Once your pins are in place where you want them, you're gonna start to sew on your ribbons. The best way to do this is to separate the lining from the dress in an unnoticable place. A good place to do this is at the bottom of the zipper or corset. just rip out the seams around the zipper, being careful not to take the dress apart, just take the lining away from the dress. If you can't do this, make a tiny slit on either side of the zipper on just the lining. You just need to slip you hand in between the lining and the outer dress fabric.

Sew the ribbons tight onto the lining. Use two ribbons of the same design/color here. Sew the top ribbon facing down, and sew the bottom ribbon facing up.

Step 5: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 5)

Once they're sewn onto the lining, flip the dress back right side out. Now you're ready to stitch the ribbons to the outside layer of the dress. Make sure that the seam of the lining is lined up with the seam on the outer fabric. Make a few strong stitches right going thru the ribbon, and right beside the seam, so you can't see the stitches.

(The stitches are right in the middle of that seam! You can't even see it! Yay!)

Step 6: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 6)

Flip the dress BACK inside out! Once both ribbons are sewn on, you can tie them together.

Now, at this point, this may look very familiar. Yep, a French bustle is really just an American Bustle (or overbustle) from the inside out! On the inside that's what it looks like, but on the outside....

Voila! A one-point French bustle. For most dresses, a simple one-point will do. On really long trains, however, it may be better to distribute the weight among three points, instead of one point. Or, you just may prefer the look of a three-point bustle.

Step 7: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 7)

So, to make a three point, you need to put a point on either side of the one you just did. With the dress inside out, measure from the floor to the end of the train just like you did for the first point (Keep the first ribbons tied together). Except this time, measure off to the side of the center seam, about 7 or 8 inches.

On my dress, this measurement was about 8 inches. Note: this measurement does NOT have to be on a seam.

Place your straight pins just like you did the first time, keeping the correct distance between them (8 inches on mine). Look at  your pins, and see if the pouf is gonna be where you want it. (Remember, the bottom of the pouf will be right in between those pins.) Sew on a pair of ribbons, just like before.

Sew the last pair of ribbons parallel to these ones. Then tie the pairs together. The different color/pattern of ribbons really comes in handy for the person who will be tying the bustle up on the wedding day. Just tie the same colors/patterns together!

Step 8: How to Install a French Bustle (Step 7)

And voila! Your three-point bustle is complete!

Fashion Contest

Participated in the
Fashion Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Finish It Already Speed Challenge

      Finish It Already Speed Challenge
    • First Time Author Contest

      First Time Author Contest
    • Leather Challenge

      Leather Challenge

    9 Discussions


    Question 1 day ago on Step 4

    OK also am I doing this on the inside layer of the dress or on the lining? Im doing this for the first time and Im nervous


    Question 1 day ago on Step 3

    Hi Im confused about the placement of the pins. Just start anywhere on the butt area ???


    2 years ago

    If doing the 3 point, how do you hide the marks for the ribbons since not in a seam?


    Reply 7 months ago

    I am so sorry this is such a late response. I realize it is too late help you, I will go ahead and answer, since it may help others. The stitches were not noticeable on this dress, I think it really depends on the fabric and cut/flow of the dress. The idea is to have a few strong stitches on the outermost layer of the dress, obviously in the same color as the fabric of the dress, as close as you can get it. The stitches should be close together, like a button-hole. If the point is very noticeable on the dress when the train is down, then you can try to hide the point with some decorative pretties like appliques, silk flowers, or beads.

    Again, I am sorry this is so late. I'm not sure how I missed the comment. My sincere apologies. I hope everything worked out!


    Question 8 months ago

    I am working on a bridal gown that has 7 asstd layers. She wants a French Bustle. How do you suggest I attach all the layers when there is only centre back seam?


    Reply 7 months ago

    7 layers! Wow! This will be challenging, but take your time with it. First, does she want a 3 point bustle (like in the final picture of this tutorial), or a single point (like in step 6)? Also, how long is the train? If the train is very long, you will need more than one point. Are the layers sewn together at the center seam, or are they all separate? If they are separate, you will need to line them up and try to keep them together, I would use safety pins for that (to not confuse with the pins you mark for the bustle, and to not snag anything.

    As for making the bustle points, if the train is long enough to need more than one, would the dress possibly work with 2 poufs along the center seam, maybe one below the butt and another at the knee? If you want the 3 point look, that will be trickier with 7 layers, but still doable. The key would be to line up the center seams of all layers with safety pins, then line up the side seams with safety pins as well. Then to keep things nice and tidy and in the same place, take the dress off the mannequin, and bring together a side seam and the center seam in your hand, one on top of the other. You'll get a big fold, and the middle of that fold will be perfectly between the two seams; mark several places thru all layers with safety pins; this will function as an extra seam for you, that you can place bustle points along. Do the same thing with the center seam and the other side seam, and mark points. I really hope that makes sense!

    Now, since you have 7 layers, I would sew the felt and ribbon pieces onto all layers but the top (sew it separately, so you can make the stitches as invisible as possible on the top/outermost layer). Basically, you'll put the 6 bottom layers together, and sew the felt to all of them at once. Then sew the top/outermost layer carefully to it. If you have other points that are not on a seam (side points of a 3 point bustle), you will see the stitches a little bit. It may or may not be noticeable, though. If it is, you might consider some appliques, silk flowers, or beads to cover the stitches in a decorative way.

    I apologize for the late response! I had some issues with my account. Best wishes!