February 17, 2017

How I Made a Simple Victorian Bustle Petticoat

Which bustle era you may ask? Well I think this rather simple petticoat could work for either the 1st (1869s-1876) or the 3rd (1883-1889) bustle periods, as I made it to wear over my Truly Victorian Imperial Tournure which is described as being good for either period as well. 

Though many petticoats (throughout history really) were made with linen, I used plain old bleached cotton muslin for mine. The nice thing about costuming in the 21st century is that you can choose how accurate you want to be, and for me I don't mind if my historical undergarments are perfectly correct, if they do the job then that will do! Inspired a bit by Merja's petticoat from this post and this example I decided on a simple shape with an A-line front and a gathered back. So what did I come up with in the end?

from the side and the back
The pattern is pretty straightforward to draft by yourself if you find yourself in need of such a petticoat. Perhaps you might want some experience making patterns, but I really think anyone could cobble this thing together. To make the pattern for the front I knew I wanted some waist darts to shape the top and then the rest of the shape was an easy A-line flare. The back was even easier, as I simply used the 44" width of the fabric and then cut a rectangle to the length I wanted (in this case 41 inches).

Here you can see the pattern "pieces" at the top and a sketch of the finished petticoat (sans ruffle) at the bottom. For a perfectly level hem you would have to cut the back piece longer in the center back instead of straight across, but I didn't bother as I knew I would be adding a deep ruffle and could adjust for the hem length with the ruffle instead.

But how did you make the pattern for the front? Where did you get the darts from? Ah yes, that is the only tricky part for people who are not used to drafting or draping their own patterns, but I'll go over just how I did it.

Starting with a piece of muslin (cut parallel to the grain, nothing cut wonky or on bias) about 14" wide and 25" long I drew a straight line off to one side (with the grain) to represent the center front of my eventual pattern piece. Then put on your corset and bustle support, anything you will be wearing underneath the petticoat essentially. Pin the piece of fabric to the center front of you (well not into you, into your corset/shift) to hold the center front in place. Making sure you are keeping the fabric grainline straight smooth the middle of the muslin over to your side along your hip line/widest part and pin along what would be your side seam. This should create some excess folds of fabric at the waist, as the fabric is smoothed over the wider hip area from the center front to the side and is pinned to fit the widest part of the body.

I don't have everything pinned properly yet in the photo below but you can see the excess fabric at the waist that needs to be pinched into darts.

So once you are all pinned in, simply smooth/pinch the excess at the waist into some darts. Two are probably better than one as they will lay nicer in the end when the fullness is split, but then again, this doesn't have to be perfect, it's only a petticoat! The less different your waist and hip measurements are, the less excess you will have to pinch into darts at the waist.

Once you have it all pinned as you would like, mark everything with a pen/chalk/pencil so you can use this muslin piece to make your paper pattern. To do so, draw a line along the edge of your pattern paper (or some tissue paper, or whatever paper you have) to be your center front and then line up your piece of muslin on top matching the center front lines you drew on each the paper and the muslin. Then copy any and all marks from your muslin to the paper. Draw lines to connect the dart tops to the dart points so you can see what you will be sewing. Make sure you have the side marked on the paper too as that will be your side seam. The center front line should extend down along the paper as far as you would like the length of your petticoat to be, (plus room to hem it) which for me was 41 inches. From the side mark along the waist, draw the A-line shape of the skirt front to be your side seam at about a 30 degree angle, this line too should be the same length as your center front line so that your skirt is the same length at the front as at the sides. To draw the hem line you will notice it has to curve slightly, so that's what you are going for. Goodness this is harder to explain than it was to draw by far!

ah yes wonderful, a crappy photo taken with my phone...
I really wish I had taken more photos of this process for you all, but it was both difficult to do while I was also doing the process on my corseted self, and I was sorta rushing I as was feeling a bit behind on my to do list that day! I apologize! Do ask any questions you may have, or for clarifications if you need them in the comments. Make sure to add seam allowances to the waist and the side seams before you use your paper pattern to cut out your fabric. Again for the back piece it was a much simpler process as I simply cut a length of my 44" wide fabric to 41" inches long and used that full rectangle for the back of the petticoat.

To sew the petticoat together, I first sewed the darts and pressed them flat. Then I sewed the side seams of the front and back pieces and pressed those open. I cut a straight cut about 10" down the very center back into the rectangle to allow for a center back opening/closure and bound this cut in matching cotton bias tape.

It seemed most if not all of the examples of petticoats I could find online used gathers in the back, and most it seemed used a draw string to achieve them and to tie the petticoat closed in the center back. The pro's of such a closure are of course the adjustability of the finished garment, but as I didn't want to bother with a drawstring I simply gathered the fabric to my waistband to fit and then added ribbon tied to each end of the waistband. For the waistband I used bias tape with a length of twill tape inside sewn into the seam (the stitches sewing the skirt pieces to the waistband) so it wouldn't stretch. You can see how this all looked finished above.

After the waistband was finished I hemmed the skirt by turning it up twice (1/2" inch) and sewing it down by machine. To make the wide ruffle along the bottom I cut 3 strips of 18" wide from my 44" wide fabric. I sewed these together and hemmed one side just as I had hemmed the main skirt. To sew the ruffle onto the petticoat I marked a line in pencil 15" up from the finished hem, but from the side seams to the center back I gradually shortened this distance to only 12" so that the ruffle would compensate for the bustle taking up so much height from the hem. I should have measured to see if this 3 inch difference would be enough, but I didn't and lucky enough it worked out perfectly.

That is the moral of my petticoat sewing in general: I should have measured, I didn't, but it worked out fine. Luck or experience? We will never know ;)

So here is the finished petticoat worn over my corset and bustle support. Such a funny shape those Victorians went for right? Too great. I think I may have to make a new shift in white cotton, as the black shows through too much. As I plan on making a white gown it will probably look better in the end if the shift is white too. I still have to make a corset cover anyways, so more sewing with white cotton ahead! I am actually craving sewing with cotton these days (it's just simpler than the wools and velvets of winter sewing) so it was actually a nice change working on this petticoat!

I hope this wasn't too crazy confusing, I fear it might be! Again, please ask if you'd like me to explain better how I made this, I am happy to oblige :)


  1. This looks more like engineering than sewing! One step closer to that white Victorian dress though.

    1. A bit yes! All patterning is engineering in some sense, I always like turning flat pieces into 3D garments :)

  2. I think I get how the darts work now, thanks for explaining.

  3. It wasn't the best explanation but I'm glad it made some sense! :)


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