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
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.
There are quite a few take aways from this photo:
- 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.
- The pocket slits are finished with a running stitch.
- 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.
- 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.
- The drawstrings emerge from either side of the pocket slit.
- 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
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. I love this thing!
Cotton matelasse skirt pleated.
Now sew the pleats down using the 1/2″ seam allowance:
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.
And the rest of the cat ….
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.
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.
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.
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″.
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.
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.
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.
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.