Monday, January 28, 2013

18th Century Underpinnings

I want to show you some of the undies I made last year, in preparation for the DFWCG Georgian Picnic. I'd made a pink wool gown for Costume College in the summer.  I loved it, but it was barely finished in time.  I wanted to wear it to the picnic, but with lots more trim and accessories - and underthings.

Bum Pad

Funny name! But it's period. The 1770s and 1780s saw the last big hurrah of the wide side hoops, and the appearance of the big rear.  My pink wool gown is more 1780s than 1770s, so I desperately needed some kind of skirt support.  I tried to make one in the summer before Costume College, but it was rather terrible.  It didn't have enough waist shaping, so it was like trying to wrap a flat, rectangular pillow around very curved hips.  Not flattering, even by 1780s standards. I ended up borrowing one from Lauren for the weekend, but I needed my own.

I studied the posts by Adventures of a Costumer and Rococo Atelier extensively, and took apart my first attempt. Second try: success!



The waist shape is very curved, and fits nearly around my waist.  The waist binding is blue twill tape I got from the trim lady at Costume College in 2011.  It's really too wide at 1.5", but it's pretty. :) The ties are ordinary 1/2" white tape.


I pieced the original shapes I'd cut. The piecing seams are visible at the side front, where I added more to wrap around my waist.


The fabric is a cotton cambric I bought from Pure Silks' ebay store.  It's semi-sheer and incredibly stiff, even after being washed and dried. Like Rococo Atelier, I added a ruffle to soften the outline. The ruffle is a selvedge edge of the cambric and stands up on its own.


When I first finished the pad, I squirted it with water to get the blue marker out and set it on the windowsill to dry in the wind.


After 30 seconds I reconsidered, and fastened one tie to my sewing machine chair. A wise precaution, because when I thought to look 30 minutes later...


Sometimes I'm smart! (But who knows what the neighbors thought.)

Matelasse Petticoat

Another common 18th century skirt support is the quilted petticoat.  I haven't been much interested in quilted petticoats. Texas is super warm most of the time, and quilting a petticoat is very time-intensive.  But an alternative is matelasse, a fabric developed in the period to mimic the look of expensive quilted fabric. At the time it was called Marseilles or marcella cloth; see more information here at The Lady's Repository Museum.

Many historical textiles are no longer made. Matelasse is an exception, though not as garment fabric. It is used primarily for bedding. It is usually cotton or cotton blend, and in limited colors.  I do not know how closely modern matelasse corresponds to marcella cloth, but for many costumers it is a reasonable substitute for hand-quilted material.

On a whim, coinciding with a big sale at Joann's, I bought enough off-white matelasse to make a short-ish petticoat.

I used the same blue twill tape for the bands and ties. The extra width did made the waist binding easier; matelasse is heavy.


I used the Threaded Bliss/Fashionable Frolick petticoat tutorial to guide my construction. Because the matelasse is so heavy, I made the sides barely overlap. I also made the center front box pleat very wide, to keep the front as flat as possible. To get the right 1780s look, the front should be flat with most fullness in the back.


The design on the off-white matelasse is particularly elegant. I really like it.


The one tweak I need to do is shorten the center back. I deliberately made it longer than the front, to allow for the bum pad, but I added too much. A significant dip is clearly visible when I wear it.

Sheer Petticoat

I wore a sheer petticoat over my green one under the pink wool at Costume College.  It was a work in process: totally unhemmed and lacking a flounce.The material is similar to period "muslin," probably called voile today.  It is cotton, sheer (you can read text through it easily), and very, very limp.  I suspect that period muslins weren't quite this limp.  I was in a hurry, so instead of hemming it I just pinked the edge.

I learned that weekend that (1) it was too long, and (2) a pinked hem wasn't sufficient for the muslin.  There was a lot of raveling. A stiffer fabric like organdy or cambric wouldn't have raveled.

When I got back to the petticoat, first I re-cut the hem, then did a narrow rolled hem.  It took a while, and was fairly tedious, but it looks nice now. And I won't be getting threads caught in my shoe buckles. ;)  Then I finished the flounce.  The flounce is about 12" deep, with a pinked top edge and a dagged (pointed) hem also cut with pinking shears. The picture is out of focus - the pinking is frayed, but not that badly. The line is the rolled hem of the petticoat underneath.


The flounce is not very full, so I pleated it before setting it on the skirt. My friend Jordi sent me a sewing bird last fall. This was the first project I used it on. It worked wonderfully!


The completed petticoat. I did not use blue ties on this one. ;)


I also did some work on the pink dress itself. That's for another post!


  1. So nice to see this kind of bum pad worked for you as well :) The matelasse fabric is so beautiful!

  2. Thank you so much for your posts! They were a HUGE help. And thanks, the matelasse is awesome!