icon freeThis month, Loren Dearborn takes us aside and whispers in our ears about how to fake an 18th century quilted petticoat convincingly.

As I've said before, I love 18th Century quilted petticoats but I really hate quilting. So what's a girl to do if she wants one of those beautiful petticoats without all the work of quilting it? Make one out of Marseilles cloth or pre-quilted fabric of course!

Marseilles cloth is actually a period correct solution to this problem. In the early 18th century the English invented a process for weaving cloth to emulate the lovely French quilts of Marseilles. This woven fabric was used for bedspreads as well as clothing. For more information on Marseilles cloth and Marseilles cloth clothing see my earlier article for YWU.

To make the petticoat you will need:


The first step in replicating a Marseilles cloth petticoat is finding the right fabric. Ask for matelasse, the more common name today, usually found in the home decorator section of the fabric store. There will probably be a few samples which will work. Look for delicate floral designs, narrow stripes or diamonds in solid colors. White was particularly popular but red, blue, yellow and green are also good. You can also try looking online.

I've found good reproductions from the following vendors:


Here are a few of the reproduction fabrics I have found:

Sample petticoat fabric Sample petticoat fabric

If you can't find matelasse or you like the look better you can use machine-quilted fabric as I'll be doing in some of the step-by-step photos. While this isn't period correct there are some really nice period-looking machine-quilted fabrics out there these days, and I won't tell if you won't.


Shot silk fabric This lovely faux shot silk is machine-quilted. If you use a machine-quilted fabric it's a good idea to line your petticoat so that the batting is protected. You'll need the same amount of yardage as your fashion fabric. (Be sure to check that it's the same width as your fashion fabric!)

The circumference of the petticoat should be between 90-120 inches (2.25m-3m), so for fabric 45-60 inches (112-150cm) wide you will need two lengths.

You will have to decide how long you want your petticoat. Most were about ankle length, but you can make yours a bit longer or shorter. You will need enough to go from waist to ankle plus 1-2 inches for seam allowance and fudge room, plus extra length on the sides if you will be wearing pocket hoops.

The easiest way to figure this out is to use a dressform or have a friend help measure you.

Measuring the side length on a dress form with pocket hoops Measuring the front length on a dress form with pocket hoops Put your pocket hoops on the form, making sure that the form's waist is level with where your own waist would be in the shoes you will be wearing.

Measure from the center front waist down to the floor.

Then measure from side waist to ankle.

In my case these measurements are CF-ankle: 40", SIDE-ankle: 43" . Use the larger measurement doubled to get the total length of fabric you will need, 86" in my example . I usually add an extra 2 inches (5cm) to account for seam allowances and "wiggle room" so this would be a total of 88 inches or about 2 and a half yards (2.25m).


You will need to cut the fabric down in the front to account for the shorter measurement in front. You can either cut this off the top or the bottom. Often the pattern of the quilting will help you decide this.

In this example I wanted the diamonds to all be level at the bottom so I'll be cutting the difference off the top. To figure out the difference simply subtract the CF- ankle measurement from the SIDE -ankle measurement, in my case 43-40 = 3 inches difference.

The waist has been cut to allow for more length over the pocket hoopsCut your fabric in half from selvedge to selvedge to get one front and one back piece, then fold those pieces in half with the selvages together. Measure down your difference from the top (3 inches in my example) and cut on a diagonal from fold to selvage for both front and back pieces.

If you are cutting off the bottom you can do the same thing at the bottom of the petticoat instead, or you can pleat the petticoat, attach the ties and then level the bottom. Repeat with lining if lining your petticoat.

Put a pin or mark at the top edge of CF and CB so you know where theyWhip stitch the seam allowences to the sides are. Sew up the sides of the petticoat from bottom to about 8 inches from the top. Do a backstitch at the end of the seam to reinforce it. Turn the edges of the selvage in and whip stitch to the side.

Measure your waist whilst wearing your stays, divide that number in half and add 2 inches (5cm). This will give you an overlap on each side so your hoops don't show. You will be pleating the front and back of your petticoat to that measure.

If using a lining, sew the side seams of lining similar to the fashion fabric, then sew the lining to the petticoat at the waist, wrong sides together and raw edges even. Pleat petticoat and lining as one.

Make an box pleat in the center front of the front piece of the petticoat then knife pleat towards the sides. The number and size of the pleats will depend on your waist measurement - the larger the measurement the fewer and shallower the pleats, the smaller the more pleats and deeper the pleats. Make the pleats slightly deeper on the sides if using pocket hoops.

Detail of center back pleats Make an inverted box pleat in the center back and knife pleat towards the sides. The back pleats should look like this
Stitching down the waistband Press tops of pleats on front and back. Cut your length of bias tape in half and mark the middle of each half. You should have at least a length of equal to your total waist measure plus 10 inches for each piece so that the ties are long enough to tie around your waist. Unfold the bias tape and center it at the CF. Pin along the crease of the fold on one side and sew in crease to the front of the petticoat, right sides together. Repeat with the back.
Fold tape to inside of petticoat and whip down Trim the raw edge if needed, and zigzag or overlock the edge if your fabric has a tendency to unravel. Fold tape to inside of petticoat and whip stitch to the inside of the petticoat on front and back.
Waistband on petticoat It's okay if the tape shows on the petticoat waist - the waist will be covered when you put on your gown or jacket. Whip or machine stitch the tape together to form ties.
Petticoat on the dress form Put the petticoat on yourself or the dress form over the pocket hoops.
Competed petticoat on dress form Tie the back ties around your waist then tie the front ties. There should be an overlap on both sides.
Detail of tape on hem

Check the hem level and adjust if needed. Once hem is the length you want plus about 1/2 of an inch for a seam allowance you are ready to sew the tape onto the hem.

Sew the twill tape to the hem right sides together, then press, turn and secure to the back invisibly.


Loren in her completed petticoat And now you're done, enjoy your new petticoat! Here's a photo of Loren in her finished Marseilles cloth petticoat.

Tags: GeorgianConstructionResearchSources of inspirationpetticoatSept 2008Loren Dearborn
This looks like so much fun! First, though, I need pocket hoops. Do you think 1/2" cane hooping is strong enough for the weight of a quilted petticoat? Thanks!
- cat

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