Victorian underwear: an underskirt and a corset cover
My Victorian outfit won’t really look right without proper undergarments. So, I decided to make some. I chose the 1912 corset cover pattern originally from La Mode Illustree and the Victorian underskirt pattern by the Black Snail Patterns.
After browsing through a lot of patterns I finally chose to make the underskirt from the Victorian Underwear set by the Black Snail patterns. The pattern has actually four patterns: a chemise, an underskirt, a bustle and a pair of drawers. The underskirt comes with an option for a train.
The underskirt has the perfect shape to go with my Victorian/Edwardian walking skirt. It is flat at the front and has fullness at the back. The ruffle at the hem helps to support the skirt. It has a slit that closes with ties. This pdf pattern comes in EU sizes 34 to 56.
I must say that the pdf pattern was very well designed. The skirt pattern pieces were slit and the middle part was removed so that printing took much less paper. It was very simple to spread the pattern pieces on the fabric and add the required 38 cm between the top and the bottom part. It also makes it much more simple to store this pattern as it is not as bulky as many other pdf patterns.
Making the Victorian underskirt
I bought 5 metres of both white sheet cotton from Eurokangas and cotton lace for this petticoat. I also dug out some of the lace that my grandma had crocheted and decided to use two strips of it to decorate the hem where the ruffle meets the skirt. The lace had yellowed during the years but I bleached it overnight and it whitened out nicely.
I was a bit lazy reading the instructions (meaning that I skipped reading them) so my construction methods were different than what indicated in the pattern. I used French seams instead of flat-felled seams. Furthermore, I got confused which caused the slit at the back end up on the right hand side instead of the left hand side in the pattern. Luckily this doesn’t make much difference!
I made gathers instead of pleating the underskirt back. This was a bit tricky since I used pretty small gathering stitch and had to pull the fabric very tight to gather the fabric to fit the waistband. I stroked the pleats with the tip of a needle creating these very neat little gathers.
The only thing about the instructions that was confusing was the insertion of the waistband. The waistband had two options with a different pointy shape at the centre front. However, the skirt pattern wasn’t shaped to form a point. I first tried sewing it on as it was but that just made a waistband bulge in an ugly way. I realised that I had to lower the skirt at the centre front in order the waistband to fit properly. So basically, just let the waistband edge sit where it wants to sit.
To finish the skirt I decided to add some embroidery to the centre of the waistband. I just drew this flower motif on the waistband with a magic marker and then embroidered it using cotton perle. Furthermore, I added my initials at the back of the waistband.
I found this 1912 corset cover pdf pattern also at Etsy. It is a digitised version of a pattern originally published in La Mode Illustree January 21, 1912 (and thus the copyright has expired). It is sized for a 36 inch bust and has some pretty lace insertion details. I chose it because it is not too period-specific and goes for both Victorian and Edwardian periods. Some of the Victorian patterns are bit too tight and then some Edwardian patterns way to frilly for my taste. I tend to think that even if I had lived during that period, I wouldn’t have gone for the most extreme looks anyway.
The pattern comes with some instructions but I only browsed them through quickly. The expectation is that you know how to sew like the ladies of the Edwardian period.
The size was pretty good for me. I took away slightly from the width of the pattern as my bust is 34 inches. Now in retrospect, I should not have taken anything away from the waist but what’s done is done. It does fit but only when I really tighten my corset! Anyway, if it really starts bothering me I will narrow down the darts a bit and add a piece of lace to wide the peplum hem.
The only other adjustment I made was to the shoulder slope. For this, it was very handy that I had just drafted a 1912 bodice pattern for my waistcoat and could use it to help with the fitting.
Making the Corset Cover
The fabric I used was either cotton batiste or voile from Eurokangas. Both of them are very lightweight cottons and I bought both of those fabrics at the same time. unfortunately I didn’t label the fabrics, so now afterwards I can’t remember which kind of fabric this is.
For the lace, I used delicate cotton lace I ordered from CottonLace. They are a Dutch company that sells high-quality lace that I haven’t found in Finland. Even better, the prices for this kind of narrow laces weren’t high. The only lace that was in fact from Finland was the ribbon-hole lace that I picked up at the Recycling centre.
It took some careful hand-sewing to do all these lace inserts. I first stitched them on at the edges and then removed the cotton fabric from behind. I then whipped the seam allowances to form some sort of a rolled-hem. It is invisible from the right side but the wrong side looks pretty messy. I think I will have to do some research on better methods. Here is the wrong side:
I tried to avoid using zigzag but finally gave up when I only had the armhole lace seam-allowances left. All that hand-finishing had stiffened my shoulders and caused a headache and thus I changed my mind about not-using the zigzag!
The final look
Here is what the final Victorian/Edwardian underwear ensemble looks:
Underneath I wear my 1907 chemise, my Victorian corset and my bustle pad.
The neckline is tightened with the pink ribbon that is then tied to a bow. The rest of the front is closed with mother-of-pearl buttons. I love how the delicate lace inserts and edgings look.
The back is very simple with just the flat-felled princess lines and the angular neckline.
Here is the peplum tucked in and you can see the waistband of the skirt. Just like with the walking skirt the weight of the fabric tends to drag the waistband down a bit. I now understand why Edwardian women had all sorts of little gadgets designed to keep the blouse neatly tucked in!
I love how these undergarments really change my figure. Suddenly I do have that hourglass figure that was so desired at the turn of the previous century! This due to the corset, the volume at the corset cover and the bustle pad plus the gathers at the back of the underskirt.
The underskirt has lots of volume so it doesn’t hinder my movement. I only need to lift it at the stairs!
All in all, this was a fun project! I have already worn the underskirt a few times under the Walking Skirt and it works very well. Now I have to find an event where to attend to wear my whole turn-of-the-century outfit. Perhaps I should make one for the evening as well? Although, I’d like to have a jacket as well… And boots… So many projects, so little time!
For anyone making historical costume, I can recommend this underskirt pattern by Black Snail Patterns. The 1912 corset cover pattern is a great pattern as well but for that you need more sewing skills. The result is worth it, though!
Thank you for reading and do subscribe if you haven’t already done so! That way you don’t miss new blog posts! And thanks for S’s friend miss M for being my photographer today! Happy sewing!
Todella kaunis – aivan upeaa käsityötaitoa, hyvä Katja! Ihailen sinnikkyyttäsi ja silmää luoda kaunista kunnioittaen perinteitä. Jos mummot pyörtyy – niin ihastuksesta kyllä 🙂
I wonder, what corset do you use?