Sewing Tips Petticoats
Sewing Info -
What Are Corded Petticoats?
Starting in the 1820s and through to the 1860s, there was a
critical undergarment that was required in order to get the
"proper" bell-shape to your skirt: the Corded Petticoat. It
came into fashion right after the Regency era when the waist
line was slowly dropping and before the American Civil War when
hoop skirts were commonly used.
But what is a corded petticoat? Why do we need one? And how
do they work?
Here are 5 questions and answers on corded petticoats to
help you get a better feel for what this undergarment was.
1. What did the cording do in the petticoat that made it
such a must?
*Picture it - you are sitting down on a quiet evening with a
nice cup of tea and a pile of the latest fashion magazines. You
see a great shirt in a stylish color and pattern and wonder
where you can get it for about 100 times less than that actual
designer's garment. You then start seeking out a comparable
shirt in various fashion and department stores.
In the early 19th Century when fashion plates were just
getting their feet wet in society circles, women (and men)
would study these drawings and then go out to recreate (or
purchase) the outfits themselves.
Now what does this have to do with cording in a petticoat?
Well, when women noticed that fashion was taking the skirt and
widening it at the hem, they began to make undergarments to
create the new, fashionable silhouette.
(This presents the fun question: which came first the
fashion or the undergarment. Both influenced each other to form
styles around the other.)
Quilted petticoats had been around for centuries and were
still worn by many. But now in the 1820s (and in previous
times) horsehair was collected from horses' tails and manes
that was then woven into fabrics while on the loom. The
stiffness of the hair created a stiff fabric. When made into
petticoats, they were called crinoline petticoats (crin is
French for horsehair and line for flax that is then made into
But people are always trying to do things easier, quicker,
and more cost effective as well as different. So for this they
started weaving in cords into the fabric while on the loom. The
cords also gave the fabric a stiffness that supported the top
petticoats and skirt. Seamstresses would also take plain widths
of fabric and sew in rows of cording to imitate what came out
of the loom weaving.
So for the corded petticoat to be a "must", well, that was
just another undergarment to help get the current, fashionable
2. Did the corded petticoat make the skirt stick out that
much more than a regular petticoat?
*Even with starched petticoats, when wearing, the fabric
falls softly around the legs. Petticoats naturally don't stand
away from the body. They support the top most skirt layer.
Ruffles on a petticoat will help spread the width of the skirt
Think of modern bridal petticoats made of nylon netting. Or
even the full net petticoats of the 1950s. Designers create a
garment knowing that these net petticoats will be worn under
them to keep the shape of the skirt.
So with adding cords to fabric, yes, they do hold out your
skirt much more than a plain petticoat. The types of fabrics
you choose for your petticoats will affect the hang of them as
3. Did it allow you to wear less of the "regular" ones?
*Beginning with the 1820s, women wore probably two
petticoats. By the late '20 and 30's, if you study the widths
of the skirt hems, they would need quite a few! In my studies
of the 1840s and '50s last year, I came across a book that
mentioned up to 6 petticoats. This would include the corded
petticoat or crinoline.
So possibly wearing a corded petticoat would allow you to
get away with fewer regular petticoats. But as the years went
by and fashion demanded wider skirts, more regular starched
petticoats were thrown over the corded layer. One way to keep
the waist small with all these layers is to use a yoke.
4. What does having cords in the petticoat do?
*To use a Biblical example: three cords are stronger than
one. A single sheet of paper is hard-pressed to stand up alone
when folded in half. But glue several sheets together like the
thickness of card stock, then when folded in half, the paper
stands up. I'm not a scientist in fabric technology, but I do
know that when you sew cords (or padding or fiber-fil) into
fabric, it makes it stiffer, allowing it stand on its own,
thereby holding out your skirt away from your legs.
5. Does the corded petticoat allow the other petticoats on
top of it to stick out more like it was a hoop?
*I assume you are thinking of the 1850s and '60s hoop skirt.
Again, we are following the fashion trend. Women of the 1830s
and '40s were making undergarments to flare their skirt hems as
wide as possible. The previous fashion was the very slender,
Greek styles. A wired (caned) undergarment was last seen as
pocket hoops of the 18th Century and then the farthingale in
You can see the build-up of under layers throughout this
Romantic Era that eventually demanded a support that would not
collapse; hence the creation of the wired underskirt (cage
crinoline) in 1856. Then after that, the skirts really became
big as they now had something to support the top skirts. The
hoop freed up the many layers of petticoats, including the
corded petticoat, and brought easier movement to the legs and
Yes, the corded petticoat allowed the skirt and top
petticoats to "stick out more" but it was not as large as a
cage crinoline. It was just the progression of fashion from the
narrow skirts of the Regency.
To find out more about Corded Petticoats and how to make
them, visit the Cloak & Corset website.
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Always feeling like she was born in the wrong century, Jennifer
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