Random aside: I am still trying to get used to WordPress’s new interface. They moved everything! I have no idea where this page is going to end up after I post it, and I apologize for formatting weirdness caused by cut&paste!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ever since I tried one at at James Country Mercantile a couple of years ago, I have had a desperate, burning desire for a rope petticoat.The one I made is NOT a historical garment; it was cobbled together from what I remembered of the way the James Country petticoat felt, and a pattern I thought would help me achieve that, keeping in mind, of course, that James Country is a supplier for Civil War (American, not English) re-enactors. For historical rope or corded petticoats, check Sempstress and the Elizabethan Costuming Pages (for, paradoxically, Civil War-era petticoat instructions).

(Edited: evidently the Semptress page has moved or no longer exists. Might be worth Googling, if you’re interested.)
I was looking for something that would add fullness at the hem of the skirt, but not add extra bulk where *no* woman needs it: at the waist and hip. I knew I was looking at a gored skirt pattern, then, and (now OOP) Butterick 3418/b (the one with the 5 rows of trim at the bottom) seemed like it would be perfect.
This pattern is supposed to be Edwardian, near as I can tell—it is fitted through the waist and hips, and has a nice full hem. It also has a bit of a train in back, which I would have noticed if I hadn’t been so excited about the fact that it was designed to have trim encircling the hem (so it could tell me how much rope/casing I needed to buy. Anything to avoid math….). I ended up lopping a good 7-9” off the bottom when I hemmed it (which I suppose could have been avoided if I knew how to use lengthen/shorten lines), since I was taking a floor-length skirt for a tall person, and making a calf-length skirt for me.
I should mention that I completely threw out the waistline instructions, as I seem to do on all my skirts. I was trying to compensate for wide hips and a tiny waistline, and a potential fluctuation up and down of either. So I went with an elastic casing a couple of sizes smaller than the skirt (which I had cut to my historical highest hip measurement), and adding a drawstring made of ¼” twill tape (which frays, n.b.). I skipped the zipper, natch, and just left the seam open where the zipper was supposed to go, turning and hemming those raw edges.
For the skirt itself, I used a beautiful soft cream Kona cotton broadcloth, which just got softer as I worked with it, like a wonderful old set of worn bedsheets. The rope casings are from a pale peach 1” satin ribbon (99 cents a spool on sale at Hancock! Can’t beat that, especially since the pattern called for five yards of it ETA: That can’t possibly be right. The hem circumference is 118″, which means it’s more like 16 yards. I only used 4 rows instead of 5, but still. I must have meant five spools. Or something.). Really, it’s absolutely cuddly, it’s so soft. This stuff would make lovely nightgowns.
In retrospect, I don’t actually recommend this cotton for any kind of petticoat/skirt meant to add body/volume to the skirts. It’s just too soft. I used a very similar soft cotton, quilting sateen, for a peasant skirt, and it didn’t work at all. I was thinking of scrapping it and repurposing the fabric—but now I think that a few guards around the hem may in fact be the answer! Plus petticoats, maybe even this one, under it.

The rope is 3/8” nylon twisted rope, which came in a 50ft package from Ace Hardware. I stood in the rope aisle for ages on at least three separate trips before deciding on this. My other choices were jute/hemp rope (too prickly), and cotton clothesline (too soft?). I had read that some costumers had difficulty feeding the rope into the casings, so I thought the nylon would give a nice combination of smoothness and stiffness (did I mention this wasn’t a historically accurate garment?) Other costumers have used upholstery cord or even jute binding for a similar effect. Note to interested costumers: rope is not as cheap as you’d expect. Fifty feet cost $8.00.

The pattern instructions recommend adding the trim (my guide for the rope casings) before assembling the waistline (not to mention before hemming it!) which made absolutely no sense to me… unless you’re making the skirt up out of lovely fabric and have made a mockup and will then know how long it will be (remember that little train?). I didn’t do this. I finished the skirt completely, and added the casings after it was hemmed. All was fine.

I used four rows of casings, set at 1” intervals, which covers the bottom 8” or so of skirt. The skirt is hemmed 5” above the ground (which is the height/length of my hoop farthingale). I turned the edges of the ribbon under, and left an opening at the center back seam.

The rope frayed some as I fed the first length through the casing, so I taped-and-cut the further lengths, and ultimately just decided to leave the tape on the ends. Alternately, if you were comfortable getting fire near your petticoat, you could probably melt the ends of the nylon to keep this from happening. Because I didn’t measure my ropes before feeding them through the casing, I just sewed them together at the overlap, and hope the tape does the rest.

I then jammed the overlapped ends as far into the rope casings as I could get them. I fully expect that they’ll creep around to the opening after a few hours of walking around in this.


This first photo is of the finished skirt before adding the ropes. ETA: Note that the ribbons themselves provide a fair amount of stiffening to the hem. Without them, this skirt would completely collapse; the cotton doesn’t have nearly enough body on its own.

This second photo shows what it looks like with the ropes.
The main visible effect is that the ropes have prevented the skirt from falling into those lovely soft folds at the hem, and now it sort of spreads out flat. I tried to take a picture with a skirt over the petticoat, but said skirt (designed for a boned farthingale) was way too long and didn’t look like anything. But when I tried it on, the petticoat definitely held the overskirt away from my legs as I walked (and had a rather peculiar—tho’ not uncomfortable–ridged feeling against my shins from the ropes, which I remember from the James Country petticoat.).

I’m still not entirely certain how it will hold up under the weight of skirts. I suppose the solution would be to add more casings, or to double up on the rope in the current casings. It will need to be field-tested before any definitive conclusions are drawn.

In the meantime, it’s just as pretty as punch, my peaches-and-cream petticoat!
ETA:  The petticoat adds a very subtle amount of “oomph” to skirts; enough to keep them from wrapping around my legs, although not a ton of body. I’d say it’s comparable to the amount of fullness I get from wearing bloomers. And, of course, more petticoat is ALWAYS better!