Guest HOW-TO: Petticoats and Crinolines and Slips, Oh My!


ebay item 8305987417

[pattern from Lanetz Living]

La BellaDonna left a really helpful comment about slips and crinolines and petticoats on the Shirtwaist #2 post the other day, and on the off-chance some of you missed it, I thought I should elevate it to Full Post Status. (You should really read the comments if you can, they're always awesome, because you all rock!)

So, LBD writes:

For the ladies who are dubious about wearing a complete crinoline under their full skirts, I would point out there is an Easy Cheat™:

Use the skirt part of the pattern you're making up to draft a petticoat. It's not as scary as "draft" makes it sound: just make sure the finished "petticoat" is a couple of inches shorter than the finished dress will be, and experiment with putting ruffles on the "petticoat" until you reach your desired degree of "pouf." You don't even have to make yourself crazy with shortening the petticoat and then sewing the ruffle onto the hem; just topstitch the ruffle onto the finished "petticoat" so that the bottom of the ruffle is even with the "petticoat" hem. If you want more fullness higher up, put another ruffle higher up on the "petticoat;" it should overlap the lower ruffle, but not cover it completely. For a gathered skirt pattern being made into a petticoat, you can make a casing and run the elastic through at the waist; for a gored skirt, or something fitted, you can put in a placket and a hook and eye (or just overlap it a bit and put on the hook and eye!). Let the petticoat sit a little BELOW the waist of your skirt, to cut down on bulk at your waistline (this means the petticoat skirt waist will actually be BIGGER than the waist of the dress, so that the petticoat sits lower down on your torso than the dress waist does.) You can experiment with making ruffles out of the "petticoat" fabric; you can try ruffling up some good stiff nylon net (about 7-9" wide for a good finished ruffle), in which case you WILL want that petticoat fabric between you and the nylon of the ruffle; maybe another layer of fabric over that, to protect the skirt from the nylon. Dubious about nylon? Stitch a band of horsehair (woven nylon strip, made from nylon horses, designed to Stiffen Stuff) behind the hem of the ruffle. Horsehair is washable and is easy to work with; just top stitch it on the underside of the ruffle. If the dress fabric is lightweight, and you have enough, you could even make one ruffle out of the dress fabric! For instance, a yellow print dress might have a plain yellow "petticoat," with: a plain yellow ruffle; or a nylon net ruffle; or a white eyelet ruffle; or a lace ruffle; or a yellow print ruffle. Or all of them, if you want a Really Full Petticoat (with a Really Mixed Look). A print corduroy dress might have the petticoat in one color of the print, and the edge of the ruffle could be bound in the corduroy. (You might want to bind it using corduroy cut on the weft, since corduroy cut on the bias can get weird.) (N.B.: A Really Full Ruffle is generally considered to be the finished width times 3; if your skirt hem is 100 inches, that means a 300-inch strip of fabric gathered back down to 100 inches. A ruffle two and a half times the finished width, or 250 inches, is OK for a not-too-full ruffle that's been backed with horsehair. But I'd recommend the Three Times suggestion. My own preference for a finished ruffle length is 7-9"; your mileage, and your height, may vary. But it's a size to start with. And I completely agree with the zigzag-over-dental floss-or-buttonhole thread-method of gathering chunks of fabric. Mark your ruffle in quarters (that is, half-way, and half-way again) BEFORE gathering; mark your "petticoat" in quarters; match up the quarters to make sure you haven't gathered too much petticoat ruffle in one spot and not another. Don't take out the gathering thread! Leave it in! Topstitch the ruffle on a couple of times so it's nice and secure. DO remember to preshrink your petticoat fabric!!

Remember: YOU'RE IN CHARGE. You can do it ANY WAY YOU WANT. Red silk taffeta petticoat with black lace ruffles? Check. Plaid flannel petticoat with eyelet ruffles? Check. Pink gingham petticoat with dotted swiss ruffles? Check. It is a GREAT way to use up some of those weird chunks of fabric that find their way into every stash. Nobody needs to know that you have a gold damask petticoat under that grey wool shirtdress. On the other hand, how cool if you do?

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0 thoughts on “Guest HOW-TO: Petticoats and Crinolines and Slips, Oh My!

  1. Thanks Erin and LaBellaDonna! Now I’m eager to make a petticoat. One question though, do you cut the ruffle on the bias?

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  2. Great idea – and saves money on patterns! Also, wouldn’t the slip on the left (pattern shown at top) make a terrific summer dress?!

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  3. Very full-post-worthy! Thanks to both of you! I did something like this with a the first (self-drafted) circle skirt that I made, which I messed up the math on and made a little too short; instead of making a petticoat I drafted a slightly longer lining (made out of some actual muslin I had lying around, which I just attached to the inside), and to which I added some silvery-gray netting for a ruffle to match the gray in the fabric print. I wish I’d read this post first though (or thought about it more), because the netting is sewn to the EDGE of the lining and makes tiny nicks in my stockings (or itches my bare legs in the summer). I should have topstitched it to the lining to end at the same point, as LaBellaDonna describes. Oh well, you know I still wear it, and get compliments too. Maybe I’ll make a petticoat to wear underneath that (and that I can wear with other skirts too) – then I can have even more ruffley goodness!(By the way, those who – like me – have a limited tolerance for frilliness: I find the tulle/netting is pretty subtle, not too ruffley, and of course different fabrics will be more or less ruffley – and remember, it’s still going to be UNDER your skirt). I suppose you could do tiny pleats too, if you had the patience, which would give you more some flounce but I imagine a little less fullness…Okay I’m definitely making a petticoat now!

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  4. This is perfect! The timing could not be better!! I am making a fifties inspired, gored, wrap dress for my nephew’s wedding. I have been wondering about a crinoline. Now I know what to do.Dress a Day is the best blog ever!!

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  5. This is EXACTLY the information I need to know to finish off a dress I’m constructing (in my head — hopefully in fabric this weekend!).Thank you so much!

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  6. Fabulous ideas! I also have some petticoats which are just skirts with tiered panels. I know these as “patio skirts”, but surely there’s a proper name for them; see McCall’s 5054 E-F for an example. Want more pouf? Make two and put one under the other, sew together at waistband. For the waistband, just fold over at the top to insert elastic or a drawstring. –Harthad

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  7. Tara, it depends on how much fabric you have, and how you want your ruffles to look. Bias ruffles are a bit softer (which also means limper) than ruffles cut on the cross grain (along the weft, or, as we say, from weft to right, across the fabric) or on the lengthwise grain (parallel to the selvedge). Bias ruffles also may have a propensity to stretch out of shape a bit, depending on how heavy they are. They’re certainly not a requirement – although striped fabric cut on the bias for ruffles, how cute would that be on a vertically striped petticoat?However, there’s absolutely no reason not to cut your ruffles either lengthwise or crosswise, if you don’t feel like/have enough fabric to cut them on the bias.Nora, is there any reason you can’t sew a nice wide flat piece of either ribbon or seam binding right over that scratchy seam to cover it? If it’s the entire width of the netting that scratches, you can still add a fabric ruffle behind the netting, can you not? And yes, that slip on the left would make a great summer dress! (Actually, so would the one on the right, but it might need a T-Shirt under it for many of us.)To the poster with the tiered panel skirts, I suspect they may be known to some of us as “peasant skirts.” I am, in fact, wearing two of them together at this very moment – stacked, though, and not sewn together. Yesterday the burgundy one was on top, with a burgundy sweater; today the black one is on top, with a silver-beaded and spangled black scoopneck T-shirt. You don’t have to sew them together to wear them together! It is another option, however.And my thanks to Erin for so kindly sharing her website and letting me provide a guest submission!

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  8. N.B.: Because I never get all my thoughts together at once, another Useful Piece of Information: The narrower the ruffle, the poufier it will appear; that is, a 4″ wide ruffle made with 2.5 x the width of the hem may appear as full as a 9″ wide ruffle made 3 x the width of the finished hem. A 9″ wide ruffle made 2.5 x the width of the hem may look a bit scant.I would suggest, for those who have scrap fabric, make a few sample ruffles to hang onto, and write, right on the ruffle itself, how wide it is, and its proportions (3 x finished width gathered down, 2.5 x finished width gathered down, etc.). You can figure out how much it’s gathered even without a skirt: just compare number of inches in the bottom width of the ruffle against the number of inches in the top of the ruffle; you’ll soon have a good idea of the amount of fullness you find pleasing for your own personal ruffles!

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  9. If you are too overwhelmed to make a petticoat – Hey Viv! has crinolines for $27, in red, black or white. I bought one for my wedding and it was perfect. I jsut put a slip between me and the crinoline.

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  10. The woman on the right looks like she’s trying to suck in her gut (although she’s thin enough that she doesn’t need to). That’s what I, too, would be doing if I were modeling a slip in public.

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  11. This is exactly the sort of information I have needed for *years*. Do I have time to make my own ruffled crinolines? Probably not. But that won’t stop me from trying some day.

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  12. This post has just thrilled me to no end. I’ve been making and planning to make several new dresses for DH and I that I think need crinolines. I’ve got one more question for you.Thifting the other day I picked up several full bolts of what I would consider “craft quality” lace and non-lace ruffles, 5-8 inches wide. They are very full and fairly stiff. I’m thinking these would work well on a pettycoat. Any words of wisdom or pitfalls I should be aware of? I’ve already considered wash-a-bility and it’s ok.

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  13. Heh. Tracy, I admit I was wondering a little bit, but I filed it under “To each his own.”It sounds as if the stiff lace might indeed make good petticoat ruffles. I would suggest preshrinking them (possibly by putting the ruffles/lace inside a pair of pantyhose before putting them in the washer), and if they are scratchy, making sure that there’s fabric behind them, so they don’t scratch your skin, and quite possibly a flounce over them, if you’ll be wearing them under something delicate that might get snagged by stiff ruffles. I can’t think of any more detailed suggestions without actually seeing the lace, or the skirts you want to wear them under.Theresa, I’m all for buying crinolines as well, myself; my suggestions were primarily for the folks who are a little intimidated at the thought of wearing an actual crinoline under a day dress, as opposed to an event dress, for a wedding or other special event. My theory was that if they used the skirts they were already planning to wear as petticoat foundations, they might be a little less intimidated than they would be by the thought of wrestling an actual genuine crinoline under a desk at work, etc. (However, crinolines don’t scare ME, and I will be googling Hey Viv forthwith!)Oh, and another Easy Cheat that you ladies have doubtless already figured out:There’s nothing to keep you from wearing your finished “petticoats” as skirts in their own right, and not just under dresses!

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  14. As my home ec teacher would remind us: if you cut ON-GRAIN (up and down, with the selvage) the ruffles will be crisper than the ones cut cross grain (why? because the warp, as wrapped on the loom is a tightly twisted yarn). This ruffle will have angular gathers, not softly folded ones like that pliant cross grain yarn. (was this mentioned already?)2nd note: if you zig-zag over a heavy buttonhole thread, your gathering thread won’t break.If you sew 2 rows of this zig-zag basting for the gathering, you will have 2 threads to pull and the ruffles WON’T TWIST when you gather them–you may already know about the buttonhole thread part, but the twisting part is teeth-clenching maddening, so I hope this tip saves you the trauma.3rd note: to hem the long lengths of ruffle fabric with an edge that will keep full–try a mid-range zig-zag over the cut hem edge, hopefully it will ‘roll’ that edge, creating a ‘rolled’ edge bound with a zig-zag. Some machines have a foot with a tunnel in the middle that really helps this amazing process to occur. (p.s. this is probably the fastest hem technique there is)4th: a slimmer petticoat is built over a hip yoke, or ‘A’ line upper skirt. A stretchy tricot or lycra knit is nice here. This smooth yoke will really slim down (across) the hips.I can’t be the only one who can’t ‘do’ gathers at the waist (shudder)

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  15. Excellent post, and very inspiring!I have two thoughts to add:If you have a ruffler attachment, you can adjust it for the fullness you want and pre-gather the whole ruffle strip, then just lay it on the skirt at the desired spot and stitch it in place. Have the strip a little longer than you need and don’t join the ends until it’s attached to the skirt except for the last few inches. At that point you can tell where the joining seam should be, stitch that to close it up, and stitch the last bit of ruffle in place.If you’re doing the gathering thread/gather by hand thing, my two cents is to divide the strip and the skirt into more than just fourths. Eighths are good. If it’s a really full skirt, sixteenths are not a bad idea. The more dividing you do, the easier it will fall into place when you’re pinning. More guideposts mean you don’t spend so much time or energy eyeballing whether your ruffle is evenly gathered.

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  16. That takes me right back to making my bridesmaids’ dresses, and finding that the stiff nylon for ruffles I’d bought was totally wrong for the fine silk fabric the dresses were made from. I’m sure I still have that stuff somewhere!What a great post – full of useful suggestions. Mind-blown! Many thanks!

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  17. Thanks for the ribbon idea, La Bella Donna! I’m fantastically slow figuring these things out myself – but what fun! (I love the multiple-tiered-skirt look, too, and what a delicious feeling to be wearing all that fabric!)And Pintucks, thanks for the grain info! That’s really useful and interesting; I think I’ll do some experimenting (also with the width of the ruffles affecting “drape”, which also hadn’t occurred to me, LaBD, but makes sense). Fun with fiber engineering! Yay! Thanks again all!

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  18. Ohhhhhh! Just the post I needed to see right now, as I’m thinking about making a couple 1950s dresses, and probably will need a crinoline under them to make them fully “pouf” out. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME!

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  19. LBD – did try to sew a crinoline for my wedding dress and it was a DISASTER. I might try your method– but frist I have a bunch of “to do” dresses…and it’s hard for me to get motivated to do the underthings –so I will take the lazy way out. Slip (store bought), crinoline (store bought), dress, (made by me.) As always-your an inspiration.

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  20. I loved, loved, loved this guest post. Not because I will ever make a petticoat but because the writer’s creative joy shone through her writing so vividly and persuasively. It was inspiring to read. — Negative Nancy

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  21. Thank you so much for posting this comment to the full-blog! I’m not much of a seamstress, but love skirts, and this petticoat discussion is so inspiring! (“m especially intrigues at the idea of a flannel petticoat, for these not-so-warm days…)

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  22. Erin’s recent discussion about using silk organza for interfacing in her shirtwaist dresses causes me to wonder if a ruffle of silk organza (sewn to the Easy Cheat base of your choice) would not provide a wonderfully fluffy ruffle, not scratchy, with plenty of “poof”.CMC

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  23. I made a silk dupioni slip shaped much like today’s post but with a ruffle around the hem. Makes great swish and pouff without the gymnastics required to gather yards of nylon net.

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  24. I Love the foundations often more than the overdresses! People do not realize how much the proper underthings mean to the modesty AND the look of a dress. I hate when any dress of any period just hangs like a dishrag. BTW: Very good article.

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  25. oooh everytime I see a post like this it makes me want to nip down to Spotlight, buy some material and sew away but it will have to wait. I will just add “petticoat” to my list of wishes 🙂 Thanks for all the tips!

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  26. Thanks for reminding me that we ALL made our own ruffled petticoats in the late fifties/early sixties — and stiffened the nylon with sugar water which was a disaster if it rained!These instruction look a bit more organised than I remember but hey, I was young (like nearly-fifty-years-ago young).

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  27. Great info! I just shortened a full gored skirt ankle length dress to below the knee, and drafted a lining for it, copying the skirt part. The fabric I cut off when shortening the dress was exactly right,(about 12″wide) in this case, to add a ruffle to the lining, as described in this article. On this project, I attatched the “petticoat” to the dress. Just enough poof for this dress, and for me, since i’m not so used to poofiness.

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  28. This is fantastic: I will print and save for future reference. Thanks to all. My tip for gathering is to use safety pins to pin together the ruffle to base at the fourth, eighth, or sixteenth marks, whichever you start with. On my last project, I used smallish gold safety pins, pinned from the ruffle side. This kept me from losing the equal divisions of ruffle and base, but I could still manipulate the gathers through the center of the safety pin. Previously, despite my best efforts to mark the quarters and keep them together, invariably I moved the pin that was supposed to stay as a marker.I usually baste gathers before finally sewing them in, so I replace the safety pins w/ straight pins when I have the gathers adjusted the way I want.

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  29. Thanks to everyone for excellent suggestions. I’m making a silk charmeuse A-line gown w/center inverted pleat for my daughter’s wedding. The ideas about dropping the waist a tad by making it bigger than the dress was good. Likewise, the tip about using small safety pins to mark out the tulle to avoid uneven distribution of ruffles. Since the wedding is in DC in August, staying cool is as important as looking slim. So I’ll use 100% cotton batiste for the base slip and for the over-slip (is that what you are referring to as the “flounce”), but since the nylon tulle ruffles won’t start until 10″ below the waist, I’ll reduce bulk at the tummy by not making the “flounce” or overslip identical to the base slip. I’ll attach it just at or above the highest ruffle. I don’t think I can get away without any flounce b/c even using softer tulle, I’m leery of it catching the Bemberg lining, or imprinting through to the gown after sitting in it. Will also edge the slip hems with self-made bias trim created from scrap silk. Any other amazing suggestions before I start cutting my tulle?You folks are amazingly insightful. Thanks for making this an awesome first visit to this blog.

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