The quilted petticoat shown here served a dual purpose for Victorian women.
First and foremost, quilted petticoats added a layer of warmth to a woman’s dress. With Iowa winters, this was a needed function of this garment. These petticoats also served a fashion need. Quilted petticoats were used by women, particularly wealthy women, to help create their desired “shape.”
Quilted petticoats were not new to the Victorian period. They had been worn by women for centuries because of the dual purpose they served. Like traditional quilts, they were made by layer fabric over a middle layer of batting. However, unlike many traditional bed quilts, the same material was used for the front and back layers of the petticoat. Most of these petticoats used wool for the batting.
Quilted petticoats were a garment worn by women from all levels of society, but the style and material used to make them varied widely. Working class women’s petticoats would have been made from plainer fabrics such as muslin or wool and quilted using simple patterns. This was because, for these women, the garment served a functional purpose of providing warmth.
In addition to providing warmth, wealthy women also used these petticoats to create their ideal shape. In the late Victorian period these petticoats would have often been worn with bustles or hoops. These were used to give women the appearance of wide hips and a narrow waist. Petticoats were used as padding between the bustle and dress. They could also be layered to create the desired effect.
Wealthy women would use finer fabrics such as silk for their petticoats. This was particularly true if the petticoat was meant to be seen. Although petticoats were worn under dresses, they were not strictly speaking, an undergarment. Many petticoats were meant to be seen when worn with open front or short gowns. This is one reason why the petticoats for wealthy women were often decorated. Depending on the era and style of dress, the petticoat could be decorated with lace, ruffles, or elaborately quilted.
The brown petticoat shown here belonged to a member of the Rorer family and was made sometime in the late 1800s. It is made from satin, is hand-stitched, and pleated. The base has a dark brown ribbon around it. This petticoat has a very thin layer of batting in it, as it is maybe a ¼ inch thick.
The quilting covers the lower two-thirds of the petticoat. The first third is stitched in sections of diagonal lines with neighboring sections running opposite directions. The next portion of the skirt is quilted using a diamond pattern. Based on the simplicity of the quilting patterns, this petticoat was probably meant to be worn with a “day” dress or at least not be seen when it was worn.
This petticoat is currently on display as part of our quilt exhibit. However, this exhibit will only be up for another month, so stop by the Heritage Center to see this and many other unique examples of quilts and quilting before they are returned to storage.
“Out of the Attic” features artifacts from the collection of the Des Moines County Historical Society. For more information, to ask questions or to offer comments or suggestions, call (319) 752-7449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.