Celebration – petticoat

Green silk petticoat for my Italian outfit. Lined in blue linen, with a back closure

Green silk petticoat for my Italian outfit. Lined in blue linen, with a back closure

In lue of a full kirtle worn under our gowns, Caterina recommended we make underskirts – petticoats.  This is partially because many of us are uncomfortable with multiple layers of clothing for our costumes, and partially because of time constraints (10 +/- people making costumes for 15+/- people in 4 months). Also, these underskirts will be useful for other time periods; since most of us don’t do Italian for our main personas.


I started off by looking at the Alcega Project for pattern ideas for the underskirt.  I presumed that a rectangle, gathered or pleated at the waist would be appropriate, but hope that there would be evidence for a gored skirt, or something flared – very little gathering or pleating at the waist, since I don’t need the extra bulk with my figure.

Now, the Alcega tailor’s book is 1589 and Spanish…. whereas the time period Caterina is looking for is quite a bit earlier (1480-1520 I think) and Italian, but I still think that it’s “close enough” to be able to justify a style that I’d rather do…. because I DID see flared skirts with minimal pleating/gathering at the waist…(compared to a fully rectangular skirt).

“Skirt of cloth for a woman” – direct link from the Alcega Project website.

Firstly, “Skirt of Cloth for a Woman” appears to be specifically an underskirt (rather than the skirt portion of a kirtle) made with a pieced half-circle. Andrew (the author of the website) notes that the waist of the half-circle is “generous” but that there are no instructions for pleating or gathering the waist into a waistband (mind you, MUCH of the book is without instruction) and speculates that one could re-draw the waist to suit the wearer… but that without pleats/gathers  it would hang without the typical fullness.  He made his mock-up with no pleats at the front of the skirt, but deep, flat pleats at the sides and back.  This suits my interests well. Caterina is also using a similar layout for the skirt of her gown.

I read in other wanderings that gored skirts come into style after 1520, (the end of the period we’re looking at) though I don’t recall the source… 

This is the “pattern” I decided to use for my petticoat, although given my size it may not have as much room for pleats at the waist as Andrew’s 1/4 scale model.

“Skirt of cloth for a woman” – Direct link from the Alcega Project

Further evidence for flared (vs. rectangular) skirts include the “Skirt and bodice of cloth with puffed sleeves” – flat front and generously gathered at the sides and back, the “Kirtle and low cut bodice of silk” – with a flat front and deep pleats or generously gathered at the sides and back, “Kirtle of silk for a woman” – flat front and generous cartridge pleating from the side seams backwards, and “Laced mourning coat of cloth for a woman” – another flat front with generous cartridge pleating at the side seams back.

Making the skirt

Silk basted to the linen, ready to cut out

Silk basted to the linen, ready to cut out

I actually had very wide silk to work with, so once I made my pattern, I laid it out on the fabric expecting to have to piece it like in the Alcega schematic – but I didn’t have to at all! I could have been a bit more conservative with fabric use if I had pieced it as well perhaps, but I can use those leftover edges for guards, sleeves, and other elements, so I’m not concerned about the fabric waste at this point.

The silk broadcloth is very lightweight though (a bit heavier than habotai, but lighter than dupioni) so I needed to interline it. I used the same navy blue linen I’ve used for a few other projects (my Norse underdress, some Norse hoods, the lining for my Italian Ren dress, my shalwar, trim on my Norse men’s tunic, etc) – I bought an entire roll of it when it was on a ridiculously good sale a while back – it softens up a bit with washing, but I don’t anticipate washing this skirt a lot anyways.

Once the silk was cut out, I basted it using silk thread (pulled from the selvage of other silk fabrics) to the linen, and then cut out the linen around the silk. I let the skirt hang out at this point for about 24 hours, and then stay-stitched the waist, sewed the back seam (by machine), hand-finished the seam allowance, and then let the skirt hang again for about half a day while I did other things. (Fixing some gutters… wheeee!)

I didn’t bother removing the basting stitches when sewing up the garment – all of them will go unseen anyways.

Turned and hand-stitched seam allowance on the left, hand-finished waistband on the right

Turned and hand-stitched seam allowance on the left, hand-finished waistband on the right

Next came the “placket” for the waist. These skirts don’t have a zipper or anything like a modern skirt, so for modesty (though I’ll wear a chemise/camicia under the skirt anyways) I cut a rectangle of silk and another of linen, sewed them together on the long sides and one short, clipped, turned, and pressed the rectangle, and then pressed it in half making a long rectangle with silk on both sides. (The linen on the inside acts like interfacing.) The two edges I blanket-stitched to the seam allowance of the skirt on one side – it will go under the other edge of the opening once the skirt is closed.

Next, the waistband. I opted for non-period option here; and used fusible interfacing in lue of another layer of linen between the silk. I put two deep pleats in 5″ towards the sides from centre back, to keep the front of the skirt smooth. It was sewn on by machine, and hand-finished on the inside. To finish the waist, I used a skirt hook (a modern one, though historical examples that are similar exist) on the main side, and then a small (totally modern) snap on the other side.

Then, I hung the skirt again…
I’m hanging it because this skirt is pretty much all bias… (true bias and otherwise) except center front and back. I want to ensure that when I hem it, all the bais has “fallen out” before hand, rather than after!


The petticoat should have plenty of volume to it & stand away from the body… for this some people opt to do corded petticoats. I hadn’t cut my petticoat long enough to cord it (plus I wasn’t keen on that) so I considered putting a guard near  the hem of the petticoat instead.

Direct link from Pinterest – click for original

Caterina indicated that there were lots of paintings/portraits where the women were lifting their outer skirts to show their pretty, contrasting petticoats/ under kirtles, but I didn’t actually find that many in my early searches. The first is Andrea del Sarto’s Birth of the Virgin (1514).

In this fresco, the two central women both show their underskirts (or skirts of their under kirtle perhaps). The woman in the orange or red dress with the pointed sleeves shows the lining of the skirt and the sleeves are of the same golden/tan fabric. Under this, her skirt is purple, with a ribbon or band trim at the very edge of the skirt.

The woman on the right, in the gold, also has lifted her gown and is showing off a green skirt. The hem is trimmed in two stripes of dark red, a thick one near (but not at) the skirt edge, and a thinner one above it. See a close up of these figures here.

Another woman in this painting (to the left of the main figures) has a yellow gown with blue guards at the bodice and skirt hem.

Direct link from Pinterest – click to visit

The next image is The Preaching Of Saint John The Baptist by Francesco Ubertini Bacchiacca II (1520). In the cropped image to the left, the figure in the orange or red dress on the left has lifted the skirts of her gown to show off a dark wine-coloured skirt with golden or copper lacey-looking trim on the hem. The figure in the yellow also has green guards on her gown skirt.

Most of the portraits and paintings I could find don’t show the hems of gowns – of the few I did find, these were the only ones that shows a guard on the gowns… but I think between these two paintings I can definitely justify a guard on a petticoat… and this additional layer of fabric and stitching will give additional bulk to the skirt hem, holding it slightly out from the body ideally… while still letting it hang in graceful drapes – unlike sewing the hem with horsehair braid.

Based on my summary of colour combinations my first choice for guards on the green skirt would be red – a complementary colour. BUT… red and green seems like Christmas to me… and red seems to be very prone to bleeding… so I’m hesitant to use red guards on this.


Once the skirt had sufficiently hung out, I met up with the group of sewers working on this project together and Caterina assisted me in marking the skirt. Unfortunately it was slightly shorter than ideal, which means that I’d either need to face the skirt, or guard it, rather than folding the skirt up to hem it. This is actually what I had planned, though having the extra length to play with might have been nice!

Change of plans

It was around this point that I just left the petticoat to work on other things… and in that time frame changed my plan.

Instead of doing a later-period Italian dress, I decided that given the fabric I was working with, that an earlier period would be more flattering. This meant basically abandoning the petticoat for the time being… (more on that later).

Hem & padding

I did finish the hem though, using a 5″ wide strip of bias made of the same linen that lines the skirt. Rather than putting a guard on the petticoat, I decided to pad the hem in order to give it slightly more volume.First I sewed on the bias, then pressed it. Then I layered in the padding (bias cut white cotton flannel) and folded up the bias. Where the two ends of padding met, I whip-stitched the ends (cut on coordinating angles) closed. I pinned the facing up, and hand-stitched it to the lining. Once the facing was hemmed, I ran lines of stitching through the facing, padding, and lining along the facing seam lines to keep the padding from rolling if I end up laundering the skirt.  (If I do, it will likely be by hand anyways, but still… better to do a few steps now than have to remove the stitches of the whole hem later…)

Steps hemming the green silk petticoat and padding the hem.

Steps hemming the green silk petticoat and padding the hem.



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