Mid Victorian Undergarments: chemise, drawers and a petticoat

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Since  our next Victorian Ball has a Crinoline theme, I have promised a few tutorials and pattern reviews for the folks who are making their own kit. Sew Curvy joined the fun and now offers very attractively priced patterns and crinoline kits from the era ( just a few left in stock…), so I took advantage of the offer and grabbed a few patterns too.

Normally I don’t bother with commercial patterns much, underwear included as I draft my own, and for Victorian Era the patterns in Francis Grimble’s books are of a great help – so this was a bit of an adventure, trying to actually follow instructions. Which I did, to some extent… 😉  And so, below, a short tutorial on making a set of mid-victorian open drawers, a chemise and a petticoat.

The pattern:

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Fabrics: cotton lawn (but any lightweight cotton or linen will do) and cotton lace, 3 buttons.

Finish –  I went for modern finish as was squeezing the project in between commissions and stock-making, but it doesnt mean that you have to follow me and use the same techniques – if you have time, do go for a hand finish 🙂

Drawers.

1. find your size on the chart, trace the  pattern. I traced it onto paper once, so that I dont have to cut the pattern itself.

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2. trace the pattern onto the fabric – fold the lawn in half and you will only have to cut once!

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3.  once cut, I overlocked the side seams and the facing for the size. I decided to save time and forego front and back facings – not really needed, though they would give a nicer finish! Instead of a self ruffle I used cotton broderie anglaise lace.

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4. Follow the directions for working the side openings/facings – they are explained fairly clrealy.

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Pin and stitch as indicated on the pattern

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Cut between the stitching

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Flip the facing onto the left side. Press. I usually run a stitch just next to the edge too.

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Fold the edges ( if overloced they dont actually need to be folded!) , pn and handstitch ( or machine stitch) around

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Ready! Repeat on the other side

5. Fold the overlocked edges of the crotch opening (or follow instructions for facings there)

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6. Gather the legs and top – I gathered mine using a ruffle attachment, but you can pleat or gather on a string, too (lower the thread tension, use the long stitch setting and sew – then just pull the thread to gather)

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7. Gather the ruffle – again, several methods are possible, I gathered mine on an overlocker

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8. Sew each leg

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One leg done – not the gathered bits!

9. Prepare the leg bands and attach lace to them – the instructions are quite clear about how to do it.

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Leg band ready

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Lace attached

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Sandwich the gathered drawer-leg between the band and the lining of the band

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Attached!

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Fold and pin the inside band; hand stitch in place. Repeat for the other leg!

10. Attach the waistbands – again, the instructions are clear!

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Both waistbands ready

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Pinning the waistbands to the gathered edge

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Sewn!

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Fold the inside bit, pin and stitch in place

11. Make buttonholes and attach buttons. Fot this project I used buttons from my secret stash of antique buttons 🙂

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Buttonhole made on a machine

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Ready! it took me just over 2 hours to complete the project – it would be about 3 – 4 if I wasn’t using an overlocker.

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I found them just a bit too big at the waist – if I make them again, I will choose the waistband one size smaller. Apart from that tiny detail, the pattern worked well!

Chemise

  1. Trace and cut the pattern according to your size (again, I found it runs a tad too big for my liking – but it is not a huge issue at all – and it is always easier to end up with a chemise an inch or two too big rather than one too small!)

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2. Overlock the sides and sew together; (or sew the sides together and finish the seam by hand if you prefer.)

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3. Add the shouler strap reinforcement bits. I admit the instructions here were not too clear so I did it my way…  I supose as long as the edges are strong enough for a button, etc, that is all that matters

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4.Overlock the sleeve (or hand finish) and attach to the armhole. You will need to gather a bit; I did it as I sewed.

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Sleeve ready

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Sewing sleeve onto the body of the chemise

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Sleeve ready, but the edges of the seam need to be secured

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…and the seam gets overlocked !

5. Prepare the neckline and hem edge (overlock and fold, or hand stitch – up to you)

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Neckline edge finish

6. Add lace – I used a narrow broderie anglaise, as I had enough to use on the sleeves, neck and hem!

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7. Add buttons and work buttonholes

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The chemise is now ready!

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I have also made another version of the chemise, too – the same pattern, just with no sleeves, and no buttoned-up staps – I simply sewed the straps together instead. The neckline is finished with an eyelet lace with the ribbon, which controls the neckline as it can be pulled tighter, if needs be.

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Next stage was to put one of my corsets on (a suitable corset kit can be bought here: corset kit – the pattern is later but the style works for mid-victorian silhouette and is much easier to make – I have made a mid-victorian corset using a commercial pattern and it wasn’t exactly a success – you can read about it here).

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lacing on!

Crinoline cage on – not made by me, but by a friend – and using this pattern –  crinoline kit. and the tutorial on how to make it – here

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All we need now is a petticoat.

Petticoats are very easy to make – so easy that there is little point in providing an actual pattern. Even ‘Truly Victorian’ provides a diagram and instructions for free – petticoat instructions

I basically used a length of cotton sheeting – a rectangular piece. The length was the circumference of the crinoline cage plus 1m, the lengh –  measured on the crinoline, from waist to the ground. If you do not plan flounces, pintucks etc, but a basic one, keep it a bit above the ground. If you want lots of pintucks, make it longer.

This particular one has been made with 5 rows of big pintucks

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a few tips:

  • dont wast time measuring and cutton your cotton. i usually just ,ark how long i want the piece to be , nicj the fabric  and simply tear it. it tears easily and along the grain, you you have a straight line with no hassle. disadvantage – you will get a few hanging thread to deal with. I use the same metod for cutting the flounce
  •  pintucks – for small, decorarice pintucks you see on chemises etc, I use a seam gauge and a pintuck foot etc – the detail is important. for the petticoats however, where i want my pintucks bigger, and where it doent matter too much if the pintuck is 2mm longer at one side, I save time by not marking them at all – i simply use my finger as a gauge.
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for the tucks on the flounce i used my firt knuckle as a measurement of the folded bit – – and the depth of the tuck is measured against the grid on the needle plate

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flouce ready and pressed

(A short video of how to make them fast using your finger as a gauge can be found on my instagram account. ( here)

I also opted for a flounce, also with pintucks and  lace 🙂

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Once the pintucks and the flounce were on, I simply gathered the wasit (there will be lots of fabric to gather – about 4.5-5m) using the ruffler attachment

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Then attach the waistband, buttons, etc, and you are done!

If you are wondering why pintucks and flounces instead of a simple petticoat, well, they do have a function! PIntucks were used a lot on children’s clothing – as they grew up, the tucks were released and garment lengthened, here however the tucks are not only a decorative feature, but a practical one – they  hide the shape of the cage and they stiffen the edge a bit more, hanging better; the flounce has  the same function – this fills in the empty space between the cage’s end and the ground, preventing the ‘lampshade effect 🙂

There are a few beautiful petticoats still surving – you can fing some on my pinterest page

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Now you are ready for a skirt and a bodice – or a gown. I have already written a post on a day dress – here.

I hope you found this little tutorial useful, the tutorial on how to make a gow bodice and skirt is here

 

Oh, and if you dont sew, dont worry,:-) chemises, petticoats, corsets and whole outfirs are now  available  in our online shop !  There are already a couple of  nice dresses and a few petticoats there, more undergarments will be added shortly

 

And a few outtakes:-) i knew the chamber put would come in useful!

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hmm, what do we have in here….

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eughrr! Wish I hadnt looked!

How to make a Victorian flounced Petticoat

44. petticoat on the steel boned bustle, closed side


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

Materials

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

 Pattern

 Adapted from Norah Waugh, The Cut of Women’s Clothes, p. 206, 208

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Method

  1.  Cut the base for your petticoat: front and back pieces.
  1. 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

  1. 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

26. deciding on the size on the pin tucks for the front flounce.

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

27. front founce ready for statchign and pressing

 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

28. front founce ready to be sewn on

  1. 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

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  1.  Sew on the decoration on the flounces

Pin first,

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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!

32. back flounce ready, 2 pin tucks in place

 

Flounce with 2 rows of horizontal pin tucks

  1.  You can pleat the flounce using the ruffler on the machine or simply pleat them with knife of box pleats.

The ruffler

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Knife pleated ruffle – warning, takes ages!

33. flounce - knife pleating option

  1. 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.
  2.  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”

34. pinning the second flounce

  • 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

35. pinning the flounce by dividing it into smaller and smaller halves

Flounce pinned

36. flounce pinned

Sew it on, gathering the extra fabric.

38. sewing on the flounce

  1. 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.

37. third floounce pinned

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

39. back piece ready.

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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.

  1.   For the petticoat opening at the side, just sew the two parts together at one side.
  1.  Cut out the waistband.
  1. 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.
  2.  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

40. darts in the front part

Pleats and waistband at the back

 41. pleated back of the petticoat, waistband attached.

  1.  Hem the petticoat, by hand or using a hemming foot. Hem the open sides as well.
  2.  Mark and sew the buttonholes.
  3.  Add the buttons.

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  1. 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

45. petticoat on the steel boned bustle, buttoned side

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XqLbyuDHXY&feature=youtu.be

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

48. back view - note the unbuttoned petticoat

and another flounced petti, this one wit 4 flounces…

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Assembling the Steampunk version

  1. You now have your petticoat in 3 parts – the front, the back with the flounces, and the long bottom flounce.
  1. First, sew the darts on the front part
  1. 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!
  1. 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!
  2.  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

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And outside view

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  1. Repeat the steps for the other side seam.
  2.  Hem the  skirt
  3. Pin and sew on the long bottom flounce
  4.  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

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Inside view showing a second pair of eyelets – opening to the channel, stitched over one layer.

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  1. 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.

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  1.   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

Front view

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Back view

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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:

 

Side view

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And the skirt hitched upon both sides, for a sexy ’saloon girl‘ look

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and fee more….

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steampunk petticoat skirt

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Happy sewing! and, if you are in a hurry, you can always buy one of ours – basic stock  petties  can be found in our shop!

 

And if you prefer crinoline styles – you might find this post useful too!

Bibliography

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