Wool for Warmth
Common women need to stay warm in the depths of winter too! Plain quilted petticotes were worn by women of all classes. Wool batting provides the fill between layers of glazed wool and linen. The stitching is much less fine than on silk petticotes. And unlike silk petticotes, these appear to have been produced domestically. Still they retain an elegance not unbecoming to lower class women.
The first step was cutting the wool, batting, and lining. I purchased cotton quilter’s batting that was 54″ wide and chose to use that as my width. My wool and linen were both 60″ wide, so I cut 6″ off the selvedges of the front and back pieces. I cut the wool and line to a 42″ length to match my measurements. I know the quilting will take up the silk a bit, so this seamed to be the right length.
Next, I pressed all three fabrics and laid them out on my cutting table. I offset the batting ½” from the bottom of the other two fabrics for the hem. I folded the linen over the batting and turned the bottom ½” of wool toward the inside and whipstitched them together. At this point I sewed three rows of running stitches ½” apart along the hem to secure the bottom of the petticote. Then I folded back the wool at the top and cut off 6 ½” of the cotton batting. This lack of batting in the top of the garment apparently keeps the pleating at the waistband from becoming inordinately bulky. Next I basted all the layers together. I used inch-long stitches in lines 18″ apart all across the piece. I basted one horizontal line around the top of the piece, near the edge of the batting so that it wouldn’t shift down as I quilted. I repeated the same steps for the piece for the back of the petticote.
Once the layers were secured, I got out my disappearing ink pen and started drawing the design. I based my design on The Gypsy Fortune Teller, a 1783 picture showing a country girl having her fortune told. She wears an all-over lozenged petticote under her gown and apron.
Unlike profession quilters of the period who sewed up to 20spi, I’m afraid even at the best of times I only sew six running stitches to the inch. Though low, this number is still within the range of stitch depths found in extant petticotes. At least they are consistent.
Once the quilting approached within an inch or so of the selvedges, I stopped and tended to the assembly of the skirt. Some petticotes appear to have been seamed before quilting and others were quilted flat and then sewn together, the quilting over the side seams added later. It was less cumbersome to quilt flat, so that is what I did. I laid the front and back pieces right side to right side and sewed the silk layer with backstitches. Then I trimmed a bit off the batting equal to the width of the seam allowance so that the batting wouldn’t bulk up at the seam. I butted the edges of the front batting and back batting and whipped them together. Then I overlapped the linen edges, tucked under the top edge, and blind stitched it. I stopped all stitching 11″ from the top for the pocket slits. For the pocket slits, I turned the selvedges towards each other and whipstitched them.
When the quilting was finally complete, I removed the basting stitches and laid the garment on the cutting board. I cut notches in the top of the garment to facilitate knife pleats. I made a 2″ wide box pleat at center front and an inverted box pleat at center back and pleated towards the side slits as was done on many extant petticotes [Baumgaten, pg 37]. I back stitched a strip of linen to the top of the pleats and rolled it to the inside and blind sttitched it down. I closed the ties in a similar fashion.
The Finished Wool Petticote
The author wearing her wool petticote with her riding habit
- Janet Arnold. Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses & their construction c 1660-1860. 1977: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., London.
- Linda Baumgarten. Eighteenth Century Clothing at Williamsburg. 1986: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia.
- Linda Baumgarten and John Watson with Florine Carr. Costume Close Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790. 1999: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia.
- Nancy Bradfield. Costume in Detail 1730-1930. 1997: Costume and Fashion Press, New York.
- Sharon Ann Burnston. Fitting and Proper. 1998: Scurlock Publishing Company, Texas.
- Tandy and Charles Hersh. Cloth and Costume 1750-1800. 1995: Cumberland County Historical Society, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
© 2002, 2003 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.