Wednesday, September 23, 2020

1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness: Part 2B: Petticoats Redux

Goodness gracious, the set of posts about 1890s skirt fullness, of which this is another installment, has gone on for nearly a year. It's getting ridiculous. I mean, really, do we need two posts, 2A and now 2B, about petticoats?

Apparently yes. Since publishing 1895 Outfit: Period Methods To Add Skirt Fullness, Part 2, Petticoats with Crinoline, Ties, Bones, Wires!, I have been bothered by questions about petticoat hem circumference and how it could make my skirt look fluffy or flat, and until recently, I hadn't found this:

Petticoat pattern with front and back views...and circumference! 
The Delineator, March 1895, p. 337

Still outstanding too were questions about appropriate petticoat fabrics that I can actually obtain today. Also, I wanted to know more about constructing those so-tempting petticoats loaded with one or more hoops of boning or wire at the bottom. Fashion writers were careful not to utter the word "hoopskirt" or "crinoline", and I daresay they were smart not to do so. Less than a decade previously you might carry a half-grown kitten on your bustled derriere and not know it. I don't think women were really ready for a full-on return of wires in their underthings.

What? There's a kitty getting a ride? Where?
And no, this is clearly not an 1890s outfit,
but a first, unfinished experiment in the 1870s.
Darling kitten courtesy
Leijurv - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

Wait, really? A kitty riding on top of your bustle? I imagined that image, but decided to look it up, because that's what we do these days when we're homebound, and it happened, sort about Feline Dress Improvers: The Victorian Fashion in Bustle Baskets for Cats on Mimi Matthews' site. It's too funny!

Back to mid-1890s petticoats. Back I went into available literature and pictures of extant petticoats. Therefore, in this post we look at two period petticoat patterns for hem circumference and design information, then mine 1895 newspaper articles for more ideas on how to make petticoats stand out. In between we talk fabrics. Then let's be done; I just want to make the petticoats already!

Two 1895 Petticoat Patterns Address the Problem of Flaring the Skirt Bottom

Petticoat circumference issues have been driving me nuts. We know that heavy linings and interlinings, wires, bones up the seams, and cording held out heavy skirts, making them quite heavy. Just look at this dress from Live Auctioneers.

Front of 1890s brocade skirt and-petticoat, from Liveauctioneers

Side view. Such back amplitude!

The petticoat, from what appears to be a side-back angle. 
Notice that it's cut more narrowly.

Such a heavy skirt did not need petticoats that were roughly the skirt circumference to hold them out. So we don't read oodles and oodles about exactly what petticoat hem circumferences should be. I did find a mention in the Evening Star (July 13, 1895, p. 15), saying "The petticoat should be only moderately full, two yards and a half is ample width for a medium-size woman, and three yards and a half of embroidery, a big allowance for a ruffle, no matter how wide."

Other writers appear to say something quite different. Here is the Ladies Home Journal writer Isobel Mallon's advice:

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. ("Dainty Styles in Lingerie", by Isobel Mallon, Ladies Home Journal, August, 1894, p. 23.)

I simply don't understand the "except for a greater fullness" part. Should I pull out my skirt pattern
(TV 291), and cut it a bit fuller to make a petticoat, or are parts of the bottom cut fuller? What are my design options? 

Well, I finally have located two petticoat patterns with circumference information, and two different ways of handling a fullness, especially on the all-important backside.

Here's the first pattern, dating to January, 1895. Do you see the pencil marking 3 1/4 yards? Whomever owned this Delineator issue was concerned about petticoat circumference too, for that's the actual circumference of the petticoat. It's actually not a super-flaring petticoat.

The Delineator, Jan 1895 pp. 58-59

First part of the description
The Delineator, Jan 1895, text pp. 58-59

Second part of the description
The Delineator, Jan 1895, text pp. 58-59

This godet plait design isn't going to work for Isobel Mallon's recommended summer petticoats of lawn or muslin or dotted muslin. None of those thin, soft fabrics will hold an organ pleat. The pattern description recommends moreen (more on which later) or silk. The moreen has good body and the silk some body.

The design would work well if, as the pattern description suggests, the seamstress made it of haircloth. Then it could stand in for a petticoat, and an outer petticoat could be put over it, as haircloth isn't exactly prepossessing. Then it could stand in for the support that the outer skirt lacks. We read about haircloth a good bit in previous posts. Now that we can see a pattern of a petticoat that uses it, it makes a great deal of sense. However, you can also intuitively that such a petticoat would be warm to wear in the summertime, especially in humidity.

What of petticoat pattern option two? This one is a little more flared at bottom, at 3 1/2 yards in circumference. While it is designed to be made of taffeta, and would be very pretty indeed with its pinked ruffles, this one can be made in muslin or lawn, just as Isobel Mallon recommends for summer wear, if a little starch was applied to the ruffles. Remember from the last petticoat post that lots of starch was frowned upon.) In very thin fabrics the bunching of the gathers would not create a large foot flare, even if multiple were worn, but as the pattern description claims, in a taffeta it would offer some fullness and flare. Silk is hot to wear in the summer, though; be advised!

The Delineator, Mar 1895, p.337

The Delineator, Mar 1895, p.336

If I were to use this pattern in lawn for enough petticoat-ery to add real flare, I'd need two or three! Speaking of flare...

Aside: New Information About Skirt Fullness and Flare In Unlined Skirts

How much skirt flare do I want? I've recently discovered that some people felt that a flaring silhouette in a plain cotton "wash" dress, like the one I have made, wasn't good form, and that some illustrated summer dresses are narrow indeed, while there's a lovely extant with what looks like plenty of flare. I've edited the Period Methods to Add Skirt Fullness, Part 1: Fullness and Flare post with the new information.

Newspaper Evidence: More Ideas for Designing a Petticoat That Stands Out

Last go-round I dug around in women's magazines, but left the newspapers alone. I shouldn't have. The then-called women's pages (!) tended to cover all things fashion, as well as housekeeping and society doings. There is actually a good deal of petticoat talk, stashed among the doings of society women and beauty secrets and calisthenics, and advertisements for Dr. Price's Cream Baking Powder.

Let's see, we have illustrated I like that. We'll skip the "Dress for Elderly
Ladies", for they'd assign me to that category without comment. There's "A Pen Picture of Rome" from a correspondent, a whipcord suit, and, bingo! a bit about a short lawn petticoat. Where this is, there's more.
Kansas City Daily Journal. June 09, 1895, Page 10

I've gathered for you a nice collection of newspaper clippings from January through October, 1895, the rough period at which attention to skirt flare was at its height...or width. There are tons of them, and it's common to see the same article and photos syndicated in multiple newspapers, while content from other magazines and newspapers is quoted or referenced in the texts.

Springy Alpaca Petticoats Are Compelled to Stand Out...and So Are Their Corded Ruffles

The Salt Lake Herald reported that for warmer weather, alpaca "skirting" fabric had a stiffness that made it stand out to hold "expansive dress skirts".

The Salt Lake Herald, May 24,1895, p. 5

Alpaca fabric that I know has lots of amazing drape but no stiffness, so this must have had some sort of treatment added to it. Perhaps it was a bit felted. Alpaca is hard to felt because the hairs lack the rough edges that wool has, but it can be done. Today, I don't believe we have this sort of fabric. On to the next article.

Hidden in the text is another excellent fluff-making trick: "The ruffles, which for a portion of the decoration of every petticoat, are usually more or less corded". Corded ruffles! Why yes, those will stick out nicely. File that one in your memory.

Petticoats Made Stiff With Embroidery

The Evening Star reported in June that petticoats can be stiffened with large amounts of embroidery.

Evening Star, July 13, 1895, p. 15

A few embroidered petticoats are in museum collections, so we have independent confirmation of their existence. It could be possible to use machine embroidery to embellish a truly gorgeous petticoat, but this would be a massive project. Sewstine has videos about the process, and it's time-consuming. You might also think about using one of the new embroidered home décor fabrics; not all of them are heavy; but it might be tricky to get the right sort of design.

The article talks at length of how ornate petticoats tend to be, with lace, ruffles, flounces, embroidery, and ribbons, especially in comparison to dress skirts themselves, which in this year frequently were entirely plain.

Pragmatic: Removable Flounces Make One Petticoat Good For Two Purposes

One could make a single petticoat do double duty. Use it plain for a daytime or work dress outfit, and button a pretty muslin and lace flounce to add fullness and luxe to afternoon or evening dress, which generally have more amplitude. This makes really good sense for costumers, as so many of us do not have the wherewithal in time or finances to accumulate too many petticoats.

The Norfolk Virginian, May 26, 1895, p. 13

Petticoats Themselves Stiffened Partway Up

Here's another useful tidbit. Why not stiffen the underneath of your silk or alpaca petticoat? Well, why not? "(L)iberally trimmed", as The Stark County Democrat has it, no one is going to notice. The flounce will hide the business part. Hair cloth would be a period lining, with strong interfacing a modern interpretation, and of course wires or cords would be natural features. 

The Stark County Democrat, July 18, 1895, Part Two, p. 9

The Ballet Skirt

Quinn, if you happen to read this post, the next clipping is for you. It tells women about the fashion for especially "fussy" frilly petticoats that they can create to make a divided skirt for dancing.

Evening Dispatch, June 3,1895

Newspaper Articles That Confirm What We Learned Last Fall

Then there were articles that quoted magazine articles we already learned about in the petticoat post last fall, or that talked about methods for distending skirts that magazines also covered.

Brocaded Silk Petticoats With Generous Flounce, Featherbone Hidden Beneath -- and Perfumed

The Louisiana Democrat article about ornate petticoats was lots of fun. It reminds me of Quinn's gorgeous 1890s petticoat with loads of lace.

Louisiana Democrat, with content pulled from
The Chicago Tribune

These petticoats are cut with the godet plaits, here called organ pleats, so common in dress skirts. Then there is the boning: "frequently a featherbone inserted around the hem". The word "feather" indicating that this is the lightest of boning. It would have to be really light indeed to allow it to bend into organ pleats. Here then is another mention of the helping hoop, if you can call it that, that Isobel Mallon et al spoke of! More confirmation that this is a thing, a fashion movement, if not ubiquitous.

Why, here featherbone is mentioned again, in the Evening Star article quoted above, "To make these skirts yet stiffer, white featherbone is stitched, three or four rows, into the hem under the narrow ruffle. It launders well." By the narrow ruffle is meant "a great many [petticoats] are made with a very full narrow ruffle of embroidery at the foot...." (Evening Star July 13, 1895, p. 15)

It makes me want to try, along with a pliant wire, highly flexible, soft Rigilene from somewhere such as Joann's. Would that be bendy enough but still have enough oomph to hold the skirt above it? Really, this is very much worth exploring.

I would think that the boning the write discusses would be hidden by a flounce or ruffling, especially because all of the examples mention them, but it bothers me that the article doesn't say it explicitly.

Oh, and about that "Spanish flounce" in the article: Home Dressmaking Made Easy (1896, p.59), defines the Spanish flounce as "A flounce extending fully half the depth of the skirt, gathered usually to form an erect ruffle." 

Another note: if you use ribbons in your petticoat, threading them through lace or eyelet is not your only option. Make rosettes of it, and to cap things off, set tiny perfumed sachets in them. This last is outre, you think?

Remember this Met petticoat? 
Look carefully, it has the rosettes the article talks about.
Metropolitan Museum of Art,

The Moreen Petticoat With Hair-Cloth Frillings, Again

The Salt Lake Journal draws on Isobel Mallon's Ladies Home Journal advice that we read of in the last post about petticoats. However, this article highlights several bits of important information:

Moreen is used for one of my favorite summer petticoat designs, the LHJ model, the one with the triple haircloth box-pleated frills, in the picture below. Moreen at the turn of the 20th century turns out to be a midweight or heavy wool or wool-cotton fabric, usually ribbed, that's treated with heat and moisture to give it a watered silk effect. (This makes sense to me: when pressed under heat, wool will take on a sheen, and the tendency to felt will be controlled by the cotton content.)

Moreen is pretty, something that neither the Salt Lake Journal nor the LHJ picture show, so the petticoat wouldn't look plain at all, the wool and cotton don't have to be terribly hot, and it's a lot less hot and scratchy than a petticoat entirely made of haircloth.

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

Alas, when real moreen is available at all, it seems to be a heavy type, sold expensively for upholstery, and finding enough of it vintage would be a real coup. Still, it's clear that the petticoat with the box-pleated haircloth is made of a thickish material, that already has some body. A cotton faille, which is ribbed, might work, a woven pique, or even a cotton ticking. Too thin a fabric and those pretty hair-cloth box pleats would have a hard time doing much.

I wouldn't recommend using synthetic moire fabric to imitate the moreen. It's going to be hot as blazes, unless your summers are usually cool.

The article also rather makes me feel better about my limited petticoat budget. Elaborate petticoats were always expensive, and we knew that. Still, it's nice to be told again that our plain costumer's petticoats are perfectly fine, and that confections still come at a price.

Finally, if you were interested in a short petticoat instead of a long one under your skirt, go ahead, costumer, here's how right in the article, below.

The Salt Lake Herald, June 9, 1895, p. 5
If you look carefully, you can see that the newspaper has adapted
the LHJ drawing f

The Salt Lake Herald, June 9, 1895, p. 5
The above image goes with the article above.

Have you had enough of petticoats for one sitting? I confess that I am worn out by all the options and constant mulling, figuring, and refiguring out how I want to adapt them for one or two of my own 1890s petticoats. That's what is supposed to be the topic of the next post, I took everything I learned and put together my own interpretations. 

You never know, though. This blog is full of side trips. I have a half written post showing two 1880s wire bustles from my collection in fine detail and with measurements.

In Other News

This year is an Annus Horribilis for our world. For a minute or two I thought I could broach a discussion of local events and how they are related to what is happening across the planet. I can't. Not now. All I can do is wish you all health and safety and secure work, and hope.