Sunday, March 2, 2014

HSF #4: Under it All - Petticoat for an 18th Century Court Gown

Next milestone in the 18th century court gown project is the petticoat.  Now, at first glance, the dress looks like it might have an open skirt on top of a petticoat of the same red fabric, with a bit of additional fur trim.  However, if you look closely at the far right hand hem of the dress, there's a small bit of something off white -ishsticking out there at the end.

Hmm... might have to find me a stuffed spotted dog to go with the costume.

The lovely people over on the Grand Ladies website where I first spotted this dress have hypothesized that it's a pale bit of petticoat sticking out and that, consequently, the fur-trimmed panel in the front is simply intended to create the illusion of a second petticoat underneath.  Now, I'm all about keeping it simple, and it seems that having the skirt be all one piece will not only save fabric, but also be easier to maneuver in. There's no worrying that the heavy fur will flip parts of the skirt open and look unsightly.

So, a pale petticoat it is.  I decided to keep it simple with this one and use what I had on hand.  I had eight yards of un-dyed dupioni silk left over from a cosplay project that never materialized, so I opted to use that.  Bonus points in that if I ever stop wearing this costume, I'll have large pieces of silk that I can tear out and dye to fit whatever the new project needs.  It's what they would have done back then.

On to the math.  My panniers have a 160" circumference at the bottom hoop.  For simplicity's sake, I'm going to pretend that's in a perfect circle for the next bit.  Working under the assumption that each additional petticoat is going to add 2" out from the body has worked well for me thus far in life.  If you'll remember from your geometry classes, the circumference of a circle is equal to 2πr, where r is the radius of the circle and π is Pi, (approximately 3.14).  So my pretend-it's-a-circle panniers would be have a radius of 160/2π, which is roughly equal to 25.5 inches.  Assuming that the ivory petticoat is going to stand out two inches from that, the petticoat would have a radius of 25.5 + 2 = 27.5 inches.  The circumference of this would be 2(3.14)(27.5) = 172.7 inches.

The fabric I have is 45" wide.  Assuming 1/2" seams, that leaves me with 44" of usable width per panel.  If I had 4 panels, then that would give me a circumference of 176 inches.  That sounds close enough to me.  So, four panels it is.  Now, how long should I cut those four panels of fabric?  I came across a couple of great tutorials from La Couturière Parisienne (excellent break down of the length requirements over different sizes of foundations) and The Fashionable Past (superb step-by-step instructions for the pleating that deals with all that extra fabric).  While the final dress was going to be floor length, I wanted to make sure that the petticoat was a good 2" shorter than that.  Keeping in mind that I'd be in 1" heels, and that another inch was going to get eaten up in the hem,  I decided on 44" for the raw length.  I'm trying to be careful about keeping track of the math now, because this is acting as the trial run for the outer skirt.

I used machine stitching to assemble the panels and attach them to the waist band, then hand stitching to finish the hem, waist ties and the top of the side pleats.  The lengthwise seams were pressed open and the selvages left as is.  Openings were left on each side to access the pockets, and these seams were turned under twice and finished with a running back stitch.  The hem took about 3 hours of hand sewing to do, but it was a simple stitch and kind of meditative.  I figure that some people can spend 3 hours watching tv in a single night, so I don't consider that time wasted at all.

From the front.  You can still see a bit of hoop showing through, but the pleats stacking up on the ends should offer enough cushioning where I'll need it.  I'll wait and see how the fashion fabric drapes over it before I decide if I need to make another petticoat to go under this one.  It's hard to tell from this angle, but my friend crawled around on the floor and assured me that there's about a hand's width gap between the hem and the floor.

Side view.  While it't not quite as narrow a depth as historical references, neither am I.  So I'll call this good.

And THAT is how I plan to get through doors in this costume.  Will just have to make sure that the chemise is long enough to provide some modesty in the elevator.

Just the facts
What the items is: petticoat for an 18th century court gown
The Challenge: Under it All
Fabric: ~ 5 yards of un-dyed silk dupioni
Pattern: La Couturière Parisienne and The Fashionable Past
Year: 1770s
Notions: poly thread for the panel assembly, gold silk thread for the hem, un-dyed rayon ribbon for the waise binding and ties
How historically accurate is it? 9/10
Hours to complete: 6, about half of which was spent hand-sewing the hem
Total cost: $55 US


  1. That looks amazing! I can't believe how nicely it folds up, too! Where are you going to wear this at?

    1. I'm going to try to get it done for Figments and Filaments here in KC at the end of April. Barring that, hopefully Costume College.

  2. If you do get it done for Figments & Filaments, let me know which day you'll be wearing it. I'll wear my 18th c. outfit & we can get pics together. - Sheryl

    1. If I can get it to a decent level of polished, I may wear it to the Fashion Show, so whatever day that ends up being. Hey, also, are you doing the Friday night Meet n Greet? I still need to buy my tickets and I can't decide.

  3. Ambitious! Can't wait to see the completed ensemble. And I'm with you in repurposing the silk if you decide to call it quits with the panniers.