Sewing 18th Century Petticoats

My first 18th century skirt (note: not a proper petticoat) was made for my Claire costume from Outlander (Season 1).  I didn’t have a pattern or much skill/knowledge, so I bought 9 yards of heavy upholstery fabric and manually box pleated the hell out of it.  Wishing I had pocket slits, I went back about a year or so later and cut hand holes so I could wear 18th century pockets underneath.  After joining an Outlander Inspired Costumes group on Facebook, I learned from a very knowledgeable and helpful friend in the group that had I made proper petticoat (with front and back sections overlapping and tied separately), pocket slits would just naturally happen.  What?!?  Kristen is my hero.  I grabbed my credit card and I was off to the fabric store for cheap muslin (for a test run to be used as an under petticoat) and nice linen suiting for an outer petticoat.



I didn’t need to buy waistband material because I had this beautiful floral fabric at home begging to be cut up for multiple projects.  After my dogs attacked my prized Pottery Barn duvet cover in the dead center of it (rendering it completely useless as bed clothes), I cut the bottom lining off to use for other projects and saved the decorative top for…whatever may come up.  Turns out I have super educated and talented friends who spotted the pattern as Indienne, a fabric pattern popular between 17th and 19th centuries.   So I cut down a quarter of the duvet cover for an 18th century jacket (coming soon to the blog) and used some scrappy areas for 18th century pockets, jacket, stays, a stomacher, and a drawstring bag.  I had enough leftover for waistbands for both petticoats since they wont be seen anyway.



For the petticoats, I had an old Butterick B4484 pattern that I found on Etsy that also included stays, hoop pockets, and 18th century pockets, but found the petticoat pattern to be rubbish and did my own thing (I’m still learning…but stubborn as heck).  Besides, I had Kristen from the Outlander group and with her guidance, here’s what I did:



18th Century Petticoat How-To

  1. Iron and lay out 5 yards fabric
  2. Cut in half  to make two 2.5 yard sections
  3. Measure waist (mine is about 30″ with comfortable wiggle room) and add about 2″ for seam allowance
  4. Divide that number in half for front and back of petticoat and add about 2-3″ to each side for overlap (and bum roll, etc.)
  5. Rounding up, use that number as the final measurement for front and back sections (I used 20″ for my sections, or 10″ from center to side)
  6. Use desired pleating method (box, cartridge, etc.) for each front and back sections of petticoat
  7. Cut/iron fabric or use extra wide bias tape for waistband (mine were 4″ wide duvet fabric strips tri-folded and ironed down to about a 2″ wide waistband by 30″ long)
  8. Pin waistbands to front and back sections of petticoat and include about 45″ string on each edge for tying (bias tape, extra long shoe strings, or twill tape works just fine) with edges of petticoat fabric turned in (will be stitched in following steps)
  9. With right sides of front section and back section facing each other, measure about 12″ down from waistband, pin and stitch below the 12″ to the floor
  10. Stitch turned in loose edges from waistband to where the front and back petticoats are now connected
  11. Hem to desired length

Note: Back section of petticoat should be tied around waist first, with front section tied around waist after, allowing the front to overlap the back and pocket access (indicated in the picture below)



After being pleased with how well the cheap muslin under petticoat turned out, I repeated the steps for the grey linen suiting outer petticoat.  The whole process from start (cutting pattern & fabric) to finish (hemming the bottom) took about a day for BOTH inner and outer petticoats.  Yay!



Although the petticoats were bulky, they rolled up nicely and traveled with me to North Carolina where I tried everything on and enjoyed the cool mountain air as I imagined Claire Fraser would when she and Jamie reached the Americas (come on, Season 3!).  Maybe not in Houston summers, but in North Carolina I was quite comfortable!



Coming soon…the rest of the 18th century clothing items made with the fated duvet cover, including hat trim.  Check back here for links!