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 linen fabric).

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 silhouette.

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 as well.

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 well.

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 Elizabethan times.

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 feet.

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.

2008 Brookwaite Enterprises and Cloak & Corset

Jennifer Rosbrugh is a Master Dressmaker and the Co-Owner of Cloak & Corset, the Premier Source to Historical Clothing Construction. If you're ready to jump-start your sewing projects, learn helpful hints, and have more fun in your historical reenacting, get your FREE sewing tips now at

Always feeling like she was born in the wrong century, Jennifer has been sewing for over 20 years mostly making her own clothes and home furnishings. For the past ten years she has found a passion in historical clothing, studying the design and construction process. She is on the Historical Citizens Association (HCA) board and is the "Dressmaker" in Oak Street during Civil War events. Jennifer's expertise is in historical clothing construction and her knowledge is the foundation of Cloak and Corset.

To see Jennifer's latest project, visit the Historical Sewing Blog:

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