Tag Archives: Workwoman’s Guide

1830s bodiced petticoat of white cotton


1830s stays of white cotton sateen with white embroidery

These stays actually made it all the way through second mock-up and massive quantities of research and planning before I ran out of time during my Div III, and sadly, I haven’t gotten back to them yet. But soon, I’ll post my research.

In the meantime, here’s a link to my Pinterest board for 1830s Stays.

1830s white cotton drawers with wide tucks


1830s rectangle-cut shift of white cotton

Inspiration: The basic shift in The Workwoman’s Guide and an early 19th century shift at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, accession number 99.664.51
Pattern: Drafted almost verbatim from the directions in the WWG in the largest size, but with slight alterations, to give it the right fit and proportions on my frame and to get it closer to the sleeve style of the MFA shift, which seems common, based on my research.
Fabric: 36″ wide white cotton utility muslin from JoAnn’s, cut narrower in order to follow the WWG drafting instructions as closely as possible
Thread: Plain cotton thread in white
Construction: Entirely hand-sewn
Seam finishes: Most seams have the seam allowances folded in against one another and overcast, but the two long side seams are finished with a run-and-fell seam.
Fun fact: When I finished sewing this, it was late at night…and I proceeded to put on my very comfy-looking shift and give it a test drive: I slept in it. It was indeed very comfy! And none of the seams bothered me at all.
Current Status: Finished! At some point, I may choose to add narrow sleeve ruffles like on the MFA inspiration shift and some others, but that’s just a possibility for the future. For the moment, it is DONE! Pictures soon.

I drafted this using the instructions in The Workwoman’s Guide, published 1838, for the “largest size” (of four), but I changed a couple of dimensions slightly in order to get the right fit and proportions on my frame, and to make it look like the inspiration shift in the MFA collection. As an exercise in taking the period approach, I kept all the measurements in nails rather than converting to similar measurements in inches. A nail is 2 ¼ inches; it’s also 1/16th of a yard.

I lengthened the front and back each 2 nails, or 4 ½ inches, (ergo, I lengthened the entire body piece by four nails), because the extant shifts I could find images of, and period illustrations of women with shifts on seemed to imply that shifts were quite long – at least mid-calf – in this period, and I’m quite tall for any time period, at 5’9″, and curvy, so that leads to additional take-up of length, especially under stays. Plus, I figured I could always cut off excess length or do a larger hem if needed, but it would be very unfortunate if my shift ended up too short.

I also changed the sleeve and sleeve gusset proportions slightly. I lengthened and widened the sleeve itself, to make it hit just above my elbow, and to make sure that there was some ease around my both-muscular-and-plump upper arms. I also made the gusset smaller, because none of the originals I could find images of seemed to have such large gussets and I didn’t need all that space. And, again, to make it look more like my inspiration image from the MFA, and other similar shifts that seem to represent common styles.

I’ll add more detail about the drafting and construction of this shift later, as well as images. For the moment, here are some resources…

A resource available both online and in print:

Also available, digitally and free of cost, via Google Books. The section on drafting this style of shift is on pages 46-47, with images on plate 6. Note that in the print version, that plate falls between the two text pages.

Print resources:

This book includes a slightly earlier shift, circa 1780-1810, that is quite similar in construction to many 1830s period shifts. The book includes written details about the shift as well as photographs, schematic drawings, and a pattern diagram. It was a helpful reference for figuring out what the WWG was referring to, and guessing how to go about construction.

There is a photograph of an extant chemise, circa 1825, with a ruffled neck edge, on page 129. This may be the same chemise shown on a model in Fabric of Society, because the same bodiced petticoat is in the photograph with this shift.

Extant garments on mannequins: a “chemise” dated 1820s can be seen on a mannequin who is also wearing stays and drawers, with puffed sleeves and ruffles around the neckline and sleeve bands, which reaches just below the knee on the mannequin, on page 200; on another mannequin, peeking out from under a “corset,” sleeve puffs, and corded petticoat, all dated 1830s, another “chemise” can be just seen, with a ruffle at the neckline and straight, slim sleeves that probably reach to just above the elbow and are finished with ruffles, on page 201.

There is some information about shifts of a similar but different style on pages 369 and 370. Additionally, the information on different “Common Stitches and Seams” was quite helpful, see pages 305-314.

An 1835 shift with a different type of construction is depicted on pages 12-13, with text, line drawings, and a detail photograph. The same shift is depicted, on a mannequin with other garments, in Four Hundred Years of Fashion, and can also be viewed on the V&A website.

Image 75, a photograph of a mannequin in 1830s underclothing, on page 35, with further information on page 143 about each individual garment: shift, circa 1835 (T.386-1960); drawers, circa 1834 (T.102-1931); corset, circa 1835 (T.3-1929). The same shift is pictured on page 12 of Underwear: Fashion in Detail, and can be viewed on the V&A website.

There is some discussion of the surviving collection of 1820s underclothing marked “Fanny Jarvis” on page 67, and a photograph of a model actually wearing a full complement of these antique undergarments, on page 68. Additionally, there is a full-color image of the four-part lithograph The Stages of the Toilette, circa 1830, on page 68. From the photograph of extant garments, the length of the shift cannot be determined, because the model is wearing other garments, including a bodiced petticoat, over the shift, but the sleeves reach to just above the elbow, and are relatively slim, cut straight. The shift in the lithograph is very long, reaching to at least mid-calf, and has full, puffed sleeves.

Online resources:

  • My inspiration shift at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, accession number 99.664.51. It has the basic cutting pattern, with straight sleeves and small-to-medium sleeve gussets, and no neckline ruffle, though it does have small sleeve ruffles, which I may add to my shift at some point.
  • A post on the mid-19th century authentic sewing forum, The Sewing Academy, in which user Beth Chamberlain posted an image of the above shift, on which she had helpfully drawn in the construction lines of the long triangles of fabric which are essentially swung from the sides at the top to the sides at the bottom in construction.
  • Another early 19th century shift at the MFA (accession number 52.1777), this one with a neckline ruffle and sleeve ruffles of a finer fabric than the body of the shift. It has straight sleeves, but they are gathered somewhat at the top of the shoulder.
  • The 1835 shift in the V&A Collection (accession number T.386-1960) that is constructed along different lines, with puffed sleeves and shoulder straps. This is the same shift that was mentioned above, as it was depicted in both Four Hundred Years of Fashion and Underwear: Fashion in Detail.

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.

AB: A Lady – Workwoman’s Guide

(This is an entry in the Annotated Bibliography.)

*Lady, A (Anonymous). The Workwoman’s Guide: A Guide to 19th Century Decorative Arts, Fashion and Practical Crafts (A Facsimile Reproduction of the Original 1838 Edition). Guilford, Connecticut: Opus Publications with Old Sturbridge Village, 1986.

Originally published in England in 1838, this is a thorough practical guide to sewing and various handicrafts, intended particularly for middle and upper class women who wished to maintain their own households and also assist the poor and needy. Because of the charity aspect of the book’s aims, many projects and patterns offered are extremely practical, functional, and simple, in addition to a variety of more elaborate, decorative, delicate, or frivolous projects. There is a wealth of information here, but it can be difficult to understand, since the author assumes that the reader is an early 19th century woman who already knows how to sew, knit, etc., and understands the fashions and habits of the period. This leaves many questions unanswered for modern sewists. An annotated version of this book would be extremely useful, but as yet does not exist. However, used in conjunction with other books, and with online resources including images of extant garments or items similar to those depicted in the book, it can be an invaluable resource, for the 1820s through at least the 1850s, and an even broader span of time in some aspects. It is instructional. It contains plates of line drawn monochrome images with garment and item drawings as well as pattern schematics, which are often not to perfect scale but include measurement information. There is no bibliography. This book is also readily available digitally via Google Books. I personally own this book in a public domain print-on-demand edition, and would highly recommend it, although accessing it digitally is another viable option.

A variety of my projects use this book as a reference, and several are made to its specifications. Projects that draw heavily from this source are tagged “Workwoman’s Guide,” and can be found here. The 1830s shift, for example, is drafted almost verbatim from the instructions in this book.