Tag Archives: cotton cord

Glossary: Cotton Fiber

Cotton is a natural fiber which comes from a plant. Many different fabrics are made from cotton fiber, including voile, batiste, organdy, calico, sateen, flannel, jean, and a wide variety of other fabrics.

“Cotton is a vegetable seed fiber. Botanically, the fibers are the protective covering of the seeds in the cotton plant, a shrub that grows from four to six feet high. Dry cotton fiber is from 88 percent to 96 percent cellulosic.” (Ingham and Covey, The Costume Technician’s Handbook, page 62)

“Under magnification, cotton (a staple fiber) appears like a twisted ribbon. This twist is what makes cotton easy to spin. Cotton is weaker than flax, but its ease of manufacture quickly overcame that deficiency. Cotton is absorbent and thus comfortable to wear in hot weather.” (Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, page 14)

“Extremely versatile in weight, texture, and construction. Found in fabric such as organdy, broadcloth, poplin, terry, corduroy, seersucker, denim, tweed. Used widely for summer wear, work clothes, and in heavier weights, for warm transitional garments.” (Butterick, Vogue Sewing, page 50)

“Cotton is cool, washable, appropriate to nearly all [mid 19th century living history] impressions in some way, and comes in a wide variety of colors and well-researched prints. Cottons fade with laundering and sun exposure, and tend to wear out more quickly than other fibers. It’s an economical choice for everyday or ‘wash’ garments.” (Clark, The Dressmaker’s Guide, 2nd ed., page 54)

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Glossary Entries for Cotton Fabrics:

Online Resources:

Print Resources: See the article Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials for a list of print resources.

Updated January 10, 2012

1830s corded petticoat of white Kona cotton

This garment is in progress – I don’t know when I;ll pick it up again, but in my sewing room, there is in fact a partially corded partial petticoat, awaiting my return to the 1830s…so to speak. Eventually I’ll post my research, and someday the actual finished petticoat….let’s hope.

Until then, I must, alas, leave you with this sad empty post.

1830s ruffled bustle of white cotton jean

This garment was created as part of my 1830s clothing independent study during the spring semester of 2010, and was documented using Chicago style footnoted citations in my research paper “Reproducing and Documenting 1830s Women’s Clothing.” The relevant section has been copied here, complete with footnotes. It has been formatted for this site and hyperlinks have been added, but otherwise it has been left intact, and is therefore written in a more formal and academic style than much of this site, which is designed to be more readily accessible to the public.


(Excerpted from pages 14-15 of my research paper, “Reproducing and Documenting 1830s Women’s Clothing.”)

My next reproduction was a simple one, exactly following the directions given in The Workwoman’s Guide for “a simple bustle”1. According to that book, “Bustles are worn by those whose shape requires something to set off the skirt of the gown. They should not be too large, or they look indelicate, or in bad taste. They are made of jean, strong calico, and sometimes of glazed calico.” It is important to clarify that The Workwoman’s Guide makes it clear, in its earlier discussion of calico, that as in modern Britain, in early 19th century British terminology, calico signified what is now called muslin in the United States, a soft-finished, plain-woven, and fairly sturdy cloth available in white or unbleached, used for shirts, shifts, baby’s caps, aprons, etc.2 Furthermore, Lynne Zacek Bassett describes early nineteenth century jean as twilled, medium weight, and “in the family of drill fabrics.”3 She also states that jean can be linen/cotton, cotton/wool, all wool, or all cotton.4 For my reproduction, I used white cotton jean, a sturdy, twilled fabric.

The bustle designs offered in The Workwoman’s Guide are essentially ruffles of fabric intended to be tied at the waist, worn across the back in conjunction with petticoats, to increase the fullness of the skirt at the high hips and decrease the apparent size of the waist. I followed as precisely as possible the directions offered for the first bustle design:

“It is composed of one piece the width of the calico, say a yard [36”], and eight nails [18”] deep. This piece is doubled in two, so as to make two flounces, the one four nails and a half [10-1/8”] long, and the other three and a half [7-7/8”]. At one nail [2-1/4”] from the doubled top make a narrow case to admit of tapes. The bottoms of the flounces are hemmed with a very thick cord in them. When worn, the bustle is turned inside out, by which means the frill falls between the two flounces.”5

There are two small illustrations accompanying these directions6, which helped me to understand the directions.

However, I still wanted to consult other sources. There are many references to bustles, hip pads, hip improvers, and bum-rolls for this period, but there are few images available, and some of those available are cartoons, which cannot be taken literally. Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines offers some relevant information relating to early- and mid-nineteenth century bustles7, and I was able to find one ruffled bustle, from 1833, in the Manchester Art Gallery collection online8. While the online bustle was of a different shape and design from the one that I chose to reproduce, it was an effective corroborating source indicating that ruffled bustles of fairly stiff white cotton or linen/cotton were used during the period. In the end, I followed the directions precisely, except in that my cotton jean was of a much wider width, so I had to cut it to a yard width and narrowly hem the sides of the bustle. I hemmed both ruffles with cord, which stiffened them nicely, and ran a narrow cotton twill tape through the casing, tacking it down at both ends of the casing once adjusted to a rough hip-width. I left long pieces of the tape hanging on each side, to tie around the waist.

It is my surmise that this type of garment would be worn over the petticoats, or at least over most of the petticoats, particularly by women with low or slender hips. If it was to be worn, skirts would have to be made and adjusted to be worn over it, so as to have the correct length all around. Because this was a simple item, with relatively straightforward directions – though I did need to read them through at least six times before I was reasonably certain of what they meant – it was a good choice for my first reproduction garment for this period, whether or not it is ever necessary that I wear it.

2   Ibid., 12. (Page 12 online)

3   Lynne Zacek Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, 35.

4   Ibid.

6   Ibid., plate 11 (following plate 8, following page 54) figs. 30 and 32. (Plate 11 online)

7   Norah Waugh, Corsets and Crinolines (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1970), 93, 117, and 134.

8   Manchester Art Gallery, “Bustle (Accession Number 1947.1942),” Search the Collection, Manchester Art Gallery, http://www.manchestergalleries.org/the-collections/search-the-collection/display.php?EMUSESSID=4d4ed491b2370dc13880da9da748f57c&irn=13470.

Since officially finishing the independent study (and, of course, the paper), I have found more information relevant to this garment, which I will include here, along with the previously mentioned sources.

Print resources:

On page 133, Figure 58 is a photograph of three extant bustles. The top and middle bustles are similar, of the “bum roll” variety, long variants on a crescent shape, stitched together and stuffed. The lowest of the three bustles is listed at dating to 1833 and being in the Gallery of English Costume in Manchester. Therefore it is likely yet another photograph of the same ruffled bustle shown on the Manchester Galleries website and worn by a model in a photograph on page 68 of Fabric of Society. But in this case (for what reason I do not know), the bustle is shown upside down, because while it appears lumpy, only a hint of the frills or ruffles underneath can be seen, at one side. See the entry under Fabric of Society below for more information.

On page 134, Figure 60 is a cartoon, “A Bustling Woman — 1829 — after Cruikshank” of a woman with an extremely puffed out skirt apparently selling a padded bustle to a woman with a far less impressive skirt, with other bustle hanging behind the proprietress.

Pages 100-101 contain a passing reference to the wearing of some sort of rigged handkerchief to give loft to the back of the skirt, after which there is a disparaging critique of the artificiality of excessive (or, indeed, in any way discernible) tournures. However, there is no useful information about construction or shape.

Text on pages 83-84. Images on plate 11.

There is a photograph on page 68 of a model wearing a full complement of 1825-35 underclothing, including a ruffled bustle which appears to be of a rounded shape. It is mostly hidden from view, and in shadow. However, all of the undergarments pictured are of the “Fanny Jarvis” set, which is in the collection of the Gallery of English Costume in Manchester, and on their website there is a ruffled bustle of a rounded shape, marked “F. J.” for Fanny Jarvis. It seems quite likely that this offers us multiple views of the same bustle. The website describes the bustle thus: “White cotton satin with three frills with rounded ends, the bottom one wider and the top one narrower, gathered to band at top edge, linen tape tie each end. Inscribed ‘F.J. – Senr / 3 / 1833’ (Fanny Jarvis).” Additionally, the lowest of the three bustles shown on page 133 of The History of Underclothes is listed at dating to 1833 and being in the Gallery of English Costume in Manchester. Therefore it is likely yet another photograph of the very same bustle, but in this case seen upside down, because while it appears lumpy, only a hint of the frills or ruffles underneath can be seen, at one side.

Text on pages 93, 117, and 134.