To create a pattern and the layplan for a petticoat you need to consider all elements of construction and design, as well as accessories that will be worn with the petticoat and the waist to ground measurement of the person who will be wearing it.

You have to consider the following:
A) Hem
B) Knife pleats/Tucks
C) Frills

D) Placket
E) Bum pad

F) Waist to ground
G) Distance from ground
H) Heals

A) Circumference of Hem

This is how big the bottom of the skirt will be. In this instance the hem should not exceed 250cm (or 300cm if a lighter weight fabric is used).

  • We will need a hem allowance of 11mm as we will use a narrow double hem (press up 6mm and then 5cm then edge stitch) to avoid catching heals.

B) Knife pleats/Tucks

Horizontal knife pleats can be used to easily increase or decrease the length of the petticoat so it can be used for a different costume or for another wearer of a different height by removing pleats or shortening by adding pleats or deeper pleats when required.

Pleats should be marked out after frill and hemming marking to ensure enough length has been left for these.

  • Claire has asked us to put in 5 horizontal knife pleats which are 2cm deep each with with 3cm gap in between.

‘Cartridge pleats’ (gradating from deep -> shallow, top -> bottom) can be used to gather a large amount of fabric in to a small area. It is a neat way to attach skirt waistlines to bodices and is also used in curtian making processes.

C) Frills/Gathers

Are used in this period to give weight and shaping. They help avoid the body of the petticoat to ride up, and make the skirt kick out. Frills should be even around the whole petticoat and not finished by overlocker/zig zag/binding. The finish should be clean to avoid any trip hazards.

In some periods, cartridge pleats or box pleats could be used instead of gathers, but gathers are better for ruching. More information on cartridge pleating.

  • The depth of the frills should be 25 – 30 cm (10″-12″) when hemmed (this should be done before setting on to the body of the petticoat). For the hem turn:
    • Top edge: turn 6mm (1/4″) and then 6mm (1/4″) again, and sew.
    • Bottom edge: turn 12mm (1/2″) and then 25mm (1″), then sew.
  • The fabric required for the gathers will be approximately 3 times the circumference of the petticoat hem.
  • Frills should be ‘set on’ to the petticoat 25 mm (1″) below the tucks, and so that the frill hem sits 25 mm (1″) below the petticoat hem.

Details of how gathered and applied the frills.

D) Placket

This is made after the waistline has been established by draping on the stand over bum pads. This is so we can check the correct length of placket.

  • Usually the placket will be about 30cm (12″) in length, and 25mm (1″) wide to provide a stable basis for closures. However, top/overskirts tend to be put under less stress and show more than petticoats, those plackets can be narrower.

N.B. Top/overskirts may feature plackets or splits as closures. Petticoats usually feature plackets because of their durability.

E) Bum pads

Unless you have used the same bum pads before and have measured them, you should just make a generous estimate until you have had a chance to drape on the stand. 25 – 30 cm of fabric should be enough.

More information about how to make these can be found on Class 3: Measuring and samples continued, plus bum pads.

F) Waist to ground measurement, G) Distance of hem from ground, and H) Height of heals

How tall is the person who is going to wear the petticoat? How short do you want it? and How heigh are the heals that will be worn with it? These all need to be considered.


Petticoat body

The actual petticoat length is calculated by:

+Waist to ground (F) 96cm
+ Height of heels (H) 5cm
+ Bum pad allowance (E) 26cm
- Distance off ground (G) 18 cm

Actual length: 108cm

You will need to add the following to the actual length to get the drop length of fabric.

Hem allowance (A) 6cm
Knife pleats/Tucks(B) 15cm
Pleat spacing 7.5cm

Additional length required: 23.5cm

Total length: 137.5cm

So we know if the circumference of the petticoat is to be 250cm, that the panels need to add up to 250cm x 141.5cm.

The fabric for the frills (C) and placket (D) also need to be added to the layplan in the most efficient way.

Widths and drops

Petticoat lengths may be cut from fabric widths or drops depending on the fabric width and if there is a pattern to follow.

width – from selvage to selvage, with the selvages running vertically.
drop – panels of fabric where the fabric length required is much more or less than a width. If the selvage is used this would horizontally.

For our 18th Century petticoat we will be using one or more straight drops with a placket at centre back (CB).

The number of drops needed is dependant on the width of the fabric used. On average 3 or 4 panels would be used vertically depending on the period shape desired.

Using a single drop to make petticoat

When using straight panels it is easiest to try and use one continuous piece of fabric as a single panel if the fabric is wide enough (the selvages at the top and bottom of the petticoat). Then the only seam you will require will be at the cb. This can be an open flat seam with a placket.

When using this method – press and baste the centre front so that you can clearly see its placement.

Using a split drops to make petticoat

This method can be used when the fabric is not long enough to use a single drop or if the petticoat needs to be shaped. Some more shaped petticoats could use a cf panel which is narrower at the top than the bottom, and one or 2 straight drops for the back panels.

Creating a layplan

Once we have all the measurements, know how much fabric we will need, and have worked out how many panels we will need based the measurements and the fabric, we can now create a layplan.

The idea here is to use the fabric most efficiently and to avoid extra seams to join panels together if possible.