The quilted petticoat was a ubiquitous item of women’s 18th century clothing, and spanned all social classes being worn by both the wealthiest elite and the very poor. However, this does not mean they all looked the same. Those who could afford them wore satin or plainweave petticoats quilted in pretty and fanciful designs with silk thread. The cheaper versions were made of rough woolen fabrics quilted in simple designs such as a lattice work pattern.
The example I am constructing combines a garment pattern from the Colonial Williamsburg costume collection found in Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790, pp 35-38 and one from the Museum of London. The Williamsburg petticoat is dated 1750-75 and is of English origin; I therefore considered it eminently suitable for my project. The quilting design for the petticoat is taken directly from an artifact at the Museum of London that I charted myself.
- dark cream coloured (tea stained by me) silk satin
- untreated wool batting (you can still feel some lanolin in it!)
- off-white coloured plain weave wool for the backing (which I starched and pressed with a hot iron to achieve some semblance of the ‘glazing’ that is typical of extant examples. I think it partially worked)
- off-white silk filament thread
The silk satin I’m using for the face of the petticoat actually comes from a series of scraps I happened to already have (this project on the whole has the added benefit of helping me out a little with my stash). This meant there was a lot of piecing to do, although I thought this very fitting considering how much of this one sees on extant garments. However, this also meant that I spent most of this first … you guessed it – piecing. I sewed the scraps together in as logical a fashion as I could manage using small running stitches and pressed the seams open in accordance with much of the fabric piecing I observed first-hand. I didn’t bother to finish the edges of the seam allowances since the entire garment will be lined.
Once this was finally finished, I cut out the lining pieces from the wool and sewed the selvedge edges seams up. To do this I simply overlapped the edges and sewed them up with long running stitches.
Today I started off with sewing the 2 halves of the wool backing together on one side to make one long length of cloth. The edges were cut and raw so I lapped and slip stitched them.
I had now done all the sewing I could for the moment since such petticoats were quilted while the cloths were still flat. So I turned to the quilting design and enlarged it. I traced over the design with ink so that I could erase the pencil and not end up with it accidentally trasferring to the silk (because you just KNOW that would happen, no matter how unlikely it would seem).
I have to admit that I do not know how quilting patterns were transferred to the fabric in the 18th century. If anyone reading this knows (I’m kinda lookin’ at you Julia), please let me know and I will switch methods. The technique I am using involved poking through the lines of the design with a very large, thick needle. I then started transferring the design to the silk using a fading fabric marker (I bet they would have loved to have these back then!) I only transferred one repeat of the pattern at this time.
I then layered all the materials together and pinned around the part of the design I would start quilting; I don’t have a frame to stretch the petticoat onto, so pins will have to do (at least for now).
I started quilting and got this far:
Apparently the example in the Costume Close-Up book is quilted with 10-12 stitches per inch. I’m managing 8 stitches per inch at my best. I’ll be keeping an eye on whether this changes throughout the progression of the work.
Today’s work was pretty straightforward: I quilted. I got the lower portion of one repeat finished.
This is how far I got today:
I quilted the upper portion of the first repeat, and
the lower portion of the second repeat.
I think it’s looking kind of like a retro bedspread so far, and that this impression will increase the farther I get into it. However, I have to say that I think it will look pretty fabulous once it’s all made up into a petticoat!
If you click on the above picture to see it full size you will be able to see some of the design marked in purple (that’s the colour of the marker). However, some of it looks more orangey. This is because I got a little experimental with starting to transfer the second repeat. From somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered someone telling me cinnamon was good to use for this sort of thing because it’s so fine. I took a scrap of my linen fabric I use for linings and made a little sachet. I dabbed and rubbed this over the paper pattern, but when I lifted it up saw that the colour of the cinnamon goes a little too well with the dark cream of the silk and it barely showed. It also seems that with the satin weave the powder mostly just sits on top of the fabric surface anyway. However, still feeling a little adventurous, I got out some paprika (which I actually bought in Hungary!) from my cupboard and tried that since it’s a much brighter colour. It showed up a little better, but there was still the problem of the surface resisting the powder. There was enough of it that stuck on though so as to slightly colour the marker markings I made afterwards – oops.
I had to start today with re-drawing the rest of the main pattern section of the 2nd repeat. Humph.
I finished quilting the bottom portion of the 2nd repeat. I then prepared the upper portion of the repeat and got it quilted. So, 2nd repeat is done.
Yes, I do mean Day 10. I didn’t think there was much point in going through every day since 5 as it would have been almost all the same. Suffice to say that by the end of Day 9 I had completed 6 repeats of the pattern.
Today was for fixing a problem, this problem:
The satin ended up short compared with the lining and batting. I’m sure that using a frame would have prevented this, but that just wasn’t an option for me at the time I needed to start.
Fortunately, I had some scraps of the satin fabric left, though not in one piece that was large enough. Even more fortunately, the piecing of fabric for garments was widespread at the time so that this actually adds to the “authenticity” of the piece!
Once that was taken care of, the remainder of the day was given to working on quilting the 7th (and final) repeat.
I started today by finishing the last (7th) repeat. Hooray!!! I cannot imagine living with the tedium of having to quilt petticoats 12+hrs per day, 6 days per week as my occupation.
To prepare for making the petticoat I trimmed the edges of the wool batting and extra fabric, and pressed the quilted length.
I started the petticoat construction with seaming up the length into a tube. The seam will be at the centre back. This was done in 2 steps:
1. I sewed through all layers with backstitch to create the actual seam:
2. I turned under the seam allowance in a fashion similar to a felled seam and sewed it down (through the lining layer only) with slanted stitches:
The top edge of the wool lining is actually some inches lower than that of the silk fabric. The top of the lining is linen, and I added it at this point with running and slanted/slip stitches. I believe the reason behind this practice was to reduce bulk right up around the waist. I don’t have pictures specific to this step, but you’ll see the linen, and where it is in some of the following pictures.
I next made the pocket slits by cutting into the fabric (which made me nervous after all the quilting work I’d done!) and binding the cut edges with linen tape using running stitches to attach the binding on the right side and catch-stitching it to the underside.
I then moved onto binding the hem; I used a braided wool tape. First, I stitched the binding to the right side of the hem with running stitches approximately 1/8 inch from the edge.
I folded the binding around the bottom edge of the petticoat and back up into the inside. I then stitched it to the lining with running stitches.
This is how it looks from the right side
The final task was binding the waist. I pleated it up and sewed the wool tape onto it in the same manner as I did the hem. I used 2 strips of tape – one for the front and one for the back. Each strip was cut longer than the waistline section it bound so the ends could be used as ties.
And with that the quilted petticoat was finished! I think this is the piece I am most proud of. It really looks like something out a museum. After finishing it, and looking at it mounted on my judy I just kept thinking to myself: “I made that… I made that…… I made that.”
Here are some studio-setting shots of the petticoat: