18th Century Women’s Quilted Petticoats

Last updated: March 9, 2023

First, a bit of poetry; from The Fable of Ixion, To Chlorinda:

This cloud which came to her ſtark naked,
She dreſs’d as fine as hands cou’d make it.
From her own wardrobe out ſhe brought
Whate’er was dainty, wove or wrought.
A ſmock which Pallas ſpun and gave her
Once on a time to gain her favour;
A gown that ha’n’t on earth its fellow,
Of fineſt blue and lin’d with yellow,
Fit for a Goddeſs to appear in,
And not a pin the worſe for wearing.
A quilted petticoat beſide,
With whalebone hoop ſix fathom wide.
With theſe ſhe deck’d the cloud d’ye ſee?
As like herſelf, as like cou’d be:
So like, that cou’d not I or you know
Which was the cloud, and which was Juno.

The London Tradesman (1747) describes the sorts of people who made quilted petticoats as a profession:

Since I am ſo bold as to make free with the Ladies Hoop-Petticoat, I muſt juſt peep under the Quiltted-Petticoat. Every one knows the Materials they are made of: They are made moſtly by Women, and ſome Men, who are employed by the Shops and earn but little. They quilt likewiſe Quilts for Beds for the Upholder. This they make more of than the Petticoats, but not very comſiderable, nothing to get rich by, unleſs they are able to purchaſe the Materials and ſell them finiſhed to the Shops, which few of them do. They rarely take Apprentices, and the Women they employ to help them, earn Three or Four Shillings a Week and their Diet.

Several quilted petticoats are described in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey.

Unless otherwise noted, these quilted petticoats are silk with wool lining, generally with a wool batting. (See also the embroidered petticoats.) Many 18th century quilted petticoats were upcycled, most frequently into bed quilts.

  • National Museum of American History T.17769, deep pink glazed wool face quilted with silk thread in a pattern of floral lines against diagonal lines with a diamond-quilted border, possibly American
  • LACMA M.88.122.1, America; linsey woolsey and wool
  • Met 52.559, silk satin, glazed worsted, and plain silk weave ribbon, New England, 18th century
  • Manchester 1922.1834, England, c. 1670-1700; “White linen petticoat, corded and quilted; probably 2 panels from 3. Embroidered in very white linen in a stylised design, late bizarre, but including snails, dragonflies and sprigs; mostly back stitched with padding, and surface knotting.”
  • MFA 43.672 and 43.673, white linen quilted and corded petticoats, one with a floral design, the other with a Chinoiserie-inspired design, England, early 18th century
  • Historic Deerfield F.098A, a wholecloth quilt probably upcycled from a quilted petticoat made in India for the Portuguese market in the first half of the 18th century
  • Amsterdam Museum KA 13941.1, 18th century
  • Fries Museum T1943-008, blue silk lined with linen, 18th century
  • Kunstmuseum Den Haag 0781005, 18th century
  • Met X.279, silk, 18th century
  • Met C.I. 37.25.2, silk, American, 18th century
  • Met C.I.37.35, probably French, 18th century
  • Met C.I.46.82.3, 18th century
  • Met C.I.57.45.2, probably French, 18th century
  • Met C.I.58.22, 18th century
  • MRAH (IRPA 20049477), 18th century
  • Augusta 8.4834.420.120, 18th century
  • Nederlands Openluchtmuseum K.528-52, yellow silk underskirt quilted in a large floral pattern, first half of the 18th century
  • National Museum of American History 323525, a gold silk quilted petticoat with a woven wool lining and carded wool interlining from the Scovill family of Connecticut, 1725-1750
  • LACMA M.59.27.1, quilted and embroidered, Italy, c. 1725-1760
  • LACMA M.67.8.73a-b, England, c. 1730
  • Historic Deerfield 2000.72.3, English fabric with American quilting, c. 1730-1740; “Quilted petticoat of yellow (now faded) silk taffeta lined with a medium blue, glazed plain weave worsted wool (tammy) … The petticoat is quilted using yellow silk thread, using an English-style running stitch to create the dense, overall design. The quilting stitches average about 9-12 stitches per inch (spi), as do the seam stitches. The petticoat opens with a center back placket, 9 ¾" long (ripped an additional 1 ½"). At the top, the garment is pleated (all pleats are ½" apart, 1/8" deep, and open up towards center back), into a matching blue wool braided waistband, with the center back 3" left unpleated. The top 5-6" of the petticoat is unquilted, and ends with the fabric folded over and stitched, giving the appearance of a horizontal seam. Below this stitching, the petticoat is gathered on either side, for about 19" (the front 12½" and the back 16" back 16" are left unpleated). The hem is edged in a matching gold silk braid, badly deteriorated. The inside wool layer is seamed using matching blue linen thread. The selvage of the silk contains blue threads (7-8) and a single, thicker red thread. There is wool batting (natural color) between the two layers. The petticoat has been lengthened, evidenced by stitch holes about 1" up from the gathering of petticoat. "Crumbs" of cotton thread indicate later (modern) alterations of an unidentified kind. A repair was attempted using cotton thread to fix a tear at the top, proper left side.”
  • V&A T.427-1966, silk lined with wool, Britain, c. 1730-1770; “Quilted petticoat of yellow silk. Quilted in a diamond pattern and lined with two woollen materials. The large piece has a small check design woven in yellow, green and white. The weaving is in open tabby and the width of warp and weft threads is variable. The selvedge of this green and yellow check worsted is indicated by three warp threads. The width of this material is approximately 24 inches. The other piece of lining, of green wool, is much more closely woven in twill. The quilted skirt hangs from an uneven strip of deep yellow plain-woven wool which is bound to the waist with tape. The hem is bound with yellow silk. The top is pleated away from a box-pleat in the centre-front, and towards an inverted pleat at the centre back. There is an opening, bound with yellow silk, at one side, fastening with a black metal hook and eye at the top, and on the opposite side is a slit for a pocket also bound with yellow silk.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2006-43, England, c. 1735-1740
  • Centraal Museum 26419, a Marseilles-work quilted petticoat, c. 1740
  • Centraal Museum 6466, matelassé, c. 1740
  • V&A T.306-1982, Britain, c. 1740-1750; “Quilted petticoat in green shot silk, lined with wool and hand-sewn. With an all over running stitch diamond quilted pattern. Mounted on a hip yoke of darker green woollen cloth made longer at the back than the front. Lined with undying woollen cloth having a blue selvedge. It does not seem to be padded or interlined. The pocket slits and hem are bound in darker green silk ribbon braid. The petticoat fastens at the side hips where the white waist band extends into ties.”
  • Manchester 2008.22, England, c. 1740-1760; “white linen, quilted in bands of inverted Vs to within 10cms of waistband and to 36cms from hem; lower part (36cm in width) diamond pane quilted with 5 bands of applied trailing floral embroidery in red and green with a scalloped green edge; waist edged in white linen with ties and side pocket openings; pockets and hem edged with green calamanco; fully lined (apart from one panel) in vertically striped blue and white fustian (with piecing). Embroidered bands applied before construction (ready made petticoat) as they run behind seams.”
  • Met 2009.300.2974 silk and embroidered cotton, Sweden, c. 1740-1760
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1996-291, England, c. 1740-1760
  • Winterthur 1969.1110, silk and wool, United States, c. 1740-1760
  • Winterthur 1969.5327, silk and wool, United States, c. 1740-1760
  • Museum Rotterdam 20649, pale green silk, c. 1740-1775
  • Fries Museum T1957-416, c. 1740-1770
  • CHS 1987.211.1, cream-colored silk, c. 1740-1780
  • Manchester 1951.281, Britain, 1742-1743
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1971-1554, England, c. 1745-1760
  • PMA 1933-47-1, England or America, c. 1749
  • University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection 1971.35.01, a petticoat marked MJ 1749; “The quilted designs around this petticoat include eccentric figures and plant life that float in a background of narrow parallel lines diagonally filling the space. A squirrel, which is a motif that appears in most of these petticoats, has been quilted above a horseback rider with long hair, hat, and 18th-century coat. A mermaid carries her mirror while Cupid draws his bow … The gold-colored, plain-weave silk fabric is quilted to a backing of plain-weave brown wool with a wool batting between. Silk thread was used to produce the fine quilting lines on the front, created by the use of a backstitch. The petticoat had been turned into a bedcover.”
  • Meg Andrews 7075, “palest shell pink satin quilted in a small diamond design, below a band of cream wool pleated into a shell pink linen tape waistband”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1952-19, Connecticut, 1750
  • MFA 47.1022, American, 1750s
  • HD F.122, English fabrics quilted in America, c. 1750; “Quilted petticoat made of quilted, yellow, plain weave silk (taffeta) worked in an all-over quilted design with the top pleated into a waistband (possibly replaced); the top half with a diamond or trellis pattern; and the lower half made up of parellel lines closely spaced together interspersed with foliate designs and several figures and creatures, including Cupid (possibly made for a marriage), a crowned lion, and a sea serpent. The initials "MC" are worked into the trunk of a tree along the border. The petticoat is lined with green, plain weave wool ... The fineness of the stitching that creates the quilting pattern (a kind of backstitch) allows the quilter to intricately depict the designs of stags, rabbits, birds, and other creatures both real and imagined, which cavort around the border of this petticoat.”
  • V&A T.193-1929, Britain, c. 1750; “Pale blue satin quilted with silk, with symmetrical border of a row of flowering plants, with wavy diagonal stripes above. Woollen lining and silk tying ribbons included.”
  • V&A T.1-1931, England, c. 1750; “Ivory-coloured satin, quilted with silk. The lower part has a repeating row of two flowering plants and festoons, with a bottom border of wavy leafy stems and spirals. Above are large imbrications. There is a woollen lining (calimanco?).”
  • PMA 1900-49, Philadelphia, mid-18th century
  • MFA 59.454, Massachusetts, mid-18th century; “quilted silk satin with linen plain weave lining quilted with silk thread; cotton drawstring, cotton plain weave waist band”
  • Met 11.60.220, mid-18th century
  • Met 1977.197.2, silk, British, mid-18th century
  • Meg Andrews 8689, quilted petticoat, 1750-75; “It is amateur quilting rather than professional, which makes it more appealing … of pale blue fine silk, quilted with scallop shells above a huge pattern of thistles and other flowers, lined with cream coloured worsted, slits to the sides (for pocket access), ties to the waist.”
  • MFA 42.512, part of a quilted petticoat, quilted silk with stuffed work and silk backing, cotton batting, and wool tape
  • MFA 42.464, America
  • MFA 22.667, America
  • MFA 44.344, probably America; “quilted silk, worsted twill lining, glazed cotton header, linen tape waistband, silk plain weave hem binding tape, cotton batting”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1994-88, Connecticut River Valley, 1755
  • 18th century quilted silk petticoat, England
  • Quilters’ Guild, a blue silk quilted ptticoat with wool wadding and a glazed wool lining, c. 1750-1770
  • Manchester 1972.111, c. 1750-1770; “Leaf green silk satin quilted over padding onto cream twilled linen lining. Top quilted in wavy lines, hem in deep band of scrolls and foliage. Linen waistband. Vent in right side 26.5cm, bound in green silk. Similar vent at left, open at top and fastened by strings continuous with waistband.”
  • V&A T.155-1930, England, c. 1750-1774; “Pink satin, quilted with silk. Round the bottom is a repeating and continuous leafy stem pattern with star-like flowers. The space above is covered with a scale pattern. There is a broad band of pink cotton sewn to the top, and a woollen canvas lining.”
  • Henry Ford 61.155.1, a tan quilted petticoat made in the United States c. 1750-1775
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1952-681, cord-quilted cotton with linen backing, England, c. 1750-1775
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2009-43,1, Philadelphia, c. 1750-1775
  • Met 1981.12.5, British, cotton and linen, c. 1750-1775
  • Met C.I.46.82.1, French, silk, 3rd quarter of the 18th century
  • Historic Deerfield 2014.10, English or American silk quilted petticoat, 1750-1775
  • From Fitting & Proper: woman’s quilted petticoat, c. 1750-1780; “A petticoat of robin’s egg blue silk, lined with blue-gray linen, wadded with wool fleece and quilted in elaborate motifs”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2009-43,2, quilted petticoat fragment, Philadelphia, c. 1750-1780
  • CHS 1973.93.4, salmon pink silk with cream-colored glazed wool backing and wool batting, c. 1750-1780
  • CHS 1975.10.1, pale aqua silk lined with cream-colored glazed worsted wool with stylized design of geometric flowers over swags, wool batting, c. 1750-1780
  • Met 1979.346.117, silk, c. 1750-1799
  • Met 36.64.2, America, second half of the 18th century
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1974-658, Philadelphia, 1755-1770
  • CHS 1959.54.2, 1758; “Red satin-woven worsted petticoat, quilted in cream-colored and golden brown silk threads with various designs extending ten inches above the hem; above this, the quilted pattern is a trellis-like design, stitched in groups of three lines. Above the scallops, the body of the petticoat is quilted in a diamond pattern, with triple rows of stitching creating the diamonds. The quilting ends four inches below the waistband, and there is no wadding in this area. The decorative band around the hem includes figures of a mermaid, lion, a griffin or leopard, a fish, 2 stags, 3 rabbits, 3 different birds,and a dog(?). The lion has the initials "SH" stitched on his rump; the griffin or leopard has the date "1758" stitched on his body. The mermaid holds a comb and a mirror. The figures are interspersed between nine plant slips, each with three branches bearing different, oversize flowers. These designs are surrounded by closely-worked parallel diagonal lines. The stitching is a variant of the back stitch, worked extremely finely. The petticoat is interlined with undyed wool wadding and backed by an undyed, plain-woven wool, possibly homespun. The hem is finished in a knife edge. The petticoat is gathered onto a replaced waistband of red cotton fabric (the original, perhaps on a drawstring, may be underneath the newer material). There is an eleven-inch opening along one seam, but there is no evidence that the petticoat ever had pocket slits. The backing fabric is pieced in one place, raw edge to raw edge, down the length of the petticoat; this appears to be original, as the quilting continues uninterrupted over it. The face fabric is seamed along this same line. The backing fabric is properly seamed near this odd piecing--perhaps the maker miscalculated the required width of the backing(?).” (See also Quiltmakers at Work, or Hey, There’s a Menagerie on my Petticoat.)
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1952-594, quilted petticoat fragment, England, c. 1760-1775
  • Meg Andrews 6935, c. 1760-1775
  • Henry Ford 35.596.12, a pale blue quilted petticoat, c. 1760-1780
  • V&A T.264A-1966, England, c. 1760-1780
  • FIT P78.3.1, England, c. 1765/li>
  • Meg Andrews 6477, “a quilted petticoat of palest shell pink silk with large scallop shapes to the main area 4 1/2 in; 12 cm wide, the hem area with a leafy meander above diamond filled pyramids”
  • Historic Deerfield F.296, c. 1770-1790; “Quilted blue, satin weave silk petticoat with a plaid waistband, which is typical of a New England-made quilted petticoat with its diamond or trellis grid pattern around the top 2/3's over a scrolling flower and vine design around the bottom 1/3, done in silk quilting thread”
  • Augusta 20.9725.137.306, c. 1770-1790; “Baby blue silk satin, draw-string waist, cream calamanco lining, quilted in patterns of tulips at hem w/ larger pattern of 5 petal flowers, stylized leaves & fronds w/in scallops above, from waist to knee sparse pattern of serpentine vines w/ small flowers, W 26"-50", L 38"”
  • HD F.495A, c. 1770-1800; “Light-green silk, loom-woven quilted petticoat in a diaper pattern, which was worn with HD F.495.
  • Met 2009.300.658, silk, American, 4th quarter of the 18th century
  • Met 2009.300.6299, silk and cotton, American, 4th quarter of the 18th century
  • Met 2009.300.7707, silk and cotton, American, 4th quarter of the 18th century
  • Christie’s Lot 260 / Sale 6072, a French provincial quilted petticoat panel, possibly late 18th century
  • Augusta 26.11930.33.157, late 18th century; “Khaki China silk, butternut squash dyed wool backing & wool batting, hand quilted in patterns of undulating fern/foliage decorated w/ hearts, lilies, tulips, starfish, twirling suns, etc., all against diagonal ground, W 31", L 36"”
  • Köln 1961/81, c. 1780
  • Historic Deerfield F.654, c. 1780s; “Quilted off-white, plain weave cotton petticoat which was pieced together first (has one vertical steam) and then quilted in matching cotton thread with a diamond or trellis pattern around the upper half; painted with floral sprays in red, blue, and brown (faded from purple) around the finely woven cotton bottom half; and a narrowly-spaced quilting design around the bottom edge.”
  • Monmouth County Historical Association 2097.2, made in New Jersey, c. 1780-1790; “A woman’s quilted petticoat of drab grayish-green silk with a set-in waistband. The front of the petticoat is fashioned into large pleats, while the rear of the petticoat is gathered. The skirt has a single seam down the proper right side, with the upper 11 inches left as a pocket access slit. An additional slit of 8 1/2 inches, now sewn closed, was originally open along the proper left side of the petticoat. Both side slits are bound with drab grayish-green silk. All but the upper 3 1/2 inches of the petticoat is quilted in elaborate and finely worked patterns of sunflowers, tulips, grape bunches, meandering feather bands, and other floral and foliate motifs all with diagonal line stitching in 1/8 inch spacing, with approximately 14 stitches to the inch. The quilting pattern appears to have an identifiable "front" with a large sunflower and tulip with feathered vines radiating outward, with no apparent repeat of motifs. The waistband has been reworked at some point, however, shifting the central elements slightly to the left. The hem is banded with tightly felted wool moleskin and a dark grayish-green wool edging with pinked scallops. The petticoat’s lining is coarsely woven glazed gray linen. Small areas of wear reveal that the garment’s batting consists of rich reddish-brown wool.”
  • Historic New England 1964.55A, an underskirt in ivory silk satin lined in cream glazed wool, quilted with a large-scale pattern of swags, flowers, and leaves, c. 1780-1810
  • Met 26.238.23, cotton, French, c. 1783-1789
  • MFA 43.1619b, France, c. 1785; “Block printed cotton in polychrome on white with Indian style floral motifs. … Quilted petticoat: fullness cartridge pleated into tan linen tape waistband; linen suspender tapes; narrow horizontal quilting at base.”
  • Met 2009.300.894 silk and cotton, France, 1795
  • LiveAuctioneers 5985188, late 18th-early 19th century
  • Fries Museum Leeuwarden, silk matelassé petticoat, c. 1800
  • OSV 26.107.6; originally a quilted petticoat with a callimanco top and striped wool backing, this was converted into a bed-quilt c. 1800-1825

Depictions of women wearing quilted petticoats

H/T to Aldis Tullis O’Brien for her suggestion to look at the works of Arthur Devis!

Descriptions from runaway advertisements