Making a Petticoat, 1890’s Foundation Garments

It’s been a while since i’ve written about making foundation garments – the last post on the topic was almost a year ago! But now i’m once again venturing into an era of fashion I haven’t worked on before, which means making a new set of foundation garments to achieve the proper silhouette.

Petticoats had a variety of different shapes between the late 1880s and early 1900s, which made my attempts in picking a design difficult. I really wanted a petticoat that was versatile enough to wear with very full turn of the century dresses, slimmer edwardian gowns, and everything in between. This is partially because I don’t like making petticoats all that much (they are time consuming and take a lot of material), but it’s also because I don’t have a lot of storage space.

In the end I decided to make a three tier single layer petticoat from cotton and shantung, without any netting. The petticoat has a very wide hem which means it can be layered over petticoats I already have to add fullness but it can also be worn on its own to add a little bit of flare to the hem of a slim gown.


Petticoats in the 1890s were glorious. Often they were ruffled with very detailed hems that were decorated with lace and embroidery. Unfortunately my petticoat didn’t end up being that pretty. I made this right after my giant fabric haul so I wasn’t eager to spend even more money on raw materials, much less on lace trim for an undergarment that won’t be visible in the end.

Maybe someday it will get a mini makeover and lace flounces, but for now it’s quite simple.

Here are the rough dimensions for each piece. It’s a pretty basic design, the top half is made from four panels of cotton and the ruffles consist of thirteen strips of shantung. Each piece is a rectangle or has straight edges so I didn’t bother creating a pattern. Instead I drew guidelines for each piece directly onto my fabric with the help of a ruler.


I decided to tackle the ruffles first. Here are the larger strips cut out of shantung…


And the smaller strips.


The strips were then sewn together with a half inch seam allowance. This left me with one 18″ x 240″ strip and one 8.5″ x 540″ strip. The wider, shorter strip was set aside while I began hemming the longer strip.

The hem is a pretty basic one, I started by turning the raw edge inward by a quarter inch and sewing it down. Then I turned the hem inward again, so the raw edge is hidden.


And then the strip got gathered down, so it was roughly half its original length. I did this by pushing the material under the presser foot as I sewed since I didn’t need it to be very precise or pretty.


I pinned the ruffle onto the hem of the eighteen inch wide strip.


And sewed it on with a half inch seam allowance.


This looked good from the front side of the fabric, but the back was a frayed mess. I trimmed the edges so it was a bit tidier, then sewed lace seam binding overtop.


After doing that I folded the ruffles up and set them aside so I could start on the top half of the petticoat!


One of the “features” of this petticoat is an adjustable, partially gathered waistband, which is created by having the back panels gather with a ribbon. Though the process should be pretty straightforward I hadn’t done it before, so I decided to do that before anything else.

Step one was cutting out the back panels – which was super easy since they are just big rectangles. Then I turned the top twelve inches of the back edge inward by a quarter inch, then inward again by a half inch so the raw edge was hidden.

Then I turned the top edge of both panels inward by a half inch, then inward by a full inch. This creates a channel for the ribbon.


I sewed across the bottom edge to complete the channel.


Here is the back edge, all nicely finished. This portion will be left open so I can easily get the petticoat on and off.

It’s important this edge is finished before the top edge is folded over. If you do it after then the ribbon won’t have an opening to go through!


I threaded ribbon through the channel and that was pretty much it for the back panels!


Then I made the front half of the waistband. This is just a twenty by four inch rectangle of interfaced cotton which is folded in half. I originally folded the edges inward, which is what you see below, but that was a mistake. Luckily I realized the goof up and fixed it before it became an issue!


I cut out the rest of the petticoat pieces and sewed together the front and side panels with french seams.



I left the centermost ten inches of the front panel flat since I didn’t want a lot of volume near my stomach. But the side panels, and half of the front panel were evenly gathered down until the top edge measured twenty inches.


Then the front waistband was sewn on and the raw edge was finished with bias tape.


And the side back seams were done up with french seams. At this point it didn’t look like much and I wasn’t happy with how blocky the back panels were, so I did a bit of trimming before moving on.


I measured the hem of the top half of the petticoat, then gathered my shantung down to that length.


And sewed it onto the top half of the petticoat. Then I trimmed the edge and finished it with lace binding to control the fraying.

Now it actually looked like a petticoat! But this photo is pretty deceiving, since this is it layered over a cotton/netting petticoat that I made a while back. On its own it has very little volume.


I decided to add a bit of detail to the seam between the shantung and cotton, which I did by sewed on some ruffled eyelet lace and a thin pink ribbon. It isn’t much compared to most 19th century petticoats, but it looks better than nothing!

The final step was sewing the back seam, which was also done with a french seam. I tapered the stitching off as I neared the top twelve inches of the edge, which were finished by hand earlier on. And that’s it!

(these photos also show it layered over a small cotton/netting petticoat)




But since I mentioned versatility earlier on I thought I would show you a few of the different shapes this petticoat can have with the help of some extra layers and safety pins.

Here it is layered over two cotton/netting petticoats. It has a very full A line shape, with a nice rounded slope at the hip which was common during this period.



Here it is with an (unfinished) skirt thrown overtop. It collapsed a bit after I hemmed it and added the facings, but the shape has stayed pretty much the same.


But if I take out one of the netting/cotton petticoats, and use a safety pin to gather the bottom edge of the back panel it takes on a MUCH different, more narrow shape.



Which works well for the slimmer shape from the late 1890’s – like this plaid project i’ve been working on!


The only downside is that it’s a bit too long to wear on its own. In this picture i’m on my tip toes and it’s still more than a inch too long. Which means in it’s current state I can’t wear it underneath Edwardian style gowns.

But i’m going to fix that! My plan is to sew two eyelets into each seam and at the center front. The eyelets will be placed vertically, about six inches apart. Then ribbon can be threaded through the eyelets (one piece of ribbon per each two eyelets) and tied to adjust the length.

I could also use the eyelets to adjust where the volume is, like I did with the safety pin above. Hopefully i’ll get to that soon and be able to share the process in another post, along with better photos of the finished product!


This post was probably longer than it should be considering the subject matter, but clearly I get excited when writing about petticoats!

Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “Making a Petticoat, 1890’s Foundation Garments

  1. Molly says:

    1890’s costumes make my heart absolutely sing! I am gobbling up any and all details of your work on these. The plaid skirt with the pleating looks wonderful.

  2. Gabriela Salvador says:

    An easier (and historically accurate) way to shorten the petticoat is to use pintucks, which are horizontal pleats. I find that they’re pretty easy (but time consuming if I’m dealing w/ a lot of material). Pintucks also help stiffen the fabric.

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