Making a cage crinoline for your doll

For historical costumers, a cage crinoline is a necessity, but you may ask yourself what exactly that is. Modern lingo for this garment is “hoop skirt” which describes a skirt with hoops in it, typically made with plastic bands and sometimes flounced. But for the original cast, a cage crinoline was a modernization of the crinoline petticoat. A crinoline petticoat was a starched cotton underskirt, often times many layers were worn to achieve the desired bell shape to a skirt. In 1856, however, the cage crinoline was patented and allowed women to achieve the shape without all the heavy skirts! They were made with steel bands – not heavy ones – that were strong enough to carry the weight of one or two petticoats on top, plus the skirt of the dress being worn.

And of course, where fashion for people goes, so goes fashion for dolls. There are remaining doll-sized cage crinolines in private collections, and they are of course on a smaller scale and not as robust as human sized garments. They can be used to fill out a skirt for a doll, or simply for the fun of putting a hoop skirt on your dolly.

Looking at how the originals were constructed, I realized this is a simple project I could make and share the instructions here. My doll is an 18″ Yield House Meg doll, but you can adjust these measurements to fit your dolls.

Supplies

I found this trim that is 5/8″ wide, 95% cotton and reminds me of Petersham. It’s a nice woven, flat trim that will do nicely. I’m also using some aluminum jewelry wire here but you can use what is available to you. You want something that is malleable enough to bend into your shape but strong enough to hold the round hoop shape once completed. All told, I spent less than $10 on the supplies.

First you need to do some thinking and measuring. For a Yield House doll, the skirt is made from a 36” length of fabric. This results in a nicely full skirt similar to those worn in the 1860s. Consider how tall your doll is and how full her skirt is. You want the bottom hoop to be less than the full circumference of the outer skirt. I chose to make the bottom hoop 30” around. The top hoop should be wide enough to fit over the hips of your doll. Meg here needed 15” for decent clearance. For the middle bone I split the difference and made it 23”

Once you have your hoop circumferences, measure your wire to that length plus 2-3” overlap. Cut the wires and then twist the ends together.

Twist the ends together

Make all three hoops, then you can measure the tape to cover them exactly. Allow at least 1/2” on either end to turn the raw edges under. Beginning at the joint, fold the tape around the wire to encase it and then whipstitch it closed.

I used quilting thread but any type will do

Once you get to the end, tuck the end under and whip all the way around the joint.

Bring the folds together and stitch

Repeat on the second and third hoop until all three are covered. The next step will be to find the quarters on each hoop and place a small mark. This will ensure the vertical tapes will hang straight. these marks will be covered, don’t worry.

Mark the quarters

Determine the drop of your hoop skirt next. This is the length from the waist to where you want the lowest bone. I chose a 9 1/2” drop so the lowest bone would be near the tops of the doll’s boots. This is about where my life size hoops hang as well. Consider you need 1/2” on either end to tuck under – so add this onto the drop measurement. This gave me a 10 1/2” vertical tapes. Cut 4 of these. Don’t forget to measure the waist of your doll and cut a waistband to that length plus 1”.

The hoops should be equally spaced on your vertical tapes. Don’t forget that you will attach them at the top and the bottom. I measured and pinned the placement for the first and second hoop. The hoops attach at 3”, 6 1/2”, and 10” (the bottom).

Beginning with the lowest hoop, wrap the tape around so the raw edge will be enclosed. Stitch that in place. Repeat at all four quarters.

Enclose the raw edge

Moving to the middle bone, fold the tape over the hoop so you can stitch through the vertical tape, through the hoop covering under that, then out the vertical tape. You aren’t stitching behind the hoop wire, just catching the tape wrapping it. Repeat on all quarters and then move on to the top hoop.

Pin it into place until you stitch it

Once all the hoops are attached to the vertical tapes you are ready to attach the waistband. Turn the ends of the waistband under and stitch so the raw edges are inside. Remember, the waistband is the measure of your doll’s waist plus 1”.

Finished edges

Find the quarters of the waistband, place a small mark, then pin the tapes in place.

Stitch these in a square that will secure the tape and keep the raw edge inside. Once that has been done you can add a hook and eye or thread bar. You are done!

My doll happens to have a modesty petticoat under her new cage crinoline and then a fine starched cotton petticoat over it. I’m making a silk skirt for her next and this should do nicely to help it hold it’s shape.

All told I used less than the full amount of wire I purchased and less than a full spool of the white tape. Had I made the vertical tapes in white I might have used close to the full spool. I hope you found this little article helpful in demystifying the cage crinoline and will feel confident in trying one for yourself!

Supply List

5/8” Petersham or similar woven cotton flat trim (don’t use twill tape as it will ravel)

2 1/2 yards white

1/2 yard red (to make in all white add this to the length above)

Aluminum jewelry wire – 16 gauge – 72”

1 size 1 hook

Needle and thread to match

Ruler or tape measure

Building Florence

No, not the city. This is Florence Nightengale, according to Yield House. Yield House was a mail-order craft company popular for many years in the 20th century. During the 1970s and 80s, there was a wave of reproduction doll kits that hit the market and Yield House was right in the mix of things. They may have been the most popular. They featured characters from history – George & Martha Washington, John & Abigail Adams, Florence Nightengale, Betsy Ross, plus the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy – as well as Pinky & Blue Boy. There were others as well, but you get the picture.

Florence in pieces

As a 10 year old girl, I made George & Martha Washington. Looking at the instructions now, which are shockingly sparse, I am amazed I made the dolls at all. It only goes to show how good my mother was. She surely coached and guided me through the process. I have distinct memories of her telling me how to gather the fabric for the skirt. My sister some years later made new clothes for George and Martha, and related to me recently that I had put on his feet opposite to correct, so his left was on the right, right on the left. Poor George! Kathy or my mother has these two dolls.

I decided in my recent obsession with dolls that I would make a Yield House doll (or two, or more, depends…). I purchased this kit from eBay and got a discount because her original hands were broken. I found replacement hands (you can find almost anything on eBay!), and then she sat in her box unmade for several months while I worked on Dottie.

The pattern pieces and box

During that time, I considered what level of accuracy I wanted for Florence. She was a truly famous woman who accomplished great things! I suppose I could shoot for accuracy if at all possible.

But first, the construction. Like I mentioned, the instructions are shockingly sparse. Make the leg, attach the arm, stuff the body, attach the head. That’s not far from reality. The first obstacle was the fact that the pattern for the muslin leg resulted in an opening much wider than the actual china piece. What to do?? I found a blog post from a doll club in Birmingham, AL which solved the problem for me. Make a dart before attaching the china piece.

You can see here that the China piece has a groove and a hole. The intention is for firm thread such as quilting thread to be wound around the piece in the groove. The benefit of the hole is that the piece can be sewn to the leg fabric. If the piece only had the groove, some methods indicate they should be glued on top of the tightly wound thread.

In Florence’s case, since I have replacement hands, she has both types of attachment. I didn’t glue the hands because I was impatient and wanted to get her finished.

The assembly of the doll went rather quickly – maybe an hour or two. I found attaching the head a bit frustrating due to the stuffing I have used. It’s very springy, so the China head kept squiggling around when I was working on securing the tapes. This method is very common in historical and reproduction China dolls.

Once she was completed, I quickly made her a chemise and drawers. I drafted these patterns from a couple different patterns I have on hand.

Third, I made her a corset. Again, it’s not really corded, but stitched to look like it is. She is a doll after all. :-) The corset took a long time to make. All that faux cording took a long time to stitch. Last I made two petticoats. During her lifetime, Florence would have worn the multiple layers of petticoats typical before the advent of the cage crinoline. The good news is I now have a standard set of undergarment patterns for any future Yield House dolls I may create. Which is entirely likely.

Next time, I’ll tell you all about the dress I made for Florence. It was a ton of work but it’s so worth it!

Pattern Review: TV 447 1863 Sheer Dress

I have been sitting on this pattern for several years, all while sweltering in the summer heat. I purchased my fabric easily three years ago and have been wanting a sheer dress for probably five years. Summer in multiple layers of clothing is definitely more warm than it has to be! So, this past spring, I finally decided to just do it! I have researched various patterns available on the market, including some Big Three patterns, Peachtree Mercantile, and others, but I know that Truly Victorian makes beautiful, accurate, and easy to follow patterns, which is why I settled on this one.

Truly Victorian TV447 1863 Sheer Dress

Truly Victorian TV447 1863 Sheer Dress

I chose a lovely sheer cotton in blue and white stripes that I found on clearance at a chain store. I know of more than one person who has made a sheer of this fabric. Hopefully we won’t all be at the same event together!

Pretty pretty

Pretty pretty

The fabric is 54″ wide, but since at the time I didn’t know what pattern I would be using I purchased 10 yards. Lucky for me, this overestimation was a good one. The sleeves on this dress are full and wide, plus since my fabric was directional, I was able to cut the stripes going from shoulder to wrist. Anyway, before any of that, I calculated my measurements and pattern size following the instructions on the pattern. The thing about the TV patterns is they allow you to custom fit your garment before you even start sewing. And once you do that, you can easily make up a muslin for a better idea on fit.

Dark image of my muslin

Dark image of my muslin

Sorry this is not better quality, but almost all the mirrors in my house that are big enough are impacted by light diffusion. What I learned here is that the waist of the under bodice was a little too full but the bust was a pretty good fit. So I took in the darts a bit and retested it. I did not do this all by myself, by the way. I submitted my questions to the Civilian Civil War Closet group on Facebook for hints and help – there are clothing historians, professional seamstresses and experienced clothiers there who are willing to help for free. I just couldn’t overlook that knowledge base. I also asked my friend Shelley Peters for real world tips as she has made this pattern a lot. Had I needed it, the amazing Heather McNaughten at Truly Victorian would have helped too. As an aside, this just confirms for me that this community really wants its members to succeed!

Anyway, after the changes to the muslin, I traced that as my new under bodice pattern piece and went forth to sew! This is the first time I have made my own bias and bias piping, which was used on the neckline facing and armscyes. I found the instructions sufficient, but had used better instructions on a Simplicity costume pattern and did that instead. They just made a bit more sense to my thinking, the result is the same.

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Piped facing to finish the raw edges of the under bodice.

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Piped armscye

The construction of the garment is for the most part very easy. I found the TV method of inserting the sleeve into the armscye backwards to what I am used to so I just adapted and made notes on the pattern.

Hand buttonholes

Hand buttonholes

I sewed this in a combination of machine and hand sewing. My fabric was so very delicate that even though I have a high quality machine, it sometimes would bunch up in the feed dogs. I wound up hand sewing much of the finishing stitching, such as on the piped facings, and also hand sewed all the button holes. My reasoning here was twofold – I wanted historically accurate buttonholes and since the fabric was so delicate it was impossible for me to machine sew them to the standard I desired. I used silk thread for the buttonholes. The buttons are vintage shell buttons, much higher quality than the cheap flaked mother of pearl available these days. They were purchased through Farmhouse Fabrics.

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Sleeve band

For visual interest I cut the sleeve band on the bias. Maybe there is a chance of this stretching over time, but the band is so generous around the wrist that I don’t expect that to happen.

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Finished bodice

At this point, I went back to the Civilian Civil War Closet for help. The pattern does not include a collar pattern. I don’t care for my look without a collar, so I googled for tutorials. The best suggested laying the pattern pieces for the bodice front and back together as though they were sewn, then tracing the curve from center front to center back, next extending that to a simple collar width. I did that, but found mine to be fluttery and off. The amazing Liz Clark of the Sewing Academy helped me immensely with tips on how to correct this and redraft the collar. I’m delighted to say that I was successful!

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Finished collar

I added the fine tatted lace which I purchased at Farmhouse Fabrics.

Next, waistband finishing. Since my fabric is 54″ wide, I didn’t want to cut it down to  four 40″ panels to follow the TV skirt instructions. I retained the selvages as was done in historical garments, and used three panels instead of four. The skirt has a very deep pocket at the center left where the skirt pieces overlap with the waistband. Each panel was cut to the same length, but since your skirt front and skirt back are different lengths, there has to be a way to do this without cutting your fabric. Again, drawing on the Closet knowledge, I did as was suggested and folded over the waist edge of the fabric. This gave added stability to the fabric as well as achieving the lengths needed. The pattern instructions have you cut your fabric at the waist to the desired angle which will give you your length. I don’t recommend that on a sheer just because of the off chance of it tearing.

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Waist inside

You can see in this very amateurly photoshopped picture the angle of the folded-over fabric. This is center back where the skirt is a bit longer than in the front.

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Double box pleats

For the skirt attachment, the pattern gives you liberty to choose your preferred pleating or gathering method. Here I am showing you the double box pleats I used to pleat the skirt onto the waistband. Originally I had knife pleated the front and cartridge pleated the back, but I didn’t get enough fabric taken up in the front. So I went to the double box pleats in front and cartridge pleats in back. I’m quite happy with this look as it’s smooth and polished.

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Yes that hem is hand stitched

I wanted to make sure that the hem folded straight up so the lines didn’t go off kilter, so I ended up hand sewing the hem. I used a single thread and every fourth stitch went through all layers. Every 8th stitch was taken twice to keep the thread from coming undone if it were to break for any reason. If you kept up with my thinking on the skirt width, you will realize that’s a 178″ hem. It took me a couple hours to do it.

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Picture taken by an 8 year old

This is the finished dress, although it’s not the best picture of me lol. I’m looking down toward my daughter haha. Also, I realize that I must not have been laced as tightly in my corset as usual because I couldn’t fasten the waistband correctly. I wasn’t going to mess with it today and I’m certainly not taking the dress apart, so I’ll have to lace better next time.

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Side image

Here you can see the under sleeve just below my shoulder. This makes the dress very cool and airy. I had considered adding a silk stripe down the sleeve for interest, but I decided against it as it might weigh down the fabric. I may make a belt, as the silk I have is the exact color of the darkest stripe in the fabric.

You can also see the shadow of my petticoat under the skirt. I have an eyelet petticoat with two large pleats in it. This isn’t an historically accurate petticoat and someday I will make a plain cotton one, but for now this is quite pretty.

Overall I am thrilled with the result of the Truly Victorian TV447 Sheer Dress pattern. The instructions were easy, but true to the sewing techniques available to our ancestresses. It is not a pattern for a beginner, certainly, but if you have some knowledge of sewing, you can make this pattern truly customized to your preferences. If at times the instructions don’t make sense, just take them one sentence at a time. My mother told me when in doubt just do what the instructions say. These patterns will not take you down the wrong path, trust them and you will get something incredibly beautiful. And of course, email them, ask your friends who have made the pattern, or google for help. Truly Victorian patterns are very popular due to them being among the best on the market today, so lots of people make them! I am eager to wear this dress to one of our hottest events coming up soon, Huntington Beach Civil War Days.

Links & Resources

Truly Victorian

Farmhouse Fabrics

Civilian Civil War Closet

Sewing Academy

Huntington Beach Civil War Days

Mid Century Party Dress

Last year, my family went to the local county fair. Of course, I always take a look at the sewing entries, and the costume entires. The items in last year’s display were……interesting, to say it politely. I’m a dedicated admirer of historical clothing and sewing techniques. Some of the “historical costumes” submitted last year were exactly that – costumes. There is a huge difference between historical garments used in a modern stage play about the Antebellum South and actual reproduction garments worn by history enthusiasts. To most people, the two types of clothing look identical, but to those of us who know, the disparity is drastic. It was at that moment, as I gazed on a silk child’s dress made by a competent seamstress in a completely inaccurate manner to replicate the look of a Colonial child’s dress, that I decided I would like to make and submit to the county fair a full set of clothing in period accurate materials with period accurate construction techniques.

Um, what did I just say?

I’m taking on a project to create a mid-century (19th century for those who don’t know me well) party dress for my seven-year-old, made as though it came out of great-great-great-granny’s trunk after having been put away after the last big party, and then forgotten for 150 years.

Girls Dresses (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

To do this, I will be following the techniques in Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Historic Moments Patterns, Girls Linens 1840-1865 and Girls Dresses 1840-1865. These two patterns were carefully researched by Ms. Clark to best represent the home sewing techniques used by most women of the era. There are various options for sleeves, necklines and trims that allow for styles across the classes – from poor to upper class.

Girls Linens (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

Now, I have been thinking about this project since last August. I have purchased white bleached muslin for the undergarments and two cuts of silk for the dress. Today I ordered fancy imported Swiss embroidered edging. I got out the pattern and read through the booklet. It’s a tiny bit intimidating when your pattern comes with a 30 page booklet of construction tips and instructions. But, this is one of the best patterns on the market, and I hear wonderful things about it, so I’m going to roll with it.

I took Melody’s measurements tonight. I have always said she is tall and lean! Her measurements fluctuate between three of the sizes in the pattern and one measurement isn’t even on the chart it is so small.

Chest 25″

Waist 21″

Back Neck Length 12″

Neck 11″

Arm Length 19″

Hip to floor 27″

Inseam 22″

Hips 27″

Her chest is between size A-B, waist is not even on the chart for A, BNL between B-C, Neck between A-B and arm between B-C. Sigh…I will have to make a muslin and do some alterations, I suppose. I expect I will start working on this soon as I’ve only got a few months before it must be turned in to the fair committee. Watch for updates as I proceed!

And wish me luck. Lots of it!