Monday, May 3, 2010

Simple Petticoat I

Of all the eighteenth century clothing I own, I tend to fall behind the furthest on petticoats. Because they're so simple, I forget to start on them...and then end up going all season on one decent petticoat. Well, not anymore--I vow to rework the petticoats that need assistance and have a new one made before summer!

I've got a good start--the bones of a new olive green petticoat were completed this weekend. I sort of got sucked into watching The Tudors on Netflix with my husband and then figured I could get some sewing done while watching the political shenanigins of Henry and his cohort. The needle flies when you're watching other people get beheaded and go mad in the Tower.

You will need: Fabric. I chose lovely olive green linen from


Taping for ties at top.


I may not make my petticoats in the most authentic way possible, but it works for me! I use the width of the fabric as the width of the petticoat, and measure for length. By measure for length I mean hold the fabric up to myself, find a length I like, pin and fold it double. Then I cut (using this fabulous technique I learned from the Amish department store near my parents'--pulling a thread to show a guideline). I end up with two long rectangles of equal size.

Make that two slightly wrinkly rectangles.

I then stitch them up the sides, and here's the important part--leaving about six to eight inches open at the top for the pocket slits. This is where using the width of the fabric has another bonus, besides avoiding extra cutting--the selvadge serves to avoid fraying, making felling the seam or hemming the turnbacks of the pocket slits unnecessary. I just tack down the pocket slit sides.

Then--hemming the bottom. This part is boring.

Finally--pleating the top. I pleat both front and back of the petticoat, using my "fold the fabric and stab a pin through aforesaid fold and into the carpet" method. I then pin and baste all the pleats.

Finishing touch--I stitch taping to the top of the petticoat, creating a binding for the pleated part and the ties that I will use to fasten the petticoat.

I get my tape from Wm. Booth Draper, and won't be seeing the proprietor and family and their store until an event at the end of May--am deciding if I should whip something up with bias tape until then or just wait.

Or is that the finishing touch? I'm considering adding a decorative pleated band or ruffle to the bottom of the petticoat.

Certainly, these are usually seen in prints on fine ladies' petticoats, not a simple linen one for daily wear. However--adding a bit of leftover would display my eighteenth-century fabric frugality, plus "aping ones' betters" was a quite common occurence (practically a hobby for some...)

What think you? Lovely addition or gilding the linen lily?


Arabella said...

I wish I had your talent. My sister inherited artistic talent for everything, including sewing, and I did not. My hands are so clumsy.

Isis' Wardrobe said...

I dod the opposite, I start with the petticoat, to have it out of the way. :-)

Why not?

Lua said...

Looks amazing Rowenna! You’re kind of a magician in my eyes since I have ten thumbs and can’t even sew my own buttons! :) Can’t wait to see more of your work…

Rowenna said...

Isis--I have the same trouble with shifts! Does anyone dive into making shifts with the same excitement as the pretty, colorful stuff?

Lua and Arabella--I think it's 90% practice--my earliest attempts were pretty mangled. It's one of those practice + patience things. Plus, you can mess up on the stitching dozens of times without it showing!

Connie said...

My summer sewing will start soon. My kids participate in summer Shakespeare and each child wants a new Elizabethan oufit each year. sigh. It's a lot sewing, though my daughter now makes her own. But I redeem the time by listening to books on tape.

Kat Zhang said...

This is really neat! I love to sew...unfortunately, we don't own a sewing machine, so any project I undertake must be very small unless I want to be sewing stitches by hand forever! (I'm not a patient person like that).

I always wondered though...what exactly were petticoats *for*? They go under the dress, right? Were they to give the dress shape? Or to keep the bottom hem of the dress from getting dirty?


Rowenna said...

Connie--wow! I've never made Elizabethan clothing (though my late eighteenth century stock is getting to the point that I need to branch out and try other eras :) ) Books on tape--great idea!

Kat--I did sew this one entirely by hand, though that usually isn't my MO. Practice makes my hand sewing quicker :P Petticoats in the eighteenth century are actually just skirts--the term doesn't indicate under or outer clothing as it does for later periods. You could layer a couple to give an outfit extra shape, but the top one was usually visible, as they were worn with short jackets or gowns that were open in the front. Which is why, incidentally, I like to have a few colors so I can mix up my wardrobe!

Kat Zhang said...

Oh, I see! Thanks for the explanation. And I can't believe you can sew so quickly and neatly by hand...guess I really do need to practice more!