Historical Sew Fortnightly, Sewing

HSM16 #1: The chine a la b’retch petticoat

Have you ever been obsessed with a period garment made from very unusual fabric, and, of course, you’re heartbroken, because you think you’ll never have the chance to recreate it, because where would you get that fabric?

That was me with 18th century chine a la branche.

I’ve loved ikat in all its forms since I was given a hand-woven ikat skirt when I first started sewing, but chine is definitely my favourite. But so hard to find!

And then, three years ago, ikat became fashionable, and Wellington’s The Fabric Store started having the occasional bolt of silk or silk blend chine.  Oh, the temptation!  But none of it was quite right : wrong blend, very  modern pattern, colours that are only achievable with modern dyes, etc.

And then, they had a short bolt of this:

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com02


So I snapped up everything they had, which was only 2.3m.  I really wanted to make a française, but at least I had a bit, so could do a pet en l’aire if nothing else.

The idea of a pet didn’t quite make my heart go pitter-patter, so the fabric sat in my stash for almost three years, waiting.  Then, with the Brown challenge coming up last year, I decided it was then or never.  But I’d make one last trip to The Fabric Store, just in case…


(full caps to accurately express how excited I was!).

AND it was their 40% off sale!

So I bought another 7m (I think!  I hope!), and started working.

This is when the story stops being awesome and goes terribly wrong.

Look at the fabric again:

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com04

Just stare at that photo for a good few seconds.  Do you notice what’s happening?

I quickly noticed what was happening.  As did everyone I managed to show the fabric to in person.

I held it up to Stella & Priscilla the first day I tried sewing with it, and said “What’s wrong with this fabric?”

Priscilla looked at it for 30 seconds and then said “Is it the part where it makes you feel like you’re going to fall down and throw up at the same time?”

Yep.  That’s it.

Here is a photo of Felicity to give you something lovely to focus on while your eyes recover:

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com01

Imagine trying to pattern match fabric that you can’t look at because doing so makes you nauseous and dizzy!

Basically, I gave up.  Pattern matching isn’t that important in 18th c garments anyway, especially since the petticoat will (hopefully) be covered by the overskirt.

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com08

Because the fabric was so heinous to work with, I didn’t get it done in time for the Brown challenge.

Not to worry!  I had a backup plan! The petticoat has a secret: it’s backed in linen, and the backing has both weird patching, and dye problems:

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com05

The fading/dye problems are only on one side of the linen, so I hid them between the linen and the silk.

The patching is just a funny little strip on one side, because the length of linen was just a few cm short.

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com11

Patched and irregularities frequently show up on 18th c linings, so mine are very much in the spirit.

Despite this, I didn’t get the petticoat done for Sewing Secrets, because it was just too hard to work with.  I was determined to get it finished this year, so New Years eve I had a sewing party, we sat around and sewed and chatted and watched Firefly, and I sewed the side slits, pleated the top of the petticoat, and hand-stitched it to a band.

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com07

It’s not my most perfect effort by far, but, importantly, it is DONE.  I finished the last stitch at 4 minutes past midnight.  A good start to the year!

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com09

The petticoat is currently sitting on my dressform, skirts all tucked up out of the way of Miss Fiss and her claws, while I consider whether I am brave enough to make a full française out of the fabric.  We’ll see!

An 18th century chine a la branche petticoat thedreamstress.com

First I must finish the Frou Frou Française I started two years ago though…

The Challenge: Procrastination

Materials: 2.5ish meters of chine a la branch (warp printed) silk satin ($25 or so per meter), 2.5m of linen backing ($5 at an op shop)

Pattern: None.

Year: ca. 1765

Notions:   Cotton tape, cotton and silk threads

How historically accurate is it? The hand and hang of the silk isn’t quite right for the mid 18th century, and all the examples I can find of chine a la branch are on flat silk (taffeta). Plus I machine sewed the seaming. But the fabric patterning is quite close  to a dress in the LACMA. 60% or so.

Hours to Complete So, so, so many!

First worn: Not yet, but finished 4 minutes past midnight on New Years Day.

Total Cost  $70ish


  1. Actually…. it doesn’t have that effect on me at all. But then, I don’t get carsick or motion sickness either, or any of the usual triggers…. I love it, and can see it as the most gorgeous gown. Awesome how close it is to original chine too….

    • It doesn’t translate nearly as well in photographs. Trust me, in person I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t feel at least a little ill (which is also a problem for wearing it – will I make everyone dizzy?)

  2. Oh no that sounds terrible! And at the same time I just can’t stop laughing because it is so silly that a fabric can make people dizzy. But I can totally relate! I get dizzy and nauseous really easily, what ever the reason, so I can imagine that it would have been pretty impossible to me to work with.
    I have been trying to find proper ikat fabric but the only ones I have been able to find so far have only been cheap print-imitations, not real weave. Perhaps there is still hope since you managed to find this.

  3. Well, that might explain why it was on sale…
    Would it be period-accurate to combine it with a different top part, to cut back on the dizziness? I must say I admire you for actually finishing it; if I had a fabric that made me nauseous, I’d probably dig it deep and leave it there for another five years or so.

  4. I want to see all the secrets of this, and am dying to see inside of it. Now I’m hopping over to the linked inspiration piece.

  5. *fits of laughter* I thought it was just me that had this reaction to some fabric. Growing up peoples furniture would set me off. I would see a historical reprint upholstery fabric and have to work hard not to be I’ll from either the puke inducing colors or the mind dizzying print of the fabric. Sometimes it is really hard to find the stuff you love and then when you do, you discover it wasn’t it either. I applaud you for finishing what you started. I am still hunting chints fabric…

  6. Mm, I see what you mean. It is a bit disorienting isn’t it? But more importantly, it is so beautiful and so very, very 18th century!

  7. Susan says

    Wow-wow-wow!! Thanks to your post, and the linked previous post about chine (sorry, computer won’t do accents), I now know that the largish piece of green and coral printed (I thought) ivory silk with a scalloped/pinked edge, which I acquired via a museum house’s deaccessioning closed-bid auction a couple of years ago, is very likely chine silk, c. mid 1700s! I just got it out – the pattern is smaller, but otherwise, it’s very, very similar to the mid-eighteenth century fabric in your first photo above, though the pinking is less elaborate (no star-shaped hole in the middle of the “pinks”). There are some hand-stitched seams here and there in my piece, which certainly appears to have been taken from an older garment with the idea of reusing it, something which never occurred. A close inspection of the “print” reveals that the color is woven in, not printed on the surface.

    Now, other than appreciate it, what can I do with it?? Clothe a French fashion doll, perhaps? And what is the best way to store it? I can keep it dark and in acid free paper – temperature and humidity controls are more difficult. Suggestions are most welcome!

    Gloating in my newly identified find,
    Susan in Kentucky

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