V49: 18th Century Quilted Petticoats

I am thinking of quilting a petticoat.  My mom thinks that’s insane, but it really seems doable, even for an inpatient girl like me.

The quilted petticoats in the Colonial Williamsburg book “Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790” are constructed of 6 panels of fabric an average of 20-25 inches wide.  Some of the quilting patterns are more complex than others – mine would be one of the simpler ones, with the hand quilting only about a foot deep at the hem.  When you look at it this way, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy thing.

‘Course, never having done it, I really don’t know.  It’s the not knowing that draws me to it. 🙂

I found some sage-blue silk for one petticoat, to match the yellow/blue stripe I bought several weeks ago, but the silk is not the right weave for a quilted petticoat.  Those I have seen in various collections look to be made of satin, or something on the fairly soft-n-shiny side, so that is what I will be looking for next, in Hansa yellow.  (They were also made of cotton, but I would rather pair silk/silk for this particular ensemble)

In the meantime, here are some inspiration quilted petticoats:

Connecticut Historical Society
This one has the decorative hem, and a scalloped design up top, instead of diamonds
Brooklyn Museum
Sacheverelle’s Flickr page
This one is from the 1840s, but the idea is the same. via
Augusta Auctions.  Many petticoats depict natural elements, even little animals.  I would like to incorporate a rattle snake into mine, as an homage to the Colonial flags featuring them.
MFA.  This one is quite simple and lovely.  The top six, seven inches are left unquilted.  This is satin.  I’m going to blaspheme here and say that this diamond pattern could easily be done on the machine – that’s my plan for the upper part of mine, with the lower motifs done by hand.

There are oodles of quilted petticoats in various collections, especially paired with gowns.  They were popular throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th.  I noticed in my research (http://pinterest.com/americanduchess/cw-1770-1780/) , for my Colonial Williamsburg costumes, that if a gown was paired with a mismatched petticoat, often times that petticoat was quilted.  Quilted petticoats were also worn with jackets and undress, and were a utilitarian garment as well one of fashion.

So now to find the Hansa yellow satin… 🙂


  • Cynthia Griffith

    February 18, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    I don't think it's crazy at all! If it is, then I'll join you sometime in that craziness since I plan to hand quilt one and some other garments as well heheh! Never quilted before, but I think it looks relaxing!

  • Rebecca

    February 18, 2012 at 9:11 PM

    Where did you find a cotton one? I'd love to see it! I really want to make a quilted petticoat eventually, but with all the work that goes into one, it would have to be something I could wear more often than silk. It seems like cotton would be more practical for the frontier, but I don't know.
    Oh, and hand quilting all of it wouldn't be so bad, you'd just have to make the squares on the top a little bigger, and running stitch goes pretty fast.

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    February 18, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    Oh good I was going to say don't be afriad to machine embroider it, using the drop feed and an embroidery foot even to get flowing patterns, because it is still a lot of work but a fraction of hand quilting it, and with your amazing eye and graphic design skills you would do such a beautiful job of it!! It bugs me a bit that with these historical costumes so many makers leave their's unadorned because the amount of work in hand adorning is so daunting, whereas on the day it was all done by virtually slave labour, or by women who needed those things for their real life! 🙂 If you do diamond, do however do use a walking foot or you will go nuts. And that would be very bad!

  • Colleen

    February 18, 2012 at 9:45 PM

    Machine quilting is not quite as easy as you think it is. I've done hand and machine quilting….get a walking foot and spend a few hours practicing, on a LARGE swatch. Straight is hard. Not making pleats/tucks is hard. Not breaking needles is hard (tip, ALL of your quilt must be supported, not an inch hanging down…so that it feeds smoothly under the machine. Tables and books must surround you, keeping the quilt at a proper height, with frequent stops to readjust.)

    • Lauren R

      February 19, 2012 at 8:45 PM

      Colleen, thank you so much for these tips. I had thought it would be easy, but I will get that piece and practice, for sure. Hope it doesn't give TOO much trouble, now that I know what to expect 🙂

  • Unknown

    February 18, 2012 at 11:05 PM

    I say go for it! It's only slightly crazy which is better then boring, lazy and unkempt right? Just think how warm and toasty you will be. Hand quilting is a great project for the winter months….just saying.

  • Allison

    February 19, 2012 at 5:05 AM

    hand or machine? gotta say, I think you're nuts. I'm sure it will be beautiful, but having hand-quilted a quilt, trust me when I say it is time consuming in a way I would not have thought possible. However, I wish you luck and look forward to the result.

  • Sharon

    February 19, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    Oh how I love the power of suggestion! You didn't merely notice this combo, Lauren, I suggested it to you on Jan 13. So glad you liked the idea!
    If you choose a bonded or woven "wadding" then your hand stitches can be larger and the rows of stitching more widely spaced; this then becomes a do-able project within your time constraints.

  • 18thcgirl

    February 19, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    I made one, when you get started let me know if questions pop up. Maybe I can help. Here is a photo. i had to fix that one pleat that was turned funny. But the batting was wool, the fabric was silk and so was the thread. Mine is copied from one in Williamsburg. But I replaced the flowers with dragonflies to make it more personal to me.

    • Lauren R

      February 19, 2012 at 8:47 PM

      That's gorgeous! I get jealous (in a good way) when I see other costumers who have taken the plunge. I am thinking of working snakes into mine, like you did with the dragonflies.

    • 18thcgirl

      February 20, 2012 at 10:05 PM

      I say go for it. I learned a ton just by doing! I firmly believe you should make it your own. In the 18th century it was important for clothing to "talk" and give a clue as to the person it was made for. _Go for IT_ 🙂 Add the snakes and hand sew it!

  • France Geek

    February 19, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Wow – impressive. Those skirst are sublime. I support doing anything that makes us realize the hard work that goes into every day items from our past. Love your blog!

  • Anonymous

    February 20, 2012 at 12:59 AM

    Have you consider finding a maltese coverlet and using that to make your petticoat? It would save on the quilting time and they make them in so many types of material with intricate patterns.


    • Anna

      February 20, 2012 at 4:12 PM

      I think Thall probably means matelasse rather than maltese, but I second this idea if you run out of time or decide quilting a petticoat yourself is just too hard. I found some gorgeous matelasse fabric at Jo-Ann's of all places, and got enough to make a quilted stomacher. Depending on the design, it would work very well for a petticoat too.

    • Tricia

      February 21, 2012 at 3:29 AM

      Some of them are made for summer. The one we have on our bed is light weight and the more I wash it the softer it gets.
      April Thomas has a pretty quilted petticoat (white with yellow, green, and brown) pattern on it. Yellow would be beautiful, I love the drawing you have of your colonial gowns you are working on.

    • Lauren R

      February 22, 2012 at 9:22 PM

      I think I saw some recently at one of the home fabric shops here … might have to go and have a look. I like this idea quite a lot – I'm still quite afraid of hand quilting. I has not the patience.

  • Gail Kellogg Hope

    February 21, 2012 at 9:30 PM

    I've been working on one of these for a couple years? now… It's pretty close to done but the lattice work is terribly boring, hence it not being finished. Red silk with brown linen backing, cotton batting. If I were to do another by hand (or machine), I'd back the silk with the same color cotton to keep the batting from pulling up through. Once upon a time I read somewhere that batting was sometimes dyed to match the outer fabric color, but I don't know where I read it.
    Quilt it flat, finish the side seam, hem it & then work the length by folding over the top to the waistband tape. This way, if anyone else wants to wear it, the top quilting is intact & they can just re-set the waistband.
    My best suggestion is to make it to last. Don't do a "quick-n-dirty" version because you are going to spend A Lot of time on it. Get the silk thread, get the right silk, use wool or cotton batting, plan it out.

    I have one that's made from cotton & flannel, don't remember now where I found the reference (sorry, my memory took a huge hit last year), but it's in some east coast museum and dated from the 1780's.

    Good luck!

  • Joseph Hisey

    February 23, 2012 at 2:26 AM

    I made one in brown linen. To reduce the bulk I used flannelette instead of the commercial quilt battings of today which have to much loft and consequently they puff out too much and ruin the silhouette. Even the new wool battens were too thick.

  • Anonymous

    March 26, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    The V 49 petticoat you said is six panels of 20-25 inches…do you know why they just didnt use one full length of fabric back then? If doing in the 21st century will you use the six panel method or one piece of fabric?
    Also the petticoat does not look pleated but gathered. Were the quilted petticoats usually just gathered or were they pleated?
    I was thinking of doing a matelase petticoat out of an old coverlet. I am
    glad to find I am not the crazy lady
    Being new to this, I am so pleased to have found your website via Riley's Farm of which I am a great fan….
    Anyone know of some colonial re enactment groups or colonial dancing groups in So Calif. area. I live in Bakersfield
    Carmen Morales-Board

    • Lauren R

      March 26, 2012 at 10:16 PM

      Hi Carmen – the reason the petticoats use panels 20-25 inches is because that was the maximum width of the looms back then, so selvedge-to-selvedge was only 20-25 inches.

      In my research, all the petticoats were pleated, not gathered, at the waist, at least originally. Many were very teeny tiny pleats, which makes them look like gathers. I think they used pleating because you are able to reduce more fabric into a smaller length than by gathering.

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