adjective: old fashioned, out of style, unfashionable [from French, the past participle of démoder "to go out of fashion," from mode "fashion"].

how to make an 1830's - early 1850's crinoline





what does it look like?


how to make an 1830's - early 1850's crinoline


When I decided to make an 1840's ballgown, I was frustrated by the lack of information available on how exactly to make a crinoline. I wasn't sure how to my crinoline effective. I put together about three petticoats, but found that I was nowhere near the amount of fullness that I wanted under my skirt. I then turned to published works and the web, but found little information that was of help and soon began to tear my hair out in frustration. Luckily, with the help of the fabulous people on the h-costume list and some trial and error, I was able to create an effective 1840's crinoline. In order to be helpful to others, I decided to put these instructions online to help others with this relatively mysterious garment.

First, a caveat: I try to be as accurate in my costuming as I can and want to be. While the nineteenth-century hoopskirt was not worn until 1854, some costumers chose to wear one anyway for these earlier periods. That's fine by me. At the same time, while I tried to base my crinoline-making method on period-accurate techniques, you will see that I incorporated some aspects that are not period. That's my choice. I made my decision based on what was effective in giving me the correct look and feel, while being as accurate as budget and time permitted. When I talk about "accuracy" or being "period accurate," please know that that's what I strive for (within reason), but it may not be your objective. So please take what you will from this and don't see it as a prescription!


Throughout the period 1830 to the mid-1850s, women in many Western countries wore multiple petticoats (later termed crinolines) to create a fashionable silhouette.

"During the 1830s and 1840s as many as ten layers of petticoats were worn on top of the pantalettes, the chemise, and the corset, and they were made up of all manner of fabric. Wadded, quilted ones furnished both warmth and width, and also added bulk and weight. At least one red flannel petticoat was standard in the wardrobe of all women and girls. The number of petticoats required was reduced somewhat when crinoline was introduced in the 1850s. It was considered very progressive, because it took the place of two or three petticoats and was named for its content, the French term 'crin,' which means horsehair, and 'lin' from linen. The crinoline was fitted with pads or rolls of cloth to keep its shape. Eventually whalebone and reed, and then flexible bands of steel shaped into a framework, replaced the crinoline, and the hoop skirt made its appearance" (Betty J. Mills, Calico Chronicle).

In this webpage,the term crinoline refers to both multiple petticoats (1830s-1840s) and crinolines (1850s). You will often hear hoopskirts referred to as crinolines, but during the nineteenth century, they were referred to as cage crinolines to distinguish them from their earlier predecessor.

While the silhouette changed from year to year, each style from the early 1830's to 1854 can be made using various combinations of the following instructions.

1833 Fashion Plate
The 1830's skirt silhouette featured a cross between an A-line and a dome shape that ended at ankle-length, modeled on the ballerina costumes of the era. Although you can't tell from this image, the fullness of the skirt (and therefore the petticoats underneath) is concentrated at the rear and sides, with the front being quite flat.
1840 Fashion Plate
By the 1840's, that silhouette had changed to a primarily dome or bell shape. The fullness is still concentrated at the sides and back of the skirt, although there is more fullness in front. Note the amount of bulk at the hips; this is very different from our modern idea of an A-line shape with no bulk at the hips.
Early 1850s Fashion Plate
This dome shape got even larger in the early 1850's. This would lead to the rise of the hoopskirt as a means of carrying the weight of skirts and allowing even further width.


The most important thing to do before beginning any costuming project (if you're aiming at accuracy) is research! Even if you're working from a pattern, you'll want to do your own research to discover whether the pattern you are using is appropriate. Some patterns are cut for our modern shape (without underpinnings) or our modern understanding of comfort. You'll want to decide to what degree you're going to try to adapt your own body and sense of comfort to the period you're wearing.

When I set out to create my 1840's crinoline, I was frustrated by normally helpful secondary sources. When it comes to crinolines, most histories of fashion offer information like that offered by Elizabeth Ewing in Dress and Undress: "The underclothing of a lady of fashion consisted of a chemise, long drawers trimmed with lace, a corset, a flannel petticoat, an under-petticoat three and one half yards wide, a petticoat wadded to the knees, and stiffened on the upper part with whalebones inserted a handsbreath from one another, a white starched petticoat with three stiffly starched flounces, two muslin petticoats and finally the dress." The Cunningtons' History of Underclothes describes the petticoats of 1841-56 in a similar manner: "A number, ranging from four to six, were worn according to the season. Only the outermost, of which glimpses might be displayed with discretion, was in any sense decorative... Some were flounced. Beneath this was worn a plain white longcloth petticoat, both being gathered onto waistbands fastened by strings... Beneath these was worn a knee-length petticoat of some stiff material, of which the most notable was 'crinoline'..."

While both of these sources offer information of value, they present two problems. First, I doubt very much that every crinoline or set of petticoats was created in the same manner. While Ewing was probably quoting primary sources from the period, I sincerely doubt that every lady wore exactly one flannel petticoat, one under-petticoat three 1/2 yards wide, etc. Do you wear the exact same underwear as your mother or best friend? I doubt it. The second problem presented by these sources was their lack of construction information. Even a normally helpful work such as Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines limits itself to the kind of quotes presented above. None of these works told me how to go about actually making such a garment.

Similarly, while some of the most important resources for costume historians are pictures (including photographs, paintings, and drawings), I was again frustrated with this source. Most of the illustrations I looked at were not much help, as they either showed the outer dress or skirt, or the outermost petticoat, and not what was underneath and how it was put together.

While these works provided some help, I needed some solid how-to advice. Jean Hunnisett's Period Costume for Stage & Screen (1800-1909) (a great how-to manual, although many of the techniques are designed for the theater and are not necessarily period accurate) offered some direction, suggesting the use of a bustle or bumpad to fill out the back. Beyond this, Hunnisett gives vague directions of using "multiple petticoats" and then offers the appropriate-for-theater (but not for living history) technique of making the entire crinoline out of net.

Thankfully, the kind people of h-costume were (as always) ready to assist me. The following ideas are distilled from their advice, my own experience, Hunnisett's 1830-1865 petticoat instructions, and information gleaned from Janet Arnold's 1840's dress patterns in Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction, c. 1660-1860.


It seems that there are many different methods of making a crinoline. There are a few basic elements:

  • the base, which can be a waistband or a yoke;
  • the bustle or bumpad;
  • the petticoats.

the base

Depending on the silhouette you are trying to attain and your hip shape, you'll want to make either a straight waistband or a yoke. Take a look at the shape of the skirts and dresses for the period. In the 1830's, the shape is a cross between an A-line and a dome shape (there's fullness at the hip, but not too much, and the fullness widens towards the hem). In the 1840's and early 1850's, the shape is a dome (bell, birdcage, etc.), with LOTS of bulk (we're talking straight out!) at the hips. Note that for both periods the ideal was to have as little bulk as possible at the waist itself; this was achieved by sewing all of the petticoat layers to one waistband. The 1830's silhouette has a natural waist (meaning, the skirt begins at the natural waistline), while during the 1840's the ideal was of a dropped waistline, with a bodice that extends past the natural waistline. You'll see this dropped waistline more in fashion plates than in actual photos, so if you're making an 1840's dress, it's up to you whether to go with the dropped waistline or not. During the early 1850's, the waistline went back up to its natural position.

If you make a waistband, make sure to make it wide enough to attach multiple layers. Double the outer fabric and add something stiff in the middle (such as a piece of interfacing or organza). As I am quite endowed in the hip department, I decided to use a yoke in order to give me more room to graduate the petticoat fullness. This method won't work for an 1840's crinoline unless you REALLY have hips! (but it might be appropriate for an 1830's crinoline). Again, you want a stiff interlining if you go with a yoke. Note: I don't have any research supporting multiple petticoats sewn to one waistband; this was recommended to me by other costumers, but there's no research that I've found to say it's historically accurate.

As I decided to go for the long-waisted effect, I cut this yoke to hit directly at my natural waist, but started attaching petticoats at one inch below my natural waist. The yoke extends five inches down my hips. I sandwiched a layer of interfacing between two layers of white cotton, and sewed four running "guide" stitches horizontally from end to end, one inch apart from top to bottom.

I then attached each layer of petticoat at the position of each row of running stitches, which allowed me to graduate fullness down my hips. Again, if you're not as graciously endowed in the hip category as I am, you may want to attach all of your petticoat layers to a waistband (either at your natural waist, or dropped about an inch if you're going for the 1840's dropped-waist look). I drafted up Hunnisett's yoke pattern from Period Costume for Stage & Screen, and it worked quite well.

Make sure the yoke fits well. Mine is a tiny bit too loose, and the weight of the petticoats makes it sag a bit in the back. Luckily, I was able to correct for this with my bumpad.

Crappy drawing of the yoke, laying flat (CB = Center Back):

Yoke Pattern

the bustle or bumpad

Again, depending on the silhouette you're trying to achieve, you'll want to fill out the back of your crinoline with either a bustle or a bumpad. For the 1830's, Hunnisett recommends a knee-length bustle that basically looks like a big couch cushion (the bustle is the width of the hips and extends to about the backs of the knees). Hunnisett's is cut in a large, elongated half-circle shape. The bustle is sewn with about 4 or 5 horizontal channels and then stuffed with net.

For the 1840's and 1850's, you'll want to make a small pad, shaped like a half-moon, that fills in the small of your back. Hunnisett provides patterns for both, although the bumpad doesn't really need a pattern.

You'll wear your bustle or bumpad either underneath or on top of your crinoline -- experiment and see what works best.

the petticoats

You'll want to mix and match the following, based on what works for you. All I can say is, experiment! You'll want to layer different combinations of the following:

  • plain petticoats.
  • flounced petticoats: you can use a combination of graduated flounces (one skirt with flounces from hem to knees, another with flounces from hem to mid-thigh, another with flounces from hem to waist...) or make them all with the same amount of flounces. Remember that if you use too many skirts with flounces only below mid-thigh, you can end up with an A-line shape. Gail Finke of h-costume suggested using row after row of tiny ruffles (about 2-3 inches) from top to bottom. Stay away from the modern bridal petticoat silhouette, which avoids any fullness over the hips. Remember that you WANT the big hip look!
  • corded petticoats. See the Recipe for a Corded Petticoat on the Elizabethan Costuming Page. The same principle applies.
  • if you're not worried about accuracy, net petticoats. I found these REALLY useful for getting some added width without too much weight.

putting together the petticoats

Cut the petticoats out from straight widths of fabrics, not gores (triangle shapes). You'll want a lot of fullness, but the amount will vary depending on your height. Remember not to make your petticoats wider than your dress or skirt. You don't really need a pattern, but if you feel you want one, I recommend Past Pattern's #706 1850's-1860's petticoat pattern.

Pleat, gather, or cartridge pleat each petticoat onto your waistband or yoke. If you use a yoke as I did, you can attach one or more layers of petticoat at graduated spots up the length of the yoke. For ease in sewing, attach your innermost petticoat to the bottom edge of the yoke, and work up as you work out. If you need information on pleating, gathering, or cartridge pleating, check out Frances Grimble's After a Fashion: How to Reproduce, Restore, and Wear Vintage Styles. There are instructions for cartridge pleating online on the Elizabethan Costuming Page. Remember that more of the fullness of the petticoats should be at the sides and back of the waistband -- I put about 2/3 of the fullness in the back half of the skirt, and 1/3 of the fullness in the front half of the skirt.

Make the outermost petticoat plain (meaning: no cording, no flouncing, etc.). Sometimes cording/flouncing/etc. can show through your skirt fabric. If you want to do anything decorative (tucks, lace, eyelet, etc.), you'll want it to be on the outermost petticoat.

Some tips:

  • To achieve maximum fullness, starch, starch, starch your petticoats!
  • If you decide to make one or more corded petticoats, use lots and lots of cording. Stephan Bergdahl of h-costume suggested 28 rows of cording. I used about half that much as my petticoat was getting too short, but at some point I will add more cording as that layer needs more fullness. Although you may be initially doubtful, a corded petticoat really does create a lot of width. Quite by accident, I used twine (the kind you find at hardware stores) instead of the usual pearl cording (the fabric store was out) and found it to be cheap (about $2 for the whole ball, of which I used about a third, versus a dollar or two per yard for pearl cording) and much stiffer than pearl cording. Put the cording relatively close together towards the hem of the skirt, and then widen the width between cords as your work up. This allows the cording to bend more easily at the top.
  • Use cording to attach your flounces: instead of hemming the top of each flounce, turn over the edge to make a channel and thread cording through it. Then pull up the cording (an easy way to create gathers). Leave the cording in the casing and sew the flounce to the petticoat (right below the cording) using a zipper foot. You'll find that this method adds a lot of stiffness and width to your petticoat.
  • Jackie Wakeling of h-costume suggested using puffs of horsehair (also called haircanvas) down the length of the petticoat. I haven't tried this myself, so can't offer much more advice.

how many of each petticoat, and in what order?

This was my biggest question, and I'm sorry to say that I can't answer it for you. I used the following arrangement, from inside (bottom edge of yoke) working up the yoke to the outside layer (waist-level):

  • two net petticoats, mid-calf length;
  • one corded petticoat with 12 rows of cording (it could really stand to have at least twice that much);
  • one petticoat with 2 rows of flounces (one at mid-calf, one at knee-length; each flounce was 1/4 the floor-to-hem length with a few inches for overlap), with cording used to gather each flounce;
  • one petticoat with 4 rows of flounces (one at mid-calf, one at knee, one at mid-thigh, one at waist; each 1/4 the floor-to-hem length with a few inches for overlap), with cording used to gather each flounce;
  • one plain petticoat with eyelet trim at the hem.

Please note, I was aiming for an early 1840's dome shape. Also, as the costume I was making was an evening dress for the wife of a California miner, I did not make my crinoline as full as it could have been. Underneath this crinoline I wore a small bumpad that filled in the small of my back.

I very strongly suggest using a corded petticoat for a base, as it really does give some structure to the whole arrangement. On top of the corded petticoat, I suggest using as many flounced petticoats as you can stand to make. Finally, make the outermost layer a plain (no flounces, no cording) petticoat, and decorate this if you like with tucks or lace.


I used four sets of hooks and bars down the length of the yoke.

what does it look like?

My bumpad (Yes, the cat wanted to be in the picture too)
The yoke, seen from the inside (crinoline is inside out). The horizontal seams served as a placement guide for the petticoat layers.
Net Skirts
Corded Petticoat
The net petticoats. Again, the crinoline is shown inside out.
The corded petticoat, with 12 rows of cording.
Corded Petticoat
Flounced Petticoat
Closeup of the corded petticoat.
The innermost flounced petticoat (2 rows of flounces).
Flounced Petticoat
Flounced Petticoat
Flounce closeup, showing the cording in the hem at the top of each flounce.
The outermost flounced petticoat (4 rows of flounces).
Crinoline Front
Crinoline Back
The finished crinoline -- front
The finished crinoline -- back. Note the considerable fullness at the back.


mailing lists:

H-Costume (Historic Costume) mailing list

the following works were of use to me in creating this crinoline:
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen's Dresses and their Construction c.1660-1860. London: Macmillan, 1972.
Carter, Alison. Underwear: The Fashion History. London: Batsford, 1992.
Cunnington, C. Willet and Phillis. The History of Underclothes. New York: Dover, 1992.
Ewing, Elizabeth. Dress and Undress: A History of Women's Underwear. New York: Drama Books, 1981.
Hunnisett, Jean. Period Construction for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1800-1909. Studio City, N.Y.: Players Press, 1991.
Mills, Betty J. Calico Chronicle: Texas Women and Their Fashions, 1830-1910. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech Press, 1985.
Waugh, Nora. Corsets and Crinolines. Routlidge/Theatre Arts Books, 1995.

the following works were also of use to me in creating my entire 1840's ensemble:
Blum, Stella. Fashions and Costumes from Godey's Lady's Book Including Eight Plates in Full Color. New York: Dover Publications, 1985.
Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail, 1730-1930. Boston: Plays, Inc., 1968. 2d ed. Harrap, 1981.
Foster, Vanda. A Visual History of Costume in the Nineteenth Century. London: B. T. Batsford, 1984.
Four Hundred Years of Fashion. Natalie Rothstein (Ed.). London: Vicotria & Albert Museum, 1996.
Grimble, Frances. After a Fashion: How to Reproduce, Restore, and Wear Vintage Styles. San Francisco: Lavolta Press, 1998.
Severa, Joan L. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 . Kent, Ohio :Kent State University Press, 1995.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women's Clothes 1600-1930. London: Faber and Faber, 1964.

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Last revised November 21, 2008.
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