In this article we willcover the construction of a typical late Victorian petticoat with back flounces. We will also discuss the steampunk version of the traditional petticoat – and how to get 3 styles out of one skirt in seconds!
The flounced petticoat by Prior Attire
Inspiration: Harper’s Bazaar, page 135, figure m, Foulard petticoat
4m of cotton twill; for steampunk version any non stretch fabric can be used, here 5m of embroidered silk
10 – 15 m of decoration – broderie anglaise lace etc
Buttons; for the steampunk version, 05m of elastic
Also, for the steampunk version you will need 5m of ribbon or a string; here Russia braid was used
Adapted from Norah Waugh, The Cut of Women’s Clothes, p. 206, 208
- Cut the base for your petticoat: front and back pieces.
- Cut the flounces – the front can be decorated with one, and the back will have a few – aim for about 5 – 8 flounces. The length of the flounces varies, depending on your gathering/pleating method, but aim for a minimum twice the length of the finished row. So if your bottom hem at the back is 1, you will need min.2 metres of fabric to gather.
Step 1: making the flounces
- Work on your front flounce first. You can skim this step if you plan to have one bottom flounce going around the whole petticoat, like the one in the steampunk version.
Different styles were possible, you can gather the flounce loosely, box pleat it or use a combination of the methods. Here I wanted to replicate the one in Harper’s Bazaar, and used the combination of trimming and pin tucks.
Divide the flounce into equal parts and work out how deep your pin tucks have to be to pleat to the desired width.
Deciding on the size and amount of the pin tucks
Hem the edges and sew on the trim, and then work on the pin tucks. You can use a pin tuck foot for that – though I realised that the tucks on mine will be far too shallow to my liking, so I simply stitched it with a normal foot.
Front decoration with pin tucks and lace – all ready for pressing and starching
Press – if you have spray-on starch, use it. Sew the flounce to the bottom of the front petticoat piece.
Flounce pressed, ready to be sewn on
- Prepare the back flounces. Hem them, by hand or using your machine – I find the rolled hem foot works great on both silk and cotton. It still takes a very long time, but much faster than by hand!
Hemming the flounces of the steampunk petticoat
- Sew on the decoration on the flounces
Sew, fold over and press.
If you want, you can add a row or two of pin tucks running horizontally – particularly effective on either front flounces or back bottom ones – or for the sleek Natural Form petticoats!
Flounce with 2 rows of horizontal pin tucks
- You can pleat the flounce using the ruffler on the machine or simply pleat them with knife of box pleats.
Knife pleated ruffle – warning, takes ages!
- You can also use a gathering foot (note – does not gather enough, in my opinion!). Or simply run a basting seam through the top (by hand on machine) and gather the fabric on the thread.
- All of the techniques work, however, having made 4 other petticoats I realised that, barring the machine ruffler, the method described below works best for me.
- Lay the back piece on a table or the floor. Mark the lines along which the flounces will be attached (use with any of the method). For the steampunk version, leave a very generous seam allowance – 2”
- Take the bottom flounce and pin it at both sides, within an inch of the side edges of the piece (for seam allowance – leave more for the steampunk version).
- Mark the centre point of the petticoat piece and find the centre of the flounce. Pin these two together. You now have half the flounce on both sides. Repeat the step on both sides: mark the centre of the petticoat line (the quarter of the entire length) on one half and find the half of the flounce on that side. Pin the m together and repeat on the other side. You now have the flounce pinned into quarters. Continue dividing the parts into smaller and smaller halves, until you have the entire flounce evenly distributed along the bottom of the petticoat.
Pinning the flounce, dividing it into smaller and smaller parts
Sew it on, gathering the extra fabric.
- Repeat for the next rows. The technique takes some time and patience, not to mention the amount of pins, but it results in evenly distributed gathers that look natural.
- For the steampunk version pleated the flounces with the ruffler and then decorated the whole length of the bottom flounce and the top back flounce with a sequined braid, before stitching them on.
- Pin your back ruffles alongside the lines, and sewn on, starting from the top. The bottom ruffle, decorated with both broderie lace and braid will go all around the finished petticoat – put it aside for the time being.
So far the instructions for both types of petticoats have been almost identical, but at this stage I am going to split the rest of the instructions in two.
Assembling the Traditional Victorian petticoat:
You should now have two separate pieces, the flounced back and the front with one flounce. Joining them will hugely depend on how you want your petticoat to close – you can join the pieces on both sides, leaving only small opening at the side, and button it there. Or, you can leave one seam open completely at the side and use buttons all the way through.
I chose the latter, since I knew that then I would be able to open the petticoat at the bottom, if I need more space for riding or dancing, and it would also allow for faster changes if needs be.
- For the petticoat opening at the side, just sew the two parts together at one side.
- Cut out the waistband.
- Mark the darts in the front part and pleat the back part. Secure the pleats with pins and try the petticoat on the corset and the bustle. Adjust the pleats/darts as necessary.
- Take the petticoat off and sew on the waistband – sew right sides together first, then flip it over, fold the hem and either hand stitch down, or run a seam, encasing the seam allowance
The waistband and the darts in the front part
Pleats and waistband at the back
- Hem the petticoat, by hand or using a hemming foot. Hem the open sides as well.
- Mark and sew the buttonholes.
- Add the buttons.
- The petticoat is now ready – can be worn on its own, with a bustle pad or with a long bustle cage!
Here worn over a long bustle cage
If you plan to wear your undergarments for more robust activities, like riding, dancing, tennis playing of skating, do try them on before you start making the garments going on top, as some alternations may be necessary.
I discovered that I needed to leave the two bottom buttons in the petticoat undone for dancing (to keep pace with my partner in the Viennese waltz I needed bigger steps! The video of the dress rehearsal can be seen here:
As far as riding was concerned, I needed to leave the petticoat open (3 buttons here), but when worn on the bustle pad it turned out to be rather comfortable – I was able to perform all kind of tricks on horseback.
Note the unbuttoned petticoat
Assembling the Steampunk version
- You now have your petticoat in 3 parts – the front, the back with the flounces, and the long bottom flounce.
- First, sew the darts on the front part
- Place the front part on the back part, right sides together. Pin the edges, but remember to leave a wide seam allowance – it will be made into the channels for hitching the skirt up. Alternatively, create the channels by stitching long tape over the seam – much less fussy!
- Sew together, remembering to leave about an inch between the seam and the line at which the ruffles start – and do not sew over any stray ruffles either!
- Press the seam open, and fold the seam allowance under – and stitch, creating a channel wide enough for your ties to pass through. Repeat on the other seam allowance.
Forming the channels – inside
And outside view
- Repeat the steps for the other side seam.
- Hem the skirt
- Pin and sew on the long bottom flounce
- Prepare openings in the channels, just over the bottom flounce. You can use just one on each side or, for a greater control, make one set of eyelets onto the left side and then openings on the channels only on the inside – the ties will pass from the inside to the outside. Thread in your ties, from the top to the bottom openings and back.
Outside view: small eyelets go all the way through all the layers of the fabric
Inside view showing a second pair of eyelets – opening to the channel, stitched over one layer.
- Cut and attach the waistband : sew right sides together first, then flip it over, fold the hem and either hand stitch down, or run a seam, encasing the seam allowance., leaving a small opening for the elastic to thread through.
- Attach the elastic to a safety pin, and thread through the waistband. Sew both ends together and then close the opening in the waistband. It is also possible to attach the elastic only to the back, if you want to keep the front fitted.
Your Steampunk petticoat is now ready! – a few examples below
You can shorten the skirts on the sides by pulling the ties at the bottom and knotting them into a bow. Here only one side hitched a little bit:
And the skirt hitched upon both sides, for a sexy ’saloon girl‘ look
and fee more….
Jean Hunnisett, Period Costume for Stage and Screen, Patterns for Women’s Dress 1800-1909, Players Press, Inc, 1991
Norah Waugh, The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600- 1930; Faber and Faber, London, 1994
Norah Waugh, Corsets and Crinolines, Routledge/Theatre Arts Books, New York, 2000
Stella Blum, Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar 1867-1898, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1974
The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute; Fashion, a History from the 18th to the 20th century, Taschen, 2002