Saturday, July 27, 2013

Recreating an Antique 1910's (?) Petticoat

Well, dear readers, back in January I made a 1910's corset and brassiere for a Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge. At that time I was gung-ho for a 1910's outfit and began the process of taking a pattern off an original petticoat that was gifted to me by Natalie. But, as it usually seems, life got in the way, my interest was diverted to other things and I never actually finished it.

I have lately been pretty interested in the 1920's again. I really like the transitional styles of the very early 20's. Anyway, I decided to finish this petticoat since it will work just as well under a late 'teens/early 20's dress as it would beneath an earlier style gown from the earlier 'teens.

I decided to start fresh and take the pattern anew, after examining the petticoat and taking some measurements and looking at construction techniques. These first photos are pictures of the original petticoat. Above you can see photos of the front and of the back. Here you can see the waistband, which looks like it is just a wide piece of twill tape folded in half and topstitched to the waist.

There is a center back opening with a slashed placket. There is no button at the waistband here; I am not sure how it originally fastened.

The inside of the placket has one buttonhole and one tiny button.

The seams were interesting. I at first thought they were french seams, but it appears they are not. It looks like the seams were folded under twice (like a hem) and then stitched down close to the fold. One side of the seam looks like this, with a line of stitching above the folded edge. The other side of the seam has just the line of stitching, looking much like a french seam from that side.

The circular flounce is definitely the most eye catching part of this petticoat! Sooooo much lace insertion! And whitework!

The overall cut of the petticoat is quite simple. The main body of the petticoat is made of shaped panels, or gores. There is one wide front gore that covers nearly all of the front. Then there are two side gores and one skinny back gore. The bottom is a knee-high circular flounce. Having tried on the petticoat before, I know the fit is good for me already, so I was good to go for taking the pattern!

My method of taking patterns isn't very professional, but it works (at least for me.) I have a big roll of wide brown paper I got at Menards, and I spread out a large section on the floor, on top of a carpet. (A solid wood floor would not work so well; I need to be able to stick pins into the carpet below the paper!) Then I begin to carefully spread out the garment, making sure the grain stays straight, and pin it directly to the paper and the carpet below the paper by sticking in pins along the seams, like this:

After one section has been pinned (in this case, the front gore), it is easy to pull out the pins and remove the garment from the paper. The little holes left by the pins are the lines of the pattern! After that, it is a process of connecting the dots:

And adding seam allowance:

I then double check measurements such as seam length, hem circumference, etc. Where anything is "off" I smooth it out. For pieces that are symmetrical (like the front gore and back gore and the flounce) I only pattern one half of the piece, so the center line can be placed on the fold when cutting out fabric for the reproduction. It's hard to see the lines, but here is what the finished pattern looked like before cutting it out.

And the pattern pieces all cut out and ready to go! (forgive the matchbox cars - but the paper wanted to curl and the cars were handy and so. . .I used them.

To make my reproduction petticoat (and I use the term lightly. . .this is not an exact copy of anything but the pattern!) I used some light weight white fabric David brought home from the thrift store a few weeks ago. He thought it was 100% cotton but I will confess to you, having now worked with it, I believe it is a piece cut from a large sheet and I really think there is some poly content. It is nice fabric, but it "slides" like poly/cotton is wont to do. But it was 50 cents and there was just enough fabric for this petticoat so, I used it.

I cut out all my pieces. One front gore, two side gores, and one back gore. Two flounces. Due to the width of the fabric I had to cut my back gore in 2 pieces, making a center back seam.

I sewed all the main body pieces together using small french seams. I decided to not try the interesting seaming method of the original because my fabric wasn't behaving. (this is why 100% natural fabrics are best! I'd love to try this petticoat pattern out in a lovely cotton lawn sometime.)

I sewed the two flounce pieces together using french seams.

At that point I wasn't sure how to proceed. The original petticoat has the flounce attached to the petticoat via insertion, and the whole flounce is intersected and crossed by lace insertion. I didn't have any lace on hand to do any insertion with and honestly, just sewing the flounce to the main body looked bad (I pinned it to see.) Many undergarments of this era were highly decorated. No lace. . .what about embroidery?

I am *not* an embroiderer at all so I decided to try out machine stitching in place of hand embroidery. I know ready made trims at this time in history could be machined, so I was not too concerned about the authenticity/lack thereof.

Now, my machine is super basic. It is the cheapest Singer model you can get at Jo Anns. Nothing special. But it works great for what I need, which is mostly basic straight stitch. It does have a few other decorative stitches though that I hadn't really tried to understand before, such as a scallop. I remember using this stitch the dolly boots I made for Anne's doll back at Christmastime. I wondered if it would work as an embroidering stitch. I decided to try it.

I overlapped the raw hem of the main body onto the flounce by about 3/8". I set my stitch length and width and started chugging along.

It worked!

Now granted, the scallops came out a bit puckery. I think this is due to the fact that my only needles at present are "heavy duty" needles and they are ill suited to piercing the tight weave of this poly/cotton sheet fabric. But I was still happy with how it looked. It looked decorated.

Because just one line of scallops weren't enough to make much a visual impact, I added a few more. Then I scalloped in several rows around the bottom hem of the flounce, to match. Then I scalloped down the sides of each gore. Then it took a long time to carefully clip away the fabric below the bottom line of scallops on both the flounce hem, and the hem of the main body. But finally it all was done.

And so here is the petticoat so far!

And the back:

The lines of scallops don't align perfectly with each other. I think this is because the hems are shaped - not straight lines. But from a distance it looks good and it feels more 19-teens-era-decorated-undies to me now than simple-quick-and-plain-costumers-make-do.

I still need to put in the back placket and sew on the waistband. But it will be done for the challenge tomorrow, I promise!

And oh! In other news, I have put my pattern blog back online again. It's been offline while I updated it and rearranged it. I still have lots to add to it but for now, it's back!  I added a new costume gallery and lots of my favorite links and my friend Christina is working on something for the blog that I think will be pretty awesome when its done!



  1. It's lovely! I love the idea of using a machine embroidery as opposed to lace insertion. I think I'll try this out on my next 19teens underpinnings project!

  2. Very nice work--my favorite was the creative pattern weights. :)

    Great solution for the petticoat flounce. It's a wonderful reminder that one doesn't have to have the most expensive machine to create beautiful items. An adventurous spirit and ingenuity are needed, too.

    Thank you for your beautifully illustrative blog post. I can definitely see the petticoat design lending itself to a lot of things.

  3. What a clever solution! It does have a subtle impact, and much more impressive than any plain period undies I've ever made!

  4. Oh how romantic! The original reminds me of the modern Eileen West white cotton nightgowns and robes. So lovely.

    Um, would you ever make a copy of your new pattern and send it to a blog reader if they paid you a few dollars to cover the paper and shipping costs??? :)

  5. I really like how you did your scallops. Genius! I'll need to remember that when I get around to making my 1910 undies.

  6. Lovely stuff. :)

    Some comments from the peanut gallery over here - the waistband is an unusual direction for twill tape, and probably was a replacement. I bet if you peek underneath, you'll find clues about how the petticoat originally closed. Also I think you can find that style of seaming in vintage sewing machine manuals - if it's the one I'm thinking of, it's the flat-fell seam done with a narrow hemmer. Alternatively, if this was made in a factory and altered later, there are a *ton* of industrial machines that do just that one seam style.

    Lovely stuff, thanks for sharing!

  7. That is a really intriguing thought, Laura. I have not even thought to take the waistband off a bit to see what is underneath. It may explain some things, especially the lack of fastenings. The tape waistband is the only tape on the whole petticoat - the placket is made of the same fabric as the petticoat. So it could well be a later addition, and would explain its presence on a petticoat that otherwise is quite dainty.

    Very cool about the seam! I had never seen a seam like this before so it had me stumped for a bit. Especially as from the outside of the seam there is no visible stitching, and the main finishing stitches I am familiar with are flat fell seams and french seams (of course, I typically do earlier stuff. . )

    Did they have machines that did machined buttonholes at this time? The only tiny buttonhole on this petticoat does look to be machined, or at least, sewn and then cut open, versus first being cut and then stitched around by hand.

    Its' amazing how much you can learn from one simple garment.

  8. I'd be curious to see what's down there, if you take it off. The tape actually looked like it had the sort of loose, fluffy texture that I associate with very fancy damask tablecloths that've been washed by someone who didn't know how to press them. They look sort of weird until you starch the heck out of them and press them really well, then they flatten out into the most amazingly gorgeous satiny linen. I can just imagine someone repairing their heirloom petticoat with part of an heirloom tablecloth! (Or possibly altering it to fit someone not of the intended size - I have a black glazed cotton petticoat that someone in the 1940s gathered into a black calico waistband. Make do and mend at its finest!)

    And yes, they did have buttonhole machines at least as far back as 1910. It's difficult to tell because nobody has written an account of when specific industrial machines were developed. The Singer 23-27 is based on a home sewing machine, so it's even more difficult to date them unless you have an example with a serial number to check out. But here's a sketch from a sales book from the 1920s: They were pretty well developed by then.

  9. Dear Sarah Jane,

    Hi, hip hooray! So glad you are taking a pattern from that petticoat. I thought it was such a pretty, useful design and just knew you'd make good use of it.

    Laura's comments seem on the mark to me. That tape was certainly a replacement; if the slip is from here in Bluegrass or northern Kentucky, or southern Ohio, there's a good likelihood that it was very heavily used, this area being quite rural at the time, although with access to decent shopping.

    Very best, and can't wait to see how it all works out,


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  11. Cheri, I forgot to mention I would be totally happy to send you a copy of the pattern. Just let me know where to send it and I can trace it fresh on brown paper.

  12. Indian petticoats are supposedly largely unchanged in design from when they were developed under the British (before, and still with old-fashioned women, they were just tied over a waist thread or skillfully tied over nothing at all), and look much like your example; the waist band would have a drawstring through it (generally cotton tape). Is your original waistband hollow - would it possibly have held a drawstring tie at some point?


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!