“From the late 1820s through to the 1860s, there was a structural undergarment that was required in order to get the “proper” bell-shape to your skirt: the Corded Petticoat. It came into fashion right after the Regency era when the waist line was slowly dropping and before the American Civil War when hoop skirts were commonly used.” ~ Jennifer Rosbrugh in 5 questions about corded petticoats at HistoricalSewing.com
In many corded petticoats, the cording was woven into the fabric at the time of weaving. According to Jennifer’s article on 19th Century Corded Petticoats at CloakandCorset.com, the corded fabric was readily available at dry goods stores, so most women purchased 2-3 yards, and after seaming together and hemming, had a corded petticoat to wear in a few hours time. The petticoat was starched to stiffen it.
Jennifer has a detailed description and photos, including the one above, of an antique petticoat made from this fabric in her article, “A Look at an Original 1840’s Corded Petticoat” on HistoricalSewing.com
Testing has revealed that fabric more loosely woven than muslin produces a nicely stiffened petticoat when starched as it soaks up a good quantity of starch. Author Janet Oakley has posted the following notes about starch on her blog: historyweaver.wordpress.com
For modern application of starch, re-enactors with Fort Nisqually in Tacoma, WA do the following:
1) Dip the corded petticoat into a plastic tub with liquid starch. Soak well.
2) Remove petticoat from tub and place over a clean garbage can (covered with plastic).
3) Let dry. The can will keep the petticoat’s sides from sticking.
4) When dry, spritz it with water and iron to smooth out any wrinkles.
There is much debate on the issue of corded petticoats versus hoops for Civil War re-enactors. According to Lynne Gaither, who has done extensive research and lectures on Civil War era attire, “In the “Era of the Hoop”, not all women wore cage or covered crinolines at all times, for both economic and practical reasons. When doing farm or household chores, evidence suggests that some women opted simply to wear a few layers of petticoats or revert to the pre-crinoline era corded petticoat to support their skirts. For a poorer woman, regular petticoats or a homemade corded petticoat might be the only option within her economic reach.”
“For these reasons, many women reenactors are choosing corded petticoats for their working impressions. As well as the obvious advantages of mobility, corded petticoats are also considerably safer when cooking over campfires.” The staff at Greenfield Village, part of the Henry Ford Museum and a favorite field trip location when I was growing up, wear corded petticoats by Lynne Gaither.
Cloak & Corset has lots of useful information on corded petticoats including fashion illustrations of the day showing the bell shape desired for the skirt, and photo illustrations of different designs and how they affect the shape of the skirt worn over them. A nice bell shape results from starting the cords close to the waist.
They sell an ebook by Jennifer Rosbrugh of detailed instructions for making 2 different styles of corded petticoats – cords in tucks or cords in facings – that you can download for $12.95.
Cloak & Corset also has a chart of measurements taken from 8 different antique corded petticoats. Here is one example:
Hem width 100″, length 35.5″
fabric 4 panels of cotton muslin
3/16″ width cotton cord, 29 rows of cord – 8 at the hem inside a facing & 21 in tucks spaced 1″ apart
first row of cord begins 9″ down from the top.
The average width of the 8 antique petticoats measured is 96″. Jennifer recommends using two 45″ width panels of fabric, which will give the right amount of fullness.