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!!
THINGS YOU WILL NEED:
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.
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!