I frequently get questions from our many readers about patterns that call for both an underlining/interlining fabric as well as a full lining fabric for a bodice and even skirts. They range from “So that makes three layers, right?” to “How in the world do I add all those layers of fabric?” and “Won’t all those lining layers make you hot?”
The answers are a bit more in depth than a quick response so in this article let’s explore more about these various inner layers and if you really do need them all.
When doing a bit more research, I came across this excellent article by Sandra Betzina. Her approach is with modern sewing and fabrics but the points expressed can carry over into our historical projects. (One of those being that “interlining” is an underlining fabric that adds warmth.)
Underlining is a fabric that is mounted to the back of the fashion fabric to support it. Depending on what you choose, underlining can boost the sewing performance & ease of use of a particularly difficult fabric, and can aid in supporting the overall fit of the design. (A guide on appropriate underlining fabrics to use for costuming is listed at the end of this post.)
You know from reading the How to Flatline post that you really can’t sew 19th century clothing without adding an underlining layer. It does SOOO much to the structure that is period clothing. (please… don’t sew historical without it)
Underlining fabric can be thin like organza or heavy like twill. It all depends on what the fashion fabric and design calls for. Too much or too little underlining support can also affect the final garment’s appearance.
Lining in a garment is cut & sewn from the main garment pattern pieces and added at the end of construction. You will see exceptions on how the pieces are cut as the sewing industry in the 20th century developed separate, unfitted lining pieces. In my research, in the 1800s the linings, if put in at all, were cut from the same bodice or skirt pattern.
Linings are put in to cover the inner garment construction. They make for a nice finish on the inside. They also make it easy to put on & remove the garment over the undergarments.
You may have heard of “bag lining” a garment. This process involves sewing a full bodice using a lining-type fabric and cut from the same garment pattern.
To apply the bag lining: the lining garment is placed right sides together with the bodice; the neckline, center front or center back opening, and lower edges are sewn together leaving an opening somewhere. It is then turned right side out and the opening closed by hand or machine. The lining remains loose on the inside.
Another method to add a lining to a bodice is to make up the full lining then press under the seam allowance on all edges and hand whip into the bodice. This is a period correct way to add a lining. Do Not Bag Line if you want to remain true to historical form. Whip it in instead.
For a loose skirt lining, the lining garment is made up same as the skirt and only attached at the waist. Sometimes it will be enclosed with the skirt hem.
Most, and I’ll guess 80% here (if not more), of the existing 19th C. bodices you find will have fashion fabric mounted to underlining pieces and nothing else. The ‘guts’ of the garment are fully exposed like the above 1880s bustle bodice. Separate linings were just not used in this time.
One reason full linings were not used was to keep the seams exposed for easier alterations. People didn’t own dozens of clothing articles; they had to mend and make do with what they had. And those garments were frequently passed to others and re-fit and re-styled. Not having to deal with a lining made it a whole lot easier to do this.
So why do historical dress patterns call for adding a lining if it wasn’t frequently done? Well, I’d say it stems from wanting a nice, finished (to our modern eyes) inside. That, and the prevalent use of linings in the 20th century indicating a higher quality garment.
But that doesn’t mean that the Victorian Worth gowns you see with all the seams & boning exposed wasn’t high quality either. Right? Like this one:
But when making your own Victorian reproduction do what you feel comfortable with. Yes, linings cover the messy innards, but they also add that extra layer – which means weight and heat (usually). If you are in the American South you probably don’t need the lining for warmth.
Even if you are in the European north, you might not need the lining either. If you need warmth, sandwich an interlining layer between the fashion fabric & underlining layer during the flatlining process.
The key to remember is that underlining fabrics are cut and mounted to each garment piece separately (aka. flatlining). The two-layer piece is then treated as one throughout construction.
The lining pieces are sewn as a full garment then set into the finished garment at the very end of construction.
The underlining is nearly required; the lining completely optional.
Do find yourself putting in separate linings or do you just leave the insides exposed just like our ancestors did?
Underlining Fabric Suggestions:
Fashion Fabric: Underlining:
Sheer/ lightweight Silk organza, lightweight cotton, organdy, muslin, linen
Medium weight cottons/wools Muslin, calico, lightweight flannel for warmth, sturdy linen, cotton broadcloth, twill, poplin, coutil, flannel
Heavy weight cotton/wools Stiff muslin, twill, poplin, organdy
Velvet/Velveteen Muslin, twill, poplin, coutil if a very structured garment
Puff Sleeves Cotton organdy, bridal net, silk or poly organza, nylon net
Keep your underlining fabrics light colored, e.g. white, off-white, ecru, tea-dyed, etc. However, if you are sewing with black or dark fabrics where the underlining may show, use darker colors.