Friday, 22 February 2013

18th century quilted petticoat

This is one of the few sewing projects that I consider to be evil.

 A few years ago my aunt gave me two pieces of silk for Christmas, one was a dark blue and the other a pale yellow. It wasn't a yellow that I particularly liked, about the same colour as the interior of a banana. So I washed both fabrics together, hoping that the dye would run and turn the yellow fabric greenish, and it did. It came out a lovely seafoamy green. I found two extant petticoats in almost the exact same colour. It measured about 84x205 cm, plus a small rectangular scrap, which seemed like a perfect size for a petticoat, so it turned into a quilted petticoat project.
My sketch for the pattern around the hem.
The fabric is 80 inches long, plus seam allowances, so there are eight 10 inch fish around the hem(yes, I'm going to keep switching between Metric and Imperial depending on which one is more convenient).
I stretched the fabric out on a big table, holding the edges down with masking tape, and transferred the pattern on with carbon paper. I turned it over and attached it again, spread cotton quilt batting over it, and muslin over that. I basted all the layers together, with the rows of basting about 5 cm apart. Then I started quilting, and shortly thereafter wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into.

The hem pattern, it takes up about 1/3 of the petticoat.
The batting was too thick for running stitches, I tried it on a sample and they came out too big, and I'm far too stubborn to machine quilt it. So I'm stab-stitching the whole thing. That means the needle goes straight up and straight down again, through all the layers, with every single stitch. The stitches are about 1-1.5 mm long so it's going rather slowly.
I don't know what I was thinking. It's not even a good quality fabric, just a slubby dupioni that's thinner in some places than others.
The background behind the fish. It's meant to look like seaweed and bubbles. The yellow dust is the chalk.
 Some of the lines aren't included in the carbon paper pattern, the scales on the fish and the background are drawn on with chalk, a little at a time.
Drawing on the seaweed lines.
I draw the lines with a chalk line maker; it makes nice thin lines, plus it's refillable, so I use it for pretty much anything that requires chalk.
The chalk lines, they're a bit hard to see so the light has to be really bright in order to work on these parts.
Stitching along the seaweed lines.
For the fish scales I draw a bunch of lines from it's head to it's tail and use them to get the scales lined up correctly. I haven't got room for a quilting frame, so I'm using a hoop.

Once I'm finished the fish, seaweed, bubbles, and the swirly borders above and below them, I'll fill in the rest of the petticoat with a large fish scale pattern. I've seen a similar pattern on extant 18th century petticoats(like the one on page 86 of the big KCI book), only they were facing upwards. I don't have documentation for the fish pattern but I don't think fish are implausible. This crazy extant petticoat has lions, horses, trees, deer, birds, and mermaids around it's hem.
 Judging from the dates in the sketch book, I started it sometime around April 21st/2012, and this is all I've finished so far.
3 fish and a bit of background.
Admittedly, I have been avoiding it for the past few months, and before that I didn't work on it every day. But I started working on it again after I took the photos for this post. I'm not keeping track of the hours I'm spending on this thing, it would be too depressing. I did time one of the fish though, it took 8 hours and 45 minutes.
I'll report back once I finish the hem design and start the scale pattern on top.


  1. Mira, you are totally amazing. I'm speechless. This is so beautiful. Wow.

    It looks like a lot of work but it will be priceless when you're done.

    1. It is a lot of work, an insane amount. But I'm sure it will be worth it, quilted petticoats are supposed to be really nice and warm so I'll get a lot of use out of it.

  2. I'm sorry, you expect me to believe you're 18 and learned how to sew a couple of years ago? You're going to have to be more realistic next time.

    I kid, I kid, but you should really be aware of how spectacular your learning curve has been. I can only think of a couple of people who've quilted or started quilting petticoats, and this is even more detailed than those. So um yeah, color me very impressed.

    1. Thank you. I am indeed 18! But I have lived my whole life in a house with no television, plus I don't have a cellular phone, an i-pod, or any other kind of smallish electrical device. I think this gives me a longer attention span than most teens.
      Thank you for letting me know that you were kidding, I can be bad at detecting sarcasm sometimes.

  3. I second that sentiment Cassidy!!

    You are doing incredible work on a level that many of us only dream of and with a skill level that most need years if not life times to acquire.

    Keep up the great work and I can't wait to see what pops up here next :)

    1. Thank you, sewing is what I spend most of my spare time doing, so I get lots of practice.
      What pops up next here will probably be either a bum pillow, or Green Ensemble Part 2.

  4. I love the quilted fish! I'm just discovering your blog, so even if you are no longer doing this, I have a ton of entries to study. I'm a quilter, also, dupioni is not the best fabric to quilt. Stab stitching is a drag! Hoping I can find pictures of the finished product.

    1. Thanks! I wish I had chosen better fabric, but I started this years ago when I was a teenager who didn't know any better. I still haven't finished it, but I hopefully will someday. Or find something to do with the section I've already quilted.