Historical Sew Fortnightly, Sewing

Just a boring old petticoat

A 1900s petticoat thedreamstress.com

One of the problems with my sewing is that  I sew A LOT, and not all of it looks particularly interesting and dynamic unless I manage to do a whole photoshoot in it, in a picturesque locale (which, luckily, there are lots of in the Wellington region!).

Thing is, photoshoots take a lot of time and planning, and a willing photographer (which, unluckily, Mr D is not often).  So I do a bit of self-timed photos, and a lot of mannequin photos.

Even with good images, some sewing isn’t that interesting without a really good story, and it’s too easy for too many blog posts to be summed up as:

tl:dr – I sewed something and there were a few tiny problems but I fixed them and now I mostly like it.

There isn’t a particularly interesting story for this sew.  It’s a petticoat suitable for wear under late Victorian and early 1900s garments.  It’s a basic 5-gore pattern with a bit of back gathers and a  placket  closure.  It has tucks and a layer of ruffles to give it body at the hem, and a bit of beading with blue ribbon for a decorative element.

A 1900s petticoat thedreamstress.com

Vaguely interesting bits:

1. It’s made from an old sheet, and I used every single bit of the sheet in it, so you can even see the wide top hem in the back panel of ruffle.

A 1900s petticoat thedreamstress.com2. It fastens with vintage lingerie buttons: I found a whole tube of them at an op-shop for $60cents.  Whoot woot!

A 1900s petticoat thedreamstress.com

3. The ruffles were made using the corded gathering technique, so took me 1/57th of the time and teeth-gnashing that standard gathering would, and look much better.

How to sew corded gathering & ruffles thedreamstress.com

4. I’m showing the petticoat over another petticoat, because on a mannequin  even petticoats need petticoats to avoid looking limp and flat (this is why museums show everything over custom crinolines & supports).

A 1900s petticoat thedreamstress.com

5. Felicity!

A 1900s petticoat thedreamstress.com

Felicity is, of course, far more than vaguely interesting.  In these photos she’s playing with a nail.  We’ve been doing a bit of summer DIY on the house, and somehow she found a nail and LOVES it.  She bats it about and does the adorable prey-pounce and stalk routine.

We only let her play with it under supervision, just in case.

A 1900s petticoat thedreamstress.com

The Challenge:  Re-Do

Challenges this is re-doing  (once again, I am attempting to re-do every challenge from the year in December, though each item can cover multiple challeges):
—  #1 Foundations:  A petticoat is an obviously an important foundation garment.
—  #2 Blue:  Thanks to the little touch of decorative blue ribbon
—  #3 Stashbusting:  The sheet has been hanging around in the back of my linen closet for years, because it’s the wrong size for any of our beds, and I bought the blue ribbon at a Fabric Warehouse sale at least 4 years ago, probably more.
– #5 Practicality:  I’m stretching a tiny bit, but by the standards of Edwardian fashion, this is an extremely practical petticoat: quite plain, short enough and durable enough to be worn under a walking skirt.  It’s the kind of petticoat a typewriter or shopgirl would have worn.
— #10 Sewing Secret:  It’s made from a sheet!

Materials:  One sheet

Pattern:  Based on a basic 5-gore skirt pattern.

Year:  ca. 1900

Notions:    Cotton  thread, cotton beading lace, rayon ribbon, lingerie buttons.

How historically accurate is it?  There are period accounts of making petticoats and other undergarments from sheets.  The hand, thread weight, and general feel of this fabric is similar to, but not identical to some late 19th century petticoats I’ve worked with, so it’s not perfect, though I don’t  that a period seamstress would find it too odd.  Pattern, trims and sewing techniques are all in line with period examples.  80% or so.

Hours to Complete  5ish.

First worn:  Not yet, but  I’m sure it will be a very useful item!

Total Cost  under $10


  1. Lynne says

    Very nice indeed! I love that you used the top of the sheet to give body to the frill.

    And one of Maggie’s favourite toys is a screw with a plastic coated head – about the length of Felicity’s nail. Seems to work beautifully for hook and flick games! 🙂

  2. Nice petticoat! I rather like that you left the deep hem in the ruffle; I’d have probably taken it out, but it gives a bit of ‘oomph’ to the back and it saved time!
    Don’t get bored with that ‘sewed-solved problems – mostly like it’, please!! It’s almost like having someone to talk to about sewing, which is in rare supply. Even though you may find your problem /solution seems straight forward, being able to see how you figured it out is incredibly helpful (especially when burning your project is starting to look appealing…)

  3. It’s quite pretty, and not at all boring (how could it be, with both tucks, beading and ruffle!).

    Actually, I’ve been wondering about the history of vintage lingerie buttons – roughly when were they introduced? And what did they use before that; was it mother of pearl, or perhaps thread buttons?

  4. I don’t think this is boring at all. Foundations are after all key to creating the right look and it’s nice to see a project that showcases good plain sewing and just how economical it is possible to be – things like this encouraged me so much when I was just beginning and complex, fancy projects just seemed so overwhelming. Also I just have a thing about underwear – I love crisp white cotton and the effect of tucks, ruffles and beading 🙂

    • Thank you! I have a thing about underwear too. Or, more accurately, anything white. It’s just such a refreshing colour, and you can really focus on the construction.

      • Anna Joy Cunningham says

        I agree with you completely about white things. I have a yearning to make one early-Edwardian and one late-Edwardian white ‘lingerie’ dress, with lace and pintucks and flounces and whitework oh my.
        And I very much like petticoats, partly because they’re an important part of getting the right silhouette and partly because they make me feel sassy. I want to make one like this. Can you give me some measurements? In particular, what was the length of the ruffle at the foot?

  5. Seconding the fact that the “boring” blog posts that go “I sewed something and there were a few tiny problems but I fixed them and now I mostly like it” can actually be helpful. And encouraging. It’s always so encouraging to see others run into problems, too! And it’s more in-depth and more… down-to-earth?… than just posting pretty pictures; pretty pictures are great, but I get tired of blogs that are only pretty pictures after a while. I’m glad yours isn’t!

    • (Also, Felicity will never be boring, so strategically placing her inside such posts automatically raises their appeal. Which I’m sure you know.)

    • Thank you! I don’t much care for pretty pictures blogs, or (erk) ‘aspirational’ blogs.

      Unless you can consider ‘I totally screw up all the time, but usually still manage to make it work, and have learned to be happy with imperfection’ aspirational 😉

  6. Amy B. says

    cord gathering is the only way I do it these days. When I first heard about it I had a “why hasn’t anyone told me about this before?!” moment. It’s been a life saver when working with tulle. I used to agonize working with the stuff but now with a jersey needle (sharps get stuck in the tulle and will break the thread) and my trusty fishing line, my gathers come out perfectly every time. I have three girls and prom and wedding dresses to make. I have to be able to gather tulle.

    It’s a lovely petticoat. I like the little touch of blue ribbon. It does look like something a shop girl would have. Just a little bit of pretty and frill so she feels like she has a bit of something fancy in her wardrobe. Sort of like American women and their black lace underthings.

    • Agreed! Cord gathering is definitely one of those “How come I was never told about this! How come everyone doesn’t know about this! Why would anyone ever do it any other way!’ things! Especially for tulle!

  7. I agree that posts about foundation garments are NOT boring! For us who are new to historical sewing, these posts are invaluable. Chemises, corsets and petticoats comes first when making an outfit, and I for one think there are far too little posts around on these things. I can understand that the more seasoned seamstresses will want to skip posting pedestrian things like petticoats, but please dont!! We are all on different stages in our sewing, and what may seem like a boring thing for some, is utterly fascinating to others 🙂 Thanks for sharing, it looks lovely!

  8. Bella says

    I thought I was the only one to use sheets as material for clothing. I also use sheer curtains as a lingerie fabric, for veils or stitchery canvas.

    Love this one. As we say in old Kentucky — you dun good


  9. Kayla's Blog says

    Nice to see an old fabric being reworked to become something useful! I think this is not a boring piece of project at all. Foundation garments are key elements to make an entire outfit look fab!

  10. Kelly says

    I’ll continue agreeing that these sorts of posts are decidedly not boring! Foundations are a must for any one looking to re-create fashion of a period and yours are always so lovely. Also now I must go find out what a dogs-leg closure is! (I’ve never heard the term before)

    Just one question, what size sheet did you use?

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