Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bumm(roll)ing It

When it comes to 18th century costume, I admit that I am not a fan of the French court look, although I do find many of the gowns from this era beautiful (I am more fascinated by the workmanship and techniques of the court tailors and dressmakers than by the aesthetics of any particular piece, but I'm a geek like that).  I understand the design principle behind the pannier - like the Elizabethan farthingale before and the Victorian hoop after, panniers are the central structural piece that shaped the female silhouette for most of the 18th century. But for me, panniers create a look that is too flat and blocky (I know this is the point, to accentuate the smallness of the waist and to provide a wide canvas to display elaborate workmanship and lavish textiles), a look which is too severe for my tastes. However, I appreciate the overall aesthetics of the era and realize that form is essential to achieving the look particular to an era despite whether I like it or not - lol! (Above: Princess Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta's wedding gown, circa 1774 - currently housed at that Royal Amouries House in Stockholm, Sweden)

Photo courtesy of the MMA
By the late-1770s panniers were downscaled dramatically in size from their mid-century court predecessors, which commonly reached widths of 8-10 feet (or more), to more modest proportions, which provided a softer, rounded shape to the female silhouette. Rather than a network of steel banding, sturdy tapes and ties, and padding, the newer look of the late-18th century could easily be achieved by a simple bum roll and/or hip kidneys under several petticoats. This is good news, but the question is how to reasonably achieve the look? I came across an article by the American Duchess called "Late 18th Century Skirt Supports - The Unorthodox Edition" where she illustrates a simple and clever solution to adding the appropriate skirt volume for that swanky late-18th century style without needing to construct half a dozen petticoats (bless your heart, Lauren). Pre-quilted cotton fabric - love it!

Following Lauren's example, I first made a bum roll (I chose to make mine tiered for greater structural support because I'm a bigger gal who needs a bigger skirt):

Then, I used inexpensive pre-quilted cotton fabric (note my bum roll is also made of this same material) and constructed a very simple petticoat (it isn't pretty and looks bulky, but looks are deceiving - it does exactly what it's supposed to do: add volume without adding weight):

Finally, I constructed a simple linen petticoat to go over the structural pieces (here, I still need to take up and finish the hem, but you get the picture):

Now that I have the precise silhouette I desire (Thank you, American Duchess!), without complicated techniques and elaborate instructions, I can devote my time and energies to the pièce de résistance: my gown for the Emerald Parlor's Federal Ball in March.

Blessings and happy sewing!


  1. Looks great! I like your tiered bumroll quite a lot - may have to snag your technique for some hip-pad experiments I'm dreaming of. :-) Thank you for the link as well. :-)

  2. Thank you, Lauren! I have to give credit where credit is due - :) And please, snag away!