Friday, December 2, 2011

The Corded Petticoat, A Pre-Hoop Skirt Support

The cage, or hooped skirt came into fashionable popularity in the late 1850's. However, the full skirted silhouette was popular for several decades before then. Here is a good example of the skirt silhouette I am going for. A nice domed skirt shape with lots of hip fullness and a definite back thrust with a relatively flat front.  

Pre-hoop women achieved the lofty skirts by wearing multiple petticoats, that could be plain, tucked, flounced, quilted or corded and very probably heavily starched. For me, this presents the problem of multiple waistbands all at the same point on my waist, making it look much larger and thicker. WAIST BULK! Sigh. And what will all those waistbands do to the nice flat pointed front of the bodice? I don't want to have to wear all the petticoats I have with my 1840's dress, so I hope to eliminate the need for a few of them by making a new corded petticoat. I'm hoping a corded petticoat, with one or two plain petticoats on top of that, will be sufficient. 

The corded petticoat of the mid-19th century came in several styles. One style is the lightweight petticoat skirt with dozens and dozens of rows of small, light cording woven in to the fabric itself. For this style, you could purchase the fabric with the cording already woven in. To replicate this style today, unless you can find some corded fabric to use, the modern seamstress must sew these thin cords in one by one. A famous costumers example can be found HERE

Another style is the corded petti with thicker cords sewn in. These cords are less numerous than the cording found on the tiny-cord style of petticoat. This example is approximately from the 1840's. A lady could make this style at home, then and now, by sewing cords into tucks in a plain petticoat. 

Back when I started reenacting a corded petticoat was the superly-awesome-authentic thing to have. Since then, research has showed that after the advent of The Hoop, the corded petticoat faded in oblivion and were not commonly worn by the time of the Civil War. But that wasn't the prevailing thought away back then. So I made two corded petticoats. One with tiny cords and one with thicker cords. 

Here we see the 18-year old Sarah Jane of 2004 with her very first corded petticoat. This one was made 90" around the hem and featured 8 rows of thick cord. It folded in on itself somewhat, and was slightly heavy, but it did give a nice pouf to my skirts. In this picture I am wearing (if I can remember correctly) the corded petticoat with only one plain petticoat over that. And that is my handsome Dad, and my first attempts at men's clothing of the 1860's. :) 

Here is the pregnant-with-Malachi Sarah Jane of 2008 (I didn't know I was pregnant yet though!) wearing her second version of the corded petticoat. This one had many more rows of tiny cotton crochet yarn instead of the larger thick rope-like cord. This petticoat was always kind of blah, for me. It did help the skirts stand out a little. But not as much as the other corded petti. I got just as much loft wearing an extra plain petticoat. 

I ended up giving one of my corded pettis to a friend. I sold the other one when I found out it wasn't accurate to my impression. 

But now, I find myself with a legitimate use for a corded petticoat. For this one, I am going with the thicker cords. I am using a tightly woven 100% cotton sheet for the petticoat itself and cotton clothesline for the cords. I think the cord is actually a poly inner strand covered with the braided cotton cord. But I honestly don't care about the little bit of un-seen poly. It is stiff and tightly braided and works like a dream. The cord is about 1/4" in diameter. The petticoat will have 16 rows. 

What totally stinketh about this particular petticoat are the facts that 1) The fabric is VERY tightly woven and 2) my mother in law's sewing machine, which I am currently using, doesn't have a zip foot attachment and so I have to sew all these rows in by hand. It is painful. So far I have 8 rows of cording sewn in. 8 more to go. I hope my fingers aren't raw and bleeding by then. 

I also am making this petticoat much narrower than my previous attempts. My last ones have been about 90" around the hem but that width just seemed to collapse in on itself. This one is only 75" around the hem. It will come to mid calf and already, with just the 8 rows sewn in, I can see that this is going to keep it's shape very well, even without starch. No folding, no creasing. It is almost like a mini hoop skirt. :) 

So, with this and a new bum pad I hope my skirts will look right. Then it will be on to the dress!



  1. Dear Sarah,
    Ow, ow, my fingers are already bleeding for you. It builds character, and scars, though, do remember that :}

    Had you thought also of starching your petticoats so heavily that they stand up, and then putting a very light and fluffy one on top to soften the effect?

    Finally, Kendra of Demode faced your issue several years ago, and her solution was to mount multiple petticoats on a single yoke. Do see her site.

    Very best,


  2. Sigh, this reminds me of my poor, neglected corded petticoat.... It's actually almost done, I just haven't gotten round to it....

    I like this 1840's project of yours :)

  3. Oooh! I think you will look lovely in 1840's. I can't wait to see your full ensemble.

  4. Good for you! This looks like a very functional petticoat. I've wondered a bit about the long waist thing, too.

    And ow! for your fingers! Sheets are some of the most terrible things to sew on, even with the machine. You probably want to finish the way you started, but you can probably just buy a zipper foot for the machine. Unless it's an unusual machine. I bought one off the notions wall at Joann's years ago, and it fits fine.

  5. Yikes, your poor fingers...I'd probably pick an easy project once you finish that petticoat. Your sewing skills are amazing. Plus, I really enjoyed seeing your photos from years past ;) :) Post a photo once you finish the entire ensemble :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  6. Nuranar, I do feel completely stupid for not trying to get a zipper foot attachment. I started this petticoat yesterday morning and I started freaking out thinking about all the piping on the dress that I will NEED a zipper foot to apply, unless I want to do it all by hand (I don't) I ended up finding a foot at Jo Anns last night for a few dollars (AND it was 50% off so ended up costing me less than $2) and it fits. : / I do want to finish it as I started though. I'd feel horrible if I had machine sewing on half the corded tucks and hand sewing on the other half. At least it will be authentic appearing from the outside! All visible stitching by hand. :)

    Natalie, thank you for the tips! I enjoyed checking out Kendra's informational page on the pre-hoop crinoline. She certainly achieved a very nice period shape.

    Sarah, I admit I was wondering how your corded petticoat was coming! After the baby arrives, and your waistline returns, that will be a great time to finish it up. :) I can't wait to see it when you are done with it!

  7. To be honest, that sounds JUST like me. It's my mother who told me to just go get a foot - it never would have occurred to me, either! And yes, I totally understand not wanting hand on half and machine on the other. I'd be ok with either, but not both, no way! :D Good luck, and use that thimble! (And maybe a smaller needle. I've grown to LOVE quilter's in betweens and the next size up.)

  8. Yup, a smaller needle definitely works better for this monstrous sheet. My fingers still feel and look like a cheese grater now, but oh well, it's worth it, right? ;)

    Finished the rows of cording. . .I ran out of cord so there is only 15 rows and then a large tuck at the top similar to one of inspiration images. I am SUPER happy with the amount of pouf. Now to make a yoked waistband and attach it and call it done. :)

  9. SO it is equivelent to the 50's petticoats that made the circle skirts stick out?

    THis is going to sound silly to but to preven cheese grater fingers, gloves and a thimble helps. The glove stops the thimble rubbing.

  10. I made one of the ridiculously close-corded petticoats once, but I cheated and used my sewing machine. Also, I've never put a waistband on and the dress it was intended to go under is still merely yards of folded fabric in a box somewhere.

    I look forward to seeing yours finished!

  11. I'm going to make a short corded petticoat to go under a knee high dirndl make it stick out | (also putting ruffles on it to 'show'). Trying to decide what width to make it so I don't have too much bulk. will cheat with elastic waistband.

  12. Lady D, if it were me I'd probably go with at least 60" of width possibly up to the 75" I used here. Much more than that and it would fold in on itself and much narrower it would be difficult to walk in. I love the idea of wearing a corded petti with a dirndl skirt!

  13. ooh, thanks. :)
    As you can see from my pin board
    This is for a clog outfit. I want to have a nod to victorian & 50's with a modern twist. I find crinolines (netting) too scratchy. I've much rather have something softer and decorative.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!