The Scroop Patterns Kilbirnie Skirt pattern is based on an extant ca. 1915 skirt in my collection. Let’s take a close look at all the details of the skirt, from fabric to making.
The skirt is in very poor condition, but features a classic shape for the mid-1910s, with just enough design differences to make it interesting, and construction techniques that are absolutely typical of the era. This made it the perfect candidate for a pattern.
I found the skirt in an antique store in Richmond, Nelson. The store sourced antiques from both New Zealand and Europe. I inquired about the provenance when I bought it, and they were pretty sure it had come from a NZ estate lot, but weren’t absolutely certain.
There’s nothing in the extant Kilbirnie Skirt to give any further clues to where it’s from. Western fashion in the 1910s was universal rather than regional. Fashion plates, clothing catalogues, and pattern magazines from the US, Canada, Europe and NZ newspapers in the mid-1910s all show skirts with very similar designs, and very similar fabrics.
So the skirt could have been made anywhere, but I do know some things about the maker, and who wore it.
The skirt was homemade by an inexpert seamstress. The seams wobble, the hem is decidedly amateur, and the belt application and hook/eye and dome/snap finishes are quite rough.
It was made for a petite woman, possibly a teenager. It has a 26”/66cm waist, and is 32”/81cm from waist to hem.
The hem is 6” deep.
38” was the most common finished length mentioned in mid 1910s skirt patterns and ready-made skirts. The deep 6” hem would have been an easy way to shorten a skirt to fit a petite woman.
Rather than replicating the short length, the Kilbirnie Skirt pattern has a finished length of 38” based on other 1910s patterns in my colleciton.
So the skirt was made at home, for a small woman or teen. It was also made for summer wear. It’s made from a very lightweight cotton fabric with a slightly open tabby weave and a slightly crisp hand. The fabric is softer than an organdie, but crisper than a voile.
The fabric has a pattern of muted purple stripes with small flowers in shades of orange or yellow scattered over them. The dye used for the floral patterning was fugitive, and has almost entirely faded away. It is possible that the stripes were originally black and have faded to purple.
There are numerous mends and patches on the skirt – see the mend on the lower mid-left of the photo above. The mends look contemporaneous with the skirt: something like this might have been worn as home wear well into the 20s, especially in rural areas.
One of the pockets has lost the cording that pulls in the gathers, and it hangs loose from the skirt – happily this, combined with the ability to measure the stripes to calculate size in the skirt, helped me to get the dimensions of the pockets exactly right.
Note how low the pockets are on the skirt: halfway between the waist and hem. The seamstress didn’t consider the height of her wearer, and just followed the pattern exactly as it was.
What else? The skirt is primarily machine sewn, but the interior belt and fasteners are sewn on by hand. This is typical of 1910s construction, where most everyday garments were machine sewn whenever possible.
The belting is commercially made, with short lengths of baleen in a woven casing. Similar belting could have been bought at any haberdashery in the 1910s.
No attempt has been made to place the boning symmetrically on the body and a quick tuck has been taken in one end, to facilitate sewing the fasteners on in a good position relative to a piece of bone.
All the fasteners are made of brass.
And that’s it. One very simple, very modest skirt, which by its very simplicity tells us so much about its era, and who made and wore it.