DIY to Done: Bustle Overskirt

The "overskirt we're making is the green draped piece underneath the purple bustle.

The “overskirt we’re making is the green draped piece underneath the purple bustle.

Costuming, like most things in life, is a journey. If you’re a “scrappy” cosplayer like me, you start out with things cobbled together from Goodwill. Then try your hand at making a few accessories. Then, finally, have the courage to tackle some “real” sewing with the machine.

At least, that’s been my experience.

This year I’m enjoying a spree of courage, shall we say, and pushing my skills. I realized one of the areas I wanted to improve my costumes was in my use of layering (see this incredible article for more on the power of layers!) to create awesome effects. And that requires some interesting costume items not easily found “readymade” at Goodwill.

Things like bustle overskirts, for example.

Lucky for me, the amazing Cassie Noble-Beyer (whom I got to meet in person at Teslacon last year) has given us some smart tutorials for creating great bustles and overskirts. I used her ballgown bustle tutorial last year to make my bustles. This year I tackled the simple overskirt tutorial, with one additional twist.

Instead of taking a Goodwill skirt and rehashing it, I did a bit of extra work to create the original skirt, too, out of fabric that matched a bustle I was already planning to wear. (The bustle, by the way, is one of only four pre-made costume items I’ve purchased in my cosplay life. It’s proved a very frugal investment, as I wear this and its companion bustle with almost every outfit.)

By ruching the quick gathered skirt I made, I was able to achieve the “puffy” gathered look that helps add texture and style to the whole outfit.

thumb_IMG_3237_1024I chose some cheap green patterned cotton that was on sale at my local Jo-Ann’s. I used two yards for this project, but for a fuller, puffier look, use three.


Because the woven width of the fabric falls naturally from my waist to my toe, I simply measured out and cut the two yards I needed. It’s important that the skirt fall at least to your feet (if not further) so that you actually have something to ruche up and gather.

thumb_IMG_3297_1024From there, I seamed up one end of the skirt and then did an 1.2″ seam on the other (to allow for a 1″ elastic waistband. I slipped the elastic through the waistband, using a safety pin attached to the elastic as a kind of guide.

Once the elastic was through, I sewed the ends of it together and sewed the opening in the waistband shut. (I also like to tack the elastic and waistband fabric together at at least three points along the waistband to keep it from rolling or shifting.

I also seamed up the two sides of the dress for a complete “tube.”


Voila! Instant skirt.

Now for the ruching, which is where Cassie’s tutorial offers very useful help. You’ll find a nice visual guide for how to pull a loose gathering stitch directly up through the fabric, from hem upward, to create the puffy “gathers.”

I used four on one of my overskirts, and six on the other. It’s up to you how many you want to have.


That might seem like all you have to do, but there is one extra step that will really take your project over the top. As Cassie details, turn the fabric over and seam a piece of fabric to the back of each of your ruching gathers. This stabilizes the gathers and ensures they don’t fall all the way to the bottom of the thread.


Once that’s done, your overskirt is ready to wear under your favorite bustle! Enjoy the fabulous added layering, gathering and movement you gain from this beautiful, functional costume piece.

Here’s a side-by-side of the two bustle overskirts I made for Teslacon this year. Now all we need is a nice petticoat to give the underskirt some extra “poof.” More on that next week!

If you try out this tutorial, you might enjoy my thoughts on creating a steampunk bustle and creating a hand-dyed ruffle skirt for your costumes, too.

Now, go make it . . . DIY to Done!

One thought on “DIY to Done: Bustle Overskirt

  1. Happened to see this entry after reading your latest Teslacon post, and thought I’d offer you this add-on alternative! Rather than ruching your skirt with a gathering thread, you could try the ribbon option: sew a 1/2″ wide ribbon vertically at the spots you wish to ruche by topstitching each outside edge. (Turn under the very tip of each ribbon end to make it neat.) Now you have vertical casings on the outside of the skirt. Use a safety pin or darning needle to thread a pair of 1/4″ wide ribbons up through the center of each casing (make them a couple inches longer than the casing ribbons). At the top of the casings, stitch your drawstring ribbons down firmly.

    At the bottom of the casings, pull on the drawstrings to ruche the skirt like a roman shade! Tie each pair of ribbons in a big fancy bow to keep the gathers up when you wear it. However, when you pack the skirt, you can let the skirt relax again so it doesn’t get crushed. This makes the skirt a lot easier to iron as well.

    Just something you might like to try sometime!


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