The Lady Adventurer

Costuming shenanigans


I’ve been working on my new garb for Kentwell.  My brown kirtle has been approved (YAY!), but you know how it goes – any excuse for new stuff.  =).  One thing I knew I would need is a new foundation garment.  I have my corset, which I absolutely LOVE, but it’s really not period for a person of my status.  I also have my red linen dress.  But… It’s not my favorite, for one.  And, I’ll be working in the kitchen at Kentwell.  One awesome thing about wool is that it is self extinguishing.  Seriously, try lighting wool on fire.  It won’t stay lit.  Anyway, since I don’t feel like immolation, well… ever, wool it is!

Kentwell is using some weird terminology for their women’s garments.  It’s not really 100% clear to me yet, but essentially, they’ve divided the “kirtle” category into “petticoats” and “kirtles”.  As I understand, a petticoat is a foundation garment.  It would provide the support and structure.  So, women would wear a petticoat over their shift.  Some petticoats appear to have bodices made out of the same fabric as the skirt, and others have plain linen bodices.  Poorer women would wear a petticoat alone, posher sorts would put a kirtle over their petticoat.  Some 80% of petticoats that are mentioned by color in the Essex wills are red, and nearly all of them are wool, at least in the skirt.  The confusing part is that apparently, if it’s cold, petticoats that are just skirts might be worn for extra warmth, and petticoats for women posh enough to wear corsets might be just skirts as well.

Kirtles, by contrast, always have bodices that match the skirts.  They are worn over a petticoat, and are unboned.  They might have short sleeves.  Women fancy enough to wear gowns wear them over kirtles, which might be decorated at the front.  They can also be worn alone, with sleeves pinned on, whereas a petticoat, particularly the sort with a linen bodice would be considered basically underwear, and would be covered by a kirtle, gown, or jacket for all but the very muckiest of jobs.

I think.

ANYWAY!  I need a new foundation garment, which I am choosing to call a petticoat.  I’m going to do one with a linen bodice, and a red wool skirt.  Step the first was to create the bodice.  Now,  I cheated in a few different ways when creating the pattern for this garment.  Cheat #1:  I already have a bodice pattern in this style that I know is at least close to what I’m going to want.  Cheat #2:  I have a corset, and I LOVE the way the corset fits, and the shape it gives.  So, I used the bodice pattern that is already close, and cut out  a muslin out of some scrap fabric.

Fitting the bodice toile

Fitting the bodice toile

Since I know if I fit it nicely over the corset it will be the right shape, the only challenge is to fit it nicely over the corset.  As you can see, I had to take a pretty big amount out of the front and straps, but in general, it fit nicely.  I also ended up taking a tuck out of the back so that the V neckline would lie smoothly.  Here is the finished pattern that I ended up with (made by cutting up the mockup, and writing all over it in Sharpie.)

My finished bodice pattern

My finished bodice pattern

On the front, you can see the different Sharpie marks from various fittings.  The blue is the original line, the red is after I took in the back to make the V lie flat.  The black line is where I smoothed out the line for the final cut.  It is, btw, a straight line.  I don’t know why it has photographed so curved.  I wanted this petticoat to be front lacing, so I cut out four pieces from a sturdy, unbleached linen.  First, I put them together as pairs at the back and shoulders, essentially making two bodices.  I then sewed the two pieces (inside and outside) together, starting at the CF, going around the neckline, down the other CF, and around the bottom.  The whole thing could be then clipped and turned like a massively awkward pillow through the armholes.  I knew that  since this was to be a support garment, tighter = better, so I put a much larger than usual seam allowance at the CF.  I am very glad I chose to do that!!

Next up is the eyelets.  I have extolled here before the virtues of the hand- bound eyelet, which are not hard to make, and look 1000 times better than grommets.  I would now like to extoll the virtue of linen thread!  Since I had used unbleached linen for the bodice, and since it is not really meant to be seen, I decided that rather than kill myself trying to color match some embroidery floss (which is what I have used in the past) that I would just use thick linen thread.

Eyelets from the front.  The blue thread is simply a marker to tell me where to put in the next eyelet.  Not as painful as pins, not as difficult as chalk or pen.

Eyelets from the front. The blue thread is simply a marker to tell me where to put in the next eyelet. Not as painful as pins, not as difficult as chalk or pen.

And from the back

And from the back

The verdict – That linen thread is amazing!  First things first, it is incredibly strong.  I… am usually a thread breaker.  Like, I pull on it really hard, and usually I’ll break my eyelet thread at least once while I’m working. This time – it didn’t ever even feel like it was going to break.  Lovely!  Plus, I think  it looks nice too.

I think there are 30 some eyelets down the front of this darn thing.  I was working on the theory that the more eyelets I have the less bunching there will be when it’s laced.  In either case – I am SO over eyelets.  ugh.

Next step is to add the skirt!  I’m planning on a shaped skirt in front, and pleated rectangle in the back.  Hopefully this will help give me the Tudor booty, while not making me look preggers in the front.  Plus, lots of skirt at the back is easy to deal with; lots of skirt in the front just gets in the way.  I have always loved the look of box pleats, so I sat down with some pins to pleat the skirt.  Having fiddled with it, box pleats wasn’t enough volume, so I did double box pleats instead.

Pleats pinned in place

Pleats pinned in place.  See the double box pleats??

And whip stitched down

And whip stitched down.  I’m always amazed at how much wool compresses – that’s 5 doubled layers of wool right there, squooshed into those whip stitches.  Also – linen thread for the win!  Seriously, this stuff is strong!  This is from the inside, so you won’t see those stitches.


I’ve got the back mostly pleated on, but I haven’t even cut out the front panels yet, so right now it’s a bizarre mullet dress.  No mullet dress pictures for you.  As a teaser:

The fabrics for Kentwell!

The fabrics for Kentwell!  The red is the wool for the petticoat in progress, the blue is (hopefully) the kirtle (have to make sure the shade is acceptable – it wants to photograph true blue even though it it much more like this picture – a sort of navy/ denim), and the gray and yellow are for a Bruegel style overgown.

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2 Responses to “Petticoat”

  1. Hi Sarah,
    I’m trying to follow what you’re saying about the petticoat and kirtle… it’s all very confusing. I read another girl’s website who was going to Kentwell each summer and it seems like they’re terminology or something is a little different than the norm.
    Anyway, the way I understand it is that there is the petticoat- that is just a skirt and then there would be the petticoat bodyes – which would be a petticoat with a bodice attached- probably lacing in the back.
    Then the kirtle is just like the petticoat bodyes, but laces up the front, and is sometimes longer than a petticoat would be.
    What do you think? I’m not an expert by any means, that’s just what I’ve put together from a lot of sources. Of course, not from Kentwell’s actual requirements (although I would love to see their documents!), but from a lot of online sources. I can probably find them again if you’re interested, but you’ve probably already seen them. Anyway…
    I’ve been following your progress of getting ready very closely because I think it would be awesome to work at Kentwell for a summer, but probably not something I’m going to get a chance to do. A visit perhaps sometime…. when I’m rich.

  2. Sarah says:

    It is super confusing! I thought I had it all down when the Tudor Tailor came out and was like – “Kirtles! Sometimes they have boning! Sometimes you can wear more than one!” and I was like, sweet, that makes sense. And then this Kentwell thing came up… and yeah, it’s just confusing.

    I think the front lacing versus back lacing thing comes down to status. Posh people have someone who can do up the back for them, and so you get those lovely unbroken front necklines peeking over gowns, but the regular person has to do for themselves, and so it’s probably going to be front or side lacing. Having said that, of course, I have back and side back lacing kirtles that I can totally get into by myself, with a little wiggle. =).

    I hope Kentwell is awesome! I visited last year and had a great time, so I’m really hoping that being a participant will be just as awesome as I’m anticipating.

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