Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hidden Details: A Mid-19th Century Quilted Silk Petticoat

Quilted petticoats of the 19th century were a revival of an 18th century fashion. Many styles of 18th century dresses feature a split front skirt, which was worn over a petticoat of matching or contrasting fabric - the petticoat was intended to be seen.

Before the introduction of the cage crinoline in 1856, women typically wore multiple layers of petticoats. The petticoat layers (sometimes as many as 6!) not only shaped the skirt into a fashionable bell-shape, but also provided warmth. During the mid-19th century, petticoats of wool, silk or cotton might be quilted in designs ranging from a simple grid to elaborate scrolls and floral patterns.

A quilted petticoat could serve a number of purposes besides warmth - it could reduce the number of total petticoats, due to the bulk provided by the quilting and if worn with the intention of being visible, say with a lifted skirt or an open wrapper, provided a place for a lady to show off her needlework skills and her husband's ability to provide her with the leisure to produce such fancywork.

I was fortunate enough to purchase a beautiful silk quilted petticoat at an estate auction and I thought I would share some of it's less obvious details.

Here's the petticoat:

And here's a detail shot of the fancy silk outer fabric:

Turning the petticoat inside out shows the quilting much more clearly. The quilting is done by hand, with a dense diamond pattern from approximately from the knee level down and in diagonal strips up to the waist.

The inner fabric is a dense brown cotton with a very thin layer of wool wadding.

The waist band is cotton with a single button closure; the petticoat has been simply gathered into the waist band.

An interesting technique was used to create additional fullness at the back of the petticoat, without adding additional bulk at the waist - by removing four gores from the quilted fabric, then sewing the resulting raw edges together and finishing with an overcast stitch.

The photo below shows that three different colors of thread were used: one for the quilting, one for closing the seam and yet another for the overcast stitching.

The petticoat also shows evidence of a period repair: here's the patch on the inside:

And here's a couple shots showing the exterior repair, note the careful matching of the fabric for the patch:

The hem treatment consists of the quilted layers being turned to the inside and the application wool braid tape.

Clothing was frequently "remade" in the 19th century, after all, fabric was relatively expensive and labor was cheap! 

Godey's Lady's book gave the following advice in February 1862:
"Another good use to which to put an old dress is, by altering the body and sleeves, to adapt it for a petticoat.  It is well, however, not to be in a hurry to do this.  Two mothers had each a good black satin dress; in the course of time they became, as unfortunately all dresses will, too shabby or too old-fashioned for their wearers' use.  One mother picked hers to pieces, washed and ironed it, and made from it two handsome-looking mantles for her daughters.  The other adapted hers for a petticoat, and spent five-and-twenty shillings in the purchase of new mantles for her two daughters. The mantles made of the old material were far the best-looking, and most serviceable. Now, five shillings would have bought a petticoat; and thus the saving of twenty shillings might have been made for the pocket of the husband."

This petticoat shows signs that it may very well have been remade; the inner fabric shows distinct fold marks and fading.

Hidden in the fullness at the back of the petticoat is a panel of fabric that has been pieced of over a dozen small pieces of silk, with minimal matching of the pattern.

In fact, there is one area, approximately 8" x 2", that consists of six individual scraps all pieced together!

Examining this original garment has been a great learning experience - it appears so simple and straightforward on the surface, but it really has a number of hidden details that have enriched my knowledge of period clothing.

Having said that, I don't space to either display or store it properly. So I am reluctantly offering for purchase here. I hope it finds a new home where it will be treasured.

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