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An 1880's petticoat, worn over a bustle.

An 1880’s petticoat, worn over a bustle. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Another one of the numerous undergarments worn by the Victorians were petticoats, and – depending on the particular decade of the 19th century – there could be many layers of them.

I needed to make a petticoat that was worn with a bustle, generally made with layers of frills to soften the line of the cage-like structure underneath. As my bustle was most similar to those worn in the 1880’s, it was no surprise that the petticoats that really suited my purpose were ones from the 1880’s.

The one I really liked is pictured to the left, with small flounces to add body and pretty lace that could peep out the bottom of the dress. It was really unfortunate that I had so little time to incorporate any of this into my own petticoat, but I had only two days to make mine!

My fabric choice was a white cotton broadcloth, 4 metres in length.

Pattern

I made my own pattern from the picture above, using the measurements of myself and my bustle as a guide for size.

Measurements to take (with bustle and corset on):

  • Waist circumference
  • Waistline to floor at centre front
  • Waistline to floor at centre back
  • Waist to floor at side

Using these measurements, measure out the pattern pieces on the fabric. The waist-to-floor measurements should correspond to the length of the pieces (minus the depth of your intended bottommost frill). The front area of the petticoat at the waist is not gathered so the front and side pieces (on the top edge) together should measure the same as the front part of your waist (or a bit further around). The back area is gathered, so the top edge of the back panel should be double this part of your waist. Add seam allowances too!

Pattern pieces:

  • Front panel (cut centre front on fold)
  • Side panel (cut 2)
  • Back panel (cut centre back on fold)
  • Waistband (cut 1: 2″ x 28″ or waist measurement, plus seam allowances)
  • Frills for back panel (10″ deep, plus seam allowances) Each frill should be roughly double the length of the line (across the back panel) that it will be sewn on. I tried to cut these frills against the selvedge.
  • Bottom frill (10″ deep x double the length of the bottom edge of petticoat, plus seam allowances)
These are my panels; from left to right, front, side and back.

These are my panels; (from left to right) front, side and back.

Construction

Step One: Sew the front panel to the side panels, neatening seam edges.

Step Two: Hem one long edge of each section of frill (those frills that are for the back panel) and gather the other edge (I gathered the selvedge edge to avoid neatening it). Attach the frills to the back panel, one at a time, by sewing it on top of the back panel, through all layers.

The first frill is attached along the upper edge of the back panel.

The first frill is attached along the upper edge of the back panel. Each frill is roughly twice as long as the section it is sewn to.

The bottom frill is attached along the bottom of the back panel.

The bottom frill is attached along the bottom of the back panel. The bottom edge of the frill reaches slightly below the bottom edge of the petticoat.

Start with attaching the first frill along the top edge of the back petticoat panel and then do the bottom frill. Then you can space the other frills in between. There should be an inch or two overlap where the upper frill falls over the one under it. I had a total of four frills on the back panel.

Step Three: Pinning the edges of the frill to the edge of the back panel, sew the back panel to the side panel (making sure you catch the frill edges in the seam).

Step Four: Make sure the bottom edges of the petticoat are even. Trim off any excess if needed. You will notice that a little part of the last frill (in the side seam) is raw, and this was hemmed by turning under and sewing.

The frill at the bottom of the back panel is lifted up, and you can see me trimming the bottom edge of the petticoat.

The frill at the bottom of the back panel is lifted up, and you can see where I am trimming the bottom edge of the petticoat. This is because I made the back panel much longer than the front panels so it would go over the bustle.

Step Five: Hem one long edge of the bottom frill and gather the other long edge (in small manageable sections). This gathered edge will be caught in a seam so I used a raw edge (rather than a selvedge edge as I did in the back panel frills).

Step Six: Attach the frill to the bottom edge of the petticoat. You will notice that a small part of the side seams will need to be unpicked (where the back frills are sewn into the side seam) at this stage so that the bottom frill can go around neatly. You may need to resew (or hand sew) these parts afterwards so they sit properly again.

Step Seven: Gather the top edge of the back and side panels. Attach the waistband in the normal manner, adjusting the gathers to fit.

Note: Because I had sewn all the seams closed, I needed to make a placket in the left side front seam. I just sewed (top-stitched) the seam allowance open, reinforcing it at the bottom of the placket, and then unpicked the seam.

I used a pair of hooks and eyes for a closure, but a button or waistband hook and eye would work too.

The side view, with the bustle underneath.

The side view, with the bustle underneath.

The front view

The front view

All finished! And I really like it! One very handy thing is that, if it happens to be too long, you can take a few horizontal tucks around the bottom frill to raise the bottom edge, as it was done in the extant garment pictured above. Mine is slightly longer at the back, but not enough to trip on when I am dancing.

My next item in my Victorian wardrobe is an early 1870’s gown. – coming soon!

Related Posts

A Victorian Bustle

Making a Victorian Corset

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

An overview of Victorian undergarments

Attaching a waistband – by Sewaholic

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