Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Anatomy of a Real Vintage Petticoat

A few weeks ago a vintage white cotton petticoat came into my possession. Don't ask me how old it is...I am still trying to figure that out! However, it's likely that the skirt is late Edwardian or early teens, given the approximately 2-yard sweep. It's not very full at all. How it is constructed is really interesting and some things about it I find puzzling, although they probably would be crystal clear to a real expert. If anyone can set me straight on a couple of points, it would be most appreciated.

How It's Constructed

This is a 5-gore petticoat. Three gores up front, and two in the back. When worn, at the top the front gores at the edges rather wrap to the back a bit. Perhaps the way the gores are set will help date it?

The gores in front are very scantly gathered; those in back more so but these gathers are tiny, fine and stroked, not chunky.

At the back a gusset in two pieces has been inserted. See the picture below.

The petticoat is scalloped at the bottom. The scallops are set in a nice, complex rising and falling pattern. I can't entirely tell if the scallops were handmade or not: if they were machine made, they were not the most perfectly done. If they were machine made, the fabric was sold such that it was long enough widthwise to make a full-length skirt without piecing on the scallop pieces. I cannot tell the lengthwise grain on the fabric so that doesn't help: it's a really plain weave. Were such fabrics sold in such wide widths...kind of a la disposition?

The skirt is set on a narrow waistband and the placket in back closes with extraordinarily long tape ties. Surely these wrapped around the waist once or twice before being tied, else, whoops, the lady treads on a tie and she goes head over heels or flat on her face.

The Measurements

Waist, by gore measures at the top:
  • left front=5 3/4" I measured several times :}
  • center front=6"
  • right front=6"
  • left back=5"
  • right back=5"

Sweep (bottom gore width) measures:

Approximate sweep is 76", or just over 2 yards. That is quite narrow, but when worn feels roomy and does not constrict movement.

  • left front=12.5"
  • center front=12.5"
  • right front=12.5"
  • left back=17.5"
  • left back width to top of gusset=17"
  • right back=17.5"
  • right back width to top of gusset=17"

Length of skirt, top to bottom=38" (highest point of scallops), 39" (lowest point of scallops)

Waistband=1/2" wide

Placket=5/8 " wide, 9" long, not including waistband.

Tie tapes are each 40" long!

Handmade, and Not Always Neatly!

All you hurried seamstresses out there can relax; it'd appear that what we'd call semi-sloppy seam finish work was definitely out there.

Now the Williamsburg Foundation book, titled something like "What People Wore", says that 18th century clothes were often ill-finished on the interiors. Having to be completely hand sewn, and often reused and retooled until the poor garment fell apart, there was little point in finishing each seam. I understand from Elizabeth Stewart's excellent board, The Sewing Academy at Home, (see http://www.elizabethstewartclarkandcompany.com/Forum/index.php) that simply overcasting the edges of seams was a quick and effective and common way to finish seams at the mid nineteenth century.

The sewing machine's wide adoption may have helped to make neat finishes not only more common, but more a social standard, or at least that's my personal suspicion. By the time a lot of teaching texts roll around at the turn of the 2oth century, nice, even fancy seam finishes were expected. However, as with ettiquette and cooking and fashion sense, what was expected was probably far less than universal on handmade clothes.

On my petticoat? No fancy finishes there! The interior seams are simply overcast, and loosely at that, with not terribly even stitches in a fine thread. I was shocked, shocked! Rather hard to see on the picture of the interior of a back gusset at left, but you could try...

Look at the way the waistband is sewn on, too. Nice tiny machine stitches, but look up close and you see, what's this? Edge stitching that wanders a bit and falls off the edge of the band? Quel horreur!

What It's Like to Wear This Petticoat

The petticoat is surprisingly roomy, and when I press it will look quite nice and sharp. You'll laugh but we have no full-length mirror that doesn't suffer from an advanced case of silvering. So the only shot I have is taken in front of a small mirror propped on the staircase landing, and shows only my feet. You'll note the roominess and how nice those scallops look.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I have been trying to find out where
you might recommend I find out
when the old sewing cutting board
was developed and by whom? Was it
Singer Company.
My daughter is working on a home economics project and needs to know.
Where can I find out about this
cardboard folding cutting board and its origin?
Thanks, Peggy in Memphis

Anonymous said...

Oh, about the cutting board, can you contact me at pbentley@midsouth.rr.com if you know the anwer to this or where I can get the answer?