1950s Full Petticoat Sewing Tutorial
A simple picture guide to sewing the free Petticoat for 1950s full skirts.
Vintage full skirts from the 1950s and early 60s often need a suitable petticoat underneath to help shape the desired silhouette. This pattern can be made as simple tiers, with or without the lace.
This simple petticoat pattern has a yoke waist. It is designed to keep the waistline smooth and the tiered layers add volume to 1950s full skirts.
The waistband can be closed with button and buttonholes, a loop and button, or hook and eye.
It can have a simple opening on the side seam, or a placket opening placed anywhere on the yoke.
The yoke can be made of a poly-cotton or Cotton fabric, or with a firm stretch fabric for an extra comfy and snug fit. Natural lightweight fabrics are best but synthetics can also be used.
Choosing a firm stretch fabric yoke can be a snug fit and a better option for larger sizes for comfort and smooth lines.
The frills can be simple, lightweight cotton or synthetic woven fabric. or decorated with lace as you wish.
In the original pattern, the strips that are gathered to make the tiers are cut on the bias. This gives a much nicer swish and hangs in softer folds.
If you want to cut the strips on the straight grain it’s possible, the frills will be more rigid and stand out stiffer.
Many novice sewists prefer to cut on the straight grain, and it is easier if you are not used to handling fabric cut on the bias.
The skirt can be sewn open or “in the round” which simply means you join the right side seam, press seam open or serge to neaten and then open the yoke to lay flat to attach frills, then finally close the second (left) side seam at the end before you finish the hem.
The open method works with both a side seam opening and a placket opening on the yoke.
If you are new to ruffles, you may find it easier to sew them with the yoke open flat.
We find the choice of fabric and fullness decides the method.
Showing the front and back yokes joined at the right side and seam pressed open.
This version has the simple side opening.
The left side seam will be closed at the end after the 2 gathered layers are attached
Next, (assuming you have opted to sew the right side seam only flat method).
To sew the waistline without adding a waistband fold over a scant 3-4 mm (1/4 inch) along the top edge of the petticoat yoke to wrong side and press.
Using a narrow edge tape to help with stability on the waistline, bond an iron-on stay tape to the top edge of the waistline, just covering your turned raw edge.
For very lightweight fabrics, cut a length of flat elastic (approx. 12mm (1/2″) wide which measures just less than your waist, (2.5 to 5cm . 1-2 inch less).
Pin the elastic on top of the stay tape along the waistline, so it’s spaced evenly along the waist, then sew elastic over the stay tape on the inside of yoke waistline edge using a zigzag stitch.
Turn a narrow hem along the waistline, turning the elastic to the inside and pin. Zigzag again to create a neat, soft but supported edge.
Turn under again and zigzag through all layers.
If you choose to have a simple opening on the left side seam, it’s best to add a narrow facing to the opening by cutting a rectangle approx. 50mm (2″) wide.
Add a small fabric or ribbon loop to close the button. sew the loop before sewing the the simple facing to the back yoke side, right sides together.
This fabric does not fray so we cut it with pinking edges. Add a binding to the raw edge of the facing if desired to neaten the raw edges.
Turn the facing under, press to keep it in place.
Showing the facing turned under, press.
The facing can be slightly shorter than the side length.
Showing the finished simple turned over waist, with a small loop and button added to close. Choose a hook and eye if preferred to a button.
An alternative finish for the waist is best for heavier fabrics.
Sew a narrow waistband with a simple placket opening.
Placket closures work much better for larger sizes, a side opening can gape on a curvier body.
A simple lightly interfaced waistband made from a narrow strip of fabric approx. 4cm wide and 3 cm longer than your waist circumference plus a seam allowance of 1cm will work well.
If you are inserting a placket opening in the yoke, position it where you want it, we usually place it on the front left quarter. Click here for the link for sewing this simple placket.
Sew the placket first, and add the waistband last job, after the second side seam and hem are finished.
This section is showing the method with the garment joined at just the right side seam and the lace bands and gathered tiers sewn on flat.
Work from the top down.
Sew the edge of the first lace trim, right sides together to the yoke lower edge just catching in the stay stitching along the lower edge of the yoke.
Serge or trim the seam allowance with pinking shears.
Fold the lace trim down, press and topstitch 3 -4mm (1/4″) on the lower yoke edge to catch in the seam allowance. press.
The lace showed here is quite thick and sturdy, for delicate lace consider using soluble support stabiliser.
Join lengths of fabric of your first frills layer until you have a piece the correct length as per pattern. press seams open.
There is no single way to gather the frills. But the fastest way for this petticoat is to use the zigzag cord method of gathering. Click here for the basic gathering guide.
Gather the top edge of the frills to match the length of the lace band for that tier.
You may want to sew the gathered tier with a straight stitch to secure the gathers before you join the tier to your lace band.
Remove the cord from the zigzag once the gatherers have been secured with a straight stitch.
Serging the top edge of the frills will make it neater.
The length of the cut panels for your frills of each layer is determined by how tight you want to gather and how much fullness you want to the petticoat.
The fabric needs to be very lightweight if you are having a full skirt so you don’t add too much weight.
The lace section needs to have enough strength to support the weight of the ruffles so avoid very delicate loose lace. It will also need to be washed regular.
The free pattern allowances are for average ruffles, adjust the lengths if you want more or less.
Neaten the top edge of your first gathered top tier. Serging adds the least bulk, you can also bind with a delicate organza bias binding or silk organza strip.
You can also simply sew a couple rows of a straight stitch if the fabric does not fray or cut the edge with pinking shears.
Depending on the type of lace you are using you can either sew with the right sides together with the edge of the lace sewn just under the serging line.
Then turn the lace back and topstitch the seam, the topstitching can be on the ribbon side OR turn the serged seam back onto the ruffled fabric and topstitch from the right side.
The second method is to lay the lace edge flat on top of the frills and topstitch the lace to the frilled panel, making sure the serging is covered.
Sewing flat like this is only suitable if your lace is not transparent or very delicate. This method works when using ribbon or a solid tulle embroidered lace with strong edges.
To finish the hem.
Make a simple hem by turning up a single narrow hem, press.
The hem will be turned up a second time after the left side seam has been sewn, enclosing the raw edge.
Make a simple hem by turning up a narrow hem, sew and press then turn up again.
If you have chosen to add the frills to the yoke whilst flat with one side seam left open, then join the second side seam and finish the seam by serging or pinking before you turn up the second final hem.
Showing the hem turned up and lightly pressed.