The petticoat is a simple linen skirt worn over the shift and under the kirtle. It can be made of any (tudor-realistic) colour, and I'd recommend making sure it coordinates okay with the kirtle and its lining. It can be lined or unlined, and can be made of wool, linen or, if you can't avoid it, cotton. The latter isn't period but Kentwell will accept it.
I'd suggest making an unlined petticoat as it's infinitely simpler than the lined variety to make, and I'd strongly suggest making it out of medium to heavy weight linen; in the summer a wool petticoat is simply too much.
Petticoat contruction is relatively simple. It's just a long tube of cloth pleated onto a waist-band. It can either open at the back or at the side. Don't make it front opening because your kirtle will open at the front and you don't want to be able to see straight through the two openings to the shift. This guide will be for a back-opening petticoat.
What you'll need
The petticoat is made out of two parts: the skirt itself and the waistband. Its fairly simple to make and those who've followed the shift instructions should find a lot of this very familiar.
The skirt piece is made of a very long rectangle. This can either be made of one piece of cloth or several joined together. Either way, the end dimensions are the same. The vertical measurement is the length you want the petticoat to be; the horizontal - if you're anywhere near an 'average' size (say a UK size 12-18) - is around three metres. If you're larger or smaller than that then scale up or down, appropriately.
The petticoat length is somewhat variable, and depends on your taste and your role. Generally if you're doing a mucky outdoor job make it a little shorter than if you're going to be comfortably tucked inside. Linen combines with Kentwell mud to gruesome effect, so a floor length petticoat is definately a bad idea! To give a ballpark, somewhere between ankle and mid-calf is about right. It should be a couple of inches shorter than the kirtle and, to give an idea, I aim for it to finish at about the point ankle socks hit when they're fully pulled up.
If you've read the shift section then the waistband will be really familiar. It's basically a glorified cuff. Like the cuff, its a long strip of linen which needs to be three times the desired final width wide. The length of the strip should be two inches less than the waist measurement. It's two inches shorter because your waist measurement will shrink slightly with the kirtle on. If the petticoat fits perfectly without the kirtle, then it'll tend to sag at the waist when you're fully dressed. That's neither comfortable or attractive.
Start by cutting out your pieces. You can do this in a couple of ways: the easy way and the efficient way. I've drawn the layout for each, on the same three metre piece of linen, and have shaded the waste fabric in grey. You can see that the first layout leaves a fairly uselessthin strip of fabric whilst the second doesn't use the whole length of the piece. That means you either don't need to buy so much, or you have a useful left over piece for something else.
The efficient way
If you choose to go for either of the efficient fabric layouts, then the first stage is to join the pieces together. I usually do this in the same way as I constructed the shift, by hemming the pieces and the whipstitching them together. That produces a very flat, neat looking seam, which is very obviously hand-sewn. But as long as you get a neat, strong hem with no raw edges you're fine. So if you'd rather you can use run and fell or a french seam.
The waistband is cut from the remaining piece of linen and prepared as follows:
Fold the strip in half lengthwise and iron a fold.
Fold over the short ends and iron a narrow hem.
Fold the long edges in towards the first fold and iron them into place. My origami friend tells me these are all valley folds.
If those diagrams aren't clear then check out the section on putting a cuff on a sleeve which has a series of photographs showing exactly the same sequence of folds.
Marking the pleats.
A confession: as will probably be obvious from the quality of the images, I'm cheating. I'm keen to get this guide up asap so it will be of use for this summer. So, instead of making a new petticoat and taking pictures as I go, I'm going for the much quicker option of mutilating pictures I already have. The waistband, for example, is actually the picture of a cuff that I took for the shift guide which has been stretched with photoshop to make it loooooooonger. This is what my far too clever boyfriend would call "teleological suspension of the something or other"; in other words, work with me on this one?
The tricky bit with a petticoat is getting the pleats even. Get it wrong and it looks pretty minging. Get it right and young men will be swooning at your feet. Possibly. After many many hours spent pinning and re-pinning petticoats, I learnt the trick to it: mark the pleats first.
The first decision you have to make is what sort of pleats you'd like. You have two options: box pleats or knife pleats, and both are illustrated well here. I tend to go for knife pleats, but the choice is yours. Next, decide how big you'd like your pleats to be. The easiest way to do this is to just fold one or two in your fabric, eyeball them, and see what you like the look of. I tend to go for two centimetres, which gives fairly small looking pleats but, again, the choice is yours. I wouldn't recommend much smaller than that - they get fiddly to sew, and anything substantially larger than two inches will probably look wonky. It also makes life easier if you choose a whole number - be it imperial or metric - because you've got to measure a lot of these and obviously measuring one inch is less hassle than trying to measure 1.347 inches reliably over and over again.
Pinning the pleats
Somewhat perversely, the first stage of this isn't pinning. It's yet more hemming. Take the skirt bit of your petticoat and hem the two short edges. Make sure you hem them the same way!
Next, find the centre point of one of the long sides. Line the raw edge of the skirt piece up with the raw edge of the marked fold and pin that centre point to the centre (black) line on the waistband.
Laying the skirt flat on the waistband, pin it to each of the start-of-pleats (green) lines.
Then start pinning the pleats, lining each one up with the next red line. You can use knife pleats or box pleats and, if you're using knife pleats, you can have them pointing either forward or back. To get them running back (or forward) on both sides of the skirt, you'll need to fold them one way on the left, and the other way on the right. Remember, too, that the hems you've already sewn define which is the right side and the wrong side of your fabric; if you don't keep an eye on that you may find your pleats running the other way from what you intended.
If life were easy, you'd have exactly the right amount of fabric to do all your pleats. But - for the same reason bread always lands butter side down - the odds are you won't. So keep an eye on how much skirt you have left. If you've too much, then increase the size of the pleats slightly. By that I mean they should always start at your marked points, but the fold can overlap the pleat behind slightly. If you have too little, then shrink them down a bit. As long as you spread it over several pleats and the left is the same as the right, all will be well.
Once all is pinned down flip the petticoat over and check it looks even on both sides. If it doesn't, then adjust it. If it does, then you're good to start sewing.
Sewing things together.
The next stage is to start sewing the waistband into place. Turn the petticoat over so you're looking at the side without the pins. Hopefully you should see a crisp fold on the edge of the waistband lying on a nice neat row of pleats. You need to sew that down and, although it's two pieces of fabric, it's basically the same stitch as hemming. Pick up a few threads of the skirt layer, pass the needle up through both layers of the waist-band, move on a little and repeat.
Once you've sewn one side down, turn the petticoat over. You should be able to take out all the pins although, if you haven't sewn through all the layers of the pleats, they may shift slightly. Fold the waistband over and line its folded edge up with the line of stitches you've already sewn. Sew it down in exactly the same way. Then sew up the ends of the waistband. You're nearly done.
Right now your petticoat could still be laid out flat. It needs to be made into a tube. To do that, whip-stitch the short sides of the skirt together. Don't sew all the way up - you need to leave a six to eight inch opening at top edge so you can get the thing on and off. This slit, by the way, was called a placket in period (now placket means a piece of fabric you put behind a slit, to hide it - I've no evidence that that was being done then). It was also fairly crude slang for a similarly shaped area of the female anatomy.
Slip the petticoat on and check the length. If you're happy then hem it. If it's too long, shorten it and then hem it. Warning: it's very easy to shorten it too far. I have a habit of doing this.
If it's too short, then there is a fix.
Finishing things off
Right now if you were to put the petticoat on, it would slide straight off again. This is what might be called an issue. So the final stage is to figure out how to fasten the thing.
If you want to fasten it with a button, then you're on your own, because I'm firmly convinced that button holes are evil things that should only be attempted under duress. If you do wish to go down that route, though, then may I suggest a fairly flat button, because otherwise the pressure of the kirtle will create a button-shaped hole in your back. There's some information on making period buttons at this site - I'd suggest the folded cloth version. Alternatively something unobtrusive and wooden should serve fine, especially as members of the public don't usually get to look at the top of one's petticoat!
I tend to fasten my petticoats with a pair of ties. If you look at the picture above, you can see them. They're simply a narrow strip of linen, folded in half and sewn down one edge to make a tube. I then turned them inside out to hide the raw edges and sewed the ends closed. They're then sewn onto the waistband, one on each side of the opening. These ties have to be surprisingly long to form a secure bow.
An alternative construction
There is no evidence at all of the following construction technique being used in period. It does, however, provide a neat solution for those who anticipate their weight will change substantially, or for pregnant women, because it will accomodate a range of sizes.
Broadly, the construction is similar. The only difference is the waistband, which is made in two pieces, rather like those thai fishermens trousers that were all the rage a couple of years ago.The petticoat is made in two sections: a front and a back. Each is pleated and sewn onto its waistband seperately, and then the edges are whip-stitched together to make one tube. This produces a petticoat with two openings - one on each side. Place a tie on each end of the front piece, and fasten them behind your back. Place another tie on each end of the back piece and fasten them at the front.
Voila! A period-looking petticoat which can be taken in and let out as much as you like without having to resew it at all. Score!
As ever, any thoughts/comments/feedback/questions on these notes would be greatly appreciated, and can only help to make them clearer for next year's new participants. My email address is tucked away at the bottom of stuff about me.