Tuesday, 11 September 2012

My 50s Petticoat Tutorial

Well the Butterick 6582 is finally done and I'll blog about it very shortly - but I also wanted to share how I made the petticoat to go with it.  This tutorial is inspired by, and lends from advice given by Alexandra King on the Rock n Roll Bride site and Sugardale on her fabulous blog, so huge thanks go to those ladies for the inspiration and ideas that melded into my creation!

What you will need:

3m tulle net
0.5m cotton or polycotton
9-10m double fold satin bias binding (dependent on size)
Matching thread
Thick thread (eg buttonhole thread or embroidery thread, or even dental floss - bear with me - all will become clear!!)
Pins & safety pins
Bias foot for your machine (optional)
Sewing machine (unless you're a glutton for SEVERE punishment!)
Tape measure
Chalk or fabric pen
Sewing Machine

Ok, here's my finished article so you can see what you're aiming for (always good to have a goal)....

You'll notice that there's a little cotton skirt underneath - tulle is really scratchy so I decided to extend the polycotton usually reserved for the basque part, to just above my knee.

To do this, cut one piece of polycotton as wide as your hip measurement, plus 31cm and as long as you would like it.  This petticoat needed to be just below my knee but I don't want the cotton visible, so I measured to just above my knee at 42 cm, plus 1cm seam allowance for the waist  (no hem allowance needed but add a hem if you like).

Join the fabric with a standard seam 1cm wide - this will become the side seam.  Leave the top 12cm of this seam open and bind with bias tape to create a side opening.  Press.

Finish the hem with a zigzag, or overlock (I'm all set up with black thread on my overlocker/serger and could not be bothered to change it - hence the zigzag!).  Or you can hem if preferred but this won't really be seen on the finished garment. (Neat enough, don't you think?!)

OK, time to gather the top of the underskirt, so it fits you.  Starting 1cm from the side opening, run two lines of straight stitch close to the top of the skirt, using the longest stitch length and gather to your waist measurement. Tie off the threads and even out your gathers.  Cut a length of bias tape to your waist measurement plus 42cm. Then either:

a)  feed into your bias foot, fold end under 1cm and commence stitching the folded bias, feeding in the waist band at the 20cm point.  Finish the other end of the bias in the same fashion, creating 2 20cm ties at each end of your waistband.
b) Traditional method.  Apply your bias tape to the front of the waistband, leaving 21cm at either side.  Then fold the bias over the waistband, fold under 1cm of the bias tape at either end and stitch through all layers.  If you've never used bias binding before then Sewing Republic has a great video tutorial here

I added a second row as a little of the bias didn't catch (oops) and it gives quite a nice finish....

So now you should have a little gathered skirt with a bias bound opening and a bias waistband and tie that looks like the photo above.

Ok, time to tackle that tulle!!!!  Cut 2 x 3m lengths.  To determine the width of these 2 pieces, decide on your finished length and take off 20cm (you'll place the tulle element of the petticoat 20cm from the top of the underskirt).  Then add 1.5cm as we'll be gathering the tulle and sewing it to the underskirt, so we need a seam allowance.  The easiest way to cut your tulle is to neatly fold it along the length and cut through several layers at a time (I forgot a photo - apologies - but hopefully you get that bit!).

(Warning!!  Remove your pincushion from the vicinity before grappling with tulle - it grabbed onto all my pin heads and caused all kinds of havoc in my house today!)

Join the tulle into a 6m circle by stitching the 2 sections together. Don't do a standard seam but instead zigzag down each side of a flat seam (right side to wrong side).  Sorry about the pic quality but you get the gist.

Finish the hem of the tulle with the satin bias, using either a bias foot or the traditional method as explained for the waistband above.  Or, you could use ribbon.

Now comes the clever bit!!!  If you've ever tried to gather tulle using the standard method (long straight stitch and pull one thread) then you'll know that tulle resists you and you end up using exotic words and huffing and puffing A LOT!  So, grab your thick thread, dental floss, whatever and, leaving 4-6 inches behind the foot, position it along the top of the tulle and set your machine to the widest and longest zigzag.  Then, keeping the thick thread in the centre of your foot, so that the needle never goes through it, stitch 1cm from the edge. Like so - you're forming a channel for the thick thread.

Once you've done a few stitches, wind the thick thread round a pin, or you'll end up pulling it out as you sew.

Then, mark each quarter point of the tulle circle.  Two are pretty obvious - they are your seams, but you need to mark the other two (use safety pins - pins can drop out).

On the underskirt, measure and mark 20cm down from the waistline and also mark the side seams and centre front and back with a magic (fading) fabric pen or chalk.

Pull the thick thread to gather the tulle to the same size as the underskirt- it'll do it like a dream!!  Then pin the tulle along the line, matching the quarter points and even out those lovely gathers.  I also pin in between those pins - so 8 pins altogether - remember that and count them once you're done - they're easy left in with all that net!

More zigzag - stitch the tulle to the underskirt.  If you again stitch with the thick thread right in the middle, you should be able to pull this out once the tulle is fixed to the underskirt, but it's going to be covered anyway, so no dramas if it doesn't come out.  For a neat finish, cover the seam with bias tape, folding under the end and stitching each side of it.

Congratulations!  You're done!  For adaptations, you could try a fuller skirt by using two layers of tulle (maybe in two different colours, like Alexandra's); if you don't want any chance of waist bulk, replace the ties with a hook and eye (although I like the ties - you can alter the length of the skirt by fixing it on your waist, or tie it looser and it will sit lower).

Most of all, enjoy a comfy and non-scratch petticoat AND feel your waist shrink as you poof out those dresses!!


  1. This looks lovely! Just enough poof, and the satin binding really adds a nice touch. Great work!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment - and thanks for being the first person to comment on my brand new blog! I'll post some dress projects in the next day or so and show it being worn, so you can see the poofability in action!

  2. I will just never not love a crinoline/petticoat. I wish I could wear one every day!!

    Also, I would LOVE pics of your Zara top! Thanks for offering!!

    1. Thanks Angie - and no problem re the top - I'll take some detailed photos and send them over. Hope they help with the mood board :)