Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Unders - a Corset Cover and Petticoat

Now that I have an 1890's wool skirt that fits me, I clearly need a shirtwaist to go with it. What is a shirtwaist you ask? Well, today we would call it a blouse. It's a (typically) unlined garment, that covers the top half of the body, and is worn with a skirt. Shirtwaists can be made of cotton, silk, linen, or wool.

Shirtwaists pictured in The Delineatore, 1898.
Picture found on Pinterest, originally from Ruby Lane Vintage 

So, a shirtwaist. That should be an easy enough project. Decide what I want it to look like (Done! The yellow one on the right in the above print), figure out a pattern, (Done! More on that in a later post), and make it. There's just one thing I have to do before I can complete that last step. Make a corset cover. What is a corset cover you ask? Well, today we would call it a camisole. It's a sleeveless garment worn under the shirtwaist, or dress bodice, and over the corset. It smooths out the ridge made by the upper edge of the corset and prevents the corset from potentially showing through the unlined shirtwaist.

On the right you will see illustrations of corset covers, one in the upper right corner and one at the bottom, next to the text, originally pictured in Harper's Bazar in 1892.
So, as I am making myself a shirtwaist, I need a corset cover to go under it. Thankfully, this is an easily accomplished task. First I decided what I wanted my corset cover to look like. After looking through multiple books in my collection, I decided to copy one from 1892 that I found pictured in Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper's Bazar, 1867 - 1898, edited by Stella Blum.  

Once I decided what my corset cover would look like, I quickly draped a pattern on my dress form. Then I went digging through my fabric stash for an acceptable white or ivory cotton to make my corset cover from. Well, I have a lot of white and ivory cotton! While searching through this collection of fabric, I happened across a half-finished 1890's petticoat. I must have started it before I went on the World Race (so, well over a year ago). As the petticoat needed to be finished, I decided I might as well go ahead and do so, and make my corset cover to match it!

The petticoat was cut out of an ivory cotton sateen bedsheet. So, I found a similar thrifted sheet in my stash and used that to make my corset cover. (Unfortunately this second sheet was a slightly darker ivory than the first)

I cut the corset cover out (using the original sheet hem to make my center front button placket) and sewed up the side and shoulder seams using french seams. Then I tried it on over my corset and pinned up the back darts and front tucks in place until the entire thing fit properly. The darts and tucks were sewn in place and I completed the corset cover by finishing the neckline and armholes with lace, hemming the bottom, and sewing buttonholes and buttons up the front. The finished product isn't quite perfect, but it will do its job!

Altogether, from pattern draping to button sewing, the corset cover only took about 3 hours to make! Once it was done, I started in on finishing up the petticoat. It was already basically sewn together, just needing be set on a waistband and have the wide eyelet band sewn onto the bottom. That was pretty quick to do. As a bit of extra "umph" I also added some flat lace where the sateen and the eyelet were joined, and a 1" wide tuck right below the lace. That tuck brought the originally too long petticoat up to the right length, and gave it a bit of extra body to poof out my skirts!

With one button sewn onto the waistband, the petticoat was done! I now have a matching corset cover and petticoat set to go under my 1890's clothing! Along with that, February's Historical Sew Monthly challenge was "Under". So despite goats taking up most of my month, I actually completed the HSM challenge! Woo-Hoo!

What the item is: An 1890's corset cover and petticoat
Material: Cotton Sateen, harvested from thrifted sheets, and wide eyelet lace harvested from a thrifted bedskirt.

Pattern: My own - I draped the pattern for the corset cover based on an illustration of a corset cover that appeared in Harper's Bazar in 1892. For the petticoat I used my basic 1890's skirt pattern which I drafted a couple years ago.

Year: 1890's

Notions: China buttons, Polyester lace, All-Purpose thread.

How historically accurate is it? 65% The look is decent, but not perfect. (The corset cover came out a little short and too low-cut, while the eyelet on the petticoat should really be attached as a ruffle, but I didn't have enough for that.) The fabric is good, though I'm not sure cotton sateen was used for corset covers, but I the lace I used on each is synthetic and I wouldn't be surprised if the wide eyelet on the bottom of the petticoat is a poly/cotton blend. Both items will give the correct look under my 1890's outfits however, and that is their purpose :

Hours to complete: Approximately 3 hours on each item, so 6 in total

First worn: Just for the pictures, 2/28/18

Total cost: Less than $2 for the corset cover and less than $5 for the petticoat.

Now, onto the shirtwaist!


  1. Very nice! I love my shirtwaists, both from Truly Victorian's pattern.

  2. I need a shirtwaist now! Oh, how all the different eras call to me! :D

    1. I know! Sew all the eras! It would be impossible to pick just one or two. . .