We Love the 1780’s – Split Bums & Petticoats

Wrinkly thanks to subway ride, but good view of my 1780’s bottom-half.

Here are two garments from the American Duchess Guide: one hand-sewn and historically accurate, and the other mostly historically-accurate, which seems to be my standard method. I do want to have a complete set of hand-sewn, period-correct undergarments eventually, so that was on my mind as I planned these projects. But I usually like to do the long side seams by machine because it’s fast and easy to keep it straight and even.

For both of these garments, I followed the book’s instructions and did not make any alterations. (My review of the book here.) I would share my scaled-up split bum pattern to give you a head start, but that’s a copyright violation. Sorry!

However, I am providing a 1″ square grid PDF that you can use to help scale patterns, from this book or any others you might have. I simply scanned the AD book at the highest resolution possible, then layered it over the 1″ square grid and scaled up until it was the proper size. If it wasn’t perfectly flat when you scanned you’ll need to warp/distort until the pattern and base grids line up. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to help with Photoshop troubleshooting so leave a comment if you’re stuck.

Admittedly the false rump is easy to scale by hand, and really you could wing both of these without a pattern. But digital scaling is great when you need to be as accurate as possible, like with the gowns, and the ability to lengthen and stretch the pattern before the first mockup is also a time-saver.

Get the 1″ grid PDF for pattern scaling here.

The Split Bum Pad or False Rump

I was very excited about hand-sewing this split bum with period-correct linen and down feathers. It came together very quickly, which is no surprise as it’s half a skirt and two pillows. Basically you could sew two down throw pillows to a ribbon and call it a day! For a hand-sewing novice this was a great warm-up, and came together over the course of a week’s worth of sewing after dinner/little human bedtime.

I lucked out with this cream linen that was in the $1/yd remnant bin—don’t you love when that happens? To tighten up the weave and help prevent the feathers from escaping, I wash and dried on high to shrink the linen. It was noticeably softer and appeared to be a less open weave afterwards, but eventually feathers did start coming out. Granted I didn’t notice until after she had a ride in a suitcase on a bus, so that certainly could be a factor. I don’t feel it — there’s the shift, under petti, and split bum skirt in between — but it’s annoying to see them popping out. If you use down filling, I would recommend lining the pockets with scrap muslin or quilting cotton. Tightly woven quilting cotton instead of linen would also work for the split bum, and could solve the fugitive feather problem.

Pillows cut out and ready to get pinned and sewn.
Three buns. (Get it?! I know– I’ll see myself out…)

Since I was working with a remnant I turned the selvedge under and hemmed the sides of the skirt. I pleated the split bum skirt down, checking the width as I went, and then sewed it to the cotton tape.

Then the pillows got sewn up, clipped, and turned.

Now for feathers! I spent way too much time going to different thrift stores looking for down pillows. Even though I felt rather guilty about it, I ended up buying a new pillow to take apart. Since there’s a lot left, I plan on making a down-filled muff one day!

And yeah, it’s going to be as absurdly messy as you’re picturing.

Still finding these suckers MONTHS later. And I vacuum frequently because of dog hair.
Split bum filled and pinned closed. Just need to sew waistband down and hem!

There’s honestly no reason to be a stickler for accuracy with the pocket filling because really, who’s going to see inside? So using fiberfill is another option, and I think every crafter I know has half a bag of it shoved in the closet from that one project that needed it 3 years ago. If I make another one, I would line the pockets with muslin or similar scrap fabric.

Sadly I do not have a better photo of just the split bum, because now it has various bits of down poking through at all times 🙄 .

Vivien aka @freshfrippery had to clever idea to use ribbon to adjust the pillows, plus it’s cute to boot:

The 1780’s Petticoat

ticoats may not appear to change much in the Georgian era, but the construction and pattern adjusts to the hip structure a la mode. Small bumpads, side pocket hoops, grand panier, split bums—each adds volume to the hips in a different silhouette that alters how the skirt hangs. Mantua-makers kept fabric intact as much as possible, and folded down excess fabric at the waistline. This meant the petticoat could be remade or altered easily. (Keep in mind that not only were these fabrics worth a small fortune, they couldn’t be reordered if you needed more later.) What would they think of our lopping inches off the bottom and wasteful wide hems?

In the 1780’s the large hoops are now passé, and ladies are sporting ample rears thanks to down-filled rumps. No more turning sideways through doors! A seat cushion wherever you go! What’s not to love?

Pannier front and profile view from LACMA

The volume goes from the sides to the posterior, and evolves from a hard, artificial structure to a softer, more naturalistic shape. However it’s still very exaggerated and can only be achieved with a split bum.

Bird’s eye view with oval shape and heart shape

The Italian gown petticoat is pleated down to your waist measurement, and then leveled on the body instead of cutting. I did this on my dressform and I felt like Sisyphus because each time I thought it looked even, the other side got weird! Having a friend help you with this part is recommended.

Since my corset form is close to my size, but not quite, there was a long session of thinking it was perfect, then removing stays and petti from form to try on, only to realize it was off. Then unpin, repleat, and repeat. Also, I didn’t account for how much the ties of the split bum and the under petti would add to the waist measurement (taken when just wearing my stays and shift). UGHHH.

I’ve gotten a lot of use of both of these since making them, but I need to muster the patience to make another petticoat since I think everyone’s tired of seeing my only “fancy” petticoat! (And honestly, so am I.) Or maybe I’ll be lazy and just even out at the hem. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to some blue taffeta for Christmas 😉

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