Sunday, June 19, 2011

Making a full petticoat the EASY way - tutorial

Darling bloggettes, I just farewelled my lovely friends Joy and Madame O who have been at mine this afternoon. Joy and I making her a rockabilly petticoat, while Madame O did embroidery, and tried things on. (I have a dress up rack, it is quite fun!)
Anyway, I've been trying to get Joy to make a petticoat for ages but it was daunting her something chronic; she had visions of being buried under metres of tulle frills. So, I thought, we need to find a way to do this that doesn't require pulling up gathers, quarter marking or generally, well, being buried under metres of tulle frills!
So, this is what we did. You could make it a lot fuller by repeating the whole thing and having twice as many layers. We may yet to it. We only used 3m of a kind of netting that is not tulle and not stretch net, but something fab in between. Tricot would be a good substitute,or bridal tulle.
I cut a half circle of the net, 15 inches long, with the top being 14 inches in radius. That is a circle with a total 29 inch radius. Sorry no photo but it is easy to see further on. This gives about 40 inches of waist, heaps to gather onto a foundation skirt.
Cutting 2 x 16 inch wide strips along the length of the fabric. It is not quite 3m long as the half circle skirt bit took up the end. Cut one off each side so you have a selvage on each.
 Joy cutting 8 x 2 inch strips from the length.
 Joy is ruching the 2 inch strips freehand. This is so easy, much easier than gathering stitches, and amazingly even. Just get started, sew an inch or so into the middle of the strip with a longish stitch. Then bunch the fabric up towards the presser foot and let it sew through. Repeat over and again until it's all done...
 You get a wonderful double frill. We did this with all 8 strips, four each, just feeding the next one under the foot as the last one ran out.
 Now I am sewing the ruched 2 inch strip to the edge of my 16 inch strip. No finishing of edges required, this stuff doesn't fray. When you get to the end, just cut your 2 inch frill flush with the end of the big frill. Done!
Now the observant among those present will realise that you have to do all of this twice. That is, there were two 16 inch frills. Now as we were both working on it, we did one each, but the wise woman would join her 16 inch frills together BEFORE adding the 2 inch frill to the edge etc. Just sew them together with a 1/4 or 1/2 inch seam.
 Now sewing the 2 inch frill to the OTHER side of the 16 inch piece, only on the other side. This means that the other 2 inch frill is facing DOWN as I am sewing this one facing up. Capiche? It all makes sense soon. Again, trim when you get to the end. We ended up with about 6 inches left over. If you run out, just make a bit more 2 inch frill and add it. This is not an exact science! These 2 inch frills serve to really hold the bottom out.
 Now, Joy is doing the same thing to this big 16 inch frill as we did to the 2 inch ones - freehand gathering it down the centre. It turned out that the edge of the machine's tray was about 8 inches from the needle so she used it as a guide. There is still no measuring going on. Woot!
 The finished frill. Cute eh!
This may not be obvious from the photo but this is me sewing the big 16 inch frill down onto the bottom edge of the half circle, along the central gathering line. Do this so that the 2 inch frills both end up facing outward not inward.
I'm allowing about 1/2 inch of the half circle to overlap. No pinning, quarter marking etc. Trust the force, Luke!
 And tada!! Here we have stage one complete. I hope this photo makes our 29 inch half circle with 14 inches cut out of the top of it make mroe sense...Yes, we didn't have quite enough frill to go the distance but it's no big deal. Again, the easiness of this is to not measure and pin, but to just gather the heck out of everything and treat it like a trim!
We just cut the bit off at the end. Made it a bit shorter but still big enough.
Joy is marking the half circle at the 4 inch mark to add another frill. This second frill has only come about because I wanted to use up the leftover strip of fabric. I actually think that making this half circle twice and sewing them together at the top would be a near perfect petticoat. And so far, it's only taken us about 3 hours (that is, 1.5 hours with us both working on it)

This is me adding ribbon and lace to the bottom of the leftover fabric strip. I turned it up once, about a 1/4 inch, towards the front, and then I am sewing the lace and the ribbon over that turnup, together. You could sew the lace on and then the ribbon if the idea of doing both at once is a bit much. One last row of stitching along the top edge of the ribbon. It's an easy way to give something a nice, pretty and tidy edge. 
We gathered up this extra frill and sewed it to the line Joy had chalked. We left the first and last couple of inches of the frill free.
To finish it, sew the half circle skirt 'back seam' right sides together, about a half inch. Make sure you don't catch the frills into it. Then on the outside, overlap the frills and topstitch them down. You could sew them together but it's not necessary. Sorry, we tried to photograph this but with all that black, it looked like nothing. Definitely vlog potential this one.
The whole netty extravaganza was sewn onto an underslip with an elastic waist. Afterwards, Joy thought it would be good to make it separate so she could wear the underslip by itself with straight skirts. I think this is a great idea. In that case, you could just turn the top over to make an elastic case. Our finished length was 23 inches. That is 15 inches of half circle skirt, an 8 inch frill, minus seam allowances, plus the extra bit of 2 inch frill to compensate for it.
Petticoat under a full circle skirt. she won't wear this black petticoat with the white skirt as it makes it look grey, but it gives the general idea.
Great twirling potential!
A couple of pink roses for fun
And of course, our entertaining companion for the day, Madame Ornata, demonstrating why her name suits her so well!
OK, so this is what I learnt, and what we will do next time (making a white one).
1. Make half circles out of cotton. Why not? :) In that case I would serge the seams and edges, or use french seams and a narrow hem, since it would fray where the net one didn't. I'd also make two of them.
2. 3m of tulle or tricot 60 inches wide, would be even better - without cutting the half circle off the end, that extra bit would mean our frill was long enough. Without the second, bonus frill I added, 48 inches was enough width so a 96 inch wide tulle would be enough for two. Or just get 6 metres. These are not expensive fabrics :)
3. For a soft tulle or tricot, I might even make two rows of 2 inch frills, lay them one on the other and gather together, for extra body. It's this body that gives the fullness at the hemline.
4. If I did it this way, I would make a waistband on the straight grain out of the cotton and attach it to the two half circles.
5. Last alternative option -Make one of the cotton half circles longer - 23 inches instead f 15, finish the bottom edge with lace and ribbon like I described above, and sew the first 16 inch frill to it 8 inches in from the bottom edge. Then make the second one like described above. Why? Because really with these petticoats you want something nice between you and the tulle. Tulle is itchy, and can rip your tights. This does mean using 54 inch wide cotton unless you have a teency waist.
This all may sound complicated, but I promise that once you actually do it, you will find out how simple it is. If you understand pi geometry and how to size a half circle, it's easy to adapt to the right size and length for you :)


  1. Cool! Looks like a really fun day, and it never occurred to make to make a petticoat this way. You may have inspired a project...

  2. Excellent. Every fabulous, styly woman should have a petticoat like this. That means you, Steph!

  3. thats so helpful, thank you! and you do look like you had a brilliant day. xx

  4. Wait, this is an easy way to make a petticoat!?! No wonder I stick to hoopskirts! 20th century sewing is so complicated!

    As always, I'm in awe ;-)

  5. Cheeky minx! It beats the heck out of some of the other methods used. :) And I betcha I can make a 1950's full petticoat in less time than it takes you to make one like that steampunk job on your latest post! ;-)

  6. Your petticoat looks neat and quite soft with plenty of twirlability.
    When I made my one it turned out quite scruffy..but I did do a bodge job. Cannibalizing an old gypsy skirt and adding netting to the bottom...but it works for me. lol