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.
It’s charming! When I saw the first photo I thought that the pattern was meant to be large sewing needles, but stripes with flowers sounds nice too.
I love the idea of putting short bones in a waistband! I may have to try that on some trousers. I make my waistbands quite wide and they tend to buckle and wrinkle.
Is it possible that the skirt was originally made for someone bigger/taller and resized for a smaller woman (possibly made for the mother and resized for the daughter)? That might explain the pocket placement, deep hem, and the tuck in the waistband.
All in all, a fascinating piece of clothing history!
It’s an interesting thought, but I really don’t think so. There isn’t any indication it was taken in and up. The hem looks original: the thread matches all the other construction perfectly, and there’s no signs of a previous hem. The belt join is consistent with shortening the belt to make sure that the bones fall in the correct places, not with shortening for length. The wear across the belt is even, which wouldn’t be the case if it was a later shorten.
It is so fun to examine the extant pieces. Thanks for the interesting write-up.
Seeing works by professionals is great, but I love seeing work by ordinary people who maybe couldn’t afford to hire it out, so they did the best they could. I can imagine some young lady needing a new skirt and choosing the fabric carefully, knowing it would be one of only a few choices for the next few years. I wonder how the maker felt, seeing it on the young lady and realizing she’d have to do a covert courtsey to reach into the pockets 🙂 It’s the sort of thing I might do, being short myself and having to alter the sleeves, hems and waistline of every single thing I make. Pockets, must not forget to change the height of the pockets.
I rather hope the seamstress is looking down thinking “Good heavens, I threw that together as fast as I could because she needed it. Now people are using those electronic things to look at every wonky seam and hasty hook – knew I should have made dish towels out of it when she outgrew it!”
And the young lady is also watching us thinking “I saved it because she sat up late sewing it, and about ruined her eyesight setting that waistband in – I never cared about the pockets, just all the love that went into it, and how she did without that hat she wanted to buy me the more expensive fabric. That’s why I hid it away and passed it down. I’m glad so many people get to enjoy her hard work. If they like sewing or fashion, they’ll understand all the hard work and love that went into it.”
Thanks for sharing this! I’ve been mulling over how to construct a skirt from a length of fabulous embroidered fabric I was given, and I think this type of waistband is just what the project calls for. When I saw this I decided to buy the Kilbirnie pattern, since I don’t want to freeload, and the instructions for the waistband are great.