Making a early 1910s princess slip was the final step in completing my evening gown ensemble. Historical costuming is all about creating the right silhouette (body shape and proportions), so making the princess slip was a vital step in making the costume look historically believable.
This post is partially a fashion history lesson, and it’s also some explanation on how I made my 1912 princess petticoat/princess slip back in June 2018. Also, stay tuned for the end of the post as I will include the final pictures of my whole 1912 evening ensemble!
~Why Make a Princess Slip?~
First of all, what is a princess slip, you may ask? It is an undergarment worn in the Edwardian era (roughly 1900 to 1914) that is meant to be a combination of the petticoat (underskirt) and corset cover. So, it is the third layer of underwear in Edwardian times- worn over the corset and chemise. Here’s a circa 1910 princess slip.
Petticoats are really important in historical costuming because they add the right shape to the skirt. Today we are used to dresses and skirts looking vaguely limp and loose, but that’s not how it worked back in the day. Check out the extreme variance in skirt shapes of various points within the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
A dress from 1865
A dress from 1880
A dress from 1903
And finally, here’s a dress from 1910.
Skirt shapes changed a LOT over the course of 50 years! All those skirt shapes, from the bell-shaped 1860s skirts to the narrow and slim 1910 skirts, require some sort of undergarment to support them. In the 1860s, hoop skirts and a great deal of petticoats were required. In the 1870s and 80s, they used bustles to add extra volume to the booty area. In the Edwardian era, skirts became more natural, but you still needed petticoats to add volume to the skirt and support the long trains in the back. For 1910s dresses, the purpose of the petticoat may not be to help floof out the dress, but it does a few other things for 1910s dresses:
- Adds opacity. Edwardian and early 1910s dresses could often be quite sheer, so you sometimes needed an extra layer for modesty. In the case of my evening dress (see the last post for details on how it was made), you could see the shadow of the corset right through the fabric. How unseemly! Certainly a slip is required for the sake of decency!
- Creates a smooth, connecting line from the hips downward. The early 1910s are all about long, elegant, vertical lines, so a petticoat would hide any boxy lines from the corset or drawers (underpants).
- Supports a train, if necessary. 1910s skirts were slim, but many did have trains, so it’s nice to have a petticoat that’s shaped to fluff out a train a little bit.
What is the advantage of having a princess slip instead of a separate petticoat and corset cover? Edwardian underwear was often mix-n-match, so the petticoat and corset cover could be separate like this (and that was more common for everyday wear).
(The corset cover, or camisole, is worn over the corset to smooth out any of its harsh lines, and to avoid being able to see your corset through the dress.)
The reason why you would want to combine them into one garment is to reduce bulk at the waist. For everyday wear that’s not so much of an issue, but for evening dresses, those are usually much more closely fitted to the figure, and made of lighter materials, than casual day wear. My evening dress was no exception; it barely fit around my corset and the bulk of the corset was quite visible underneath the dress.
You can see in one of these early fitting pictures that the bottom edge of the corset (down by the thigh, several inches below my hand) is very visible because the dress material is so thin.
Hopefully you understand now the reason why a princess slip was required for this costume, so let’s delve in to the making of!
~Research and Making Of~
I got my research mostly from pictures of extant garments from the time period, and from fashion illustrations or catalogs.
I love early 20th century catalogs for fashion history research. They’re super cool because they are over 1000 pages long in most cases, and you could order anything from dishes to tools to furniture to clothing. It was basically the Amazon of back then. Anyway, the bottom center of the catalog illustration shows princess slips. I believe that is a 1911 catalog from Macy’s.
Pictures like those are good for illustrating the overall look, but I also love detail shots that show construction details. For example, these detail photos of antique dresses helped me understand how the bottom ruffles tend to look.
From these research images, I decided to make a princess slip that fitted snugly around the corset and had a mostly narrow skirt, but a slight train in the back. I also planned to add a lacy ruffle and try lace insertion on the bottom.
The materials I used: 3 or 4 yards of cotton voile, eyelet lace, insertion lace, and beading ribbon.
Everything was bought on Etsy. The eyelet lace was from Zeng’s Lace– I highly recommend their stuff, it’s so pretty! The insertion lace was from PenelopeTextiles (they also have very pretty stuff).
For drafting it, I used instructions from my favorite 1910 Dressmaker’s Textbook on archive.org. Chapter 2 with the basic draft is pretty helpful, but I also read the chapter on the princess slip.
Here’s the pattern I drafted. The only mistake is that I didn’t dip the waistline in the front. The Edwardian corset makes you lean forward a little bit, so the waistline should be lower in the front than in the back, but I forgot to do that, oops. I would have done it if I had followed the archive.org textbook instructions line by line, but I didn’t take the time to do that.
I didn’t take a lot of progress pictures, but honestly, there isn’t much to tell except that I cut out all the pieces and stitched them together with French seams.
Here’s the dress after it was partially assembled.
The body was fairly easy to assemble. The ruffle was easy too, just a bit time consuming. I made my ruffle out of one under-layer and one decorative over-layer. Here’s what the first layer looked like after I hemmed it.
Normally rolled hems are quite a struggle for me especially when the edge is curved, but look at how neat it came out! Part of that is thanks to the crispness of cotton voile fabric. It folds neatly like paper, making it really easy to do pintucks and hems and stuff on it. Cotton voile is seriously one of the coolest fabrics I know of! It’s cheap and practical, yet at the same time, soft and sheer like chiffon.
Next was the fun part, the decorative layer. This was when I first tried to do lace insertion using a tutorial from the Wearing History blog. It turns out lace insertion is pretty easy, it’s just time consuming and you have to be careful doing it.
(By the way, lace insertion is when you make lace cutouts out of lace with a straight border- it’s pretty common in Edwardian blouses, lingerie, tea dresses… You can make really gorgeous, detailed designs with it to add subtle luxury to simple projects.)
I used spray-on starch to stiffen the fabric, and a really fine needle for the actual sewing.
(Normally I don’t sew with one hand, but for the sake of the video I had to lol.)
I did two rows of the insertion lace all around the entire circumference of the skirt. It’s mind-numbingly brainless work, just stitching all around the skirt edge 8 times, so I got through it by moving my machine upstairs so I could watch TV. (Normally I sew in the basement since that’s the most practical space for it.)
The result? SO worth it! (Watch the whole thing, it’s a slide show.)
Bottom line, I love lace insertion and will happily do it again any time.
The final step was to attach the ruffle to the rest of the dress and add finishing touches like shoulder straps, buttons and so on.
Here’s a final picture of the entire slip, worn over my corset and bust improvers.
The things I am happy with:
- How period-correct the bust, waist and hip shapes look!!
- The lovely details of the lace insertion around the ruffle.
- The fact that it fits so nicely around the corset with little to no wrinkles.
Things I would want to improve for next time:
- The train kind of sags and doesn’t really stay elevated.
- I didn’t dip the waist downward in the front, so it fits a little funny around the waist area. Not enough that most people would notice, though.
For comparison, check out this 1912 catalog picture:
When comparing, take note of how, in the catalog picture, the bust curve is very full and gradual. It is nothing like our modern bras where the breasts are extremely separated and well defined and pushed up. I really think that look got replicated in my costume. The petticoat would NOT fit right if I wore a modern bra with it! And in fact, I think sometime I’m going to post comparison pictures of my Edwardian clothing worn with modern undergarments versus period-correct undergarments.
Now, finally, here are the pictures of my entire late Edwardian evening gown ensemble worn together.
This is the conclusion of a 2-year project! Not that it took me 2 years of full-time sewing; if I had the ability to sew full-time the entire project would have taken maybe a few weeks at most. I’m a full time college student studying business, so I had to work on a very sporadic basis. It required a lot of patience to see everything through to the end: from the chemise and corset to the petticoat and gown.
I’m thankful for this project because I grew a lot as a seamstress, learned many useful techniques, and completely fell in love with the Edwardian era as a result. 1908 through 1912 is my favorite mini-time period for fashion, I think. In addition to it being simply beautiful, I emotionally connect to it a lot because of the aesthetic and the fact that the late Edwardian fashions are quite compatible with my body type and face shape.
Stay tuned as I am now undertaking work on some costumes for Star Wars Celebration 2019!!! Thanks for reading!
8 thoughts on “Making a 1912 Princess Slip- And Final Titanic Pictures!”
Oh I hope you send photos…they sound fabulous
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Hi, beautiful creations !
You are really talented.
May I ask what are the underwears you were wearing?
There is a corset.
Was it a chemise and drawers too?
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Absolutely beautiful and result. Congratulations on all the hard work of researching, using correct fabrics, and the sewing!