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There is nothing quite like wearing a silky ballgown over lots of petticoats. The feeling of sheer femininity that all that skirt gives can be quite wonderful, and the sensation of feeling lots of petticoats swishing about you can be ecstatic. The problem is it can be expensive, and most shop bought pettis are rarely full enough if you like your skirts big.
One answer is to make your own. This is fairly easy providing you are careful and keep the geometry right. The simplest and most versatile skirt to make is circular, it can be worn on its own, or can be the basis of a variety of petticoats, simply add frills as desired.
The success of a circular skirt depends on having a decent pattern. This can be paper, but card or even hardboard or thin ply is much more durable (well you're not going to stop at one skirt are you?)
So take a square of say hardboard about 4feet square (half a standard sheet in the UK) and find a small nail or panel pin and either drill a hole or knock the pin in about 1/2 inch from one corner but leave it sticking out a bit. Now if you remember back to your school days you might remember some some geometry, To recap it, is a curious fact that the diameter (the distance across) goes into the circumference (the distance round) about 3 times (actually its 22/7 or 3.14 but 3 is near enough for our purposes). So measure your waist and divide by three and then half it cause you want half the diameter or the radius. This is the main dimension to make it fit your waist.
However to allow for seams etc. or if you are using a drawstring you might want to make it a bit bigger (by an inch or two). Next take this dimension and mark a point this distance from the pin (it should have worked out at about 7-10 inches).
Take a piece of string or ribbon and tie it to the pin, then take a pen or pencil and holding it on the mark pull the string tight and wrap the free end round the pencil and keeping the string tight mark a quarter of a circle in the corner of the card or hardboard.
Next decide how long you want your skirt to be and add your hem allowance and draw another quarter circle. Cut this out and you have a template or pattern. Four of these shapes will give you a circular skirt (You could of course use more than four), and the distance of the pin from the edges is your seam allowance!
When deciding on the length, remember its usual to make the petticoat a little shorter than the skirt, and also you may need to make each petticoat longer than the one underneath, and the top skirt even longer! If you don't, you may end up with an old time dance dress of a few years ago. To be safe make the template longer than you think you will need as you can always shorten the finished pettis from the top.
To make a petticoat, take some fabric and cut out the four panels (you could fold in half and cut two. Sew them together, usually inside out, and hem the bottom. Check the length is OK and sew a waistband around the top. Thread a ribbon through the waistband, try on and admire your handiwork!
The correct fabric is all important, and half the enjoyment of making your own petticoats is you get to choose, experiment, the most unlikely fabrics can feel delicious, and also the most gorgeous can feel horrible so don't buy too much at once!
So far all you have is a waist slip and with a device called a ruffler, whom you can get for a domestic sewing machine, you can easily add frills and flounces. Don't overdo this as its better to make several petticoats than one massive one. As a guide, 100 yards of net added to three petticoats will puff out a full-length skirt to Victorian dimensions. However if you do use net wear a couple of plain slips underneath, and if you have a partner, use something much silkier. Net is inexpensive and effective, but very scratchy!
A hundred yards of net is really the maximum convenient amount of skirt. Much more and you start to have trouble with doorways. Very much more and they start getting heavy. The maximum, I don't really know, but I should think probably around 1000 yards of net or 1500 yards of chiffon or organza. I would love to know if anyone has ever worn this much.
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