Category Archives: Tutorials

Outfit Planning – Time to Cut the Expensive Silk!

FWAP – Fabric With A Plan

Figuring what to make out of what fabric is another one of those things that is hard to explain.  Sometimes I just know what I want to make as soon as I see a piece of fabric.  Other times I buy the fabric with one or more ideas in mind, and it changes over time.  It might end up making something totally different out of it than what I planned, especially if a new event comes over the horizon and I need to make something I was not originally planning to make. 

So I have – as part of my sewing Kanban process – a FWAP list.  I have had these two large pieces of silk for some years now and have waffled back and forth over the exact type of 18th century gowns to make out of them.  The main question being, robe a la francaise (sack gown) or robe a la anglaise (fitted back).  I know in both cases I wants stomacher gowns as I do not have a silk stomacher gown right now.  The two fabrics are:

Pink Baranzelli 100% Silk Lisere Fabric


Burgundy 100% Silk Schumacher Brocade Fabric

So how does one decide?  Well first I thought: maximum flexibility.  I bought both of these fabrics on Ebay at a steep discount, but the pink stripe lisere was FAR more expensive.  So I want as much flexibility with that as possible.  So first lets think about how many different things it will match.

A single 18th century gown can be paired with a different petticoat and different accessories to create many different looks.  A stomacher gown can also have multiple stomachers, and will still fit you if you gain or lose weight as the fix it more flexible.  Planning ahead for this can save you a lot of money.  Instead of making an entire new outfit, just make a new petticoat or stomacher!

The pink in this silk is VERY hard to match.  I bought numerous swatches over the four or five years it has been in my stash and of all of them, nothing matched except for this one 5 yard piece of silk satin ribbon.  It matches a few different greens due to the variation in colors in the floral stripe.  I found a nice piece of trim that looks similar to period fly trim on Etsy:

Green Silk Satin Ribbon, Pink Silk Satin Ribbon, Green Faux Fly Trim

Here it is with a couple different colors of green ribbon from the stash:

Antique Olive Green Rusching Ribbon, Dark Olive Silk Satin Ribbon, Green Quilted Silk.

But honestly I like the lighter green in the first picture better.  It also goes well with this piece of quilted green silk, which would give it a silk petticoat for a different look:

Green quilted silk,  olive green rusching ribbon, olive green silk satin ribbon, green silk satin ribbon, pink silk satin ribbon, green faux fly fringe trim.

It will also work with my existing green silk petticoat:

And someday, something new and blue.

So really this fabric has a lot of options for different petticoats and stomachers to give it great flexibility.  It could have a stomacher with decreasing size bows out of either ribbon (or both) in addition to a self fabric one, and a compere stomacher (buttoning up the front).  So I have decided to make it as a robe a la anglaise as this style is also more flexible, and depending on what skirt supports I wear with it and what accessories I can make this gown work for any time from about 1750 – 1780’s.  But the primary target will be 1760’s.  I have a little less than 12 yards of it so that should be plenty for the gown trimmed out with box pleated trim and a petticoat with a wide box pleated ruffle around the bottom.  Something like this:

18th Century Gown from Met Museum

And this:

Gown from Philadelphia Museum of Art

So now looking at the burgundy silk – I have 15 yards of it and it was far less expensive.  So there is enough to make a very fancy sack gown that fits over wider panners.  It also looks great with gold trim, and could also be worn with the same green quilted silk petticoat, ironically enough.  But it looks its best with gold trim:

Burgundy silk with green quilted silk, green silk ribbons, and various types of gold trim.  It looks better with the dark olive ribbons.

So something like this:

Robe à la française, 1760’s France, Museo de la Moda

And this:

Gown MFA Boston

I should also clarify it took me a while to make these decisions.  It is better not to rush, to take time and lay the fabric out with various trims and other fabrics, and order swatches from the internet for additional fabrics and trims that might work.  As a general rule, don’t cut into expensive fabric until you have sat with the decision for some time and feel at peace with your choice.

I will make up the pink lisere first as I have had it a long time and want to finally wear it!

Fabric Shoe Dying Tutorial

A Rainbow of Dyed American Duchess Shoes

Nothing Says “Spoiled” Quite Like Having Custom Dyed Shoes To Match Your Outfits!

Back in the day we used to send fabric shoes out to be dyed to match our prom dresses.  It was a mysterious process so I never realized it is so easy to DIY fabric shoes!  You can still send shoes out to be professionally dyed, but it is time consuming and involves mailing shoes and swatches, unless you are lucky and have a shoe repair shop near you.  So why not make it into a fun costuming project?

I will admit is it a little intimidating the first time you drop $100 for a pair of shoes and then proceed to do something that might ruin them before you even wear them once.  But what is life without risk?  And I will level with you, I did ruin a pair of leather shoes trying to dye them.  So stay tuned for the tutorial on how to use leather paint to save shoes you ruined with leather dye!

That said, it is easier to dye fabric shoes than leather shoes so it is a good place to start.  Less risk is good!

Special thanks here to Lauren at American Duchess, who not only sells great fabric shoes to dye but all the supplies you need.  There are instructional blog posts on her website but I decided to make my own to help me learn to use this new fangled flip camera.

There are several styles of period fabric shoes from American Duchess.  I am particularly fond of the Dunmores and I order a pair or two whenever they are on sale, usually around Christmas and in July for Bastile Day.  You can also buy imperfects as whatever is imperfect about them will be covered up by your dye.  I have also dyed Georgiana’s, Highbury’s, Pompadours, and Tissot Victorian pumps.  Most of these are no longer on the website but some might appear at the next sale, and new fabric styles will hopefully come out.

In the box with the shoes will be one or two swatches – save these as they are critical for testing your color.

The leather styles can also be dyed and I will do another tutorial on that, once I figure out how to do it!

Dyes and Colors and Stuff

OK so I will spare you the lecture on the color wheel, tints, hues, analogous and complimentary colors.  If you don’t remember all that from art school, google it and you will get more than you ever wanted to know.

Here is what colors are available on American Duchess’ website.  

I checked around and it is pretty much what is available from the company, International Fabric Shoe Dye if you are interested in the details.  If you are lucky there is a color there that will work for you.  I have used several of the colors right out of the jar and they look great.  Also order a jar of the mixing black unless you are using something really light, like the yellow I use below, so that you can darken the color.



What you Will Need:

  • A pair of shoes – clean and dry.
  • Gloves – wear on the hand that holds the shoes or you WILL get dyed hands.
  • Dye
  • Dauber (also available on American Duchess’ website)
  • Q-tips
  • Dye proof surface to work on

How much dye to order?

One 1 oz pot will do 2 coats on a slipper type shoe (Highbury or Tissot pumps) or one coat on an 18th century shoe (Dunmore or Georgiana).  Sometimes one coat will give you enough coverage, sometimes you need 2 coats.  I have never needed more than 2 coats.  The color does not get darker with multiple coats, it is more a matter of getting even coverage.  For boots I would recommend 4 1 oz pots.  Save any leftover dye for touch ups.

Here is my basic process: I order the closest color that is also lighter than I want.  You can tint them darker with the mixing black.  They sell a lightener for this dye but I have not personally tried it.  That said there is no reason it would not work using the same test swatch process.  You can also go over a light pair of shoes with a darker color but they will blend, so I don’t recommend doing this unless it is an emergency to save a pair of badly dyed shoes.  

I take the swatch and dye a strip on it with a Q-tip, then let it dry.  You don’t want to waste any more dye than you have to and the Q-tip helps use less.  Once it is dry (several hours or overnight) I check if it is dark enough and also label it so that I remember what “formula” I used.  Long term, I keep a list of successful dye formulas in my sewing notebook.

If it is not dark enough, I add 1/8 tsp of mixing black, stir it up, and repeat the same process until I get the shade I like.

I did one pair of shoes in purple – there is no purple for sale so I ordered a jar of pure red (#2020 and a jar of pure blue (#2011).  I mixed them together in a larger container (stick with glass or ceramic).  Then I tested it as described above.  It was actually a very nice color straight mix 50/50.

For the yellow shoes I bought #2005, #2006, and #2007.  Yellow is a hard color to match and you can’t trust monitors.  I am glad I did the swatches because $2007 is orange, I’m talking Halloween pumpkin orange!  (Humm … dying fabric pumpkins for Halloween?)  I tried adding 1/8 tsp of pumpkin to #2005 and got cat vomit.  #2006 is YELLOW!  #2005 by itself is very close to what I want, but I needed it slightly brigher, so I added 1/8 tsp of YELLOW! to it and it was perfect.  If you are keeping track here, I ruined one jar of #2005 when I made the cat vomit, but that beats ruining a pair of shoes!

Another word of warning – check your swatches with your fabric, jewelry, buckles, etc in natural light as well as artificial light, to make sure it looks OK.

My Swatches for the Yellow Shoes – the top middle swatch was left over from the purple experiments.

Dying The Shoes

Once the color is ready, time to go for it!  I start at the center back seam of the shoes, as this will disguise the line where the color comes together.  I dye the upper first, then the heel.  If the heel is leather, leave it plain OR use leather dye to dye it.  If you are unsure of how steady your hands are, you can use painters masking tape to seal off the heel and sole to avoid getting dye on them.  You want to dip the dauber maybe 1/3 of the way into the dye at first.  You don’t want it dripping with the stuff.

Video is not too bad for a first try!  I moved the shoes out of the frame a couple times but overall I think it is not bad for a beginner:

Once the shoes dried, they were not completely even so I ordered another pot of dye and gave them a second coat exactly the same way.

Dyed Fabric Shoes Are Not Exactly Colorfast

Or should I say, not colorfast period?  You can treat them with Scotchguard or Angelus Water and Stain Repellent, which does help.  It comes in a spray can – just take them outside and soak them good with the stuff, then let dry (VERY stinky – do not try inside the house).  But even then I would not wear them out on a rainy day.

Save your leftover dye and label it, as I have successfully spot dyed water damage that way.  I had a pair that I wore outside after it rained the previous evening and the ground was a little damp.  My heels kept sinking into the ground and at the end of the day, some color had run from the very bottom of the heels.  I touched up with leftover dye and a Q-tip – you can’t even tell it ever happened.  This even after treatment with Scotchguard!

One situation where the Scotchguard really does have an impact is if you want to glue trim on the shoes – petersham ribbon binding, gimp, or appliques.  The Scotchguard will protect the dye enough to prevent it from running around the glue.

With all of the experimenting, multiple coats, and Scotchguarding this is obviously not a project to start at midnight the evening before your event.  Leave a month or a few weeks for this process just in case you need to order more dye – it is worth the slow process of making test swatches and letting them dry for several hours (or over night) until you are very happy with the color.  Think of it as a mockup!

Dyed Early 19th Century American Duchess Shoes

Fixing Mistakes – Piecing!

This is the first post in a series about something we all know about but nobody talks about:


Now what????

Yes there’s nothing quite like cutting into $120 a yard fabric and realizing you just goofed up!  But rather than living in fear of mistakes and procrastinating projects to avoid mistakes, I’ve learned to embrace them as sort of a form of creativity.  Some of my best ideas have come from figuring out a way to fix some mistake!

My mother always said to quit while you’re ahead, meaning when you start to get tired or make small mistakes, put it away for the day.  Take a break.  Sewing when you’ve had enough leads to more mistakes.  But even if you are at the top of your game, they still happen sometimes!

That said, I’d like to start off with a project where I did actually cut into $120 per yard fabric and realized I just messed up.  Big time!  I ordered the embroidered silk taffeta from Ebay to make a 1760’s waistcoat, which is a LONG waistcoat.  So it’s going to take a little more than a yard of length to do this.  I am pretty sure I originally ordered 2 yards.  Lining up pre-embroidered fabric is a royal pain in the ass – it is rarely setup to make mirror images since it is made for the decorator market.  So I usually cut out the first side and then turn it right side down and try to line it up on the remaining fabric.  Works great as long as you remember to turn it right side down!  I laid the piece on the fabric right side up and ended up with two left sides. 


There was no way to cut another piece since the mistaken left side came right out of the middle.  I didn’t want to spend another $240 so I ordered one more yard, knowing that I would not be able to cut one entire left front out of it.  Why is this OK?  Piecing!

Piecing is a period correct way to deal with fabric shortages.  Basically you join two pieces of fabric together in an invisible way or in a place where it will not be noticed.

Left Front – whole and cut out correctly.

My fabric is very busy which makes piecing easier.  The important thing is to match the pattern carefully.  I was able to cut a right front that matched up OK with the left front with only a small bit on the shoulder missing.

Laying left front right side down onto new piece of fabric – now I can see where to piece.

First I cut out the large piece of the waistcoat right front (shown above) and then I located a smaller piece of scrap fabric that matched the pattern.  I folded under the raw edge of this smaller piece and pinned it on top of the waistcoat right front, matching the pattern as closely as possible:

Fold under bottom of the piece and line up the pattern – pin in place.  I then put the right side down on top of the left side again and cut out around the pieced shoulder.

New right side with pieced shoulder pinned in place.

Getting ready to slip stitch piece with matching silk thread.

Closeup of pinned join.

Starting to slip stitch join by hand.

Tiny slip stitches to the right of the green leaf are nearly invisible. I used matching green thread to tack the leaf.

Finished join – front.

Finished join – back.  The last thing I did was trim the extra fabric so that the seam allowances on the pieces were about the same.

Unless you look really, really close, it is impossible to tell the front of the waistcoat was pieced:

Bill is on the right wearing the pieced waistcoat.

What to do with the extra expensive fabric?  I will probably make him a 1770’s waistcoat out of it as well.  Being much shorter, I can use the incorrectly cut left front and still have enough to cut the right front, even if it is also pieced.

18th Century Gown En Fourreau Back Tutorial

Getting a nice looking en fourreau back is one of the most noticeable struggles when sewing an 18th century gown.  Like it or not, you will be judged on the back!  For most of the 18th century, the robe a l’anglaise, English gown, or English nightgown was cut with a one piece back.  The back is then pleated onto the lining, usually in 4 pleats that taper in towards the waistline.  These pleats must be hand tacked to the lining before the sides of the gown are sewn.

I recently made up two test dresses to fit two different patterns that are on the market right now.  The first is Larkin & Smith English Gown:


Larkin and Smith English Gown Pattern

Larkin and Smith English Gown Pattern

I have to say this pattern has THE BEST instructions I have ever seen in a pattern, historical or otherwise.  It is like getting a workshop in a pattern!

The other pattern is Reconstructing History’s Open Robe Anglais pattern:



This pattern has some unique features that are not available in other 18th century costume patterns, such as the robings and bottom center fronts that nearly meet.  This is PERFECT for early 18th century – 1740’s (think Outlander) and I don’t think there is any other pattern out there that has these features.  The sleeves are also very wide, suitable for early 18th century.  If you want to make a gown for 1750’s or 1760’s (or later) use a sleeve from a different pattern – I used JP Ryan’s English Nightgown as I already have that pattern fit to myself.  Interestingly, the pleating template for this gown’s back is more suitable for 1770’s-1780’s and I will explain why in a moment, just stick with me here.  It is hard to make one pattern to cover every little style change over the course of 80 years, so you have to know the style changes and know what time period you want to recreate, and mix and match patterns accordingly.

The pleating pattern from Larkin & Smith is spot on for mid 18th century.


My research in online images from museum costume collections (The Met Museum and Victoria & Albert primarily) and the opinions of many other experienced 18th century seamstresses is this: the width of the pleats for both the robe a l’anglaise / English Gown and robe a la francaise (Sacque Gown) became more narrow as the century progressed.  This includes both the pleats in the back – en fourreau back and watteau pleats – and the pleats in the skirts.  That said, the size of the skirt pleats is wider depending on how heavy the fabric is.  Wool or heavy brocade is around an inch while chintz gowns are more like 3/4 inch and then thin silk taffeta gowns of the later 18th century can be as small as 1/4 inch.  However, the fabrics also tended to get lighter as the century wore on, although much older fabric was also remade to update the look.  So this trend isn’t 100% – it is just a guideline.  Here are some illustrations:

Saques were pretty much out of style by the 1780's but were still worn for court functions.

Sacques were pretty much out of style by the 1780’s but were still worn for court functions well into the early 1800’s.

And here is a comparison for the English Gowns:

English gowns were in style for nearly the entire 18th century, with pleats and fabric weight getting lighter as the century wore on.

English gowns were in style for nearly the entire 18th century, with pleats and fabric weight getting lighter as the century wore on.

By the 1780’s some gowns were being made with separate gowns and skirts, often with a deep V in the center back.  It is not easy to tell from a full length photo if the gown has very tiny pleats that face the CB, as the yellow example above has, or if the skirt and gown are separate pieces entirely:

Same yellow gown on the left compared to a gown with a separate bodice and skirt. Hard to tell!

Same yellow gown on the left compared to a gown with a separate bodice and skirt. Hard to tell!

But close up, they are not the same!

But close up, they are not the same!  You can see the seam coming down the center back of the purple stripe gown with no pleats.

Having done the research, on to the sewing!

The Red Dress was inspired by this:

Original red print gown from Victoria & Albert.

Original red print gown from Victoria & Albert.

I just lucked into some dark red print cotton while shopping on Etsy one day, and decided to make this.  The original is a wool/silk blend, but my dress is cotton.  I used the Reconstructing History pattern for this because it has both the narrow center front and the one piece front – the shoulder strap is cut out with the front, and it only has one seam where it joins the back.  There is less margin for fitting this way but I found it was pretty easy to fit just tweeking the back seams.  I did not have enough fabric to make a petticoat, so the petticoat and stomacher are made from cream colored cotton matelasse.

For the second dress I used a dark purple fabric with a small woven stripe in it – it is a cotton / linen blend.  In 18th century terms this fabric was known as fustian.  I did have enough fabric for a petticoat front (the back being made from a similar colored linen) but I wore it first with a stomacher and petticoat made from linen embroidered with a pattern that imitates tambour embroidery.

The Larkin & Smith pattern instructions tell you to use pins to mark the pleats, and then remove the template without moving the pins, but I have used tailor’s chalk for marking these pleats for years without any problems.  Just to be on the safe side, I put the line just slightly on the underside of the pleat, and overlap the second line enough to hide the chalk, if there is any left by the time I am done handling it.  Use whichever method works best for you.

So the first thing I did was sew the center back seams per the pattern instructions, and then lay the pleating template from each on top, and marked the pleats.  Then using my fingers, I finger press the fold line for each pleat.

Pinch, pinch those pleats in!

Pinch, pinch those pleats in!

Here is one pleat pinned, one pinched.

Here is one pleat pinned, one pinched.

Pin those bad boys down, just over the chalk lines!

Pin those bad boys down, just over the chalk lines!

Both purple and red gowns with all four pleats pinned down. The pleats on the red dress are VERY close together - only about 1/8 inch apart. This is a more narrow pleating style from the third quarter of the 18th century.

Both purple and red gowns with all four pleats pinned down. The pleats on the red dress are VERY close together – only about 1/8 inch apart. This is a more narrow pleating style from the third quarter of the 18th century.

Once the pleats are all pinned in, it is time to fit to the back lining.  You want to sew the back lining together at the center back, but not at the side seams or the shoulder strap.  Line them up with the center backs together.  It helps to stick a pin up inside the seams to match them perfectly, then pin in place.

Pinning with center back seams aligned.

Pinning with center back seams aligned.

Once they are pinned the next step is to “stitch in the ditch”, meaning sew the back and lining together through the center back seams.  Sewing it this way will make the seam invisible.  Do this before beginning to stitch the pleats down, or you risk having the lining shift on you.

Stitch in ditch is invisible on the front - use thread that matches your fabric.

Stitch in ditch is invisible on the front – use thread that matches your fabric.

Dark thread will show on the lining side.

Dark thread will show on the lining side.

Now we are ready for the real fun, sewing the pleats down!  First smooth the lining down and pin it through both layers in a few places to prevent shifting.  You can use a running stitch to secure the pleats, but I prefer to use a narrow prick stitch.  I find it is nearly invisible if done carefully enough.  If you are really accurate and not as worried about authenticity, you can machine top stitch the pleats down 1/16 of an inch from the edge.  But I don’t recommend it.  Stop stitching just below the waistline.  This is indicated on the pattern(s).

To do the prick stitch, come up through from the back so you are just barely catching the edge of the pleat, and then go down just over the edge of the pleat:

Swing pleats with prick stitch.

Swing pleats with prick stitch.

Move down 1/8 of an inch, rinse, lather, and repeat.  I do not tie off between each stitch.  When the pleats are sewn down, they look like this on the inside:

Since the red dress pleats were only 1/8 apart, I sewed both pleats at the same time. This clearly shows how much wider the purple pleats are.

Since the red dress pleats were only 1/8 apart, I sewed both pleats at the same time. This clearly shows how much wider the purple pleats are.

Next, trim the fabric along the top and sides so the match the lining.  Cut a slightly upward sloping line for top of the skirt panel.  Bigger side hoops or pads = more drastic upward slope.  The length of the sides of your two skirt panels should match the length of the side back skirt panels.  Your pocket slits will be in these seams.

Inside of gowns with pleats done.

Inside of gowns with pleats done.

Outside of gowns with pleats done.

Outside of gowns with pleats done.

Note: Only cut about 1/2 inch in along the bottom of each side of the lining.  This will allow you to sew the side seams.  Once the side seams are sewn, sew the skirt fronts to the skirt backs and put in the pocket slits.  At that point, it is safe to trim the rest of the bottom lining, to just slightly under the back pleat on each side.  Now you are ready to pleat the skirt and attach to the bodice!

Note 2: If I had this to do over, I would make the back of the red lining shorter below the waistline.  This deep V would look great with a separate skirt and bodice, but the extreme slope of the back skirt top edge that resulted from this made it REALLY difficult to pleat nicely to the bodice.  Note for next time!

I will try to get better photos of the completed dresses next time, but here are two photos of the completed gowns:

Purple Fustian Gown at Ft Ligonier Days with my good friend Sally (in a silk sacque jacket).

Purple Fustian Gown at Ft Ligonier Days with my good friend Sally (in a silk sacque jacket).

Red Print 1760's Gown

Red Print 1760’s Gown

Adjustable Side Length Petticoat Tutorial

As many costumers will tell you, looking at original garments is the best form of learning and inspiration there is.  While studying 18th century gowns I found this really interesting example of an 18th century petticoat with adjustable sides.  This will allow the petticoat to be worn with different sized hooped petticoats, side hoops, hip pads, or bum roll.  Given than petticoats often due double duty with several different outfits, this is a really great feature.  So I decided to figure out how to replicate this.  Here is the original gown:

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1760 - 1770

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1760 – 1770

Bless whomever took these photos, they included a closeup of the construction details of the petticoat!

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art showing construction details of petticoat.

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art showing construction details of petticoat.

There are quite a few take aways from this photo:

  1. They used blue linen for the upper part of the back panel – a great thing to do to save expensive fabric.  This will not work for a later century dress worn  retroussee (looped up in back) but it is a wonderful hack for gowns mid century or earlier.
  2. The pocket slits are finished with a running stitch.
  3. The waistband is narrow and fastens on the side with a hook and eye.  Hooks and eyes were around in the 18th century (and indeed much earlier) but they are not the first thing we think of for 18th century petticoat closures.  Most of us are accustomed to having them tie in the front and back.  With 18th century originals one must always keep in mind that the Victorians loved to alter these garments and recycle them for fancy dress occasions, but blowing this up very large it doesn’t appear to me that the waistband has been altered.  It looks like the back is made from the same linen as the back panel, and the front is made from the same silk that was used to trim the gown.  It is likely there is an identical fastening on the other side, but we don’t know for sure from the picture.
  4. The skirt in the front and back is sewn into the waistband, but the sides are narrow hemmed and have a drawstring.  The change happens approximately where the skirt support meets the hip.
  5. The drawstrings emerge from either side of the pocket slit.
  6. After putting the petticoat on, the sides can be drawn in or let out to make them hem  horizontal.

I planned two petticoats to be worn with several different mid century and later gowns, so they will be my guinea pigs in working out the details of this waist treatment.  One is embroidered linen that looks like tambour, and the other is cotton matelasse.  Cotton matelasse is a woven fabric with texture that is a pretty good fake for quilted fabric, so many of us use it to make “faux” quilted petticoats.  I used the Charleston Oyster colorway, the maker is Pindler & Pindler, from The Online Fabric Store:

Pindler & Pindler Cotton Matelasse in Charleston Oyster

Pindler & Pindler Cotton Matelasse in Charleston Oyster

This type of fabric is also available from big box stores like Jo Ann Fabrics, but the patters are less elaborate and they tend to have some synthetic content.  But I have used them before with perfectly acceptable results.  The Pindler & Pindler is 100% cotton but is more expensive than Jo Ann’s.

You really don’t need a pattern to make a petticoat!  The main measurement you need is how long you want the petticoat to be in front, which will of course depend on how tall you are (with shoes) and how long you want it to be.  18th Century petticoats can be anywhere from ankle length to mid calf.  Work and everyday petticoats would be shorter than formal gown petticoats.  To this measurement add the hem at the bottom (I used a 1 1/2″ hem) and 1/2″ seam allowance at the top, AND extra length for the sides and backs.  I have found that 3″ is enough to accommodate the underpinnings I wear.  So that is 35″ (my finished front length) plus 1.5″ hem plus .5″ seam allowance plus 3″ for the back is 40″.  Unless the fabric is really narrow (less than 45″) I use 2 lengths of fabric, so I cut 2 panels of fabric 40″ long.

Next, fold the front panel in half and scoop out 3″ from the center front TOP, tapering to nothing at the sides.  This keeps the pattern of the fabric straight along the hem.

Next, sew the two sides seams leaving about 8″ for the pocket slits on each side, and hem the bottom of the skirt.  Now you have a big tube, all ready for pleating.  Pleat the center front and center back to the approximate point where your skirt widening device (bum roll, hip pad, etc) meets your leg:

Using the perfect pleater to measure pleats.

Using the perfect pleater to measure pleats.  I love this thing!

Cotton matelasse skirt pleated.

Cotton matelasse skirt pleated.

Now sew the pleats down using the 1/2″ seam allowance:

Sew 'um down!

Sew ‘um down!

Here is the linen petticoat with the pleats sewn down:

Linen petticoat with pleats sewn at 1/2" seam allowance. Pardon cat foot.

Linen petticoat with pleats sewn at 1/2″ seam allowance. Pardon cat foot.

And the rest of the cat ….

Big Mr Red kitty working hard.

Big Mr Red kitty working hard.

Then I made a cut 1/2″ in right next to the pleated section.  This will allow me to turn down the seam allowance and make a casing for the drawstrings on the sides:

Clip the seam allowance right next to the pleated section on each side. That is 4 clips per petticoat.

Clip the seam allowance right next to the pleated section on each side. That is 4 clips per petticoat.

Next, fold the seam allowance for the side casings down and sew to create the casing for the drawstrings.  Since my fabric is very thick, I zig-zagged the raw edges and just turned it down once.  If your fabric is medium or light thickness you can turn down 1/4″ twice to make a neater casing.

Turn down seam allowance for drawstring casings.

Turn down seam allowance for drawstring casings.

Sew casing for drawstring.

Sew casing for drawstring.

Next I threaded some narrow 1/4″ grosgrain ribbon through each casing and stitched it down firmly where the casing ends and the waistband begins.

Inserting the drawstring.

Inserting the drawstring.

Since I am using a 3/4″ linen tape for the wasitband, I trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/4″.

Trim that bad boy down to 1/4".

Trim that bad boy down to 1/4″.

Time to apply the waistband!  If you are not using a finished tape, sew the waistband on normally.  Since I am using the tape, I sewed the tape to the back side first, then the front, so that errant seam lines would not show on the front.  This can also be applied by hand for a truly authentic finish.

Applying the cotton tape waistband.

Applying the cotton tape waistband.

I did not put a hook and eye on both sides, so the right side just has the waistband sewn in half where the casing begins.

Right side with no closure.

Right side with no closure.

On the left side, I turned the ends of the casing in 1/4″ and sewed them together:

Fastening side of the waistband (left side) with raw ends turned under.

Fastening side of the waistband (left side) with raw ends turned under.

Completed left side fastening of waistband.

Completed left side fastening of waistband.

Finally, I sewed a hook and eye on the left side.  Gathering up and tying the side casings, it looks like the original!

Completed closure, left side.

Completed closure, left side.


Thinking of Making A New Chemise This Year? Here’s A Great Tip!

A mini-post for sure this is, but it is so smart I just had to post it!  When making a chemise, drawers, or a dress from a very thin diaphanous fabric (think: voile) you need to use a French seam so that your garment seams don’t unravel.  With very thin fabric the seams are often slightly visible from the outside and the French seam looks very neat.  However they are a PITA.  You first sew the seam wrong sides together, press, trim the seam allowance (hard to do evenly), fold the remaining seam allowance to the inside, and sew again.  Then press, again!

Here is a great tip from the Martha Pullen newsletter than landed in my inbox this morning: serger enabled French seams!

Serger Settings:

Three-thread rolled hem
Stitch length: about 2.0
Differential feed: .7 to 1 (normal)

1) Place the fabrics wrong sides together and serge using a rolled hem (L=2.0) (fig. 1

2)  Fold the fabrics, right sides together with the serged seam along the fold.

3) Using a straight stitch (L=2.0) by sewing machine (and a pintuck foot, edge joining foot or baby piping foot), stitch against the serged seam. (fig. 2). This stitch will enclose the serged seam between the two fabric layers creating a very small French seam. According to the foot being used, adjust the needle position as needed to stitch close to the serged seam.

Serged French Seams

Serged French Seams

No seam trimming!  It goes without saying that the serger thread color needs to match your fabric – not a problem with white fabric!

For years I didn’t think I needed a serger for historical sewing, but they are actually wonderful for making ruffles (very even and VERY fast) and flat lining, among other things.

How To Make Machine Thread Eyelets

Metal eyelets did not appear until the second quarter of the 19th century – before that, eyelets were hand sewn with thread.  Here is a great tutorial on making hand sewn thread eyelets.

However if you are like me, you are always looking for ways to use technology to make this easier and faster.  I discovered this great accessory for my sewing machine that allows me to make thread eyelets.  This product is for Husqvarna Viking but I would be surprised if similar accessories are not available for other sewing machine companies, especially more expensive brands like Babylock, Pfaff, etc.

Husqvarna Viking Eyelet Plate

Husqvarna Viking Eyelet Plate

Here is the eyelet plate installed on my Husqvarna Designer Diamond.  It comes in 4mm and 6 mm sizes – I find the 4mm to be the best size for corset eyelets.  When using the eyelet plate, the feed dogs must be lowered in the machine’s settings.

Eyelet plate installed and ready to go. Note you must remove the ankle or it will lower and prevent you from being able to turn the fabric.

Eyelet plate installed and ready to go. Note you may need to remove the ankle so that it does not prevent you from being able to turn the fabric.  One of my machines works fine with the ankle on, the other does not.  Go figure.

In a nutshell, you are going to set the machine to a basic zig zag stitch and then rotate the fabric around the eyelet plate as you sew.  The width of the zig zag stitch can vary depending on how thick the fabric is.  I always do a test eyelet on scrap fabric from the project first, but usually the stitch width is between 4 and 4.5mm.

First, mark the placements of your eyelets.  This can be done with a regular ruler, or with an expanding ruler (one of my favorite tools):

Marking eyelet placement with an expanding ruler.

Marking eyelet placement with an expanding ruler (it is also great for marking button placement).

For the examples I am using green thread on white fabric to make it easier to see, but in practice you would use thread to match the fabric.

Next, using an awl, work a hole in the fabric for the eyelet, just big enough to fit around the eyelet plate:

Hole made just large enough to fit around the eyelet plate on the machine.

Hole made just large enough to fit around the eyelet plate on the machine.

Now begin sewing – slowly!  I usually go around the hole quickly as a first pass, and then go around a second time more slowly to fill in.  But in this example I just began sewing so that it is easier to see how the thread is sewn around the eyelet hole:

Rotate the fabric around the eyelet plate while sewing with a zig zag stitch.

Rotate the fabric around the eyelet plate while sewing with a zig zag stitch.

Eyelet has been sewn all the way around.

Eyelet has been sewn all the way around.

Here are the front and back appearances of the eyelet:

Eyelet Front

Eyelet Front

Eyelet Back

Eyelet Back