Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Construction Tour of Four Antique Edwardian Skirts in My Collection


Early Edwardian antique pink cotton skirt, worn over an antique petticoat with tall flounce and an antique shirtwaist. A teaser of what's to come.

Heads Up! Long and image-heavy

I have been collecting antique clothes in a small way for decades, starting in the 1990s. Most pieces have been Edwardian, partly because these sometimes are more reasonably priced, but mostly because the era is fascinating in its complexity and in the obvious impacts of a modernizing world on the fashion industry and the women who wore the fashions. 

For the last several years the collecting focus largely has been on the early Edwardian years -- which actually covered the end of Queen Victoria's reign -- of approximately 1900-1905. Read about them in some detail on the Fashion Institute of Technology's Fashion History Timeline 1900-1909 article

I've long wanted to share some of these garments with the historical costuming community, focusing on construction details that aren't often easily available in photographs, and with brief commentary on how they may have looked when worn. So, one sunny afternoon in early May I spent 3-4 hours photographing petticoats, shirtwaists, and skirts -- a portion of the collection.

Here below are a series of skirts. Each is shown paired with a shirtwaist* over a corset cover, and with one of several extant petticoats underneath to help fill out the garment. 

*The shirtwaist is "bloused", a in-period term for the pigeon-breast effect, and set in a dip, not a straight line, with the blousing held in place by a handy peplum for tucking into the skirt. The sleeves have been shortened: I believe it originally had long, probably narrow cuffs. The alteration could have been back then, for elbow sleeves came in pretty quickly for daytime -- I recall a 1902 magazine saying that they were now permissible for daywear. The lace is a composite of several types, all machine-made, and the flowery 3-D effect lace mimics Irish crochet lace. High-necked, bloused shirtwaists had a long vogue in the 1900s and 1910s, but this one, with its decently long back, feels in the cut and the lace types and placement more like before 1907 than some of my clearly later examples. However, I am not certain.

A plain swishy skirt, in linen

This skirt feels mid-Edwardian, based on its fullness and ground-grazing length, but it's so plain it could span most of the period. It would have been an easy everyday summer skirt.

The linen is strong, fairly closely woven, but lightweight. You could estimate the yarn count using some of the detailed photographs.

The applied blossoms are tacked on. This is a sturdy skirt and I 
have it ready to wear for a few hours at a summertime Edwardian-inspired afternoon tea.

Here it is worn over a shoe-tip- length petticoat with a tall added flounce for body.

Here's that petticoat.

The skirt, when laid flat, could be thought of as a wedge shape of about 35% of a circle, with the top cut off. The back of the waist is a bit higher than the front to account for the probably straight-front corset worn underneath, and so the front waistline is dipped a little.

The skirt closes center back. A view of the waistband at the underside of the placket closest to the body, at the closure, shows that the skirt may have been resized some. Look at the strong eye closure at waist, with another buried in the edge. Bar closures are set down the placket. Notice the interior pleat below the hook in the center of the photo...that's actually a deep pleat.

Here's a view of the part of the closure on the outside of the placket, that's farthest away from the body. Do you see that the edge of the fabric has been turned in, once, and a placket has been applied to the inside, but then goes very far inside to create a very deep-set placket that has been reinforced.

A look at the inside of the skirt shows that deep pleat on the underside of the placket, plus the top placket. Those are strong hooks down the placket.

Did you notice that the insides of the skirt are not finished, as revealed by the frayed edges?

Another placket view.

The inside bottom of the skirt is faced to a couple of inches with self fabric. This helps the hem hang well. The skirt came with a large rent in the bottom...someone must have caught the fabric on something very stiff and sharp indeed, because the linen is still very strong, as is common for that bast fiber. You can see where I applied a patch using vintage fabric as close as I could get to the original.

The folded over waistband, about an inch wide, and more of the skirt interior.

Gauzy ruffled, trained and flaring skirt

This skirt is very long in front and sides, and even longer in back, and no, I don't believe it was made for a very tall person. Instead, it's likely an early Edwardian skirt meant to puddle on the ground when the wearer stood, and train in back. Trains could be of various lengths, with longer trains often worn for dressier occasions, but trains were indeed worn on the street, to the distress and disgust of many. More on that momentarily.

If you look carefully you will see that the fabric has been tucked with groups of tiny vertical pintucks most, but not all the way to the floor. When the fabric is released from the tucks, it gives the skirt flare at the base. This is another way of obtaining flare in very early Edwardian skirts without using a trumpet cut.

Here is the back: a moderate train. At the center back there is excess fabric drawn up into a narrow section of tiny stroked gathers just to either side of the closure. No obvious pleats or large gathers here.

The effect on the skirt when the tucks are released around shin height: extra flare! There are no curved side seams.

The skirt's only applied trim is at the bottom, in the form of two scantly gathered Valenciennes lace trimmed ruffles applied to the outside of the skirt. The construction of the upper ruffle is straightforward. Cut the ruffle -- likely straight, but a popular way to do it was to cut a circular ruffle if you wanted a more wavy, 3-D effect. Finish the top with a hem in back...this hem will show when mounted to the skirt. Finish the bottom of the strip ditto, and stitch the Val lace over the top of the bottom hem. Then find the spot on the skirt where the ruffle is wanted, say, 10 inches above the hem, and stitch the ruffle on, *very* scantly gathered, leaving a little header at the top. Press the header down over the ruffle so that it becomes a secondary ruffle. 

The bottom-most ruffle is similar except that the skirt hem is finished, then the ruffle is stitched to the hem, but on the backside, with a similar, inward facing header, for a wee bit of fluff support. The skirt hem on top reads to the viewer as a nice opaque line...narrow lines, whether self fabric or applied, were very popular looks in trims and tucks.

The ruffles from the front.

Closeup of top ruffle from outside -- see the hem showing on the exterior?

Top ruffle hem detail; the hem is on the outside of the skirt.

Ruffle header flipped up so you can see the stitching.

Back side of the skirt shows stitching.

Did you notice? Both ruffles are sewn and applied with hand-stitching, not machine. So is the waistband. The long skirt panels, all with narrow French seams, are machine sewn with very fine thread and fine stitch length. The tucks are also machine sewn. The fabric could possible have come pre-tucked.

Just showing how sheer the fabric is. The skirt weighs 4 ounces on my food scale.

Here is how such a skirt might look when worn, as shown on The Delineator June 1901 cover. The skirt is pooling out at the front and sides, and trained in the back. The wearer is holding her skirt to emphasize what may well be a drop skirt attached to -- or separate from -- the outer skirt, that functioned as a sometimes-visible lining. It would clear the ground and might include a finely tucked or ruffled tall flounce. The wearer would hold up the outer skirt with one hand in the back to draw it up, revealing the underskirt but maintaining modesty. A petticoat was often worn underneath, although in 1900 and 1901 there was a fad for abandoning the petticoat or even wearing little "garter petticoats" around each leg, so that the skirt could cling very tightly to the person.

Source: Internet Archive

That's what is happening here, I believe. This is a screenshot, c1902, of women walking in Paris' Bois de Boulogne, just at the Port Dauphine entrance. Source is A Walk in a Paris Park - c.1900 Footage Restored to Life [V.2.0], by Glamourdaze.

Another, rather well-known photo from a 1901 edition of Les Modes, a Parisienne fashion magazine known for its high fashion, world-weary attitudes, and attention to royalty and nobility. The leftmost figure's gown just barely puddles in front.

Source: Mark Hartley, Pinterest

Commentary on trailing skirts appeared in a New Zealand paper in January 1901. It was called “The Trail of the Skirt: Expert Opinions in Favor of Trailing Fashions”. Here is a portion, showing that some trailing skirts were designed to be held when walking.

Source: Wanganui Chronicle (New Zealand),January 7, 1901, p.1

Here is just a sample of public disgust with the fashion for trained skirts worn on the street:

Pink sturdy trained cotton skirt with applied tucked ruffles

The last skirt in this post is the light clear rose pink one. The cut uses a large amount of fabric, and so, I estimate it at 1904 or 1905, when such cuts were common.

The skirt is very small waisted, under 24 inches, and so wouldn't fit my dress form. That makes it feel even fuller than it really is. The ruffles, cut of straight lengths of fabric, tucked and hemmed and "gathered" with what are actually minute pleats, give lots of body to the skirt base.

Like many Edwardian skirts, it is finely stroke gathered at center back. Notice that there is less gathering on the left, underpart of the placket, than on the right placket which sits over it. The result is a more narrow band of gathering, but added together, really full. It's shown inside out, so you can see the basic placket. This wasn't a finely finished skirt. The buttonhole is closely hand-stitched, but in white thread.

More placket fun. Both plackets are applied strips, and the bottoms are laid one atop the other, then stitched horizontally, and that's it. Compare that to other closures we have seen in this post.

Just emphasizing that placket construction.

Plain stitching on the placket to set it to the skirt back pieces.

The skirt is very, very full, by far the fullest in this post.

Now compare that to an equally small-waisted skirt, this one in linen. It still has a train, oh, yes, but employs far less fabric and, as we will see when we examine in sometime in the future, has a front side closure, but a tightly gathered back.

Let's look at the ruffles. They are applied to the main skirt, and appear to be straight cuts of fabric, with significant machine ruffling. My Singer 27 and Willcox and Gibbs, both Edwardian period, both have an attachment called a ruffler that actually very finely pleat the fabric, resulting in a gathered effect unless you look close up. Each strip of fabric for the ruffle would have been tucked and hemmed at bottom first. Then the top would have been turned over and the machine ruffling done. Then the ruffle was attached to the skirt with a second line of stitching, right across the top of the ruffle.

Pulling up the underside of the top ruffle gives you more construction information. Note how sturdy the thread is.

Here is a view of the bottom of the skirt, under the ruffles, from the inside. It has a facing applied. You can see the signs of wear, but this skirt didn't undergo the trials that the delicate gauzy skirts did. There is a large very dirty spot in one section, and some worn threads, but overall, the skirt is in good condition. I am thinking it was a home or small dressmaker product given the relatively inexpensive, sturdy but colorful materials. There is no evidence of any tag that I recall.

There ends this evening's tour. I am hopeful that it will be useful to those of you curious as to the different ways skirts could be constructed.

Whenever I get around to it, there are more skirts, a shirtwaist suit, petticoats with different styles and characteristics, and shirtwaists of different types, to be posted about. I've posted about some others in the past. I gave quite a number to Cassidy Percoco of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment some years ago, when I was quite ill for a few years, and thought at one point I'd have to give up costuming, and alas, never took pictures of most of them.


MrsC (Maryanne) said...

That is so interesting thank you! It's really easy to see the differing quality of construction and styling, probably differentiating the modiste made from the home constructed. It's also fascinating to see the different realities of construction methods - one would think from costube that every edwardian skirt had a tarlatan facing. But those of us old enough to recall sewing before the internet know that techniques didn't spread so uniformly across the world like they do now.
The frills no the gauzy dress look cut on the bias, is that because they are circle cut? Bias frills definitely have the potential to lettuce out more if the loose edge is stretched, but it doesn't really look like that's what's happened here.
Also, I have to smile at the Wanganui (now called Whanganui) Chronicle - Whangvegas is a tiny but mighty town indeed.

ZipZip said...

Dear Mrs. C.,
Afternoon! Makes me happy that you thought the skirts tour helped show construction variety. That was the hope :)

You're right, the gauzy skirt does have bias ruffles, and I can measure to see if they were circular cut, but they don't feel it.
Now the Edwardian skir from blondbomber on etsy does have circular cut ruffles. It's a simply made skirt for sure. See Note that the top of the ruffle strip is probably just turned under and top-stitched down, and the lace edging just applied to the hem edge and stitched without fuss.

This sort of skirt would be fabulous with a small train, tightly gathered for a few cm across the back. Starched, it'd be great for the stage :)



ZipZip said...

Oh, and thought you'd enjoy the Whanganui quotation!

Time Traveling in Costume said...

This tells me I don't need to fuss so much about putting hooks & eyes in my back closures as it doesn't look like they used them much either. The pleating/gathering in the back is enough to keep it together.

ZipZip said...

Good morning, Val! Weellll, about those hooks and eyes, it depends, I think, on how hidden the closure is for how well using few hooks and eyes will work.

Let's take the example of the first skirt I wrote about above. Despite the deep-set closure, and what is it, five hooks and bars, it gapped when I wore it a few weeks ago for a few hours to a formal afternoon tea. I hadn't pressed it freshly, and because it's linen, I think it got creased open where one of the hooks and bars opened by themselves. Notably, the hooks and bars are much flattened due to being pressed so much.

If you had a skirt that relied on several inverted box pleats for the back (a gorgeous look), you might be safer, but otherwise...gapping lies in wait, I think.

Very best indeed,