1840s Day Dress, Part V: Skirt


After I finished my bodice, all that was left was the skirt! Laughing Moon 114 has a very basic skirt pattern– it’s just four panels of fabric, with a pocket option that I took full advantage of, hoping to minimize the things I’d have to carry at Dickens Fair. I drafted my own pocket pattern, though, since reviews concur that the drafted pocket is too deep to get your hands all the way into, which makes it less useful. I put it on the right front seam, which was a convenient location.

One thing I did was to cut my skirt slightly wider than the pattern– it was supposed to be three 44″ panels plus one more 13″ panel for a total of about 144″ once the seam allowances were accounted for. I thought a 13″ wide back panel sounded ridiculously narrow, but rather than risk going too wide for 1840s with four 44″ panels, I split the difference and made my fourth panel only about 30″ wide. Not sure if it really made much of a difference in fullness, but it turned out fine.

The skirt is cartridge-pleated (or gauged) onto the bodice, which requires a very specific set of steps. It starts with folding over the top edge of the skirt. I followed the pattern instructions and folded it over deeper in the front than in the back– instead of doing 1″ in the back and 4″ in the front, though, I did 2″ in back and 5″ in front, just to give myself extra room for error (I cut my skirt panels longer to allow for this). Based on a tip I saw somewhere, I ran a line of stitching 1/16″ from the top to keep the folded section flat and firmly in place.

Then, to properly space the cartridge pleats on the skirt, I laid long, pinked-edge strips of fabric printed with a 1/8″ grid along the top of the folded edge. You could also use gingham fabric or ribbon, just make sure the squares are a usable size. This was so much easier than trying to mark identically-spaced dots to use as stitching guides, and it padded the pleats a little to make them even more pleat-like and less gather-like. I used brown upholstery thread (nice and strong, I only needed one strand) and made my stitches 3/8″ wide, doing my stitches in four equal sections around the skirt to make it easier to pull up the threads and minimize the risk of breakage. I made my rows of stitching 3/8″ apart. Because I was only using one thread, I didn’t even bother to cut it off of the spool before I started stitching– I just kept pulling it longer as I needed it, and then knotted both ends before cutting it.


The pattern called for the stitches to be 1/4″ long, but my quilting cotton was pretty thick, plus I had an extra layer of the gridded fabric, which is why I went with 3/8″ instead. As it was, pulling the pleats tight gave me a skirt that was just the right circumference at the waist– I was barely able to fit them all in, so 1/4″ long stitches would’ve made for way too many pleats.

I pinned the pleated sections in intervals and stitched the pleats just inside the row of piping, taking two stitches in each pleat to keep things secure.


I was very happy with the results on this. The pleats are time-consuming, yes, but they look great and add an indefinable “this is a historical reproduction, not just a fantasy costume” feel to the outfit. Not something I necessarily strive for all the time, but still nice to achieve on occasion.

Once the cartridge pleats were set, I pressed a hem into the bottom of the skirt,* unfolded it, and machine-stitched a length of black twill tape to the inside so it extended just over 1/8″ past the hem fold– this will help protect the hem from dirt and wear. I stitched the twill tape on first so that the long machine stitches wouldn’t show on the outside of the dress– they’re all on the part I turned up for the real hem.

Then I used the machine to blind-hem the skirt itself– not historically accurate (there go my brownie points!) but much, much faster than hemming the skirt by hand, and the blind-hem stitches hardly showed at all.


I used the longest-length machine stitch I had for the twill tape– that way it’ll be easier to replace if it gets messed up or dirty. (I’ll have to hand-stitch any replacement, though).


*I will note that traditionally, the hem would be done first (evenly all the way around) and the length of the skirt would be adjusted only at the waist, through the folded-over section at the top. However, the Laughing Moon 114 pattern didn’t require this– that’s a good thing in my opinion, because that process is a lot more finicky than hemming everything at the end. I think the pattern tried to split the difference between the two techniques by having the foldover be larger in front than in back, to account for the dip in the bodice front and the subsequently shorter skirt length at that point, but I still ended up having to vary the hem depth to get it to hang evenly. Just an FYI for anyone who may be wondering.


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