18th Century Petticoats With Bound Hemlines

Last updated: Feb 21, 2024

Binding along the bottom edge of a petticoat stabilizes and reinforces the edge without the bulk of a standard hem. I like how this technique gives a crisp edge, and I like how it drapes. Not all petticoats were finished this way, however.

This practice is also described in The Academy of Armory (1688):

Binding, is the sowing of some things (as Ribbon, Galloon or such like) on both sides the Edge of the skirt to keep it from ravelling; sometime it is done by a Hem: the top part of the Peti-coat hath its Binding also; that is, it hath either Incle, Filleting, or Galloon, sowed about the Edges of it, when pleated: which keeps the Pleats in their Pleats, the ends helping to make it fast about the wearers Waist.

While this page focuses on binding the bottom edges of petticoats, 18th century petticoats are also bound across the top, as can be seen in linen tape on National Trust 1348722.2. The directions for making petticoats in Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor (1789) only calls for 1 to 1.5 yards of tape for binding, suggesting that they were only bound at the top.

Petticoats with bound hemlines

Many quilted petticoats use binding along the bottom edge. MFA 44.344, for example, has a yellow lutestring silk on the exterior and has a silk plain weave hem binding tape.

(Petticoats are not the only garments with binding; see also waistcoat with red tape binding to the neck, and several women’s cloaks.)

  • Kunstmuseum Den Haag 1050153, an embroidered linen petticoat, c. 1700-1725
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1956-578, an embroidered dimity (linen/cotton) petticoat, hem faced with a tabby cotton band approximately 2 inches wide, New England, 1745-1760
  • MFA 50.3175, an embroidered linen and cotton petticoat, the bottom edge bound with green wool tape, New England, mid-18th century
  • National Trust 603183.2, a silk brocade petticoat, the hem bound with gold braid, 1759-1763
  • MFA 43.546, a striped wool and linen petticoat with wool binding tape, English or French, late 18th century

Depictions of women wearing petticoats with visible bound edges

Descriptions of petticoats with bindings

  • “striped linsey petticoat bound with red” (The Pennsylvania Chronicle, July 17-24, 1769 - Documents relating to the colonial, Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary history of the State of New Jersey)
  • “had on a deep blue cloth jacket and petticoat bound with red” (Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser, October 22, 1789 - The Geography of Slavery)
  • “The prisoner came in for two yards of worsted binding; I asked him what it was for? I think he said, to bind a black petticoat.” (Trial of Allen Cameron, February 24, 1790, Proceedings of the Old Bailey t18050918-35)
  • “Q. Look at that petticoat, do you know that petticoat? - A. I made Mrs. Green such a petticoat as that, and I believe that to be the petticoat; there are very few that have such a binding as that; I never saw the binding of a petticoat bound as Mrs. Green chooses to have it; she has it done in a particular manner; it is a very short skirt, I made her two like this.
    Cross-examined by Mr. Bolland. Q. You do not mean to say that many ladies do not wear so broad a binding as that? - A. There are some of course, but very few.”
    (Trial of Thomas Taylor and Ann Taylor, theft of goods including two flannel petticoats, September 18, 1805, Proceedings of the Old Bailey t18050918-35)