Today I’m talking about 18th century skirt foundations – or more specifically, making a grand pannier.
This post was written as an accompaniment to my video on this project, where I switched between speeded up footage of the process and clips of me talking about how things were progressing as I worked on it. There are way more construction details (and frustrated rants) in that video than in this post, but I wanted to talk about it here too.
I took on this project because I decided mid last year to make an 18th Century court gown. I bought fabrics for it (for a total of $49 for 13 yards – still giddy about that deal) but at the time I had just finished an 1860’s ball gown, and took on an eleborate 1880’s evening gown a few weeks later. So there wasn’t a good time to start on it. Until now.
But before starting I needed to sort out the foundations. And it just so happened that Simplicity – who sell a grand pannier pattern which is a bit famous in the historical costuming community – emailed me and asked if I was interested in any of their patterns. So of course I said yes!
(For the record, I wasn’t encouraged to talk about this pattern and I bought all the other materials myself.)
You can purchase the pattern from their print on demand service here. Or try to find copies of the discontinued tissue paper version, the pattern number is EA363501.
Also for this project I used 5 yards of hot pink broadcloth, 10 yards of 1/4″ hooping steel, satin ribbon, and twill tape.
I folded my fabric to be four layers thick, then cut out all the required pieces once. It was faster doing this way, but pretty hard on my scissors so I wouldn’t recommend it!
At this point I notched the pieces, but didn’t think to mark the circles or boning channels. I blame not having followed a commercial pattern in years for this oversight.
I immediately – like, within five minutes got confused about one of the instructions and kind of did my own thing instead.
The pieces were all sewed together with flat felled seams – which was super frustrating. I found the notches extended past the half way point of the seam allowances, so raw edges stuck out and it was really hard to get them even. If I remade this I would definitely add a half inch to each seam, then sew down french seams or do wider flat felled seams. Something to make it a bit easier!
Aside from that, assembly was pretty easy. I found the instructions a bit confusing, but the construction was pretty intuitive when I ignored those.
After everything except for the side seams were sewn, I finally drew the boning channels and other markings onto the pieces. My fabric was thin enough that I could trace the design through the material which made it really easy to do, even this far into the project.
Then the side seams were done up – as you might be able to tell, the top few inches of the centerfront were left open. This is how you get the pannier on and off.
Instead of using the recommended bias tape, I made boning channels from twill tape and ribbon since they will be less prone to stretching. I also added a boning channel to the hemline, to give the skirt more support.
The top edge was finished with bias tape, then I threaded ribbon through the bias tape to gather it down to my waist measurement. I’m not thrilled with this, I find it’s really prone to slipping down in the back, and it’s hard to gather evenly. I might swap it out for a straight waistband with an eyelet front closure in the future.
I also sewed all the ribbons in at this point. These ribbons are sewn just above the boning channels and tied to shape the skirt. The instructions said to do this after the boning was in, but that seemed frustrating so I did it beforehand.
I boned this skirt with a mixture of things. I mostly used the new hooping steel, but the second boning channel has hooping wire in it, and the third tier has normal steel boning, which I will be swapping out very soon. I misread the material list and didn’t buy enough boning, so I had to compromise.
Also I ranted about this in the video, but feel the need to mention it again. What was commonly used for hoop skirts (hooping wire) was discontinued a year or two ago. It was made from two bands of steel covered with buckram or plastic. It was incredibly strong and supported skirts of any size beautifully. It was also around $1.50/yd.
The only “replacement” I could find was from CorsetMaking.com. They advertised this as a great alternative. No. It’s not. It pretty much sucks. The more I think about it, the more bitter I am. It behaves more like corset steel than hooping wire and is very flimsy. The bottom few bones in this skirt are collapsing a bit in the worn pictures – and that’s without a dress on top of it! I’m really worried that it won’t support the dress, which is frustrating.
It’s also much thinner than hooping wire (.25″ or .29″) and more expensive at $29/$36 for ten yards. I think using two bones per a channel would help, but that means buying more of this ridiculously expensive poorly performing steel.
It would probably be fine for smaller hoop skirts, pocket hoops, lobster tail supports, etc. but I was really disappointed in it’s performance in this skirt. I will try gluing buckram over corset steel, or doubling up the zip ties they use in shipping before buying more.
Anyway, I carried on despite that annoyance and tied the ribbons to shape the skirt, which worked remarkably well.
And that’s it! I was originally very happy with the shape of it, but after getting worn photos I’m not as thrilled.
I feel like the top portion should be wider – it’s probably fine for 95% of people, but I’m tall, have broad shoulders, and don’t find the proportions as exaggerated or flattering as I had hoped. I don’t think that’s really fixable at this point, unless the petticoat performs miracles on the amount of volume there!
I also need to take the bone in the hem in a little, so the overall shape is smoother. But that’s an easy fix.
Other than that, I really liked this pattern. It wasn’t too difficult to put together and the most challenging parts, like the boning channels and ribbon placement were well marked and easy to transfer onto the fabric. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to make a grand pannier, though I would suggest a few of the alterations mentioned in this post. Like the additional bone in the hem, extra room in the seams, and twill tape for boning channels instead of bias tape.
Thanks for reading! I should have another “Making of” post up soon, maybe even tomorrow if I can get it together on time!