1860s Zelda: Underpinnings Part 2


An essential, unseen component of many eras of women’s clothing is the petticoat(s). They serve multiple purposes: they add volume, keep the skirt from clinging to your legs, smooth out the shape of what’s going on underneath, and in the winter they can add warmth, especially when made of wool. (In some cases, like the 1860s, you might wear an under-petticoat beneath your crinoline so the wool is actually close to your body.) If I were to listen to HistoricalSewing.com, which I frequently do—it’s one of my most-used resources for this project—then I should have at least two petticoats. Alas, I don’t. I decided to make one super-ruffly one instead of multiple flat ones. I think it’s probably fine, especially given I have an underskirt and an overskirt.

The petticoat goes over the crinoline, aka hoop skirt. This was called a “cage crinoline” at the time and was made possible by the Industrial Revolution and the increased availability of steel to support the hoops. Prior to this, the increasing hemlines of women’s dresses were created by more and more petticoats. The cage crinoline actually improved breathability, but enabled even more levels of ridiculousness. My mother-in-law lent me hers, since she used to do Civil War reenacting.

Dress form wearing hoop skirt
These are “day hoops”, with a circumference of around 90″. “Evening hoops” could be much larger.

I wanted to leave my options open for making a larger hoop skirt in the future, so I decided to make this petticoat with a 120″ hem circumference. The actual construction was super simple. I used stiff cotton organdy that was 60″ wide and sewed two lengths of it together. I didn’t have to do any seam finishing since the edges were selvage. I also left the second seam unsewn until all the ruffles were attached, because it’s much easier to maneuver a rectangle through the machine than a cylinder. I did hem the bottom of the petticoat.

I have a ruffling foot for my sewing machine, and I’d like to thank that ruffling foot for making this whole thing possible (and sanity-preserving.) I got it for about $10, it’s nothing fancy, and sometimes it stops working, but it does a really fast job of putting tiny pleats into fabric. It has various settings you can adjust for the depth and frequency of ruffles. I did a whole bunch of tests and used that information to decide a) what my settings would be and b) how long my fabric strips needed to be before I ruffled them.

At first I started with a 9″ long ruffle with somewhere around a 2:1 ratio of initial length to ruffled length, and added that to the bottom of the petticoat. But I was a bit underwhelmed by that, so I changed my mind and went with 6″ ruffles at a 2.5:1 ratio. Then I cut a whole bunch of 6″ strips, seamed them together, and used my rolled hem foot to hem them all in one go. It was a looooong strip of fabric.

Then I used the ruffle foot and ruffled the whole thing. At that point, the beast became somewhat unwieldy, as my next task was to attach the ruffles strip by strip to the base of the petticoat. I ended up with seven ruffles all told. Bit by bit, it started to turn into a gigantic fluffy cake.

  • Petticoat with 2 ruffles
  • Petticoat with 4 ruffles
  • Petticoat with 6 ruffles
  • Petticoat with 7 ruffles

I seamed the petticoat up the back the quick and dirty way, just putting right sides together and stitching it up. The nicer way would have been to leave the ruffles free at the edges, sew the seam along the base, and then seam the ruffles individually and finish attaching them. I didn’t do that. It’s fine.

After that, the last step was to attach a waistband with drawstrings (instructions: fold over a rectangle, attach it, sew some channels, leave a spot for drawstrings to come through, add drawstrings), try it on, and enjoy my new cupcake identity.

Author wearing petticoat, corset, and chemise

I have a few other things to post on the blog before we can move on, but the next post in this series will tackle the largest piece of the costume: the underskirt.

Pattern: none

Fabric: cotton organdy from Vogue Fabric Store

Notions: some ribbon from stash for drawstrings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s