12 February 2020

The Victorians knew what they were about

I wear Victorian style walking skirts all the time (I can't wear pants anymore, it triggers the "oh help I'm trapped" feeling, but long skirts are fine).

This, of course, means that I need petticoats to go under my skirts.

I have just completed a flannel and silk petticoat for colder weather: silk for the ruffle at the bottom, flannel for the skirt, cotton for the wider than usual waistband. As my body has evolved into a rather Rubenesque matronly shape, my short-waisted structure has more of an effect on my clothing choices: there never has been more than a few inches between the bottom of my rib cage and my waist, and as my waist has thickened it seems there's even less space now than there used to be. As a result, my skirts sit fairly high on my body and a wider waistband fits more comfortably into the curves.

I construct skirts by feel, for the most part: measure four lengths of fabric that are as long as my waist to floor (or more likely, waist to ruffle), full selvedge width, and cut two of those into triangles. Add a triangle to each of the selvedge edges of the two full rectangles, make your side seams, and voila, you have an A-line skirt.

Then, I find something to use as a waistband and measure it so it's about an inch wider than my waist. Pleat the back of the skirt (sometimes I stitch the pleats down a ways, like on a kilt, sometimes I just leave them as folds, it depends on how the fabric drapes) and fit it to the waistband, overlapping the ends and finagling them flat.

Final fitting consists of one of two methods: the fixed waist or the closure waist.

For a fixed waist, as I did on the flannel petticoat, I insert a couple of slanted darts into the back of the waistband to make it fit snugly and sit comfortably on whatever level of waist/hip it settles on and stitch them down. As my hips are not much bigger around than my waist, I can just step into the skirt and scoot it up over my anatomical padding and voila, done.

For a closure waist, I leave one pleat unsewn and stitch the waistband along the edges of the unsewn pleat, making a skirt that is an inch or two too wide to fit. Fold it over (which makes the unstitched pleat become a fold like all the rest), add a buttonhole and a button or hooks and eyes, and you're done. No placket, no gap, easy to adjust if your size should shift.

Then there's the ruffle. Ruffles serve a purpose: they help keep the fabric at the bottom of the skirt somewhat spread out, so you're not getting it tangled in your feet or having the fabric stick to your socks. I have some bolts of Japanese kimono silk which are fairly narrow (usually around 14") and I figured that would be an excellent ruffle material. I gathered it along one selvedge edge and stitched it to the right side of the bottom of the flannel skirt, then folded it over and stitched the other gathered selvedge to the wrong side, making a tube - kind of like the bubble skirts that were all the rage in the 80s. The join between the ruffle and the right side is then covered with a ribbon - this not only covers the stitching (which could just as easily have been done with a neat seam), it provides an extra level of stiffness to the bottom of the skirt, keeping it away from the ankles. The combination of a bubble ruffle and a heavy ribbon overlay seems to be just about perfect for holding the weight of my lighter skirts.

Were I a proper Victorian lady, of course I'd be wearing multiple petticoats with stiff cording or maybe even supportive wires, and caring about how far out my skirts were held so that they were shown off to best effect. I'm more of a merchant's daughter than a lady, so I'm just after practical comfort and ease (I actually *am* the granddaughter of a merchant, come to think of it). I currently wear ordinary t-shirts and sweaters over my Victorian skirts ... though I'm thinking about making some shifts and overdresses as I like having the weight of my clothing carried more by my shoulders than around my waist.

We shall see.

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