Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Turn of the Century Foundation Skirt

After going through the evening gown I shared in my last post. I started on a foundation skirt for my own evening gown. A foundation skirt is basically a very engineered petticoat that goes under a gown, once skirts stop routinely being lined, around the turn of the 20th century.

To construct this skirt, I gathered my information from a few different places, since I have never actually seen one in person. Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques, edited by Kristina Harris, is indispensable. It's a copy of Butterick's 1905 manual, Dressmaking, Up to Date. If you don't already have one, get a copy! It explains pretty much everything I did to make this skirt, as well as everything else you might ever need to know about turn of the century sewing. I'll make a note on what pages the info came from throughout the post.

Cathy Hay's pictures, sketches and notes about remaking the Oak Leaf Dress were extremely helpful, as that gown has an attached foundation skirt. The evening dress I shared in my last post, was also a big help, though it did not have a foundation skirt, but the same concepts applied. I don't think there was one detail that I used in the construction that couldn't be found in one of these sources.

The only thing I kind of cheated on was starting with a bought pattern instead of drafting one from a period source. I used Truly Victorian's 1893 Skirt pattern, mostly because I had it on hand. It had pretty good lines, but I was glad I made a mock up, since I had to lengthen it quite a bit and adjust the shape of the hem. And hey, on page 52 of Harris' book, it says that for skirts with trains, "...a special pattern should be bought, as through any attempt at experiment in lengthening the back, the gown is likely to be ruined by imperfect shaping." Ok, so I bought one.

For any type of skirt, the outer skirt might be attached to the foundation skirt at the waistband, or they could be separate pieces, allowing the foundation petticoat to be worn with many gowns. (Harris 51) I chose to make a separate skirt. Why have more than one of these things hanging around? It must weigh fifteen pounds! 

I haven't yet got any pictures to share of me properly wearing it because it has been ridiculously hot lately. Like, well into the triple digits. So I've been a total wimp about putting on all the layers. As soon as it cools down a little, I have lots to share: corset, padding, corset cover, frothy petticoat...

But until then. Here are some pictures of the construction and those little details I was talking about.

The skirt is made of silk taffeta. The hem is deeply faced in crinoline (like the skirt I shared previously), a strip of muslin to protect the silk from the crinoline, and a four inch self-silk facing. (Harris 78)

Thank the stars for this gizmo! There were so many yards of bias strips to pink for the ruffles. This makes it easy work! I found it years ago on a taxidermy website.

I chose to box plait the dust ruffle instead of gather it, because it was quicker for me to eyeball plaits than gather. It took less fabric, too, so I had enough to make a second ruffle at the hem, like in the Oak Leaf dress. With an evening gown, one can basically go wild with the amount of ruffles and plaits. They hold out the hem from your feet and support the skirt's shape. (Harris 76-78)

I chose to cut this underskirt with a short train, to support the gown's longer train, but not compete with the length of the gown while walking or turning around. One thing to make a note of: this is a trained skirt and so not necessarily for a ball gown. Everybody loves to say ball gown. Very elaborate, trained skirts and full evening dress were more for ceremonial occasions, weddings, going to the opera, or to the theater (in a box), or a very smart restaurant, for dinner (Harris 51). A gown to dance in needs to be appropriate for that activity. The Cult of Chiffon, by Mrs. Eric Pritchard has a whole chapter on what to wear, where. Fascinating book, by the way! Talk on Successful Gowning, by Elizabeth Lee, touches on full evening dress, too. Side note: this skirt is surprisingly comfortable to walk in. It's all about keeping the hem away from your feet.

All the facings and ruffles were then covered in a deep ruffle, which was gathered on above the crinoline. The inner seams were either overcast or left alone, if they were on the selvedge. 

The ruffles are tacked to the skirt at about 14" intervals with french tacks. (Harris 78)

I chose to make the placket over 20" long, like the Oak Leaf dress. Lots of hooks to attach, but sometimes it's nice to be able to step into a skirt, petticoat and all, without having to maneuver it over your head (and hair...). I don't think I would recommend a placket this long on a gown, especially where the seam the placket is inserted into is very visible. It's not as tidy as a shorter placket. A couple details I haven't used before were thread bars instead of metal eyes, and I covered the hooks with a strip of silk (Harris 59, 79). Looks so tidy! 

Here was another new one for me: I covered metal rings with thread and used those on the waistband instead of metal eyes or bars. (Harris 79) I'm assuming there has got to be a good reason to do these instead of the metal bars or eyes. Maybe through use I will find out! They do look pretty, at any rate.

Similar to the extant dress I shared in my last post, I added tapes for hanging the skirt. Instead of putting them in exactly like the original, I sewed them into the existing seam, so they could be turned down and not add bulk to the waist. 

They work great!

I know it's silly, but now I'm almost disappointed the under bits are over, and now I have to start working on the actual dress. Well, I guess I still have a bit of the bodice lining to finish... I love the unders!


  1. WOW. Just wow! What an incredible garment, and it's just the foundation skirt!

    1. Thank you! I was fun to make. Just hope I don't run out of steam before the actual dress happens... :)

  2. Just lovely work on the skirt. Do you have a name for the gizmo that cuts the bias on the ruffle? Or the website?

    1. I don't know exactly what it was called. It was probably called something like a "rotary pinking machine." I remember it being advertised for pinking the edges of felt, but it works beautifully for fine silk. I've used it on a few projects and so far it hasn't seemed to dull. It weighs a ton!

  3. Your foundation skirt is phenomenal!! Don't you just love the inner construction of these skirts! You have done a magnificent job on yours and your other undies are a frothy pile of fabulousness!!! Can't wait to see the whole thing come together!

    1. Thank you! Oh gosh, yes the insides are my favorite part! Sometimes it's hard for me to get as excited about the outside. I'm plugging away though on the dress and hopefully I will like it as much as the parts no one sees ;)

  4. Wow. Unbelievable! Worth its weight in gold as they say!

  5. Love it! So much detail and gorgeousness really does add to the final effect! I love all of your references, too. :) Looking forward to seeing more!


    1. Thanks! I'm trying to get better about sharing the references, since that's the kind of info that I find helpful when I try to research online. I so love the ruffles and details. They're time consuming, but so fun to wear!