Those of us who make Victorian dresses are all after one particular feature – a small waist. We do this primarily through corset cinching but also a visual trick with wide sleeves and full skirts.
Another hidden method is to reduce the amount of fabric layers around your waist, specifically on skirt layers. When you don a corded petticoat, ruffled petticoat, plain petticoat then a fashion fabric skirt, all those layers can add a significant amount to a waistline you are so desperately trying to appear small.
You may have heard to set all your petticoat skirts onto one waistband. That’s a good solution. But I have a better one. One that avoids a thick seam allowance all bunched up into a thin waistband.
A yoke is a smooth, fitted area of fabric around the waist and hips where the lower pieces of a skirt are sewn onto the bottom edge or even up on the yoke itself. This section of a skirt reduces the amount of fabric around the body area, making fewer layers around your waist. Yay!
I will say upfront that in my research I believe that combining petticoat layers onto a yoke is a modern solution. I’ve not come across (that I recall) a 19th Century petticoat garment made with a yoke or several layers onto one waistband. Even in the early 1900s I’ve seen no more than two layers set onto the same waistband.
So if you shy away from modern techniques in your historical clothing, continue with making single layer petticoats.
The corded petticoat shown here has a smooth fitted yoke that ends at the full hip line. The skirt portion is sewn directly onto the lower edge then seam allowances serged together.
What’s great about using a yoke for Victorian petticoat layers is that you can stagger the petticoat skirts on the yoke. This reduces seam bulk. Y0u’ll want to put the top petticoat layer either into the waistband (gathered to fit the top of the yoke) or about an inch below the waist seam.
You can attach as many petticoat skirt layers as you can fit onto the yoke. However, if you sew on more than two I would advise the yoke be made of firm fabric like a twill/denim or even coutil if your petticoats are very heavy.
So how do you get a yoke pattern to use for petticoats? Ideally, draping (over your corset) is highly recommended. That way you get a snug fit.
But what if you just want a pattern that’s quick for a down-and-dirty, get-the-gosh-darn-petticoat-done petticoat? Simple. Use a modern skirt pattern.
Like this from Simplicity:
Browse through the Big 4 pattern lines (Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick & Vogue) for a basic A-line skirt. You’ll want to find one with a waistband if at all possible, but it wouldn’t be hard to use a skirt with facing pattern and add a waistband to it.
Cut the pattern at the hip line or slightly below and make sure it falls perfectly parallel to the floor when you’re wearing it. Do a quick fitting to take in the sides if you want a closer fit.
Ignore the zipper (’cause there’s probably one there in the side seam or at center back). Make a narrow hem from the seam allowance for the opening and close the waistband with a drawstring. Or add a placket and waistband overlap and add a skirt hook to close.
For the petticoat skirts, draw in seamlines for the number of layers you want, all of them parallel to the yoke lower raw edge (the one you’ve already made even with the floor). Measure from each seamline at center back to the desired length of your petticoat layers. The topmost layer should be slightly longer than the rest at the hem to smooth out all the edges as a separate top petticoat would be under a skirt.
Make up each layer with a finished hem then stitch to the yoke. Set on the waistband and you’re done! Now you only have one petticoat undergarment to put on when dressing in your multiple Victorian layers.