LACMA Sacque-ma: The Petticoat, and Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better

I spent this past weekend toiling on a “simple” petticoat for my first Robe a la Francaise ensemble, inspired by this gorgeous sacque in LACMA:

I thought it would be a quick throw-together.  I’ve made lots of petticoats before, and based on the patterns in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1
and Costume Close-Up
, I anticipated a nice, easy, weekend 18th century fix.

Patterns of Fashion 1 – petticoat diagram, for a Robe a la Francaise, 1770-75, a bit later than my inspiration dress


I wrestled with it, added bits, took away bits, pleated this way, pleated that way.  In hindsight, I know that the problem was that my panier was just too big.  WAY too big.

To make a stupidly long story short, I shrunk my panier down to something far more 1760s, and stuck to the diagrams in the books.

From Costume Close-Up : petticoat diagram showing the top curves and the straight hem

…but then I decided I hated the color of this fabric.  On the site I purchased it from, it looked far closer to the yummy steely blue the LACMA gown features.  That blue is the reason I fell in love with the dress in the first place…but what I got in the mail wasn’t that blue….it was crazy mermaid turquoise 1980s neon explosion.


So I decided to dye it – one part being in flats, one part being the nearly complete petticoat.  I gritted my teeth and went for it, using my water-efficient front-loading washer to do the deed (not the best, but the only option).

I used one package of royal blue RIT and one package of grey RIT – powders – dissolved prior in a bit of hot water.  About a cup of vinegar went in there too.  The fabric was wet before I tossed it in, and I put the cycle on the longest and hottest I could, with two rinse cycles.

Here are the results:

Before and After: that is a BIG difference, and I love it!

I LOVE the color now! Love Love Love!  And I’ve also learned that silk + washing machine = OK.

I still have a lot of work to do on the petticoat.  I don’t like the bubble shape, and I’m not sure how to correct it – petticoats, ruffles, or is the panier still too big? Anyone have suggestions?

Help me, hive mind! What can I do about this shape? I want it to flair more at the hem.


    • Lauren Stowell

      April 30, 2013 at 1:10 AM

      I have some tiny pocket hoops I might try out, to see how they effect the drape. They're probably too small, but something between them and this huge thing might just work perfectly

  • Scene in the Past

    April 29, 2013 at 10:54 PM

    Do you have another petticoat or two to put over it, to keep the lines of the hoops showing through? Then it might be easier to see if it's shape or the size of the panier.

    Regardless of that, though, you win for dyeing! What a transformation – and in a front-loader, too!

    • Lauren Stowell

      April 30, 2013 at 1:12 AM

      Yes, in the photo the silk petticoat is actually wet, lol, and there is only one thin petticoat on under it. Hoops showing through is a particular peeve of mine, and here I am guilty of it in this photo! haha.

  • Unknown

    April 29, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    (Long time reader first time poster!) Can you take a bit out of the middle of the Panier maybe to pull it in? That might stop it curving out-so much at the sides? The original pic is straighter sided which makes it less bubbly. Or, switch to pocket hoops underneath instead? Simplicity 4092 has a quick set in it (Which I've made, they work fine, if a fiddle to turn inside-out!). They are straighter at the sides and you get a flater front. Gorgeous fabric!

    • Lauren Stowell

      April 30, 2013 at 1:12 AM

      I think I might switch to pocket hoops, as you suggest. Bummer, 'cuz I just made that big ole panier and really wanted to use it, but it's just…too…big!

  • The Laced Angel

    April 29, 2013 at 11:11 PM

    Dyeing SKILLZZZZZ! Careful in the future though… silk is totally dyeable, but sometimes the heat of the water DRASTICALLY changes the weave. I once dyed a finely woven, smooth silk dupioni and got fabulous color, but afterward it looked like a very roughly woven cotton, not at all a silk dupioni!

    As for the shape, two things. One- it looks like when you made it smaller, you shrank the bottom more than the top, so the angle has changed (not sure if that matters to you). Two- I'd suggest a ruffle along the bottom hoop to kick out the skirt and get rid of the straight drop from there down, but it looks like your fabric doesn't have room to kick out further. That means you'll probably have to shrink the hoops more, THEN add a ruffle to kick it out. That, or pop more fabric in the sides of that petticoat. I had the same problem when making my lattice dress skirt; I didn't have enough fabric for the ginormous width created by my hoops & underpetticoat, so it actually curved back in at the bottom. See difference between how the underpetticoat looks by itself, and with the too-small-skirt here

    • Lauren Stowell

      April 30, 2013 at 1:14 AM

      Chrissy, did you end up putting more volume in your lattice skirt, or did you shrink the underpinnings? I think a combination of the two would work for my skirt, but I'm dangerously low on fabric, and reluctant to put more panels in…

    • The Laced Angel

      April 30, 2013 at 3:08 AM

      Sadly, I had no extra fabric to put in! I left it as is, and once it was hemmed and all those gauze ruffles added on the outside, you couldn't see it rounding in anymore. It still squashes the heck out of the supports, but you can't tell with all that crap on the outside. If you're short on fabric, you may want to shrink the hoop rather than risking extra yardage.

  • bauhausfrau

    April 30, 2013 at 1:08 AM

    Very cool about the dye! I'm always so scared to do it, both for my fabric and my washer's sakes. Do you mind a few questions? Was there any residual dye left in the machine? And what was the hand of the fabric post-dyeing? (I'm assuming it is a taffeta and had a fairly stiff hand going in.)

    To me it looks like the petticoat it too narrow at the bottom or the hoop is too big. Maybe you could try it over pocket hoops with a ruffled under-petti?

    • Lauren Stowell

      April 30, 2013 at 1:16 AM

      Hi Loren – I did a wash cycle after I was done dyeing, and that took care of any dye that was left in the washer. You can run bleach through it too (speaking of, I need to go get some…)

      The fabric was silk brocade from It had a hand similar to taffeta before going in, but not as stiff. It's softer coming out, but the hot water did not significantly change the hand, just removed the finish. I'm going to experiment with starching, to see if it bring that crispiness back.

    • bauhausfrau

      April 30, 2013 at 8:23 PM

      Thanks, the changing of the hand is one of my biggest worries about dyeing silk. Looks like Jen Thompson did some dyeing recently too so I'm off to ask her if it changed the hand of her fabric too.

  • Anonymous

    April 30, 2013 at 1:25 AM

    I love that color! I bought a packet of royal blue dye but now I'm thinking of throwing in some gray like you did to tone it down. I've been meaning to dye my wedding dress for some time but keep chickening out.

  • Kathy Gossman

    April 30, 2013 at 2:54 AM

    Having struggled with a full-size panier, I know there are no quick and fast fixes. BUT, I do strongly recommend Norah Waugh's Corset and Crinolines pattern for pocket hoops. I think that pattern will achieve the LACMA silhouette quite nicely!

  • Julie R.

    April 30, 2013 at 5:08 AM

    you need to put ties on the front and back of the bottom hoop, on either side of your hips. 4 ties= 2 on either side of you, then pull them in until you get the eliptical shape, rather than the bell shape. Hope that explaination makes sense.

  • wolfkit

    April 30, 2013 at 7:22 AM

    [Another first time poster]
    I have actually made the very same dress from Janet Arnold's book [for a theatrical production of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses']. We used pocket hoops and it looked great.

  • Angie

    April 30, 2013 at 8:14 AM

    Wow the dye job looks great!!! I'm going to have to remember that (esp when I am shopping at the L.A. fabric district! They always have good patterns but crap colors)

    As for the dress shape: As several people mentioned (and I'm no expert by any means but just my two (hundred) cents) it looks like the weight of the skirts are making it into a bubble shape rather than the long skinny elliptical shape you want. Did you sew control tapes into the inside sides? (Not quite right but a fun old photo

    Did you use these panniers you made? (Which are amazing btw!)

    If so, you can see the shape collapse rounder as more weight gets put on it..

    If that wasn't the pannier you used, what did you use? 🙂

    I say before you give up or have to resort to pocket hoops (which I love anyway!!) I would highly suggest adding/more control ties inside (maybe even a couple ties per hoop?) and adjust tie tautness accordingly… (I had a hard time finding any decent photos of the ties)

    Here's a tutorial but I love how the photos show the control tapes (tied inside the pannier) tied tighter or looser (or even placement of them) completely changes the shape..

    The other issue may be stiffness/support… while I LOVE me some zip-ties (all my period bodies, stays, corsets, etc. are made from various sized zip-ties), it doesn't look like (at least the bottom hoop) is either not wide enough or maybe not strong enough to support the weight enough to help the skirts "flare" at the bottom..
    This tutorial uses non-fabric soaker hose which I will have to try!! I do like that the hose is thicker than the widest zipties I can find. I wonder if getting the longer length from the roll of hose (rather than adjusting two zipties together to make one long one) would be helpful also?

    Long-winded, hopefully helped? At the very least you have me dying to make a set of panniers now!!! (all I have so far is my pocket hoops). I've got the itch, thanks! 😀

    Oh even though this isn't relevant to this style dress, I still found this site fascinating for help making future (round) hoop skirts

  • Angie

    April 30, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    (Sorry I don't know how to insert a clicky link, just know how to copy and paste the address, d'oh! Can anyone tell me how to?)

    Oh now I look at the images again I also agree that maybe the bottom hoop is either a little too big, or should have a nice stiff ruffle at the bottom of it combined with more control ties? 🙂

    OK I'm dying to make a new Sacque now!!!

  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    April 30, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    I have a theory, and I've skipped lots of comments so 'scuse if someone else has suggested it. I can see the bottom hoop going circular on you really easily, and wondered if you could tie it through underneath to keep its oval shape? Less bubble shaped that way.

  • Libby Gohn

    April 30, 2013 at 5:02 PM

    On eliminating the bubble: If you don't want to fiddle with the panniers, I would either use an under-petticoat with a flounce to fill out the bottom or a quilted petticoat which would have enough structure to hold the bottom of the petticoat out.

  • Unknown

    April 30, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    You are used wrong shape of hoops for this particular dress. Make first three rings of exciting hoops almost equal with slight decries from high hoop to lower hoop. You hoop-peatern for modern Hallowing costume , but your "inspiration" dress from 18th century. Do you really thought they work well together !??

  • Jeni B

    April 30, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    I agree that I think in this case you need to use a straight hoop or possibly pockets for this style of petticoat as the one you have made is intended to support the flaring sides which is not the style you are making. Rather than cutting up your lovely new hoopskirt, try making one of the shorter ones that only go down to the thighs? shows some great examples of them and they can all be adapted for different sized petticoats. If you make another dress for this hoop in future try making it using a gored front and back panel supported by a straight of grain piece at each side seam, in the same way as your hoops are made. That way you can achieve the flat fronted look while accommodating the fullness at the hem, you will only have a small amount to pleat into the waistband. I would also definitely make a sturdy frill for the bottom edge of your hoop to extend the flare right to the bottom hem. I made one with a box pleated hem and it really helps. If that isn't enough you might also want to add another frill to the hem of your first under petticoat for a better effect. Hope this helps, but please don't cut into your hoops, they will be great for the next project!

    Love your work!


  • AuntieNan

    April 30, 2013 at 8:51 PM

    GORGEOUS color. I must admit, I was clutching my forehead like a silent film diva when I read those fateful words: Front-loader water efficient… 2 boxes of dye… and HEAVED a sigh when I saw how lovely it turned out!
    As to the hoops, I concur — decrease the bottom one,even by a couple of inches, and try some ties inside to make it more eliptical. Has anybody tried a short "disguise" ruffle, not very full, stitched just above each hoop to break the line a bit? I'm playing with the farthingale I just finished, and have to say, steel bones are wonderful at keeping their ooomph.

  • Steph

    April 30, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    Great dyeing job! I always launder my silks in my washing machine before cutting into them to remove the manufacturing residues, sizing, etc. and never have had any disasters in terms of damaging the fabric's character. Although, silk dupioni looses a bit of its sheen after washing and is more prone to tiny wrinkles that are difficult to press out, but I think just pressing it while it's still damp reduces that. I've always wondered if RIT dyes would work on silk, as I've only heard that protein fabrics require a specifically formulated type of dye. I'm glad to see you got such perfect results with it!

  • Maudelynn

    June 13, 2015 at 8:26 PM

    Hi! I've ordered the same fabric for a regency day dress and realize I must dye it, as well! When you say one packet of RIT, how many ounces per pack do you mean? I have found a few different sizes! Thank you so so much! Your blog is wonderful xo

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