Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Mid 19th Century Under Petticoat

Ooo look at those tucks! Pretty!

Another new acquisition to the collection! Yay! Being that I usually study 18th century costumes, and extant pieces really aren't that accessible, it is so cool to be able to readily find and acquire real, antique pieces from the 19th century. I am having so much fun with this!

This lovely cotton petticoat is a mid 19th century (advertised as civil war era) under-petticoat, which would have been worn under your hoop and over your pantalettes/drawers.

It's very small, like about 20" at the waist. It doesn't have a waist closure at the moment. I don't see any evidence of one, but I'm sure it must have had something to close the waist. Right now all I can see is a slit in the center back, with hemmed edges and tacked tuck, that creates an overlap of about an inch at the waist. I added lots of pictures near the bottom of the page to illustrate.

The stitching on the tucks is neatly done, small, machine stitches. The stitching on the waistband is a little messy. Maybe the waistband was replaced at some time?

On me (5'4'') it hangs to mid calf.

Tiny gathers at the waist.

See, wonky seams, and a loose thread :/
Just because it's from then doesn't mean it's meticulous.
Makes me feel a little better about my own
sewing woopsies.

The outside view of the tucks.

The inside view.

The interior seams are machine stitched and hand felled.

Another inside seam...

Tiny tucks!

These following pictures illustrate the interesting back closure. As I mentioned, it is a slit at the center back (I know it's the back because there are two side seams). The slit if sewn to a point, at about the knee, much like how you would finish off a dart. At about seven down inches from the waistband, the seamed slit is opened up and made into two finished hems, the underlap is very narrow, and the overlap is about an inch wide. At the point where the seam splits (seven inches down from the band), it is overlapped and sewn down.

As of right now, it doesn't have any means of closure. There is no evidence of a button, like I have seen on other petticoats. Any ideas folks?

Here you can see the slit held open.

And closed.

This is the seam that is about seven inches
from the top. It starts the placket. Below,
the rest of the slit is finished off much like a dart,
where the stitching ends off the fabric.

This overlap is hand sewn.

So hard to see white on white,  but on the left is the narrow hem on
the underlap. The right is the one inch hem on the overlap.

Here you can see where the "dart" (I can't think of
another word) ends. The stitching finishes off the
fabric on the inside of the skirt.


  1. How full is the petticoat? Is there any difference in length between front and back - for that matter, what is the length? The opening is virtually alwasy in the back. Considering the waist size, this might be a girls' petticoat.

    I've heard of a fastening variation that had tape ties sewn to the ends of the band. Instead of tying directly together, they wrapped one over the other, one coming out the slit/buttonhole in the band, and wrapping around the waist and then tying. It was a somewhat adjustable waist, but far more comfortable than a drawstring. That's probably not what was used here, but try looking for signs that tapes were sewn on or attached to the waistband somewhere. Another variation was for small children, which I don't think this is, but involved buttoning petticoats directly to soft stays. This is practically the only way to make petticoats wearable on small children, who have no waist at all!

  2. May be for a young girl?

  3. I was thinking waist ties would make sense, since I'm used to seeing them on 18th c. petticoats. There aren't any pin pricks (visible ones, at least) so I can't tell for sure.

    It's 29" from waist to hem, on all sides, and 66" in circumference at the hem. The waist, as I mentioned, is 20". It could be a girl's, I guess depending on the length? The waist is hard to tell, since my own waist measurement in my victorian undies is 22-23". Not tremendously far off.


  4. 29" is on the short side, and 66" is actually *very* narrow. It's rather hard to walk in something like that! For comparison, cage crinolines were about 80" at the smallest for working uses. As you say, the waist isn't conclusive; but from length and circumference I do suspect it's a for a girl. It may also be for postwar fashions, although I believe those were usually gored as well to minimize hip bulk. (I just realized I'm assuming the panels are square, not gored. :))

    The other possibility is that it IS an under-hoop petticoat by a slender woman, who made it short enough that it would not restrict her steps. I personally am not sure about that, because that length is likely the same as the drawers and just a little longer than the chemise; and the circumference is *less* than the chemise is likely to be. So I don't see the point of wearing a petticoat at all if it's that short and skimpy. :p Not to mention that all the work of the tucks is pointless if it's too short to be seen under the hoop, and under the hoop it does nothing to hold the skirt out anyway. So yes, I think it's for a girl.

    These are just my thoughts, of course, with references to the Sewing Academy forum for confirmation of measurements. I'm not an expert! The tuck pattern and the whole way the hem is done looks perfectly typical of early 1860s. It's really pretty. :)

    1. Wow thanks for all the info! Do you have any resources saying the likely circumference of an under petticoat for a lady? Im finding it hard to locate info on these.

    2. No problem! I just go to and do a search for petticoat circumference. Look particularly for posts from Carolann Schmitt - that lady has been studying CW fashion for 40 years, and she keeps records of all sorts of details of every original she's examined. :D

    3. Oo yes I do go on that site. Ill have to go browse it further.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. It's a great place! I don't know of any other site where you can get info on *originals* just for asking. I love it. And the Search command really works well, which isn't typical for forums.

  5. I have seen two full sets of mourning outfits, absolutely gorgeous work on them, and in decent shape for their age. They were from a trunk in an estate sale, and have provenence to the Civil War era. If you are interested in possibly purchasing them, I could put you in contact with the owner. She is the IrishLady Sulter on FaceBook (!/irishlady.sutler?fref=ts) and has wonderful stuff. I met her at a reenactment and fell in love! Thanks for this information - I am currently living the best of both worlds - I participate with my horse in the cavalry reenactments, and then attend meetings and balls in hoopskirts! No mucking around camp in a dress, I get to play with my horse, and then be pretty and dress up for special occasions!
    Thanks - Angie

    1. How fun to do the cavalry reenactments! I think my horse would be wayyyy too afraid of the guns and swinging swords. It amazes me how the horses are trained not to react.

      I would be happy to take a look at anything up for sale. I'm always up for some shopping :)