Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Making Petticoats ~ HSF #4 ~ Circles, Squares & Rectangles

Petticoats are really the backbone of mid 19th century womens dress. That being considered, my own wardrobe has really lacked in that area lately. Well, not just lately! I have never had a nice set of petticoats and have scraped by with make do attempts for a long time. I used just one petticoat for quite a few years when I started out and when I was in college I made my first and only set of two petticoats. . .unfortunately, out of the cheapest muslin Jo-Anns offered and so they didn't last longer than a few years.
I love my little daddy long-leg buddy!

I currently have one nice petticoat of Egyptian cotton, that I made when Judah was a baby (I think? It's been so long. . .) and a cotton plaid petticoat meant for use as a work petticoat. They are both many inches too large in the waist now, but I got by with pinning them, always thinking that someday I'd take off the waistbands, gather the petticoats properly and whip them to new, fitted waistbands. But the petticoats are both under 130" in circumference so are on the skimpy side and they are several inches too short.

So, time for new petticoats!

I always check the linens section at my local thrift shop for cotton sheets. I find nice quality cotton sheets fairly often and have used them the past few years to make almost all of the childrens underclothes as well as some shirts. A few weeks ago I lucked into 2 flat cotton sheets, 1 full size and 1 queen size. Everything was 50% off that day, too, so spent less than $8 on both sheets!

The smaller sheet is better quality with a higher thread count and much more body. I decided to use it as my bottom petticoat since the finished circumference is right around 130". The larger sheet is thinner and softer but it sits well over the bottom petticoat. To make them, I tore off the ends of the sheets to even them out and then tore them in half across the width. This gave me two rectangles from each sheet, which I sewed together at the sides. I made a hemmed slit at the center back for the petticoat opening.

I had enough length to make a nice 4" deep hem. I hemmed both petticoats while at baseball games. It's nice to have portable sewing projects! ;)

Then the top edge was balanced by cutting it in a gentle slope from center front to center back. The center front is 2" shorter than the center back.

Then a running stitch was ran along the top edge.

And then the gathers pulled up to fit. . .

And then stitched to the waistband. This was hell. My waistbands are peppered with dots of blood. My fingers hate me right now. This took forever. Even my sharpest, tiniest needles had to fight to get through the cotton. But at last it was accomplished and I was perfectly content with my somewhat sloppy gathers.

The back of the waistband was pressed under and slip stitched to cover the seam allowance.

And a button and buttonhole completed the petticoats!

Lastly, a very good final starching and pressing to make the petticoats ready to wear.

I really, really love the shape these new petticoats give me! It's amazing how much better the silhouette is. My skirts are softer and fuller and I like the rustling crispy sound of the cotton. :) The length is 1.5" shorter than my dress skirts so I have less of a visible hoop line. Petticoats for the win!

I am thrilled to finally have a nice new set of pettis. I can remake my old ones for Anne when she gets a little bigger, or maybe make what is known in reenactor circles as "modesty" petticoat (this isn't a period term, but just something to call a small, short petticoat worn under the hoop). Or use the old petticoat to make a corded petticoat. Or multiple sets of drawers/shirt for the babies. So many uses for old petticoats!

What the item is:
 Mid 19th Century Petticoats

The Challenge, and how this item fulfills it:
Circles, Squares and Rectangles. All the pieces in the petticoat are rectangular.


None, but based on period construction methods. 

Meant for living history for the early to mid 1860's 

Thread and buttons

How historically accurate is it?
Quite so, being constructed using period materials and techniques.

Hours to complete:
About 4-5 per petticoat

First worn:
I'll be using these at a living history this weekend

Total cost:
Less than $10 for all materials, since the fabric was recycled from thrifted sheets. :)


  1. Your petticoats look lovely. I've never thought of using old cotton sheets. :)

    1. Thank you! Sheets are great for very tight costuming budgets, BUT someday when I have lots of extra money (;)) I'll make some with this fabric:

  2. I always hit estate sales for sheets, they practically give them away, and I use those for everything, linings, you name it. Nice wide widths, I usually score them for about $1.00 or $2.00 each. Compare that to store bought muslin, and it's a game changer. BUT, as they are really great cotton, they are also a bear to sew through by hand and I'm with you on the blood stains and aching fingers by the time I'm done with it. Never had any problems using muslin. Sheets? Murder on the hands, but so much cheaper. I figure my blood, sweat, tears and economy enable me to deserve better fashion fabric.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!