January 09, 2011

On Not Reinventing the Wheel

About a year ago, I was reading a handful of blogs on sustainability and coming environmental apocalypse, specifically Crunchy Chicken during the annual "Freeze Yer Buns" Challenge and Casaubon's Book when the author was discussing how her family dealt with low interior temperatures. These are people who, when it gets cold, don't turn the heat up - they add layers. Casaubon's Book, which, in general, looks toward history to find solutions to such problems, mentioned the petticoat.

It's weird that I'd more or less forgotten about petticoats, given my general tendency toward antique fashion. I appreciate that I can wear jeans without being sneered at, but I do like a long full skirt. (In high school, some Civil War reenactors came to do a presentation, and the woman expressed a certain amount of shock over the dreadfully high hemlines on the girls in my class. My skirt did go below my knees, and I remember trying to adjust the way I was sitting to make it look longer, or at least tuck my ankles out of view.) But it wasn't until reading those blogs that I completed a train of thought that went something like: I like skirts, I appreciate the need for layers in the cold months, women used to layer their skirts to keep warm, I need a petticoat!

my first petticoat

After some poking around online, I found A Petticoat for the Ages over at The Anticraft (good stuff, but some discretion advised). It's a solid set of instructions, although I made a few adjustments along the way.

First up, the instructions from Anticraft have only two 9 inch tiers. This would have resulted in a petticoat that would have been approximately 36 inches long, about 10 inches too short for me. I added another tier, which throws off their yardage recommendations. Also, their instructions were to cut the 9 inch strips lengthwise from the purchased yardage; this results in the grain of the fabric going perpendicular to gravity, which I felt could cause the petticoat to hang unevenly. So, I did my own calculations and bought a crazy amount of muslin. Three tiers works out to being 14 nine-inch tall, width-of-fabric strips. The bottom tier is almost 300 inches wide.

my first petticoat

I also adjusted the measurements a little for the top tier, rounding the "width at knee" measurement to an even 60 inches. This made for some easier math and a little extra fullness away from the hip. Should I make another petticoat, I think I'll experiment with either adding a separate waistband or adjusting the top of the top tier. The instructions currently call for trapezoids for the top tier (good, since that reduces the amount of fabric at your waistline, where you don't want the extra bulk), but that makes for some awkwardness when you go to turn under the top for the elastic casing since the top of the trapezoid is ever-so-slightly narrower than the bit one inch down where you are trying to sew it.

The original instructions call for a sewn-in lining, but suggested using the finished petticoat as a template for determining the size and shape of the lining. I opted to revisit the trapezoid instructions and made a tissue paper pattern with a top that matched the waistline measurement of the petticoat and a bottom that was slightly wider than my stride.

my first petticoat

I've received some lovely complements when wearing my new petticoat, usually about the resulting fullness ("poufy-ness") of my over-skirt. And it's warmer than you'd think it would be. There's the extra layer, but I think it's also about creating a movable envelope of air around me. I wear two layers in pants form through a lot of the Seattle winter and two layers of skirt is actually much warmer.

I chose a natural tinted muslin for this first petticoat with the idea that it could be a ordinary skirt in warmer months. I'm really tempted to make a second one out of flannel (warm! cosy!) but I'm concerned about the weight. What I need to figure out is how to make removable linings - muslin for some times, flannel for others - without adding to the fabric bulk at the waist line. Maybe a strip of Velcro a few inches above the knee...


  1. Anonymous12:32 PM

    Instead of Velcro, consider sticking with the "old school" and use about 8 buttons, evenly spaced around the petticoat. Actually, sew loops onto petticoat and buttons onto the liner so that the buttons face _away_ from your legs.

  2. Looks for "like" button under Anonymous 12:32's comment. :) Though I might use a few more than 8 buttons.

    Actually, I'd be tempted to go with snap tape. If you wanted to have more than two liners (different wieghts, different colors?), you could sew both the male and female sides of the tape into the petticoat, right next to each other, so that you could use either male or female sides on your liners, thus avoiding having a bunch of unused, unusable strips of only male or only female snap halves piling up in your sewing room.

    Nice review, good ideas for alterations. Thanks, Dolci!


  3. What great suggestions! Thanks!