Pintucks! So gloriously tiny! So delicate! So straight & even… or not.
Pintucks have a charm about them. They call to us because they signify something regal or heavenly. They appear aloof and untouchable. The beauty they add to Victorian petticoats and Edwardian chemises elevate such tantalizing garments.
So as dressmakers from another time, how do we accomplish this same level of extraordinaire with our own undergarments and shirtwaists? …without using the cheater method of a machine pintuck foot & double needle?
One secret is to use the right fabrics. Thin ones. Sheer. And cotton or linen. Pintucks just don’t look right in silk or wool; although, you will see some tucks in wool but they are larger size and not the delicate tiny tucks.
Batiste – domestic or imported Swiss
Voile – although this may stretch as you sew the tucks; starching first will help
Lawn – a slightly stiff cotton but beautiful for pintucks
Organdy – get the soft finish style
Cambric – period fabric from cotton & linen or all linen; slightly stiff hand; hard to find nowadays
Use a new machine needle in size 60/8 or 70/10.
For thread, a basic all-cotton will be fine. Also a standard cotton wrapped polyester core thread works too. There’s no reason to spend the money on silk thread unless you really want to. The originals were done in cotton.
Also needed to make pin tucks: a seam gauge and steam iron.
How-To Tutorial for Pintucks
For this tutorial I decided to copy the pintucks as were made on an original Edwardian petticoat. The original is in cotton lawn and is very soft. (I hope to make a pattern from this petticoat as it’s too gorgeous to hide.)
The original tucks are a tiny 1/16″ and grouped in two sets of threes. So incredibly small!!
To start the tutorial I used a piece of cotton voile which is unstarched and fairly light. (You can see the same fabric made up as Edwardian undergarments in this post.)
The thing to remember about pintucks is that it is SO MUCH EASIER to sew the tucks into a panel of fabric THEN cut your garment piece from it. If you try to make allowance for the tucks and cut the garment panels as such, with all the variables in sewing these tiny elements you could end up with a larger or smaller piece than expected. It really just doesn’t work this way. Save yourself trouble and pintuck a strip of fabric first then cut out your garment piece.
Also – you want to make pintucks that follow the cross-grain of the fabric. You can follow the grain too (vertical tucks), but keep them straight as such. Don’t try to make pintucks on the bias. Yep… too much hair-pulling for no reason. Pintucks provide body & support and don’t need the stretch of bias.
I started by simply pressing up 1″ on the long straight edge of my sample piece. This allows for seam allowance for hemming or sewing to another piece of the garment. This amount can vary.
Then you sew! This is where you decide how wide your pintucks will be. In this sample I’m copying the original petticoat and sewing a tiny 1/16″ from the folded edge.
Press the seam you just sewed flat then press the tuck down. Fold the fabric back again and press. I measured 1/4″ away from the first pintuck stitch line to the next tuck fold. Sew again at 1/16″ from the fold and press flat then down.
I did three in a row in this manner – all sewed at 1/16″ from the folded edges and pressed facing down.
Looking back at the original petticoat, the sets of tucks were not quite a full 1 inch apart. So I then measured 1 inch from my last finished tuck and pressed a new fold. Then again, sewed next to the fold 1/16″ away.
It’s important to press each tuck stitching flat first then press the tuck down into place. The first “flat” press helps set the thread into the fabric fibers. It creates a more blended stitching.
And here’s my finished sample of two sets of 1/16″ pintucks!
I’ll admit that even in this small (about 8″ wide) sample the voile fabric was quite a challenge to keep all my stitching rows straight and even. Voile can pull out of shape very easily. Therefore, be sure to take your time, go slow, and pull the fabric taut both behind and in front of the presser foot. A good starch of your fabric panel to be tucked will help immensely in sewing pintucks.
You can see here how even two small sets of pintucks can create quite a bit of body in the fabric. The voile is really drape-y but the pintucks give it support. You can see how this would be perfect for panels on petticoats to offer a good solid foundation at the hem to support the outer skirt.
Use pintucks for insertions on shirtwaist (bodice) yokes and in chemisettes, too, for a bit of delicate Victorian & Edwardian dressmaking.
Have you made pintucks before? Are you surprised they are relatively easier than you thought? What will you use them on next?