1830s Underthings

Back in November I heard that a local Historical Society would be hosting an “1830s costume ball” in March 2019, so I decided it was finally time to join the crowd of costumers who have been making 1830s ensembles recently. We bought a house at the end of November and spent December moving and painting, but in January I was able to get my new sewing room organized and start my underthings.

I knew I wouldn’t have time to make brand new period-appropriate corded stays, so right away I decided to cheat and just wear my mid-century corset under the dress (sorry not sorry). The corded petticoat was a must, however, to get the correct bell shape for the 1830s skirt. I had purchased Izabela Pitcher’s Victorian Dressmaker book back in November(ish), so I primarily used her corded petticoat pattern and instructions for guidance.

I bought about 5 yards of white cotton twill, and cut two lengths of it about 90 inches long and 44 inches wide. I started with 3 bags of 3/16″ cotton cording (10 yards per bag), but I quickly ran out and had to go out for more cord. I actually lost count of how much cord I used, because I started with a bit of leftover laying around from a previous project, and I ended up having to buy some by the yard at the store because I bought out their supply of 10 yard bags. I think I used at least 50 yards in the end.

I sewed the two pieces of twill together along one of the long edges and started pinning in the cording and stitching.


I started with five rows of cords at the hem, left space, put in three rows of cords, left space, and closest to the top I put in two sets of two rows of cord.


There were definitely a few cuss words and at least one broken sewing machine needle.


I knew approximately how long I wanted it to fall on me, so I kept measuring until the last rows of cording were above my hips and I had enough space left to gather the fabric. At that point I cut off the excess fabric near the top and started gathering the two layers to fit my waist.


Testing the length and structure near hips.

At first I ran two rows of machine-sewn basting stitches and started gathering, but the two layers of twill were too much for the thread and it snapped. Abby of American Duchess pointed out on my Instagram that I could cut the inside layer of twill off at the top of the last row of cording because that was done in period. But I was stubborn and didn’t want to have to seam rip out all of my basting stitches, so instead I hand gathered the petticoat at half inch intervals (because, you know, that’s less work than seam ripping…).


That worked well, and to my surprise I didn’t even break any sewing needles setting it into the waistband.



The finished corded petticoat.

After finishing the corded petticoat I took about 4 hours and made a quick, simple cotton petticoat with pintucks near the hem to go over the corded one and smooth out the lines. For that one I cut a rectangle about 100 inches long, put my pintucks in near the hem, then cut the fabric to the appropriate length, about an inch or two longer than the corded petticoat, and gathered it into a waistband.


Pintucked petticoat over the corded petticoat.

The finished petticoats created such a smooth bell shape, even later after I put my finished gown over the petticoats on the dress form, that I decided not to starch the petticoats. I haven’t worked with starch yet and the logistics of finding a place to soak them and a large cylinder to put the corded one over intimidated me, so I decided to skip it. However, it was to my detriment because when it came to wearing the dress to the event the skirt ended up collapsing into the valleys of the corded petticoat and sticking there, possibly because of static.

So basically, starch your petticoats, probably.

And while I’ve titled this “1830s Underthings” I guess it’s really more like “1830s Petticoats” since I did not make the proper stays. But that’s it for now. The next post, which is coming soon (and not another year later, this time, I promise) will be about the rest of my 1830s ensemble, though I think I may do separate posts for accessories and the gown. Stay tuned!

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