Sunday, January 29, 2017

Red & Tan Petticoat Bodies

So I decided I needed a new foundation garment!  I also wanted to re-draft my kirtle bodice (again) and experiment with less boning...or in this case, no boning at all.
To that end I made a my first set of petticoat bodies!

I had originally intended to pair it with my Lucas de Heere gown at last year's Nottingham Faire, but wasn't able to finish in time.
Still, I'd been badly in need of a new red petticoat for a while now. I have two in linen but it's about time I had one in wool (it's the more historically accurate fabric and I just think it looks nicer).
And the red petticoat is one of the most ubiquitous items of clothing in the it will definitely not go waste!

While my other petticoats consist only of skirts, this one is attached to a bodice or "upper bodies", hence the term "petticoat bodies".
How this different from a kirtle? Well, to be honest I'm not exactly sure...the two terms seems to have been interchangeable at different times in period.  But in general the petticoat bodies appear to be the most basic foundation layer after the smock, with a kirtle (or gown, or waistcoat) worn over it.
(For a more in depth look at the terminology check out Samantha's excellent write up at the Couture Courtesan.  Not only does she quote excellent historical sources, but her petticoat is to die for!)

Since I was basing my petticoat on the de Heere print I knew I wanted a red petticoat, guarded and bound in black wool.  I opted for a lovely red worsted flannel and black herringbone tape (which I had left over from my brown gown).
That only left the bodice...

Current research indicates that most support garments of this type would have been made of heavy canvas or even paste buckram for support (rather than boning) so I want to try something similar.
While I'd love to experiment with buckram in the future, for now I settle on several layers of linen and muslin pad stitched together.
I also decide to finish the bodice in wool.  I don't know if it's accurate, but since I'm hoping to use this new bodice pattern for a kirtle later I want to see how it behaves in wool (plus wool is much more forgiving when it comes to a smooth finished look).

But I after decided on wool for the bodice I actually end up with slightly too much of it...
Originally I had thought about using a lovely white worsted wool from WM Booth Draper (the same wool I used on my sleeves for the de Heere gown) but it was out of stock, so I picked up some tan wool in the fashion district.
However, 2 yards of the white wool became available again and then I had a conundrum.

Which to pick? I still liked the white wool A LOT and thought about dubbing it the "Canada Petticoat!" (or "Polish Petticoat"...either would have been applicable).
But since this was that last of the bolt and I was experimenting with a new bodice pattern I decide to save it for bigger and better things and opt for the tan instead.

With the design finalized it's on to the construction!

First things first...I needed a new bodice pattern. Badly.
Sadly my last kirtle attempt gave me a lot of grief in the form of terrible back and shoulder pain. Part of the problem is that I have one wonky shoulder.  Most people do, but mine is really wonky (like, dented clavicle wonky. When your parents tell you not to wear your bookbag on one shoulder you should listen!)
But for some reason I had never taken this into consideration when fitting my previous bodices.  Not only that, but the adjustments I made on the last bodice (especially widening the shoulder straps) seems to have made things worse.  I thought it would have been more supportive...but somehow the opposite was true and it pinched in places.

So a new bodice pattern was called for!
My first bodice was based on the Tudor Tailor Dorothea corset pattern which had fairly straight shoulder straps in the front and back.
So while I used my current pattern as a starting point for the body the straps are altered slightly to follow the lines of the TT kirtle pattern, which has more angled straps with the back running on the bias.  I also decide to curve the back straps to allow even more give across the back of the shoulders.

The actual construction of the support layers is pretty similar to that of my brown and beige kirtles, so I won't go into too much detail here.
Basically, the two foundation layers (in this case a hemp linen canvas and cotton muslin) are pad stitched together.  Then channels are sewn by machine.  I used the same boning patterns as before (including the bust cutout) but this time they will only serve as quilting.  I don't know why I even bothered with the bust probably doesn't make a difference, but I thought if it added a bit of support I might as well have it as not.

Speaking of support...
I had made a few mockups before assembling the pieces above, but I still wasn't 100% happy with the fit. Boning lets you get away with a bit, but without it any fit and support issues really become evident. So before moving forward with the bodice I went back to my mockup to see if I could do anything make the bust more supportive. The best thing I could come up with (short of starting over) was to take out some volume below the bustline.

I wasn't sure how this would work out in the long run (and I'm still not) because it means the lacing edges will no longer be on the grain, having been shifted slightly to the bias.

I guess we'll see! Oh well...

Moving on!
Next the outer fabric is pad stitched to the foundation laters and the bodice assembled (again, see the the earlier posts for more details and photos).  The only real difference is that this time I decided to bind the upper edges, so while the bottom edge has a seam allowance the bustline and straps do not.  No real reason...I just thought it might save time later since clipping seams around the underarms could be fiddly and time consuming and at this point I'm still working towards a deadline (which I will not meet).

And this time I also decide to add a lining! This is made up separately and basted down around the edges.

The front edges are folded over roughly an inch from the edge and stitched down. This is so there are fewer layers to sew through later when making the eyelets.
Then the bottom edges are folded over the raw edge of the lining and hem stitched down (trying to catch some of the foundation layers but not the outer fabric)

The top edges are also stitched down more securely by machine (about 1/4" from the edge)

Then the front edges are marked for spiral lacing.

The eyelets are made with a tapered awl and sewn by hand.  This time I decided to abandon the buttonhole stitched I used for my previous eyelets since it's easier to repair a simple stitch if thread frays (as it inevitably will with use).

Next it's time to sew the shoulder straps together, through the foundation layers only.  The lining is temporarily left loose.
(I also take up the wonky shoulder by an additional 1/4" on each side to even out the fit)

Then the seam allowance is basted down.

Next the lining is basted down towards the back of the shoulder seam...

...and the back track folded under and hem stitched over it.

This slightly reduces the bulk at the shoulder seam.
With the bodice now assembled the temporary pad stitching is removed and it's time to bind the top edges.
(You can also see the uneven shoulder straps here, with the one on the left --my right side-- being shorter)

The top is bound with self fabric bias tape (roughly 1.5" wide).  It's stitched down about 3/8" away from the edge.

Then the edges are turned and hem stitched down to the inside of the bodice.

The same processes repeated around the arm holes.

And that's it! The bodice is bound and finished.

Now it's time to make up the skirt.
As I mentioned earlier, the petticoat is made from a lightweight worsted flannel and comprises of two 60" panels sewn together along the selvage ends (making a final circumference of 120").

Now, usually I would attach the skirt to the bodice first and then hem it, but having made two other kirtles I already knew the length I needed and how to attach it so I decide to finish the bottom edge first and get that out of the way (which will bite me in the butt later, as you will see...)

Since this is a foundation garment I decide I want a bit more bulk around the hem, so instead of just binding the edge I fold up about 3" at the bottom which is then basted down with a running stitch to hold it in place.

Then the bottom edge is pressed and stitched down by machine.  Next the wool tape pinned into place.

Let me take a second here to talk about trim placement...
My inspiration image shows a red petticoat bound in black.  It's guarded with a single black guard (which is roughly double the width of the binding) and the space between the binding and the guard looks to be equal to the guard itself.  So given 1" wool tape I should have 1/2" of binding, then a 1" strip of red followed by a 1" guard.  
However, that's not what I actually do.  Since the petticoat will most be seen from slightly above I decide to leave an extra 1/4" between the biding and the guard to correct for foreshortening.  Hopefully this will make the final trim placement look more visually balanced.

The trim it stitched down along the top and bottom edges.  
(I use the machine for this since the herringbone pattern is very forgiving and hides the visible machine stitches least from the front)

Then the hem is bound in the same tape.

 Next the basting threads are removed...

The loose edge is then folded over and pressed.

Then the raw edge is turned under... 

...and hem sticheddown behind the trim.

This will give the bottom a bit more bulk and hopefully act as a mini-corded petticoat.

Next it's time to cut the slit at the front of the petticoat.  
I knew I wanted a 5" opening and since I had already decided to fold the top edge down by 2.5" I cut a 7.5" slit down the middle of the front panel.
It's finished with a rolled hem and a thread bar at the bottom.

I'm very pound of my tiny hem!
Of course it's only then that I remember that have to account for the 2" point of the bodice and that opening should actually have been 9" long!
If I hadn't already finished the bottom edge I could have just made the fold at the top less deep...but then the skirt would have been 2" too long! So I bite the bullet, tear out the button hole bar and last 1/2" of hemming and add 2" to the opening.  
In the end I really needn't have worried.  The end result looked so similar to the original that I didn't even bother taking a photo of it...

Now it's time to attach the skirt to the bodice!

I've documented my method of cartridge pleating to a pointed bodice in my previous kirtle posts, so I was going to gloss over it here...but then I remembered that those earlier instructions are a bit of a mess.  
I had incorrectly calculated how to level the skirt in the post for my brown kirtle and only explained the fix in the write up for my beige kirtle, but neither post goes through the full process (correctly) in detail.  
So I thought I'd do an amalgam of the two posts here.

First the bodice is placed on grid paper and a line drawn along the bottom, from the front point to the back seam. A line is also drawn along the front edge from the bodice point up (this doesn't have to be long, but you want it to extend past the side seam).
Make sure you indicate the placement of the side seam. Mine is marked with a dark dot.

Then a line is drawn perpendicular with the front edge to the mark for the side seam. 

Now comes the fun bit: MATH!

I should have done this in stages, but I'll try to walk you through the final diagram above.
First you measure the line from the front edge to the side seam, and then from the side seam to the back of the bodice.  This gives me a measurement of 7" and 6" respectively and a total combined measurement of 13".  This means I will be pleating 60" (half my skirt measurement) to 13" (half my bodice measurement).

Now its time to decide how to divide those pleats.  I like to divide my bodice into 8 sections, but you can use less if you prefer.  So 13" divided by 8 is roughly 1.6", which is marked out along the two straight lines.  Then perpendicular lines are drawn down to the bodice edge.  The distance between these two points indicate how much the skirt will have to be taken in to accommodate the point of the bodice, but we'll get to that later...

For now let's move on to dividing the skirt in preparation for pleating.
The easiest way to do this would be to have 8 equal sections of 7.5" each (7.5 x 8 = 60).  
However, I prefer to have the bulk of the volume of the skirt towards the sides and back, so a more incremental pattern is called for.  
I opt for 4" in the first section, gradually increasing to 9.5" at the back (you want to keep the back sections fairly similar for weight distribution, otherwise you could have some sagging and pulling which can lead to back pain...which is why 3 of the 4 back sections are the same and the 4th is only 1/2" less).

Finally, it's time to lay the bodice back on the guide and mark the bottom edge with pins indicating  the 8 sections.

Then the bodice is flipped and the process is repeated on the opposite side.

With the bodice prepped it's time to pleat the skirt!
As I mentioned above, I'm going to be folding the top over by 2.5" to create a finished edge for pleating (this is probably really don't need much more than 3/4" or so, but it does add a tiny bit more volume and "oomph" to skirt).
I also had previously finished the raw edge with a zigzag stitch on the machine. it's time to put all our earlier calculations to use.
First the lowest point of the bodice is marked in disappearing ink (which according to our diagram is 2" down along the front edge) 

This is then marked with a thread knot (you'll see why later).

Then we move on the next point.
According to our diagram this is 4" wide...

...and 1.25" down.

This is also marked in pen and then knotted with thread.

This is repeated for the next section (5" over and 5/8" down)

And so on until all the sections are marked with knots (continuing along the top edge for all 8 sections).

This is then repeated on the opposite side (and you can see the curve of the bodice take shape)

Now it's time to create the angle of the skirt.  
The top edge is folded down using the thread knots as a guide and pressed. All the threads should now be along the top folded edge of the skirt.

The skirt is now ready to be pleated.
I opt for 1/4" cartridge pleats through the front and 3/8" pleats in the back.  

And that's it! Pleating done.

The petticoat is now ready to be attached to the bodice.
Since the bodice has already been devided into sections all you have to do is match the thread knots to the pins (see, I told you they'd come in handy!)

Then I divided each section in half, marked that point with a pin and pinned the middle pleat to it...and then kept on devidining until the whole skirt was pleated.

Then the skirt is stitched to the bodice (being careful to catch as much foundation fabric and as little outer fabric as possible in each stitch).

Here is where I made another mistake. Working this way (with the pleats towards you, as shown above) forces the pleats towards the bottom/underside edge of the bodice. But you actually want them slightly more on the side so that the skirt springs outwards. 
Doing it this way caused the edge of the bodice to curve under and bubble, so the whole thing had to be taken out and re-stitched working from the other side (I know these two photos look basically identical...but trust me, it did make a difference). 

Yay! Much better!

And that's it! Skirt pleated and attached.

And the petticoat bodies are done!


Overall I'm pretty pleased with how the whole thing turned out.
The shoulder straps are much more comfortable and I'm really happy to finally have a lightweight wool petticoat with a more historically accurate circumference (my linen ones where both too heavy and too wide).
I'm even surprised with how supportive the final result is and how much I liked the lines of the finished garment.  Yes, boning gives you a smoother silhouette, but I don't mind the more natural curves (and even the wrinkles!).
It's also probably the neatest and most finished garment I've done so far, which is a definite plus.
However, the fit still isn't perfect.  For one thing the bodice is still too long, especially in the back...though I think that was a result of my taking in the front pieces, since that rotated the whole thing back slightly. And again, I really should make a petticoat that's knife pleated rather than cartridge pleated (which I think is more appropriate for Italian styles, rather than the English and Dutch styles I'm going for).
So there are still plenty of things to keep in mind for next time!


Resources & Materials

-The Tudor Tailor (book and/or ready-made pattern)

-Red and Tan Worsted Wool Flannel from B.Black & Sons
-Beige "Judy" linen (5.5oz)  Gray Line Linen
-Hemp/Linen canvas (11oz) and Hemp/Cotton muslin (7.5oz)  from Hemp Traders
-Muslin for mockup (also from Hemp Traders, but any muslin should do)

Thread & Lacing:
-Red silk thread
-Tan silk thread
-Linen tape (1/4" for lacing) from WM Booth Draper

Notions and Trim:
-Black wool herringbone tape (1") from WM Booth Draper

Other Supplies:
-Swedish pattern paper from Amazon. (This stuff is great! You can iron it!)
-Pattern weights
-Purple vanishing fabric marker
-Tapered tailor's awl
-Eyelet tape (for mockup)
-Small bulldog clips


  1. Just beautiful. I don't have any red wool on hand, but I DO have two yards of beautiful red linen! I think maybe I need a new petticoat!

    1. Can't go wrong! It's the Little Black Dress of the 16th century!
      (I really do love this wool though...I went back and bought more yardage to make a whole dress out of!)