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Mid-Victorian underthings

Early Victorian Undies

Warning: this post is long. I’m sharing six (!!!) pieces I’ve made. All for costumes.

I’m working on several historical costumes right now but this group of garments is for my 1840s costume.

Early Victorian Undies

Some of these items are more 1860s/Civil War era, others much earlier, but they can still be used for the 1840s.

Early Victorian Undies

Let’s start from the innermost layer and work our way out…

Victorian Chemise and Corset

Made of white muslin, the chemise was like a big oversized 18th century t-shirt. It keeps sweat from getting on your corset (which cannot be as easily washed). Women would have had a bunch of these in their wardrobes, way more than dresses themselves.

I used Simplicity 2890. Had to remind myself that Big 4 costume patterns like to double down on the ease factor. Originally it was way too big at the shoulders so I cut a size smaller yoke pieces and re-sewed it.

In this era women would also wear “drawers” which are like big, poofy , open crotched bloomers, however I haven’t made any yet.

Victorian Chemise and Corset

Made with plain white coutil and steel boning. The Silverado version of Laughing Moon Merchantile’s #100 pattern, which is the longer style with the bust gussets. Only, not knowing how to properly pick size, the bust ended up too big and I had to hand sew the gussets smaller. If only I had seen this adjusted size chart earlier.

Victorian Chemise and Corset

It’s not the best, but it’ll do for now. It’s still decorated for my Elizabeth Comstock cosplay.

Bum Roll:

Victorian Roll

I used random cotton stash fabric and 1″ wide cotton twill tape. Originally from Simplicity 3727 but it ended up HUGE. Like, obnoxiously big, so I made it about half the size by cutting out the whole back seam and sewing it up again.

Victorian Roll

Much better. With all the petticoats and the final dress weighing it down it does actually look pretty nice.

Corded petticoat:

Corded Petticoat

White muslin and yards and yards of 1/6″ cotton cording. This was a common item in the days before metal cage hoop skirts. Rows of cording plus lots of starch helped the skirt stand away from the body, accentuating the bell shape that was popular at the time.

I based the petticoat on a bunch of extant examples found online and modern versions made by costumers. Originally I used the width of two lengths of fabric (90″) but that made the skirt so wide that it would fold in on itself. I lopped off about 10″ of width to compensate.

Corded Petticoat

I sewed a total of 40 rows of cording in 5 row groups spaced about 2″ apart. I would have done more but frankly I was sick of it and gave up. I then pleated the fabric into a waistband made of twill tape with a side opening.

Middle Petticoat:

Hand sewn petticoat

White muslin, 1″ wide cotton twill tape, all hand sewn! Yep, that’s right. I sewed this entire petticoat by hand! So accurate! BASK IN MY ACCURACY!!!1!

This is technically an 18th century style petticoat which is fine, because it works well in several eras.

I followed this basic tutorial. It’s 36″ long because I used 36″ wide fabric and put it lengthwise around me.

It’s basically two pieces, seamed partially up the sides, hemmed at the bottom, and pleated to two separate lengths of twill tape ties. The twill tape folds over the raw edge, encasing it like a binding. You end up tying it on kind of like an apron.

Hand sewn petticoat

The box pleat in front keeps it nice and flat at the waist and the knife pleats go all away around to the back.

Outer petticoat:

Early Victorian Undies

And the final petticoat! White muslin, two hooks and eyes. This petticoat is huge! It’s from Butterick 5831 but the original pattern called for an 8″ wide eyelet trim. Ha! Like I could find 8″ wide trim, and even if I did those things are like $20 a yard.

Early Victorian Undies

So instead I went with a long gathered strip of fabric. But I had a hard time getting the gathers spaced evenly on such a long line (this skirt is like, 5 yards wide) that eventually I thought “You know, maybe pleats would be easier?”

They were not. But at that point I was committed. Committed to 15 freaking yards of pleated fabric. Yet it is complete so I am happy now.

Early Victorian Undies

All together it forms the basis of the early Victorian era silhouette – slopes shoulders, nipped in waist, and big wide bell-shaped skirts with some emphasis in the back.

I even tried to do my hair in the standard – middle part, pressed down over the ears style but my hair isn’t long enough to stay in place.

And after all this work to look “accurate” for these pics, I completely forgot about my bright blue toenails. Oh, well, can’t fix it now.

All I need at this point is to finish my bonnet and hem my dress and I’ll be ready to show off my full outfit.

Comments (21) for post “Mid-Victorian underthings”

  • Love this! I keep making historical undergarments and then not getting around to the top layer… But the undies are so cute! πŸ™‚

    I have never been so happy for my ruffler foot as when pleating the ruffle for my Victorian petticoat—I feel your pain!

    • I keep telling myself once I finish all the underbits the outer dresses are going to be a piece of cake, but no, they take a long time, too.

      I desperately need to get a real ruffler foot!
      Thanks πŸ™‚

      • Years ago when my mom bought me my first machine (so I would give hers back) a ruffler foot was the one specialty foot I requested. I have never regretted it! πŸ˜‰

  • Wow, this is beautiful! You are so dedicated with all the hand-sewing. Can’t wait to see the finished costume! I found this post really interesting as I attended a talk on Regency costume and how to recreate this week in Bath (It was part of the Jane Austen Festival). Doing lots of research – I may be ready one day to attend the Regency Ball!

    • Thank you! I’ve never been but I’ve seen pictures – those Jane Austen Fest people are SERIOUS about their costumes. They go all out. It’s impressive. I’m jealous that you were there!

    • Thanks! Yeah, it is hot, but because the corded petticoat kind of pushes the other skirts out away from the body, it keeps your legs surprisingly cool. It’s when you add the super tight sleeves and high neck of the outer dress that you really start feeling the heat.

  • Here’s a random thought: might it be easier to construct strips of cording and then sew them on to a petticoat? What I mean is sew a strip of fabric 1″ or 2″ or 3″ wide that consists of however many rows of cording you want. Then sew that strip on to a plain petticoat, sewing in between each of the cording rows. Yes, uses more fabric, yes you sew twice down between the rows of cording. But it might be much easier to sew all the cording into place on a relatively easily managed strip of fabric instead of wrangling all all the full petticoat fabric through the sewing machine…. What do I know? I just read costuming blogs to enjoy the beautiful sewing work that these bloggers create.

    • Yeah, it certainly isn’t easy to do. I imagine in the old days it was easier to control the fabric because they were sewing by hand.

      Having done it my way, I actually think the best method is to use thicker cording and sewing it in rows by folding the fabric around the cord and sewing it in like piping. Like the 1840s petticoat (second pic) or the repro-petticoat on this page:

      It probably makes the lightest weight type of petticoat because you’re not using a double layer of fabric if that makes sense.


  • LOVE LOVE LOVE. I mean, i feel sorry for the ladies that had to undertake this huge effort of dress, but my goodness it has always looked great.

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