V344: And Now To Make a Lobster Tail

…a bustle, I mean, or a tournure.

Originally I had planned *not* to make a big ole honkin’ bustle, but I can see now why it is a necessity.  The big huge skirt of a well-trained gown needs support beyond just the petticoat.  On my dress form now, I have a bum pillow, a wire collapsible bustle, a slim petticoat with flounces at the hem, my 18th c. flounced petticoat, and the trained bustle petticoat.  All that to support the skirt on top, but it’s no good – it’s TOO much!  The layers are so thick that the waist is no longer elegant and slim.

Enter the lobster tail.


The idea with the long bustle is to provide the necessary oomph at the bum, but to also support the back of the skirt all the way down, where it needs it most.  How many of you have suffered “bustle slump?”  I know I have…

This is an old project, but a good example of “bustle slump” – the back is dipping inward and not flowing out nicely, because there is no support back there.  Dang… this thing is ugly…

Here is a bustle from The Met that I’ve been eyeballing this morning…

The Met, 1880s – a great example.  This one has a ruffle that buttons on mid-way up.  The waistband ties at front, and the skirting at the sides also tie across the front.
The Met, 1880s.  A better view of the ruffle where it buttons on, and also how the hoops squeeze in halfway down.

 This is very typical of this type of bustle, though certainly not “the rule.”  Here are some additional images showing how this sort of contraption works:

The Met, 1883
The Met, early 1870s
The Met, 1885

 My plan is to…well, I don’t really have a plan.  Truly Victorian has a pattern (TV163), as does Patterns of Time, but if I’m honest, this doesn’t look so hard to figure out, and I don’t have patience enough to wait for a pattern to arrive.  So it’s time to go experiment with giant zip ties and a fair amount of muslin!


  • Unknown

    December 30, 2012 at 12:32 AM

    Hi there. I work on a show that has a lot of bustles in it, and I can give you a little bit of input. The engineering of the Canfield is actually probably the best in terms of the examples you have posted However, because of all the layers you mentioned at the waist, the back of the bodice tends to get pushed up and out of place by all the various waistbands. So, what we have found that works much better is to set the actual bustle cage a little lower on the basque–usually 2 inches below the waist @ CB, and it gives a much lovelier silhouette to the torso, by leaving bulk out of the waist. Also, the fit of the basque is important. Esp if you plan to sit in your bustle dress. A wedge shape inset of elastic over the center of each leg is quite helpful, other wise, you have to cut the front of the basque away much higher, which means that the skirt will have a tendency to float around the hips and you struggle constantly keep the skirt centered while moving about in it. There is also a bustle which you might consider looking for a pic of that has the rigging where all the hoops are attached to the SB structure with double buttons. It looks rather like a baby buggy folding cover, but is very effective in terms of engineering. Best of luck.

    • Lauren R

      December 30, 2012 at 9:17 PM

      Howdy – thank you! I will wear it 2" below the waist as you suggest. It is nice that the waistband ties on, then it's easy to adjust, although I'm a little worried about the bulk of the tie – maybe a couple sets of hooks an bars instead.

      I'm not sure what you mean by the basque and the elastic gussets? Is this the skirting pieces that wrap around the front of the legs?

  • Laura

    December 30, 2012 at 12:52 AM

    Most of the time, bustle slump can be parried by judicious use of petticoats. I have a half-bustle (nice compact and folded!) that ties in the back to create it's arch, but only goes down a few bones. When I put a good petticoat over it I don't get slump because the weight of the petticoat ruffle pulls the back petticoat skirt straight down, preventing it from falling "in". YMMV, but it's worth a shot, right?

    • Lauren R

      December 30, 2012 at 9:18 PM

      I agree. I think a petticoat with a slim top and a whole honkin' lot of ruffles down the back would do the trick, though is the fabric of the outer skirt is really heavy, would it squish it down?

  • Anonymous

    December 30, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    If you can find it at your library (if you dont already have this in your collection) "Patterns for Theatrical Costumes" by Katherine Strand Holkeboer has a 'down and dirty' bustle you should be able to tweek into a Lobster Tail Bustle.

    Historically accurate? As if…able to get the neccessary job done to get a good shape to your skirts? YUP! That thing got my half scale final project for costuming class to flow right for the skirts.

    • Lauren R

      December 30, 2012 at 9:19 PM

      When it comes to underwear, I'm less inclined to historical accuracy, haha, except where corsets are concerned. If the "down-and-dirty" bustle does the trick, I'm all for it!

  • Ash

    December 30, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    I used the Laughing Moon pattern (which isn't a bad investment with three bustle patterns and two crinolines) which has more shaping in the pattern pieces than the Norah Waugh one, but they're both pretty straightforward. In fact I think the Waugh pattern is all rectangles (Although it pleats or gathers at centre back?). It took me a little while to figure out that I couldn't make it stick out further by lacing it tighter, only by remaking it with wider boned pieces, but to be honest it was already big enough for any sensible person not looking to balance a tea-tray on their backside.

    • Lauren R

      December 30, 2012 at 9:21 PM

      I can see getting sucked into various engineerings in terms of shapes, and making, uh, kindof a lot of these, hahaha. I'm curious to see what effect differen bone lengths, different curves in the channels, etc., have on the overall effect.

  • Gail Kellogg Hope

    December 30, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    The Corsets & Crinolines bustle works great. I do reinforce the boning channels at the ends to extend the life of the garment, but that's all I change on it.
    The Truly Victorian pattern works very well too. I have not tried the Laughing Moon, but her patterns usually work out very well.

    • Lauren R

      December 30, 2012 at 9:25 PM

      This is a great tutorial! I wish I had seen your comment before I started, but it looks like we took the same course, so I'm not too-far off the mark, hehe. Thank you for the link!

  • AuntieNan

    December 30, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    Hi, A.D. What a fascinating project! I can't remember from my acting days how the rep costumers solved that problem, but the professionally made bustles I've seen here in NYC sometimes have a rectangle of muslin supporting the arches of the bones, kind of like the flat floor of a pup tent. Also, if I remember correctly, the bones themselves are of different length, I guess to help with that mid bustle collapse, and there is side boning running down the length of the lobster tail.
    Let us know how you solve this! Obviously you have us all on pins and needles…
    Nancy N

    • Lauren R

      December 30, 2012 at 9:27 PM

      Auntie Nan, do you mean under the bones, on the inside, like where some of the illustrations are showing them tied across? I have seen some patterns showing this too, but I wonder about the ajustability? I've cut my bones different lengths, but I haven't installed them yet, so I am not sure of the effect…/fingers crossed.

    • AuntieNan

      December 31, 2012 at 3:15 PM

      Yes, under the bones, next to the bum, so that the finished product looks like a half cyllinder, albeit one that has a narrower bone arch at the top. I went and looked at some pix I have in a great book (in French, alas) called La Mode–Art Histoire & Societe. The images I saw from the 1880s had bustle "droop" where the weight of the over garments compressed the bustle, but the effect just heightened the beauty of the swag of fabric. I think having the "tent floor" of muslin will help to keep the bone arch in place, and if you need it to be adjustable, you could slash it up the middle and install grommets and lacings, which it looks like the bustle examples above have done in some cases.
      Thanks for sharing this struggle with us! Don't know when Ill ever have to do an 1880s but I hope I'll remember your solution!
      Happy New Year,
      Nancy N

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 1, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      Ah, that makes perfect sense now. I can see the benefits of having that piece across the back, underneath, where it hits on your legs. I think the next time I make one of these I'll try it as you suggest, with the split up the middle, and the lacing strips.

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