What Shape Do I Want to Create -- The Godet Look Physics
Were Wired Petticoats Usually Round? I Don't Know
|1890s brocade petticoat and outer skirt. Live Auctioneers, 2019.|
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."
- Warren's Skirtbone is no longer made or sold, and it's too valuable an historical notion to use in a skirt. Warren's Featherbone is too big and stiff for the job.
- We'd never want to use baleen.
- Regular steel boning and tutu wire are too stiff.
- Very thin and flexible zip ties connected with duct tape might work, but I'd have to buy some and test it. Zip ties of the quality used for corsets are far too stiff.
- I thought of the wire option, also common in the period.
- Most easily available fine wires hold a bend when you put one in them (which feature is called memory). We don't want that for sure.
- We definitely don't want that springy jewelry wire for stringing beads because it's is too thin unless braided, and then it would become quite expensive to use.
- Sailboat stay wire for small dinghies was a thought, since I am familiar with it from my sailboat, but it won't produce enough curve for the organ or godet pleats.
- round spring galvanized wire -- more of a wire rope, because it's composed of many wire strands
- two kinds of boning
- rattan cane
- PET material from milk jugs (yes, really)
- Cat5 cabling (desperation time)
- 1/4" diameter nylon rope, to stand in for 1.25" thick silk cord which was out of budget
- And one more.
Here are the placeholder ersatz godet plaits again from the outside, with the top 12 inches or so (a quarter yard, per instruction from Ladies Home Journal, stuffed with washed and carded wool from my sheep, Lana and her daughter, Nina. Real godet plaits are prettier. They are wider at the top, and less crazily tube-like. You can see, however, how the back at the hem begins to form wide flutes. They are far from perfect, but the idea is there.
PET Milk Jug Strips
- The Kroger thinner milk jug strip gave the petticoat hem some shape, but it wasn't great.
- The Sam's Club milk jug strips partially reverted to their old shapes when the plastic cooled, and created too stiff a line anyhow.
|A roll of the processed milk jug "boning".|
|Result, back. Yuck.|
It's hard to tell from a distance, but only one godet plait has been held out; that's the two sides of the skirt flaring out in imitation of godet plaits, but in the wrong place. Failure.
1/8th-3/16ths Diameter Galvanized Wire Rope
Here is the wire. It's the same stuff I used for the sleeve puffers.
The back when the wire rope was threaded into the bottom of the petticoat hem. The spring was just too much: it created one giant swoop of fabric that ate the godet plaits, and would overpower whatever ties I created under the skirt to hold the flutes in position. Failure.
Very Thin Split Cane
Here is how the cane at the bottom of the hem looks in back. Meh. Once again, the cane boning eats the godet plaits, and creates swoops at the sides. When I forced the back swoop into two godet plaits, the cane argued with me and then broke. You can also see that it's so light that the hem won't stay even at the bottom. No go: failure again.
Recycled CAT5 Cabling
Anyhow, being lean of purse, some 1/4"-diameter nylon rope in the basement looked like a good candidate. I cut it into the four-yard length, unstitched the Rigilene and pulled it out, and slowly coaxed the rope into the hem bottom.
Hey, we had some nice undulations, but the front a sides were too likely to collapse, so I ran another length on top of the first cord around the front half of the skirt. Again, feeling good about the chances of this being the solution, I sewed it again, and added more blood spots to the silk. Nice.
I made a 2-minute video about it. Watch it if you like. (If the video is not visible, please follow the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDvkNcN7j6Q.)
The results were not bad, really. There wasn't a whole lot of backward thrust in the petticoat but it did look rather like the silhouette of the Ladies Home Journal illustration. The rope is heavier than I wanted and I think that decreases the amplitude obtained. It was a decent if somewhat underwhelming candidate. We can't count it as a failure, any more than we can count the Rigilene as a failure. Unfortunately, you will have to take my word for the rope working, because I blanked out and didn't take photographs. After all this work, to miss documenting the results. Disappointing.
The Project Sits Because I'm Unhappy With the Results, Until...Eureka!
The costumer hack had worked but wasn't the boning I had promised. It was frustrating. The Rigilene was modern boning and in my view then had failed, and the reed was historical boning and it had failed too. Modern steel boning or tutu wire would produce a hoop effect, I knew for sure.
I had the wild idea of purchasing a whole bunch of chicken feathers and processing them into homemade Skirtbone by core-spinning them on the spinning wheel with thread, for example, or using the information out there in the original patent. What a huge project replete with pitfalls that would have been.
So the project went dormant. The petticoat left its spot on the mannequin and was banished to the shelf of an upstairs closet. We had three ice storms in a row, and then a week later springtime arrived. One day in April I decided to return to any primary source I could turn up about the wires: patents, newspaper articles, catalogs, advertisements, legal papers, magazines, surely more information would turn up. Although jeepers, in this overall project I've had to have spent over a hundred hours combing through primary texts and writing up thoughts afterwards, just like in the graduate school era. I guess you can't take the historian out of someone, even after they change careers. It's a rather insatiable urge, satisfied with little hits of dopamine, I suppose, whenever a lead turns something up.
Back to history of this project. I struck gold this time and edited the Petticoats with Crinoline, Haircloth, Ties, Bones, Wires! post on April 25. Several quotations and an extant dress gave me what I needed. Here's one of them:
A swell dressmaker confessed recently that the reason why some of the flaring skirts hung out around the bottom with such a graceful flare was because of a flexible steel a quarter of an inch in width which runs through the hem. Some of the latest silk petticoats have two of these wires run through the folds, one at the hem and another a few inches above.
Flexible steel is spring steel, which is ubiquitous today in industrial applications. 1/4" wide, too; that intimates that it's flat, not round. Because it's pretty narrow, and flat, and super flexible, it is likely a very thin steel. I was off to the races (an apropos choice of phrase because the thoroughbred racing Spring Meet at Keeneland was on just then). I was looking for an inexpensive source that wouldn't require me to talk an industrial supplier into selling oompty-tiddle feet of whatever. After rejecting a whole slew of options as out of my league, it seemed that repurposing an existing light industrial or consumer product was the way to go. A reel of steel fish line used to run electrical cords through walls looked promising, but it's pretty strong stuff, as I found by watching videos of electricians using it in houses.
And then, it hit me. I probably had the stuff already, in my house, all this time. Have you guessed?
It's a thin steel measuring tape, the miniature purse size that I carry around everywhere, ready to measure lumber, furniture, fabric. Pulled mine out, waved it around, bent it. Ooh! It bends into narrow flutes -- so it meets criterion #1. It springs back into a soft curve -- so it meets criterion #2. Plus, it's light as a feather. Holy cats! Eureka! (Maybe) I have found it!
I pulled up a ten-foot Stanley brand 1/4" steel measuring tape online, and bought two. So here's the experiment.
1/4" wide steel measuring tape
After ripping out the stitching (again) that held the rope at the bottom of petticoat hem, I disassembled one of the measuring tapes, to find that not only did it hold the steel tape, but a nice long length of plain spring steel in the same bendiness and size. That's the steel spring that drives the pull of the measuring tape itself. It meant that I had more than 10 feet of steel in one container and would need only one measuring tape to create the four yards needed to go round the petticoat hem. I cut the steel off the reel, unhooked the measuring part that's barely attached to the spring part, overlapped them and duct taped both sections together, measured out just over 4 yards (12 feet) so there would be overlap once the steel was threaded through the hem, and duct taped each end, both of which were sharp.
Then the metal strip was nested into the bottom of the petticoat. It was a slow go threading it in because there was no way I was going to take out the finished stitching holding the buckram. I'd had enough of that. One of the twins helped guide it through -- it's so thin it wants to try and bunch up.
The results? At last. Even with ersatz godet plaits, you can see that the measuring tape offers the front and sides of the petticoat the desired flare. The back? It can be guided into the handsome godet plaits.
Here are pictures.
The Petticoat Project's Next Steps
While the rest of the petticoat has been handsewn, except for the frills to come, stitching through buckram has been a miserable experience, so the spring steel will be threaded through channels sewn on the Willcox and Gibbs machine.
Then it will be time to sew the godet plaits into their final form, and to figure out how to stuff them so that they will hold their shape when the outer skirt is placed over them.
After that, add a placket behind one of the box pleats, and sew on the hair cloth frills after box pleating them. I made the frill strips back in March. Then finish the waist with a yoke. Still a lot to do, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Boy, won't it be good to finish at last! I don't know how long this will take, however. Summertime is here, the boys are out of school, and so there is a lot going on.
Hope you have enjoyed this part of the adventure. It took months and months, but it's so nice to have come up with a material that I believe is pretty close to the original. I'd like to schedule a visit with a museum in Ohio or Indiana at some point if they will allow it and see if a wired extant skirt is available for inspection. Then we may finally have full closure to this long-lasting puzzle.