Wednesday, July 08, 2020

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 5, Steels, Rattan, Candlewicking, and Dust Ruffles

Edited September 29, 2020

At this point in the article series, it's very apparent that designers and dressmakers, and ordinary women came up with all kinds of ways to achieve the sartorial -- skirtorial? -- ideal of plenty of base amplitude and an undulating, lush skirt back, while retaining a smooth waist and front. 

Here is what we have covered so far. 
If you thought that surely we'd have covered all the bases, guess again: there is yet more. Some of the these last methods to widen the bottom of the skirt were, I am thinking, for the most determined of fashion followers. Most of the methods involved additions to the exterior skirt, not a petticoat.

Using "Steels" Around the Bottom of Outer Skirts

The first mention I have read of the use of steel in outer skirts appears in Demorest's Family Magazine for December 1894, (p. 121).
"Some skirts have a narrow and very flexible steel sewed all around the bottom; but better than this to secure slight stiffness is a thick cord of candle-wicking covered with velvet or satin to harmonize with the gown. This is seen on many gowns, and is a popular finish this winter."

By "very flexible" I the author meant that the steel would have been more pliable than that used for crinolines, bustles, and corset and bodice boning in previous decades. Why do I know? Because I found some.

The reel says the Featherbone Skirtbone is made from quills. What do they mean? Treated turkey quills, actually.

Warren's Featherbone, from Annie's Antiques on

View of the Warren's Featherbone Skirtbone itself. It's wrapped in thread.

Just because it's wound on a reel doesn't mean it's terribly flexible, but it is. Here's my post about it, Examining an Antique Length of Warren's "Skirtbone", Boning For the Hems of Mid-1890s Skirts.

Skirt boning came also as wire, and it was called such. It was not likely crinoline steel covered with a layer of braided cotton that was used in an antique bustle in my collection. That sort of steel bends, but would definitely not undulate at the bottom of a skirt.

Three rows of bustle steel wire, which is flat, covered in braided cotton, 
from a bustle in my antique clothing collection.

By the way, you might want to know that this thread-covered steel, which is about 3/16" in width, is still available in a similar form to that used in the 19th century. It's used for making tutus, and is very expensive for amounts needed for a bustle or crinoline. Check Farthingale's for what they call "crin steel". 

In May, Mrs. Hooper, in The Ladies Home Journal, remarked again upon using steel bands to hold out the outer skirts (p. 24):

Well, what about that? A "tiny band of flexible steel covered with webbing". Might this be a flexible wire covered with a flat tape? Cotton and linen tapes -- the wider ones -- are sometimes known as webbing, in my anecdotal experience.

Now, to our Demorest's Magazine writer, the "humps and bumps" despiser of interlinings is not much pleased with wires, either:

Demorest's Magazine, May 1895, p. 420.
She goes on:

Demorest's Magazine, May 1895, p. 420.
So, sensible sisters, if you do not want interlinings and want stiff amplitude, it's heavy brocades and tweeds and cotton ducks for you! Or so the writer thought.

In the end, I did find detailed information about the nature of these wires, as well as what I believe to be a decent wire analog for use today. See my post Trials With Forms of Boning, Cables, Reed, Rope, and Steel.

Steels Up the Skirt Sides

In the March 1895 issue of The Ladies Home Journal, "The Gowns of Spring" article on p. 10. has quite a bit to say about steels used in the outer skirts, but the steels are going perpendicular.
"The godet skirt will remain in vogue, and the fashionable modistes are inserting steels that reach up almost to the knee, setting them in the seams lengthwise to cause it to flare."

Oh, my goodness. Bodice-style bones in the skirts. That is what Mrs. Mallon is saying, isn't it? "[L]engthwise in a seam" means following the seam..."up almost to the knee". The seams are vertical, and Mrs. Mallon knows the difference between a skirt hem and the seams between skirt panels. Am I reading this incorrectly? 

Isobel Mallon describes an indoor dress that employs the steels:

"An extremely pretty dress, intended for wear in the house, and which has a bodice differing from its skirt, is shown in Illustration No. 2. The skirt is light-weight summer silk, the background being pale green, while sprays of wild roses and their deep green foliage are scattered upon it here and there. The skirt is lined and steeled so that it has the usual fashionable flare, and its only trimming is that which is arranged at each of the two side seams. This consists of to straps of three-inch green velvet ribbon which start at the edge of each side of the seam, are brought up almost to the knees, where the two ends meet in a long looped bow."

The Ladies Home Journal, March 1895, p. 19

Interesting...the velvet would cover the seams where the steels might most be noticed.

If you're brave, why not try it? I might just. I have a box of narrow antique steel bones, very light and probably for boning bodices. What if I set a few into the seams of my 1890s skirt and see what happens? It's not like it's difficult to do. 

Using Candlewicking On Outer Skirts As Part of the Trim or Hem Binding

Now this I find very interesting. It reminds me of cording petticoats in the 1830s and 1840s. We know that helps them to stand out.

Demorest's wrote about using candlewicking to stiffen skirts repeatedly. This was probably because the writer  -- whose name I cannot locate in the issues -- preferred more moderate styles that would assuredly not stand out around the bottom in the way a wired skirt would. 

Demorest's December 1894, p. 121, recommended a thick cord of candlewicking covered in velvet or satin to go with the skirt, just a few paragraphs after deriding the humps and bumps of interlining.

In this usage, the covered candlewicking cord becomes part of the gown's trim on the skirt exterior, while also helping to hold out the skirt. Remember that she specifies thick cord.

Skirt trim for which one might employ candlewicking covered with velvet.
Mildred has found her companion, Grace, missing in the serialized novel "Our Working Sisters". Demorest's, May 1895, p. 397.
March 1895 Demorest's, p. 299: tells how to lay the candlewicking when it's used as part of the binding at the bottom of the skirt:
"Bright, changeable taffetas are the first choice for linings; thus a mixed cheviot of black, white, and green is lined with green-and-rose taffeta...the fashion is not so extravagant as formerly. The binding should be of velveteen, and it is better to buy the piece goods and cut it at least two inches wide on the bias. It may form a cord on the bottom, filled with candlewicking, -- a much more pliable and graceful "stiffener" than rattans or wires, -- and should always be left to show like a piping below the gown fabric; otherwise it affords no protection."

If I understand correctly, when the binding is applied, the cord is at the inside-bottom of the binding, and looks like a piping brushing the floor.

What can we use for candlewicking today? If it's the same thing, the cotton candle wick material used in traditional candlewicking embroidery, is still available but it looks quite thin, like a string. Mmm, probably not what we want. Actual candle wick bought by the roll comes in several thicknesses. It might be worth exploring. What about cotton piping cord? That could also work. It comes in different sizes and will produce an undulating line. Even the Sugar 'n Cream yarn might do, although one would want several rows.

Boy, I really like this idea. Applying the cord either as part of hem binding or as trim might be a doable skirt amplification method that would result in pleasant curves and organ pleats and folds.

Silk Stiffening Trim

Heavy silk cording was an alternative to candlewicking, and it was placed on the outside bottom of the skirt, just above the hem edge. It was recommended as a way to help hold the godet plaits. This would have formed a rather dressy trim, too. Without actually knowing by testing it, I would suspect that the cording would want to run in large waves, not into flat pleats, and would thus help hold the deeply undulating effect created by the godet plaits. Mrs. Hooper, in her advice column, wrote in March, 1895 (Ladies Home Journal, p. 35):

Because she wrote "It is thought to keep the godet plaits in shape", I suspect that she hadn't tested the method, either. 

Think about how wide a 1 1/4" diameter cord is: wow -- that's big.

Rattan Instead of Steels Around the Skirt

I have only found rattan used to hold out skirts in one place, in the quote about candlewicking above. To repeat part of it (March 1895 Demorest's, p. 299): "It may form a cord on the bottom, filled with candlewicking, -- a much more pliable and graceful "stiffener" than rattans or wires". Was the Demorest's writer joking, or was rattan, that is, cane, an option? Gracious! Very thin-split cane is plenty flexible, but also readily breakable. As costumers, we would find this an inexpensive option, but it would have to be replaced early and often. 

A Balayeuse or Dust Ruffle, Fixed Inside the Outer Skirt

Here is an interior skirt ruffle, illustrated in the Frauenzeitung, 1 Feb 1895, p 35. The illustration shows the outer skirt inside out, with the ruffle attached around the skirt base. 

The ruffle had several purposes. It helped to hold the skirt a bit away from the feet. It
was also used to help keep the inner edge of the skirt clean. The Art of Dressmaking (1895), described its use and making in detail on p. 32:

"The balayeuse or dust ruffle is not considered absolutely necessary to the finish of a skirt, although it gives a pretty effect. It is made of taffeta or skirting silk, and is cut bias from five to eight inches wide. Both edges are then pinked, or they may be hemmed and a lace edge added. The latter is preferable as the pinking frays easily. Gather the ruffle, leave a little heading, and sew to the inside of the skirt even with the lower edge. Be careful when sewing not to catch through to the outside [of the skirt]."

Here is what The Young Ladies' Journal wrote in 1895 (I have lost the date):

"A silk frill or double ruche, of the same colour as the material, is a great improvement. This should be about 4½ to 5 inches wide and is sewn to the lining so that the edge lies just above the edge of the skirt."

I like the idea of a skirt ruffle, as adding a bit of swish to the skirt, and as a a barrier to getting the skirt involved with the shoes and the legs.

That's All For Skirt Stiffeners

Here we come to the end of our very long discussion of mid-1890s skirt stiffeners. I've found the process illuminating. I've not addressed it here, that I remember, anyhow, but musing about the language used in the magazines and books was as interesting as the directions and descriptions given. "Regulation" skirt silhouette, "sensible", "humps and bumps". Even the shift, in some magazines, from sharply rendered engravings to more watercolor-like, painterly illustrations. The manners, mores, and interests of the time jump out and live for me.

What's Next?

Well, the pandemic continues to spread, and here in the United States is reaching its tentacles ever deeper into our society. I am so covered up in to-dos and keeping the twins engaged over the summer that sewing would simply not happen unless I took time away from the more important things. Plus, by the time I've any leisure for myself alone, rather than family-oriented leisure, I'm too pooped to do anything but read. 

This summer, late 1860s and early 1870s Peterson's magazines have caught my fancy. Reading the sometimes sappy, often formulaic, sometimes original and really interesting stories, and the advice within them, and examining the plates and illustrations, has taken my mind far, far away. When I return, refreshed, there's a lot to muse about. I recognize how different the lives and mores and beliefs of the writers and target readers could be from ours -- and I could detail the race, class, and gender influences at length. What's stronger, though, is the pervasive sense in the magazine that time is short, life is always attended with times of weariness and sadness, even despair, and health and security are never assured and always at risk of fleeing. The responses, besides wearing layers of clothing and spending a good share of time nursing loved ones, are thrift, attending to responsibilities, reams of patience, and clinging to faith. All of this is pertinent at any time, but poignant right now.