1830s Tucked Petticoat

Gosh, I love a perfect union of form and function such as the tucked petticoat. Tucks are so crisp! So elegant! And they can be added or let out to alter a garment’s length, which made them especially popular for children’s and teens’ clothing. I would also guess that as the ankle length skirts of the 1830s gave way to the floor length gowns of the 1840s, plenty of women removed tucks from their petticoats or tacked decorative borders onto the bottoms.

Petticoat, American, 1850-60. Metropolitan Museum of Art. See those wide bands of diagonal stripes? Those are made up of hundreds of diagonal tucks.

As a person with shorter legs, it is easy to imagine adding tucks to a hand-me-down petticoat from a longer-legged relative. The tucks on my made-to-measure petticoat, though, are purely for looks and added structure. Under my 1830s dress, I plan on wearing:

(a) a corded petticoat for volume
(b) a tucked petticoat to smooth out the lines of the cording and to provide a tidy appearance when I have to lift up my dress hem. Plenty of women would have worn even more petticoats than this.

Typically, a 19th century petticoat is a few inches shorter than the hem of the dress it is worn under, and slightly smaller in circumference at the bottom. It also must have a larger circumference than a corded petticoat worn beneath it! My tucked petticoat is about six inches smaller around than my dress hem, and six inches larger around than my corded petticoat hem.

If you’d like to make a petticoat for a particular decade, but don’t have a dress hem circumference you’re working off of, you can check out this excellent Hem Circumference Resource created by @kenna.sews.

My petticoat fabric is a premium bleached muslin from JoAnn. It’s crisper than standard muslin, which is what I wanted. It will hold its shape and smooth out the lines of the corded petticoat underneath.

When cutting the fabric for a tucked petticoat, it is important to add length for the tucks. On mine I made six 1/2” tucks, each of which ate up an inch of fabric length. This made for an extra 12 inches. I also wanted a 1/2” hem that would echo the look of the tucks, so I added 3/4” hem allowance, plus another 1/4” seam allowance for the top of the skirt. All of this plus the actual length of the skirt made for a total fabric length of 46”. I ended up cutting two panels that were each 46” long and 45” wide.

It’s easier to sew the side seams before the tucks, so that the tucks run smoothly all the way around. I flat felled the seams and made a placket at the top of one seam for a side closure. This allows me to reach my tie-on pocket underneath. I then satin stitched over the bottom of the placket for the sake of both strength and appearance, and added a few bars of satin stitching on the sides of the placket too, just for fun. After the seams and placket, I made a 1/2” hem at the bottom of the skirt.

I wanted a wide stretch of fabric between the hem and first tuck, so I marked a line 4.25” up from the hem on the outside of the skirt. I pressed the line and pinned it in place all around. I then machine stitched 1/2” from the fold. After unpinning the tuck, I pressed it downward. Voila! A tuck.

I forgot to take pictures of the marked fabric. But each line that you mark and press will become the sharp crease at the bottom of a tuck.

For the next tuck, I measured 1.5” up from the top of the first one, to allow for 1/2” of fabric above the first tuck, 1/2” of fabric hidden beneath the second tuck, and another 1/2” for the backside of the second tuck. Then the same as before: mark, pin, sew, press. You can mark everything ahead of time if you wish.

Tucks are not that hard. To use this method, though, you must be precise with your measurements and the straightness of your stitches.

Once I had finished my hem and tucks, I gathered the top of the skirt with three rows of stitches, and added my waistband. For a 1” wide waistband with 1/4” seam allowances, I used a 2.5” strip of fabric. To determine the waistband length, I took my corseted waist measurement and added 1/2” for seam allowances and another 2” for a buttonhole overlap. If you wish, you can omit the overlap and use a tie closure instead. Ties are more practical, as they allow for fluctuating waist measurements.

Before attaching the waistband, I pressed it in half longways, then pressed one long edge under 1/4”.

Right side to right side, I machine stitched the unpressed edge of the waistband to the skirt. Then I turned it up and pinned the pressed edge to the inside of the waistband. I hand sewed the inside of the waistband down with tiny whipstitches, passing through each gather as I went along. If you want to use a machine instead, you can topstitch it down from the outside, or stitch in the ditch.

I also used tiny whipstitches to sew up the overhanging end of the waistband with the buttonhole on it, and added a hand sewn buttonhole using strong thread. The final touch was a shell button.

Pattern: Self drafted/no pattern


  • 3 yards Legacy Studio premium bleached muslin https://www.joann.com/legacy-studio-premium-muslin-bleached-44in/10367274.html
  • Gutermann Sew-All thread https://www.joann.com/gutermann-sew-all-thread-1000-m-1094-yds/prd13385.html
  • Coats & Clark Dual Duty Plus topstitching thread (link to similar) https://www.joann.com/coats-andamp-clark-dual-duty-plus-button-andamp-carpet-thread-50yds/xprd840936.html
  • LaMode shell buttons https://www.joann.com/la-mode-2-pk-3%2F4in-agoya-shell-2-hole-buttons—white/4393070.html


– Kate

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