I started by cheating.
Yes, cheating. I knew that I couldn’t get started on my dress until I had the correct underpinnings, and I didn’t have the energy to make myself a hoop skirt from scratch, so I bought the biggest one I could find on eBay– a 6-hoop skirt that was at least made from cotton, so it wasn’t quite as bad as shiny polyester. Don’t I get credit for that much?
Anyway, I knew from experience that the hoops on these cheap skirts are adjustable in size, so once it arrived I tried it on and took a look to see what needed to be done.
It was immediately apparent that the hoop skirt was too long. It hit me right at the ankles, which was a recipe for disaster if I was planning on walking or dancing without inadvertently stepping on the hoop as I raised my feet. Following the advice of many internet posters, I removed the top hoop entirely and threaded a drawstring through the hoop casing, transforming it into a new waistband several inches below the original one.
After that I fussed with the circumference of the remaining five hoops until the skirt looked decent. The original hoops looked really lampshade-ish, so they definitely needed adjusting. Apparently hoops in 1860 would rarely go much over 140″ in circumference, even for evening wear, so I started with that on the bottom hoop and worked my way up the skirt, making the hoops narrower as I went up. It looked pretty good, all things considered.
However, once I actually tried the skirt on it was still a bit too long, so I cut off the top of the skirt just below the hoop casing and folded over the top edge to make a new casing, which was much sturdier (being made of cotton, rather than cheap satin ribbon). This also shortened the skirt by about 2″, which was all I needed. Of course, this also shortened the top fabric section, requiring me to reduce the top hoop circumference a bit to compensate, and then I ended up fiddling a bit more with the rest of the hoops to get the right shape.
I’d been planning on stitching tiers of cotton ruffles directly to the skirt to keep the hoop wires from showing from the outside, but I decided that the ruffles would make the hoop skirt itself a lot harder to transport– after all, without the ruffles the hoop skirt could just get twisted up and shoved into a relatively small space– and would also make the skirt much heavier.
I’ve decided instead to get some petticoat netting to make a basic gathered petticoat to drape over the hoopskirt– it’s not period-correct, but it’ll be light and fluffy and with luck won’t be seen at all. Unfortunately, I don’t have a fabric store nearby and even if I did, the really stiff petticoat netting isn’t all that cheap (and I’d need a lot of it) Instead, I’ve ordered an 8-layer nylon petticoat on eBay— at $16 it’s not as inexpensive as I’d like, but it’ll already be sewn to the correct shape and I expect that I’ll only have to use a few of the layers, leaving plenty extra for future projects.
However, given that it’s shipping from China I don’t expect it to arrive anytime soon. I figure that I can go ahead and sew my skirt based on the current hoopskirt measurements, and once the petticoat arrives I can always reduce the hoop circumference a bit if the netting makes it too much poofier.
So, underpinnings (mostly) complete– on to the dress itself!