When I first started sewing historical skirts (mainly bustle costumes) I didn’t think of just how many layers go around the waist. I knew I had my bustle plus a petticoat or two, then the skirt and overskirt. Of course I would be wearing all of those….
But I forgot to calculate that all those layers create a thickness I wasn’t prepared for. And not like too-tight modern jeans, I couldn’t just lie down and fasten the waistband button. So how does this problem get fixed?
A simple thing called Ease.
It’s built into a sewing pattern to allow the garment to hang nicely over the figure. Without it our clothes would be skin tight and we couldn’t move much. It allows us to move our arms, bend side to side and sit down.
The amount of extra fabric in a pattern varies according to the design and area of the body. Commercial patterns have ease already built into them. However, if you’re doing a custom costume, you’ll have to add that ease to your fitted pattern.
In the first of a 3-part series, we’ll take a brief look at how to get ease into your pattern for a superior fit and finished look.
Let’s start with waistbands. The most important thing here is to measure over all your undergarments. And don’t cheat and say “oh, I think my waist is around 32″ in everything.” That won’t work. You have to actually measure if you want your skirt to sit nicely on your waist.
So put on your chemise, drawers, corset, any under petticoat, support garment such as your hoop, bustle, pad or corded petticoat. Then add your over petticoats (which should be at least 2). Measure a snug waist over all these layers.
- ½” to ¾” suggested total ease
This historical ease is merely a suggestion and is dependent on how thick your fabric is and how snug you want your finished waistband.
Now let’s pattern the skirt waistband:
- Cut your waistband the length of your measurement plus seam allowances plus ease plus any width of a placket if you are using one.
Example for a 30” waist (measurement over undergarments) with ½” seam allowances and 5/8” historical ease:
Length of waistband: 30” + ½” + ½” + 5/8” = 31-5/8” cut length.
Your waistband width can vary from 1” to 2” wide with 1 ¼” to 1 ½” the best widths. Make your width decision on time period, costume design and wearing comfort. If you’re sewing an overskirt too, you can use the same measurements as the base skirt or add a tiny bit more ease if you want.
Remember that the measurements given are suggestions only. Use them for all your 19th C. waistband patterns.
Do you have experience with adding sufficient ease to a waistband or even forgetting it? Share your story with us!