Monday, June 12, 2006

Anatomy of an Edwardian 1900-1911 vintage white heavy cotton skirt

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to purchase a truly nifty circa, I am guessing, 1900-1911 day skirt. It's made of heavy white cotton or cotton-linen blend (for a linen drape and wrinkle, but without the linen sheen), and is cut with 9 wide-flaring gores. It fits very smoothly across the waist and hips, and then flares gently and evenly to almost the floor to create an elegant line. 

In the pictures here it's worn over a double-flounced petticoat drafted from a 1911 textbook (see previous blog entries). The design is sophisticated: the seams are felled, but instead of the double stitching showing on the exterior, the single stitching does, and the raised effect of the seams accentuates the vertical lines and even creates attractive shadow lines.

In addition, the front gore is very narrow, and barely seems to narrow towards the top. This creates what appears to be a straight narrow panel right in front, that again subtly elongates the figure. 

Dating the Skirt

Dating is a puzzle, but I argue for a date after 1900 but before 1912. Why?
  • The narrow front panel was popular after 1905 or so.
  • The elongated lines and emphasis on decorative seaming also date to this period.
  • So does the smoothness of the habit-style back: there is no pleating or gathering in back, as was common in the 1890s.
  • Habit-style day skirts often had back-closing skirts and this skirt is back-closing; the side closing wasn't the only popular closing during the Edwardian period.
  • The waist falls at the natural waistline, as it might on a plain skirt after 1905 but before 1912-1913; it is neither raised nor cut so that the back waistline is higher than the front to fit a straight-front, S-bend corset. At 37 inches long in the front, it would fall to the shoe tops. In back it falls to 39", but when worn the hips and derriere cause the back to raise a bit so that all around the skirt falls to the same 37-inch length all the way around. After 1905 this length and hemming style was favored for day wear.
  • On the other hand, the skirt has approximately 3.5 yard (125 inches) sweep. I will have to research closely to see how the recommended sweep varied during 1900-1911, but there were periods when it was narrower. I do know that wider sweeps were prevalent in the 1890s.
  • The skirt almost surely doesn't date before the 1890s. There is no room for a bustle or other skirt enhancer or any sort, and the heavy goring and butter-smooth fit around the hips came in the with Edwardians.

What Was This Skirt Worn For?

My suspicion is that this was some sort of plain day skirt or traveling skirt. The sturdy fabric would wear well and wash easily...and this skirt certainly was worn; there are wear marks on some seams and one tiny wear pinhole at the bottom. Or perhaps this was a sporting skirt used for golf or long walks, although it is full length, and some pictures of the period have women wearing slightly shorter skirts for these activities. The cut is too neat and attractive, in my mind, to be just a utility or house-work skirt. 

Further, the inside is fully finished. Homemade skirt seams were often just overcast: these are strongly felled to prevent fraying. 

The skirt is a delight to wear. I tried it over a double-flounced petticoat I made following the directions from a 1991 textbook and it fits beautifully. The fabric slides over the petticoat to create a clean line, the vertical panels and shadow lines from the seams give the fabric a strong vertical, architectural, sporty, natty look, and the fabric is stiff enough and the hem heavy enough to give it body so that it does not cling to the feet or get in the way when one walks or leans. It's easy to see the value of a good wide hem in performing this function. The double flounce of the petticoat helps hold the skirt away from the feet too. 


Nine gores. The front nearly straight and forming a subtle vertical panel, as mentioned, then two side front gores, wide-ish side gores, wide-ish side back gores, and two quite wide back gores with a seam at center back, habit style. 

The two back side gores just a teeny-tiny scant gathering in them, so slight as to be barely discernable; all other gores are eased flat into the 1/2-inch plain waistband. The placket stitching continues the line of stitching of the back seam in standard hidden-back placket style. However, the invisible effect is spoiled because there's another row of stitching about quarter inch away that betrays the rest of the placket. 

The skirt closes with three hooks and eyes; the bottom two have the flat bar-shaped eye, while the top eye is circular- or hoop-shaped for a secure closure. This hook-and-eye treatment is in approved fashion for this period. 

The skirt has a two-inch faced hem; the facing is the same material but it has been pieced in places, so we know the skirt is homemade. Other homemade touches include some less-than-perfect seaming: the hem varies a bit in width and bits of the stitching are not quite in a perfect line. 

The fabric is a heavy straight-weave cotton. It may have been dead white when new; it's the color of fresh heavy cream now. 

The front gore is cut on the straight grain. All other gores are cut so that the straight edge is on the straight of the goods, while the gored edge is on the bias. This means the back two gores meet on a fully bias seam, which produces an attractive, subtle drape, again in the approved fashion for this period, according to several contemporaneous texts of I have read. (See the texts referred to in previous blog entries.) 


All measurements are approximate, having been taken when the garment was laid flat. 
  • waist: 27" 
  • waistband: 1/2" 
  • wide front gore: 37" long 6" wide at bottom 3 3/4" wide at top 
  • side front gores: 37 1/2" long 14" wide at bottom 3" wide at top 
  • side gores: 38 1/2" long 15" wide at bottom 2/12" wide at top 
  • back side gores: 38 1/2" 12 1/2" wide at bottom 2 1/4" wide at top 
  • back gores (2): 39" long 18" wide at bottom 4 1/2" wide at top barely discernable gathers only in these two gores. 
  • Back center seam is between these two gores; it's 39" long 
  • Sweep: approximately 125 inches (about 3.5 yards) 
  • Placket: 8 1/2" deep 
  • Hem: 2" deep, faced with same fabric as exterior.
  • Seams: felled, with single-stitch side on exterior of skirt for nice raised effect, and double-stitched side on interior for full finish (no fraying)