/Update: This tutorial is getting quite old! While it’s still a goodie, for a more in-depth look at how to make an 18th century petticoat stitch-by-stitch in the historically accurate 18th century manner, please check out The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking./
The cool thing about 18th c. petticoats is that they have a special and awesome way of being both adjustable to the wearer, and including secret pocket-slits so you can access your secret hanging pockets. Petticoats can be worn as underskirts, just on their own, or you can pile them up to create extra-huge puffy skirts. They can also be worn for other big-skirted centuries. So here’s how to make one:
*NOTE: This tutorial is for petticoats worn over basic “round” skirt supports. Panniers and pocket hoops call for a bit trickier construction.
Materials & Tools
- 4+ yards of fabric – the more the merrier
- measuring tape
- needle & thread (of course)
- ties (ribbon, twill tape, shoe laces, etc.)
- your dress form (if you do not have a dress form, you will need to have a friend help you)
Step One – Measure
Dress your form with all the underpinnings you plan to wear – bum pads, petticoats, all of it – and make sure the waist measurement on your dress form is set to your corseted waist measurement, and that the height of the dress form is your height + the shoes you plan to wear.
Hold the width of the fabric up to the waist, allowing it to fall naturally to the floor, over the skirt supports. Allow about 1.5 – 2″ extra past where you will hem, and make a cut length-wise. With most fabrics (cotton, taffeta) you can then rip the fabric apart at that cut and be assured of a straight line along the grain. For skirts will slight trains or that need extra length to fit over extra supports in back, you will want to do this cutting manually.
Step Two – Hem
Hem the entire length first, before you pleat. At this point you still have one long piece of fabric.
Step Three – Section
An 18th c. petticoat has a front piece and a back piece, with seams at both sides. Cut your fabric in half (fold edge-to-edge, find the center point, slice and rip. You’ll need to cut where you hemmed with scissors). Now fold the halves in half again, find the center point, and mark each with a pin. These will be the center of your back and the center of your front.
|This is showing the finished petticoat, but you can see the open pocket slit|
Step Four – Pocket Slits
At the top sides of each piece, double-turn a very narrow hem for a length of about 10″ +. Stitch. These will form the openings for your pockets, and also allow you to get into the petticoat easily.
Step Five – Pleat
I like knife pleating, but box pleating is also a good method. You are welcome to measure, do math, and mark where your pleats should go, but I do it more by feel. If using knife pleats, pleat in the direction of the center mark, so you end up with a small inverted box pleat at the centers of your skirt front and back.
Quarter your waist measurement (waist/4). This is the length each knife pleated section will need to be. Mine came out to 6.5″, so as I pleated towards the center, I measured and adjusted to 6.5″. In total, each side was 13″.
Pin each pleat as you go, then run a basting stitch along the edge. I also like to secure everything with a zig-zag stitch along the top edge.
|Both sides pleated up – you can see the gap where the pocket slit is.|
Step Six – Sew Up the Sides
Stitch up both sides of the petticoat, stopping where you’ve made the pocket slit edges (about 10″+ below the waist). Reinforce this area.
Step Seven – Waistband
I like to create a waistband from a single piece, folded over the raw edge like bias tape – or just use double fold bias tape! If you want it to match, though, cut a wide piece of your fabric, at least 3″ or wider, and the length of your sections of the waist + seam allowance (so +1″ if you are using 1/2″ allowance). I cut two strips 15″ long, 2.5″ wide.
Fold the strips in half length-wise, press, and then fold the edges in again and press. This is just like double fold bias tape, but the waistband does not need to be cut on the bias.
With right sides together, match raw edges (so you are folding one edge out again) of the waistband strip to the pleated waist of the skirt. Stitch, then turn the waistband up, along the center fold, over to the inside, and stitch on the inside. I finish the inside by hand, for a nice clean edge on the outside, but you can also do it on the machine.
Before you stitch the ends of the waistband closed, you want to insert your ties. I used ribbon, and wrapped a length around my waist, then cut that in half. You want to be sure you have enough length of ribbon so that it can wrap to your back or front, and tie easily. Insert the ties into the ends of your waistband and stitch closed. Reinforce with a tight zig-zag stitch.
When you put on your new petticoat, first carry the ties from the back around to your front and tie. Then, lap the front piece over the bow you just made, and tie in back. You can leave the ties in back, or tuck them in.
*Note: tying in front and back like this makes the waist fit perfectly, whereas tying the ribbons together on the sides will limit how tightly the waist can be closed.
|Tie in front first|
|Tie in back|
Now you have a fresh new petticoat! This is the basic method, and you can add ruffles, flounces, cut the length shorter, just be creative with future petticoats. Remember, with 18th c. skirts it’s all about the volume, so pile on the petties!