STEAMPUNK WEEK: How to Make a One-Hour Bustle Skirt

Clothing and Cosplay DIY GeekMom

A steampunk gal needs some sort of bustled skirt, right? But the super-easy burlesque skirt tutorial I used for myself just didn’t seem appropriate for a four-year-old, and the pattern books were woefully lacking. So I winged it. You can see pictures of her whole steampunk alchemist outfit in my first GeekMom post.

I think the result was great, and you could easily make it in grown-up size for yourself. Although the instructions look long, I promise I did it in an hour, including figuring out the math, which now I’ve done for you!


  • Fabric (we’ll figure out how much in a moment)
  • A spool of ribbon (doesn’t matter what kind since it won’t show)
  • 1″ wide elastic for the waistband

A little math for the fabric

To figure out how much fabric you need, take your waist measurement, add 10, and divide by 2. That is the absolute minimum length, but since you probably don’t want a straight skirt, you’re going to need more. Estimate the bottom width of the skirt you want (try measuring one you have and like), add 5, and divide by 2.

For a little girl, you can do it with 45″ wide fabric. For an adult, you’ll either need 60″ wide fabric, or you’ll need the full length of your bottom measurement instead of half of it. It also never hurts to add a few inches to spare.


My daughter has a 20″ waist. The bottom of the skirt is almost 44″ around (subtracting a bit for seams). That means I took 44/2″ (22″) of 45″ wide fabric, still folded with selvages together, and folded it in half again by bringing the cut ends together, like this:

Drawing of skirt pattern

a = ([waist] + 10)/4 = (20+10)/4 = 7.5
b = ([bottom circumference]+5)/4 = (+5)/4 =

The five inches added to the bottom measurement are important only if you’re serious about your finished circumference–they give you a 5/8″ seam allowance. The ten inches added to the waist give you the seam allowance as well as room to stretch the elastic. Those inches you need.

You’ll also notice my outline of where to cut is beaker-shaped. The top 2.5″ should be straight so that you can make a casing for the elastic.

Making the skirt

1. This doesn’t have to be scientifically drawn out and cut unless you’re especially nervous or very concerned about precise measurements. Make sure the top will be wide enough, then cut the two angles following the shape in the image above. That’s it.

2. Now you’ve got four pieces. Sew them all together, and now you’ve got something that looks like a skirt! If you have a serger, this is a good time to finish all the edges.

3. Add the elastic waistband. There are several ways of doing it, so feel free to do it however you’re familiar with. But if you don’t know where to start or want a fast way to handle this for a seldom-worn costume, see my instructions below for a quick casing waistband.

4. Hem the skirt. If your selvage is interesting–perhaps it has a frayed look you like–you could use it as the bottom edge when you cut and skip this step.

5. Decide how many spots you want bustled. Multiply that number times 8. Now cut that many pieces of ribbon in 5″ lengths. My daughter’s had four bustles, which meant 32 pieces of 5″ long ribbons.

6. Pin up one of the seams to see how you want the bustles to fall. Where two spots come together, sew a ribbon. Measure how far apart they were, and duplicate it along each of the four seams. In this case, I had eight ribbons along each seam.

7. Tie together pairs of neighboring ribbons, and your skirt is ready to wear.

Inside out finished skirt with ribbons tied

Quick casing waistband

This is also a useful waistband for children’s pants. If you always put the hole for the elastic at the center back seam, they always know which direction to put their pants on.

1. Fold down the top of the skirt 1.25″ and pin all the way around. (Remember–that’s why you cut the beaker shape.)

2. Start about an inch away from one of the seams and sew all the way around the circle, stopping about an inch from that same seam on the other side. I sew along the top of the serging as a guide, but if you don’t have a serger, you may need to allow more and fold the edges under to keep them from ravelling.

3. Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic, run it through your casing, and sew the ends of the elastic together, overlapping it about an inch.


  • You can tie the ribbons in different pairs to make one seam higher over a knee, for example. You can also untie the ribbons in back for a skirt that’s short in the front and long in the back. Or you have the option when the mood strikes to untie all of the ribbons for a long skirt all around–that’s the benefit of bustling with ribbons rather than sewing it down.
  • Try putting the ribbons on the outside for a skirt full of bows. Watch out for shape and color combinations though–you may risk looking like a Christmas tree.
  • Make more than four panels for a fancier or fuller skirt. This is especially a good idea if you’re going to have a wide-bottomed skirt. Remember to adjust the math accordingly.
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