Wednesday, November 13, 2019

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 2, Petticoats with Crinoline, Ties, Bones, Wires!

The back of an 1895-1900 silk and lace
petticoat, with back gathering and
back fluff helper tie!
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
2009.300.3014.
This is the second in a series of posts about how fullness was added to 1890s skirts. You can read the first at "1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 1, Fullness and Flare".

The Victorian era is rife with petticoats. We know that each stylistic era had its specialized petticoats which supported the prevailing silhouette, from 1830s corded petticoats, to mid-century hoopskirts, to late Victorian bustles integrated into petticoats. The mid-1890s was no different, although awareness of the types of petticoats I am going to write about doesn't seem to be general in in the costuming community -- the information sure was new to me.

Reliance on Advice Literature


Advice literature had plenty to suggest about petticoats. However, I have not spotted 1890s extant petticoats constructed with the more unusual additions of hair cloth and wires that the advice literature suggested, and only one with back ties. Does the warning that historians have given for decades apply here, that prescriptive literature is likely to reflect less what was done than what segments of society said should be done?

Or if the petticoats haven't survived in numbers, may it partly be due to the materials they were made of? Haircloth, a stiff, coarse, woven material made with horsehair or other hairs, and crinoline aren't that comfortable, and a haircloth petticoat? As a utility garment, I suspect that not many people might select to keep such a thing for sentimental reasons or for reuse. As for wires, they are easily removed.

The Cut and Arrangement of Petticoats Holds Skirts Out -- and So Do Ties 


So, let's begin. Wearing petticoats with similar lines to the skirt they support is going to help hold out the skirt.  Isobel Mallon, one of the two main fashion and sewing columnists for The Ladies Home Journal, wrote:

"Except for a greater fullness the petticoats are cut almost exactly like the dress skirt. Lawn or cambric is used for them, although when thin white dresses are worn petticoats of dotted muslin are chosen, and being light tend to make the whole costume very cool and pleasant. The skirt of lawn with three ruffles, having upon them a group of tucks on each side of the lace insertion, and then below that a lace edge, is one that can endure much soap and water, and, not being over-trimmed, is good form. The fancy for setting lace in the skirt itself no longer obtains, and if anything, the trimming, which is all put on by hand, is simpler than ever before. A ribbon belt is usually drawn through a casing at the top, so that one may have one's skirt belt as loose or as tight as may be agreeable, and then, too, the doing away with the old close belt, to which the skirt was gathered, makes it much easier to iron the petticoat itself.
 Silk skirts have pinked ruffles, with lace ones alternating. These are not made as wide as the white skirts..." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", by Isobel Mallon, Ladies Home Journal, August, 1894, p. 23.)
The idea wasn't new. One year earlier, in 1893, Ms. Mallon's article "Dainty Lingerie of Today" (p. 20), had suggested the same thing, but she had added a significant detail: "no belt is put on these petticoats, but a drawstring is run in and the fullness kept well to the back." So here we have an easy way to add some fullness to the back of the skirt, if one is slender: put the petticoat on a drawstring and push the fullness to the back! Done with more than one petticoat, more fullness will be added.

One can take holding the petticoat's fullness to the back side even further. That's where the photo of the (probably) creped silk petticoat from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, comes in. It is provided with the drawstring, plus ties so that the fullness in back can be gathered up and held in place according to taste.
Let's look at that photo again. Brilliant! It may even be that the waistband drawstrings cover only the back portion of the waistband, so that the front and sides would remain smooth.


The back of an 1895-1900 silk and lace
petticoat, with back gathering and
back fluff helper tie!
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
2009.300.3014.


About That Frou-Frou Sound...
Yes, "frou-frou" was a term coined in the era to refer to the rustle of silk petticoats under the gown. However, was making a lovely rustling as one passed by in good taste? In the 1893 article we've just talked about, Ms. Mallon could hardly be more clear about refraining from fou-frouing, alas:

Very few women wear white petticoats with anything except those gowns that necessitate them. And when they are required I advise that they should be either of cambric or dotted muslin, and the only suggestion of starch about them around the hem. The petticoat that rattles is excessively vulgar.
The next year, she carries the warning to wearing silk petticoats: "Silk skirts have pinked ruffles, with lace ones alternating. These are not made as wide as the white skirts......for if they were they would rustle so that they would be counted in very bad taste." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", Ladies Home Journal, August, 1894)

So there you are.

I am inclined to rebel.

So were others. In the same magazine's write-in advice column "Hints on Home Dressmaking", March 1893, Emma M. Hooper, the columnist responded to a letter writer

MRS. JOSEPHINE S. --- Black silk petticoats are made of surah or taffeta, the latter being the "rustling silk" that you speak of, being preferred for that reason, as wearers of silk petticoats are not at all averse to the fact thus being known.

The Number of Petticoats



Note that I am saying "petticoats", not just "petticoat". It was normal to wear more than one petticoat, although, as we shall see, there were exceptions to the advice.

The British sewing manual The Elements of Modern Dressmaking for the Amateur and Professional Dressmaker, by Miss J. E. Davis (1894) suggested multiple petticoats, treated in specific ways. In the chapter on drafting and constructing skirts, and in the section about lining skirts, Miss Davis promotes stiffened petticoats as a satisfactory way to maintain the fullness of a skirt, in preference to the use of stiffeners in the bottom edges of skirts  (p. 139):

Indeed, the use of stiffening in the [outside] skirt edge is a rather clumsy resource at any time, the wide effect being easier to secure if the upper petticoat below it is stiffened either with starched flounces, or with pleats and frills of horsehair. Upper skirts [meaning the topmost petticoat] trimmed with a couple of narrow flounces round the bottom edge set out the dress skirt well enough to give a moderately full effect, which will generally satisfy average wearers, especially if a narrow strip of horsehair is doubled and enclosed in the hem of each flounce, both being cut on the cross.
Let's take apart this paragraph. First, when Miss Davis talks about an "upper petticoat" and "upper skirts"; she is talking about the topmost of multiple petticoats. How many, she doesn't specify. As a note, Emma Hooper, the other fashion-centric columnist in Ladies Home Journal, didn't specify, either, when counseling a reader in her advice column, "Hints on Home Dressmaking". Instead, she counseled the reader to use her own usual number -- indicating the number varied from woman to woman:
Number of petticoats used. "Hints on Home Dressmaking",
by Emma M. Hooper, Ladies Home Journal,
June, 1894, p. 30.


I could trot out lots more quotations in support of multiple petticoats, but that might multiplicate the boredom of reading this research article, which is, besides, a set of blog posts and not a piece I am submitting to an academic journal. Thus, no more quotes on this subject :}

An Interjection: Getting a Smooth Fit at the Waist With a Yoked Petticoat 



As we're talking petticoats, let's cover this, too. You can imagine how petticoats on drawstrings just recommended, might ruck up around the waist, or otherwise lost its position, especially if the wearer was not especially slender.

The Delineator provided a solution in a petticoat with a yoke, and fixed gathering in the back for the necessary fullness -- yes, this design should remind costumers of petticoats in the Natural Form era. Sketches of the petticoat, along with the original directions for making it, appear below. Even without the actual pattern, I am betting that many of us could replicate the garment from what is here.

A yoked petticoat with directions. The Delineator, February 18, 1895, pages 197-8.


Here is another one, from the same issue:

A yoked petticoat with directions. The Delineator, February 18, 1895, pages 240.


Do note: the writer says that a white petticoat will not be worn under a gown for the street in winter. Memo to file when you make a winter 1890s skirt!

Similar advice is dispensed by Isobel Mallon in the previously mentioned "Dainty Lingerie of Today." She says:

If one is inclined to be stout a yoke is advised in preference to a belt, and this yoke should be at least three inches in depth. This buttons, and then it is necessary to have a drawing-string far down in the skirt to keep the fullness from sagging to the front."
I am not sure, but that "drawing-string" might tie the fullness towards the back...and of course we've already read about that, and know its advantages.

Petticoats Stiffened With Starch, but Better, With Crinoline


If you were paying attention, and I am sure my prose is so lucid and exciting that you're reading this with trembling hands, you will have heard Miss Davis above suggest that a portion of the petticoats -- the flounces -- be starched, and Ms. Mallon say that the hem was the only place starch should be found. We all know starching practices used during previous fashion eras really help hold a skirt into the fashionable shape.

I suspect that Miss Davis really does just mean the flounces are stiff-starched, rather than the entire petticoat being dipped and starched, although it's possible that British taste in petticoats varied from American taste. Ladies Home Journal believed that women had experience with heavily starched garments being uncomfortable, especially in summertime:

Over-starched frocks are uncomfortable. Ladies Home Journal, July, 1895,
p. 21.


In fact, Isobel Mallon, a year earlier, wrote that muslin petticoats were out of style, and that petticoats were no longer stiffly starched:

"It has not been so very long ago since muslin was generally used for underwear. That it was thick, warm and by no means easy to arrange in a pretty way was not thought of, and if one suggested that in its place linen or lawn should be used someone else was already ready to announce that both of these materials were more expensive and more difficult to launder. Nowadays we know that lawn or percale, for the latter is frequently noted, is quite as cheap as muslin, because of the grater width, and that, as underwear is no longer made stiff with starch,  its laundering is quite easy." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", Isobel Mallon, Ladies Home Journal, August 1894, p. 23.)
A side note: by this date, many petticoats were made of lightweight fabrics, as were undergarments in general.

As I have said before, the favorite material for underwear, of course not counting the flannel for petticoats, is either lawn or percale. When the latter is chosen it usually has a fine stripe or tiny dot of some color on it. What are known as the cross-barred muslins, which are, by-the-by, very thin and inexpensive, are occasionally used for nightdresses to be worn during the summer, but this material is not noted in any other garment. Occasionally a light-weight cambric is selected for petticoats, but lawn is given the preference. Silk underwear has not the same vogue it had some time ago, but it cannot be denied that if one can afford to wear it, it is the most agreeable material imaginable." ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", by Isobel Mallon, Ladies Home Journal, August, 1894, p. 23)
Starching the flounces of a lawn petticoat is going to have a different, more papery effect than starching a heavier weight fabric, such as a longcloth (which is thickish, soft, and dense), or a muslin. I do not know how well such would hold out a heavy silk or wool skirt, although it would work well for a summer muslin.

Thus, Miss Davis' second suggestion -- arming the upper petticoat with flounces that have been stiffened with narrow bands of horsehair, doubled for extra stiffness. Now that might have some holding power. This suggestion brings us to the next kinds of petticoat.

A Haircloth Petticoat, or Petticoat with Haircloth Additions


Haircloth is one of those utility fabrics which is still being manufactured, and still contains the horsehair or other hairs that it contained generations ago. It's still used in tailoring and other manufactures. Even Pellon, which manufactures interfacings, offers it.

A selection of haircloth images on Google Images.


The idea of using haircloth to make petticoats was nothing new. The Metropolitan has one from the 1834s (IMAGE), and they appear as part of petticoats in other stylistic portions of the Victorian era.

Haircloth petticoat, 1840s.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
C.143.126.26


In "Comfortable Dressing in Summer" in the July, 1895 Ladies Home Journal, page 21, women are recommended to wear a petticoat made of haircloth to help the skirt achieve the proper set. Isobel Mallon, the regular fashion columnist for that magazine, wrote, "I have before this described the haircloth petticoat, the wearing of which makes it possible either to omit lining the cotton skirt, or the having a very soft, thin one." Underneath, she recommends wearing a "skirt of flannelette, reaching the knees...for while it gives the required warmth to the body, it is not heavy, nor does it seem to become imbued with the outside heat." Here is the idea of the insulating power of clothes against heat. However, she does say a bit further on that "(m)any women complain of the weight of the haircloth petticoat in summer."

Alas, I do not have a picture anywhere, of what a haircloth petticoat would actually look like, and nor have I found her detailed description of a haircloth petticoat, though I shall keep looking.

In the same issue, the same author describes a silk petticoat with haircloth box-plaitings, to be worn under those skirts that are too light to carry a stiff lining. She writes:

The newest skirt, however, is the one shown at Illustration No. 2. It is made of white moreen, and is to be worn under cotton, silk, or any light-weight material that will not stand a stiff lining. It is cut by the godet pattern [in other words, with back godet plaits, which I will cover in another post] and has as decoration three box-plaitings of the white haircloth, the top one having as a finish a thick silk cord. This seems a rather expensive skirt, but it will be found very useful, especially to the woman who likes pretty cotton toilettes. 
Here is the illustration belonging to the description:

Petticoat with haircloth box pleatings. Ladies Home Journal, July 1895, p.25.


I find this petticoat idea very interesting. If I were to make one, each of the box-pleated flounces would be composed of silk covering the haircloth. That way the exterior would be smoother, prettier, and less likely to catch or rub on the skirt lining.

Bones and Wires In the Petticoat: A Hoopskirt For the 1890s?


In 1893 there were rumors that the crinoline would return. It never did, but that doesn't mean that advice columnists didn't advocate for what is in essence a hoopskirt! Who knew? Not many of us, I think.

Here is Isobel in the summer of1895, at pretty much the apogee of skirt circumference:
Many women complain of the weight of the haircloth petticoat in the summer. When this is felt I would advise a skirt of mohair, cut exactly as if it were a dress skirt, and stiffened with five rows, quite close to each other, of the narrow whalebones that come for this purpose. They are mounted in the center of a braid that, extending beyond the bone on each side, makes it easy to sew the bands in position. This bone is pliable, as the best quality of whalebone is  used, and it certainly will hold the skirt exactly as fashion dictates. A cheap arrangement of whalebone which is covered, but which as no extension of braid like that described, is seen, but I cannot recommend it, as in sewing it on, the needle would be apt to go through the whalebone, and once it is split no wear can be expected from it. The one of which I approve I have seen tried, and that is why I commend it for stiffening petticoats or gowns for the woman who find the haircloth at once heating and heavy.
There were braids fitted with whalebones sold especially for the purpose of creating what is essentially a hoopskirt out of a petticoat! Because the braid is sewn on to a petticoat shaped exactly like a dress skirt, the lines of the dress skirt would be retained. That means that we cannot just go and substitute a hoopskirt meant for another costume for the petticoat design described above; 1890s skirts have definite shapes, for one thing, and from the sounds of it, this braid was not that stiff, so that the result wouldn't wear with the bell-like motion of a hoopskirt.

Emma M. Hooper describes a similar product to a subscriber, Addie, in her write-in column, Home Dressmaking, in the April 1895 issue of Ladies Home Journal (p. 34):
There is a flat pliable steel covered with a kind of webbing that is excellent for using in a petticoat. It should be run in a casing an inch above the bottom edge and keeps the petticoat from flapping against the ankles. (2) A black alpaca petticoat is excellent for traveling.
In this case, the reason for the hoop of steel is to keep the feet free, but it will likely help with the skirt, also.

For our purposes as costumers, I believe the hoop steel that we tend to use for crinolines these days will be too heavy and bulky. If a thin, softly springy steel can be found, it could be run in a casing just as Mrs. Hooper suggests. I happen to have some, the legacy of an antique crinoline that went to pieces long ago. Obviously it would have to be removed from the petticoat when the latter was washed, and being steel, it could not be exposed to any damp for fear of rusting. This is just a guess, but springy jewelry wire of the heavier sort used in a bundle of multiple strands might work: it could be braided or connected at intervals. The narrower version of German whalebone might work as well, although I cannot say if it would be too stiff and deform the petticoat, and it's expensive enough that I am not sure I'd like to make the trial. I wouldn't recommend thin rattan, although we'll hear more about that material in a later post.

That's all I have for now about petticoats and how they helped create the fashionable skirt flare of the day. I hope you found it helpful, and would be delighted to hear if you happen to use any of the methods in your own costumes.

A final note, for those of you not familiar with copyright: if you should choose to make use of the research above, please credit me. This long article, even published as it is as a series of blog posts, took a great deal of time and effort to develop. Even now I am finding little typos to correct. I am glad to share the information, but the courtesy of credit is both standard and appreciated.

Next time? Skirt interlinings, flutes, funnels and godets.

Friday, November 01, 2019

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 1, Fullness and Flare

For several months now, I have been on the hunt for the most effective period ways to add fullness in my mid-1890s skirt so that it looks more like illustrations and fashion plates. Women and modistes/seamstresses of the period had the same concerns and questions. Therefore, I am plumbing the prescriptive literature -- the fashion magazines, newspaper columns, sewing guides, and the like -- that gave instruction and commented more or less approvingly, and with more or less humor, on the what, where, when and how of wearing a skirt a la mode.

There is so very much to write about, that I have had to split the information into five posts; the most of which have been composed concurrently. Are you ready for a long research article? Here we go!

Oh, and for those of you wondering where part 2 of the belt/plastron/rosettes tutorial went, it's still in process. My hands needed a break from needle and thread. Not that typing is much better for them...

What Is the Silhouette We're After?



At this particular point, the mid-point of the decade and the apogee of amplitude for both sleeves and skirt circumference, the overall silhouette was an extreme hour glass: wide sleeves, wee waist, skirts wide at the hem, although usually the front of the skirt was expected to be rather narrowly cut. Pick a fashion plate in 1895, just about any fashion plate, and you're apt to see something like this, below:

1895 fashion plate from the Netherlands: "De Nouveaute; Mode-Journal, Amsterdam;
from Genealogy Lady blog, July 12, 2015.


Our model is young, sweet, and very pretty in her muted blue street gown, which by the way, I really like. Had I seen it before making my ensemble, I'd have made it instead.

As you might suspect, the generic silhouette varied a great deal when it came to making up the skirts, depending a lot on where the skirt was to be worn, the season, and the age, occupation, financial condition, personal preference, and any number of factors related to the person wearing it. A widely flaring skirt was probably not going to cut it when worn by a lower-level secretary in an office or a shop-woman behind the counter. Nor would most young women out for a ramble in the countryside be likely to select a skirt of many yards and copious folds. Struggling with a heavy skirt of 7 or 8 yards' circumference among brambles and fallen logs would be perfect fodder for jokes and cautionary tales.

Miss Rosley and Mr. Grant meet in a wood to the side of a cornfield
encumbered with stone and rail fences. "Are you not tired?" I whispered. "Oh, you can speak
out now," she said. "I am tired, though, for it was so rough." You see, Miss Rosley has snuck
away from her garden and prying eyes... This is part of scene from "As One Woman to
Another", by Frank R. Stockton. His works are great fun to read.
Ladies Home Journal, January, 1895, p. 3.


On the other hand, a matron wanting to impress others descending the stairs of a theater or entering an afternoon reception might have worn -- or wanted to wear -- a gown with as dramatically large a flare as socially and financially possible.

Afternoon fashions with lots of fullness in the back of skirts. Demorest's Family Magazine, February 1895, p. 207. Mildred Duncan, the heroine of "Our Working Sisters", a serialized, moralizing thriller novel, attends an afternoon function. Mildred, born to wealth in New York, has plans to assist working women, but is being threatened and bullied by an adventurer with designs on her fortune and her future.


Keep in mind these variations when reading the below.

What Books and Magazines Said About Fullness and Flare in Mid-decade Skirts



Skirts had been amplifying since very early in the decade. Allow The Elements of Modern Dressmaking for the Amateur and Professional Dressmaker, written by Jeanette Davis and Cora Holahan in 1894, to set the mid-decade scene:
It has been stated that the bottom edge of a well-cut skirt should flow outward (sufficiently so, in fact, to quite shadow the feet when the wearer is in a standing position -- and a skirt which does not fulfil this condition is never quite satisfactory). To maintain this effect, frills, flounces, ruches, linings of crinoline and horsehair, balayeuses (or inside frills), wadded hems and rolls, etc., are all used in turn, and anything in the choice of lining or in the finishing of the bottom edge of the skirt that allows it to fall soft, or that draws it in in the slightest degree, is at once rejected as not meeting the requirements of the work. Methods of finishing which leave the edges thin are, therefore, less favoured than those which leave them firm and full, and all hems, stiffening, etc., are cut amply wide, and bindings, etc., well eased on, to guard against the danger of drawing in.


When in 1894 skirts began to become truly large, the Ladies Home Journal made suggestions for reworking existing skirts. Here, from their January 1894 issue, page 21:

Ladies Home Journal, January 1894: godet plaits.


In 1893, the magazine intimates, skirts had been about 3 yards in circumference. Now, fashion was moving to more fabric -- more fullness -- and the magazine was telling readers how they could achieve the appearance of more circumference by reworking their existing skirts. Wondering about those "godet plaits"? Don't worry; I'll be covering them later.

A year later, in January 1895, Demorest's Family Magazine wrote about their new pattern, the "Ripple" skirt on p. 182, saying it was over five yards in circumference:

A modish skirt, measuring something more than five yards around the bottom. This is the maximum width of comfort for a short skirt of anything but diaphanous fabrics. The pattern is commended for handsome gowns of silk, moire, or crepon. It is in five breadths, with exceedingly wide side gores, and two back breadths usually cut to meet on the bias....The skirt fits the waist trimly across the front and over the hips, and the fullness of the back breadths is laid in two box plaits.


January 1895, Demorest's Family Magazine, p. 182. Two outfits using the Demorest's Ripple skirt pattern.
January 1895, Demorest's Family Magazine, p. 182. The Demorest's Ripple skirt pattern sketch.


Demorest's patterns were usually available for quite a while, and the magazine might refer to a pattern published many months ago in a later issue.

In April 1895 (p. 299), the same magazine described how a tailor-made suit (a conservative, rather masculine style) should appear:
[Tailor-made] Skirts differ in no respect from those in vogue during the winter. Though there is considerable variety in cut, the effect achieved is the same in all: a close, trim appearance in front and on the sides, fitting perfectly around the hips, flaring at the bottom, with the fullness in the back held in two or three plaits, very narrow at the waist line and broadening out below.

In the same issue, the Demorest's writers had strong words about skirt circumference, good sense and, -- whoo! --extremism (p. 301):
A Flaring Skirt
For street wear there is a general and marked preference for skirts of moderate fullness, flaring well at the bottom and fitted trimly around the waist. The very full skirts are so unmanageable and so great a burden to carry, that sensible women -- and among these are numbered many very smart ones in matters of dress -- will have none of them for walking. None but extremists, who adopt every latest conceit, will wear at any time the enormously full skirt which surrounds the figure with folds and ripples; for no matter how elegant the fabric or how graceful the woman she loses all dignity and ease of motion with such a load of folds flopping around her knees. For evening gowns, skirts of eight and nine yards in circumference can not only be tolerated but even admired when the fullness is confined to the sides and back; and some women wear them with extreme chic.

If you think that the magazine is condemning and celebrating a large skirt circumference in almost the same breadth, that's true, but it's all in the cut. Remember that while many evening gowns were of heavy materials, keeping the bulk in the back makes it easier to walk: it's a bit easier to drag a weight than be slowed by it in front of the knees.

I could go on with countless examples during 1895, but I think that it's clear now how circumference could vary, and why.

Now that we have established the flare and fullness of the mid-1890s skirt, let's visit one of the most common ways of adding fullness: petticoats. But not just any petticoats...

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Heads Up! Big Edits Have Been Made To the 1890s Antique Skirt Post

One of the sources of the new information,
Sophie Klug's The Art of Dressmaking.
Sometimes it's good to let a post sit a bit before you post it, in case you find out more about your subject. I should have let the last post about an antique skirt in my collection mellow a bit.


That's because I learned a good bit about brush braid -- known as skirt braid -- and about 1890s interlinings/facings, oh, and strengthening seams of two bias edges, over the last day or so that have shed a lot more light on the skirt and the methods used to make it. Methods that we can use in our costuming efforts.


The previous post, An Antique 1890s Black Skirt With Brush Braid In My Collection,  has been heavily edited to add the new information, as there's no point in splitting the knowledge for any readers who might arrive down the line.


If you're interested, please have a look!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

An Antique 1890s Black Skirt With Brush Braid In My Collection

Lining, facing/interlining, and brush braid/skirt braid sections heavily edited October 24, 2019

A jet black, very heavy skirt from the 1890s has long been in my collection of antique garments and haberdashery. Here it is below, on a rainy afternoon. I have all the lights turned on in the room and you can see just how jet black the skirt is.

What follows is a tour of the skirt, inside and out. I hope that you find the pictures and notes useful, especially if you are considering constructing a skirt of the period!

Just interested in brush braid and how it was used? Click the brush braid link for pictures and a description of how it was used on this skirt.

A jet black antique 1890s skirt; it absorbs light!
Don't worry, the rest of the pictures will be
lightened so details are visible.
I wore the skirt many years ago, for Halloween. Here are my mother, the twins as kitties, and me as a good witch, on Halloween night. Oh, how the twins loved their kitty ears and tails. I loved how the tail of this skirt looked, too. The back has pleasing folds.


The antique 1890s skirt worn when the boys were a year old, in 2008.

The skirt spends most of its time rolled away in a bin, but given that I am working on an 1890s outfit, and getting ready to mess with the set of the skirt hem, now seemed a good time to pull it out and examine its construction.

The Skirt Fabric


I am not sure exactly what fibers the skirt is made of, but some are shiny and some are rather matte; my suspicion is a silk and wool combination. It tends to fray a little on cut edges, but not too much; that's why I think wool figures into the composition. The fabric is rather thick, though it drapes well, and is very heavy, far heavier than the sorts of cloth we tend to wear today. The weave is wonderful and includes a repeat pattern, using the warp threads, of what could be considered fronds or grasses in bas relief, broken by tiny vee shapes, and surrounded but what I can only call a vermicelli pattern. A photo of it is below, lightened quite a bit to show the pattern and weave.

The skirt fabric under evening lamplight



The skirt fabric in detail: the photo has been lightened a great deal.


When laid out as flat as possible on the floor, it's possible to see just how much fabric is involved in its making. In the photo below, the underside of the skirt bottom is showing for some inches at the right. The fabric thickness is visible -- note how the skirt fabric stands proud of the carpet.




The Skirt on a Dress Form



The photos below show the skirt set on a dress form. There is no petticoat set beneath it; I wanted to show how the fabric drapes without any assistance. All the photos have been lightened quite a bit so that the fabric is visible.

When I found the skirt, it was hanging draped from the ceiling of an antique store in a small town near Kentucky's border with Tennessee. I do not know if the skirt was local to the area. It was draped to show the fabric, which I fell in love with immediately, but it was also obviously a damaged garment: there was evidence of any waistband, internal or external, any longer and no threads or marks to show where the waistband had been, if there had been an exterior waistband. The top of the skirt measured around 50" in circumference.

Not terribly long after I bought the skirt, I rebuilt the waistband by pleating the back panels in three large pleats to each side of the center back placket, and then folding the top of the skirt fabric over a strong waist stay tape and hand-sewing it carefully to the tape. I had no matching fabric for a separate waistband, obviously, and this seemed to be an effective solution that also did not cut into or otherwise harm the fabric. Using an interior waist tape with no observable exterior waistband is recommended by Sophie Klug in The Art of Dressmaking (1895), as useful "for women inclined to embonpoint", as she delicately put it on page 33. At the time I didn't know this.

I do not know how, exactly, the skirt was pleated originally. Was there a center box pleat? Was the placket hidden? Again, there are no longer any observable threads or marks to show.

Here is the front of the skirt. Note how narrow the front is meant to be -- so typical of the 1890s. The front panel measures about 11 1/4" wide at top, and 20 3/4" at bottom. It's currently 19 1/2" long.

1890s antique skirt, front


Here is the skirt from the side. There is only one side panel on each side, but each is large. At top it measures 6 1/2", and at bottom 28 1/4". It's currently 40 1/2" long.

Antique 1890s skirt, side


Here is the back of the skirt. It is made of two panels, each approximately 9 1/2" wide at top, 28" wide at bottom, and currently 41" long. Here is where the loveliness of a heavy, lusciously draping fabric so popular in the decade has its glory: look at how the fabric forms into heavy rounded folds, all by itself.

Antique 1890s skirt, back


The Skirt Turned Inside Out


I put the skirt onto the dress form inside out so that you can see the lining. At the top of the skirt, you can see how the fabric is folded over the white waist stay that I added, and you can see the placket, made in the fashion fabric. The entire skirt is lined. How the lining is managed, you will learn shortly.
The lining is a black polished cotton, very light and soft.


Antique 1890s skirt, inside out


An Approximate Pattern of the Skirt


I took an approximate pattern of the skirt. It's designed in, dare I say it, the "regulation" way for the middle years of the decade. Oh, how they loved the word "regulation" in 1890s magazines. I couldn't help but echo it. All seams are straight. There is no flaring towards the bottom of the panels that gives late decade and early 20th century skirts the look of the bell of a trumpet.

The front panel of the skirt is bias at both edges. In all likelihood, the fabric was folded lengthwise at center front, and cut so that each side would be identical. As recommended by books and magazines of the period, the edge of the front panel is on the bias, so the edge of the side panel that meets it must be on the straight. This ensures that the bias edge of the front is supported by the stronger straight grain of the side panel -- warp (lengthwise) threads are in general stronger than the weft (widthwise) threads. I don't have the quotations with me at the moment, but it was not uncommon for there to be only one side panel.

The skirt pattern, part 1.
Don't you like my fancy cellphone picture?


There are two back panels, and each is a mirror image of the other. The back panel pattern is pictured below. Just as with the front-panel-to-side-panel seam, the bias edge of the side panel meets the straight edge of the back panel.

Interestingly, the back panel also has a bias edge, and the center back seam is thus two bias edges, one from each of the back panels, seamed together. That seam would be prone to stretch. It may be for that reason that there is a strip of brown cotton (cut on the straight of grain) sewn to one edge of the seam inside the lining. It is split down the middle -- split, not cut. I can't help but think that it originally was used to bind and thus strengthen the center back seam, and later was cut or wore out, but I could be wrong.

Again, because the waistband is missing and there are no longer any marks or threads in the fabric to show how the back was treated, I cannot tell you how the pleats were managed.

The skirt pattern, part 2

Before We Move On, an Interlude


Today I purchased two bins, and laid them on the floor near the back door. Within minutes, each was occupied by one of our kitties. Nutmeg, to the left, Lily, to the right.



Lily became interested in Nutmeg's bin. There was a nano-scuffle before the two buddies settled back into their temporary dens...



Skirt Construction Notes


Here are some notes I took about the construction of the skirt.

The Placket

The top part of the placket, that the viewer would see, had a protruding section about 1.5" wide that was simply turned over to the inside and the entire thing hemmed down on top of the lining...that meant that the lining was added before the placket was dealt with. The seamstress used the selvage edge of the skirt here -- you can see it clearly in the photo below, and thus did not have to turn edge of the placket under again, avoiding an unsightly bump.

Upper placket on inside, showing its selvage edge.


The lower piece of the placket is added to the edge of the skirt. It was stitched to the skirt right sides together, then turned to the inside of the skirt, the raw edge turned under a very small amount, and hand-hemmed, once again over the lining. There is a large, very strong snap in the middle of the placket. I do not know if it is original or not. It is sewn on with very strong black thread.

View of antique 1890s skirt placket.


The Lining

The center back seam shows how the lining a skirt fashion fabric were handled. The lining and fashion fabric were treated as one piece, and the seam was sewn directly through both. This is flatlining. The skirt was not bag-lined, as would be common today. The piece of brown fabric that you see on the left side of the seam is cut on the straight, and the seam is sewn through it, the lining, and the fashion fabric. It functions as a stay. Per Sophie Klug in the 1895 book The Art of Dressmaking, "Where two bias edges are to be joined in one seam, a stay tape or strip of lining must be basted at one side and sewed in with the seam to prevent stretching." (p. 35)

Antique 1890s skirt, center back seam with seam stay used to stabilize the
fabric: both edges are on the bias.


At each seam which was on straight of grain, the lining's selvage was used, so it would not have to be hemmed down. It was simple seamed along with the fashion fabric and left. However, where the seam consisted of one bias edge and one straight edge, the bias edge of the lining was turned under and neatly hand-hemmed down, as the photo below shows. The thread has either faded or never matched entirely.

Antique 1890s skirt showing hemmed lining.


An interesting feature of the lining is toward the bottom. The treatment of seams changes at 9 inches above the bottom of the skirt. Where the side panels meet each back panel, and at the center back, the lining has been cut such that there is a triangle -- a right triangle -- of lining butted up against the seam. Each of the seams in these lining bits is carefully hand-hemmed.

For how the bottom of the lining was treated, see the Brush Braid section below.

Antique 1890s skirt: triangular portions of the lining


The "Facing": What Costumers Might Call Interlining

In addition, at 9" above the hem, all the way around the inside of the skirt, there is a line of machine stitching. It shows only on the lining side, not on the fashion fabric side. The stitching is small, by the way, fine quality, perfectly straight machine stitching. No wobbly, cheap stitching here.

Ha! This stitching holds what Sophie Klug in her The Art of Dressmaking calls a facing, and what costumers might call an interlining (I will call it both here), 9 inches tall, that goes right the way round the skirt. The facing/interlining is only sewn to the lining, and not to the fashion fabric. I do not know how it was cut, and whether the facing/interlining pieces are as wide as each panel or not. The skirt is in good condition, and only in one little spot has the stitching at the base of the skirt come undone so that one can have a peek at the interlining itself. Here it is, below. It's coarsely woven. I cannot tell if it is buckram or some other fabric.


1890s antique skirt: facing/interlining peeking through small hole in the lining.


Let's let Sophie Klug describe what the facing/interlining is about and the extra stiffening, that she calls interlining, that can be added to it. I know it's long, but it explains how the facing and the interlining work together. (pp 30-31.)


"When the lining is ready, cut out the outside fabric and then the facing of linen canvas, haircloth, or cross-bar crinoline. The canvas and crinoline should both be cut bias, from five to fifteen inches wide and to fit around the bottom of the skirt. Where the latter is not in one piece, cut the facing to fit each section. The depth of this facing is ascertained by the prevailing fashion, or shape of the skirt being made. If the style requires an interlining of stiffening, the above facing is only put on five inches deep, it being otherwise nine to fifteen inches wide, according to one's fancy. Baste this across the bottom of the lining one-half inch from the lower edge of the skirt, and fasten to position by stitching with the machine across its top edge. When haircloth is use, the edges must be bound with some firm material to prevent the hair from gradually working through to the top surface.

If an interlining of stiffening is needed, there is for this purpose organdie, grass linen, moreen, fibre-chamois, haircloth, etc. The latter is often used for the back of skirts, while crinoline or fibre-chamois will be found quite sufficient for the front. This is chiefly done to lessen expense as only good haircloth should be employed. If the haircloth is to be entirely omitted use fibre-chamois throughout the whole skirt. (All haircloth should be shrunk before using.)

To join any of the above named linings lap the edges one over the other, and sew together with short basting stitches, the haircloth having strips of firm lining stitched over each seam....The stiffening is basted on the foundation after the canvas facing has been added and before the outside fabric is to be adjusted."

In the case of this antique skirt, there does not seem to be stiffening in addition to the facing/interlining, and I cannot tell how the top of it is handled -- if it has a cover over it to keep the horsehair in the haircloth from working through the lining or fashion fabric. What is there does seem to be cut on the bias, though.


What was this facing/interlining for? What I take from Sophie Klug is that the facing is a standard part of giving skirts the prevailing fashionable shape for the period. More stiffening -an interlining -- becomes an extra measure for specific skirt styles. As we shall see in posts to come, this is an important point.

Brush Braid! Skirt Braid! Up Close and Personal

If you look at the picture of the interlining just above, you will notice that the lining edge is not raw: it has been folded under. That's key.

How the bottom of the skirt was constructed is efficient. The lining was turned under. The fashion fabric was turned in. Then brush braid, which during the period was often called skirt braid, was hand-sewn inside the skirt over those two turned-in edges. That brush braid finished the skirt in one go, so far as I can tell. I do not see any evidence of stitching either on the fashion fabric outside or the lining inside, other than the stitches holding down the braid.

I could be wrong -- there could be stitching there -- but I believe that this one-stitching-does-multiple-jobs is reflective of the skirt construction as a whole. Remember that the selvage of the fashion fabric is used in finishing the placket. Where the selvage edge of the lining can line up with a seam, there is no hemming, just the seam stitching. This skirt is made well, but with a minimum of stitching. It has all been thought out in advance.

What does the brush braid look like? Have a look below. Here is the brush end of the braid, It is fat and full and fuzzy. It would protect the hem of the skirt from wear.

1890s antique skirt: brush braid view


The brush braid was made like much passementerie is, with one edge as the visible edge, while the other edge is woven like a tape and is made to be either invisible, as in the case of passementerie trims that feature, say, a corded edge used on a cushion, with the interior, tape-like section sandwiched in between the cushion pieces and sewn there tightly as part of the cushion seam. In this case, the tape edge of the brush braid faces up into the body of the skirt. The braid is stitched to the fashion fabric and lining through this tape edge.

1890s antique skirt, inside and outside edges of the brush braid.


Every Woman's Encyclopaedia (1910-1912) defined skirt braid/brush braid -- and skirt binding -- this way.

Skirt Braid And Binding

These are used for preserving the edge of walking skirts. The ordinary plain worsted braid can be had in any colour, and costs from 1/2d. per yard. Another kind is brush braid, but the appearance is not so good, as it makes the skirt look "frayed."

Velveteen binding is sometimes used instead of braid to preserve the bottom of a skirt, which it should match in colour, and if the binding is prepared at home, strips of velveteen should be cut perfectly on the cross of the width desired (from 1 1/4 to 3 inches), the strips being neatly joined together.

N.B. - The method of cutting and joining strips of material on the cross is given in the second lesson on tailoring... Velvet binding or skirt facing can be bought ready cut in black and all colours from 1 1/2d. per yard, or Is. 5 1/2d. per dozen yards, according to the width.

As you can see, protecting the bottom of a skirt hem could be achieved in several different ways, by both using a braid and by binding the bottom edge.

Inventors took out patents for various types of improved braids. Here is a page from a patent, US626397A, taken out in 1898 for a brush braid/skirt braid by F. Thun and H. Janssen. You can see the tape part of the braid and the brush-like part in the diagram.


Thun-Jannsen skirt braid patent image.


Another patent, US758564A, applied for in 1903, is a tape partially thickened. The patent carefully describes how skirt braids operate and how the patent braid is an improvement.

How skirt braid/brush braid was attached varied, too. You've already seen how it was done on this skirt. An 1896 sewing guide titled The Elements of Modern Dressmaking for the Amateur and Professional Dressmakerby Miss E.J. Davis discussed various ways of applying skirt braid, historical and suggested, but emphasizing putting the braid in between a skirt lining, facing and the skirt fabric. It makes interesting reading, as the methods differ from that seen on this skirt. See also suggested binding a skirt with velveteen, much as "Every Woman's Encyclopedia" did over a decade later. Sophie Klug's The Art of Dressmaking also discusses the subject at length; see chapter 9, "Skirts".

Obtaining skirt braid/brush braid today is difficult, to say the least. However, I'd go for a plain tape, though I would dye it to the color of the skirt, because it could easily show. Alternatively, the skirt edge can be bound with velveteen, as suggested by Miss Davis, along with Sophie Klug.

That concludes the tour of what is to me a lovely and most interesting skirt. The fabric, the lines, the efficient and well-handled construction...it's both pretty to look at and good to learn from! Had my own 1890s-style skirt been lined, I would have taken pointers from how this one was done. I hope that those of you considering making such a skirt may find these notes useful, too.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

1895 Outfit: A First Wearing To Test the Look

This past weekend I had the opportunity to wear the core of the 1895 outfit to afternoon tea, so the ensemble had its first cruise. The plastron, hat, and final touches have yet to be made, so as a shirtwaist and skirt combination with a few accessories to accent it, it's an everyday sort of outfit worn by millions of women through the 1890s. It proved comfortable to wear, and in my eyes, anyway, it's attractive, but it needs some fine-tuning before I take it out again in any of its forms.



Alas, I have no photos from the event -- and oh, it was good fun! -- so what you have here is photos afterwards, mostly in front of one of our only large mirrors. No one was home, so I had to set the camera on an improvised surface and take timed shots or the classic in-the-mirror shots. Dullsville, I know.

Comparing the Effect With 1890s Photos



Below you see the outfit with the elements that I have made during this project: skirt, shirtwaist, collar, and collapsible sleeve plumpers, the little bantam-weight bums: we'll hear about those later in the post. The belt is missing in some photos -- again, the why of that is later in this post.

It was all supported underneath with the usual underthings, including an 1879-style corset from Kay Gnagey, and a petticoat I made several years ago with the practically-regulation-for-the-period outer flounce in broderie anglaise. Yes, I should have worn two, but it was so hot already!

The photo has been made black and white in an attempt to see how the outfit compares to photos of the time: is the silhouette right? Do the details evoke the period?



Unfussy hair, side part acceptable, contrasting collar and pleated and puffed shirtwaist: check!
Young woman. Flickr: 912greens
Narrow-fronted skirt with distinct waist and especially sudden hip spring: check!

Pinterest: Brandy Auset
Collar with bow in the back, cute as a bug's ear, and belt harmonizing, if not actually matching. In this case, matching: check!

The bow in the back of the collar just shows beyond my neck.

Mabel Payson. Flickr. Uploaded by Rob van den Berg.
Originally from Library of Congress.
I also wore a rolled gold bangle from the Edwardian-teens period just following, but in the style of the period; I had taken it off by that point. Oh, and small timeless pearl earrings: check.

Flickr. Uploaded by Curt W.

Those Sleeve Plumpers Played Me False...

Look at the two pictures below.




Why, the sleeves are puffier and rounder in the picture at the bottom. In fact, the silhouette has changed. The fact that the belt is missing is also at play, but my waist looks smaller in relation to the wide sleeves and wide hips, just as it should.

So what happened? Well, when I made the prototype plumper, it was of wire. Not particularly heavy wire, and very springy, but heavier than I liked. The plumper, which is made of multiple hoops connected with cotton tape, is made to collapse flat, but its weight assures that it opens up when worn. All I have to do is to tack the cotton tape at the top of the first hoop of the plumper to the seam allowance in the shoulder seam in order to set it into place.

Here's a picture of the wire plumper doing its work -- it's under the right sleeve in the photo below. The left sleeve has nothing supporting it, and looks limp.



The next pair of plumpers, the ones worn inside the sleeves during the afternoon tea, are made of cane. They weigh next to nothing. They are, however, nice and springy. On a tip from Mrs. C. in New Zealand, I soaked the plumpers, which had been brittle, in water for 10-20 minutes, I guess, and when they dried, they had regained their pliancy and were less likely to break if I bumped into a doorframe or something else silly.

Cane sleeve plumper extended open.


The cane sleeve plumpers were so lightweight, though, that they would not remain extended when worn -- the hardly-there force of the sleeves and my movements were enough to keep them collapsing flatwards, so to speak, up towards my shoulder, so that the resulting puff was conservative.

To make them work better, I had to remove the shirtwaist, and not only ensure the top of the plumper was still attached by its tape to the shirtwaist shoulder seam, but also safety-pin the bottom of the first hoop of the plumper to the bottom of the armscye. Then the rest of the plumper hoops extended fairly well, if not perfectly.

The other thing I am not fully keen on is that the hoops show a bit. Like many circa 1894-1895 "balloon" elbow-length sleeves, the sleeves are supposed to have dents and ins and outs, rather than be smooth like grapes. Mine do have dents, but I think that the hoops are a bit more obvious than they might be.

I chose hooped sleeve plumpers because I didn't want to line the sleeves with book muslin or interfacing that might not wash and still retain crispness, or press easily, and that might be hot to wear in the summertime. So, what to do?

I might build a last set of plumpers out of a thinner wire than the first prototype, and see if the effect is almost invisible. We shall see. The likelihood is rather low.

The "Crush" Belt



I made the belt in 45 minutes or less, and it rather shows. The belt itself is made exactly like the crush collar, including featuring a bow at the back, except that I added far fewer folds to the face of the belt, because the belt was so narrow. Time was short. The bow is nothing more than a bit of voile with each long side folded under and a few rapid stitches taken through the middle. It lacks tails, which are common in belt bows. I frankly forgot about them. It's pinned on -- I ran out of time to add hooks and eyes to the front.


1890s belt with crush effect and back bow.


The full belt with its crush effect. That's the bottom of my
petticoat in the picture.


I think the belt made my waist look wider, counteracting the large sleeves. That's especially so from the side, for which I don't have photos. A corset always makes your waist look thicker than it does normally, but the white of the belt emphasizes that.

Changes For the Next Wearing



First, I want to run up a plastron in voile, and try that with the shirtwaist. It will be a more formal look. Oh, and show you the rosette option!

Second, The belt is to be renovated. I will try making my belt less bulky, and/or make a self belt from the skirt fabric, and copy the neck bow, but size it just barely larger, and add short tails.

Third, I am going to work on the skirt's hem diameter. The front looks well, but the back does not extend out the back very much: the interfacing was too light to encourage the bottom to stand out, and my petticoat situation was under-powered.

The petticoat issue can be fixed. I can wear two very sturdy antique petticoats I have that run on drawstrings, starching them well, and nudging most of the gathers to the back to create fullness there.

Yet, there's more I can do to make the back of the skirt more expansive, and it's not terribly time-consuming, and may be fun to do. Through reading all of those women's magazines of the era, I have discovered that editors and readers and modistes alike worried about the hem issue, and promulgated all sorts of ways of holding out the skirt in the "regulation" manner. Some of the commentary about hem diameter woes is a gas. Wires, stays, candlewicking, stuffing: let's test some out and see what we get!

Lastly, hat and hair. I want to try out the bun-atop-the-head look with soft curls around the face; and hat? Well, I have hat and trimmings but haven't married them yet. I've been too engaged :)

Today I'll leave you with a view out over Lake Cumberland, taken from a trail our family took that winds partially along the cliffs some two hundred feet up. The flash drought, we found, dried leaves on the trees, shriveled undergrowth, and lowered the lake level, yet it's still an inspiring sight. Praying for rain, and climate action...


The boys and daddy stop to rest.