How to make a '50s petticoat

Updated July 20, 2017

The 1950s were an era of fashion freedom. Sombre colours were out. Flirty silk scarves and cashmere sweaters were in. With saddle shoes, circle skirts and bouffant petticoats, the women of that decade declared their stylistic independence. Use your own measurements to make this yoked 3-tier net petticoat with a ribbon-bound hem. Fabric and notion quantities are based on a medium size.

Measure and record your waist and hip circumferences. Plan to cut a rectangle 20 cm (8 inches) deep by a width equalling the total of your hip circumference plus 20 cm (8 inches) for the yoke. If your hip measurement is 1 m (40 inches), the yoke panel will be 20 cm (8 inches) top to bottom by 1.2 m (48 inches) long. The seam will be at center back and the yoke's bottom edge length will be the basis for subsequent calculations. A seam allowance of 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) is built into all measurements. Each tier measures 17.5 cm (7 inches) top to bottom. Use a 2-to-1 gather ratio to calculate the tier strip length. If the bottom edge of the yoke measures 1.2 m (48 inches), the length of the first tier will be 2.4 m (96 inches). The second tier length is 4.8 m (192) inches and the third tier is 9.6 m (384 inches). Simplify measurements by converting cm to metres (inches to yards) and rounding to the nearest 1/4 metre (1/4 yard). Extra length can be gathered in.

Mark the yoke panel dimensions on the batiste; cut and set it aside. Lay out the netting; measure and mark it; cut the strips and join pieces as needed; set it aside. For a medium-sized petticoat, cut and join the netting to form a strip approximately 20 metres (20 yards) long and 17.5 cm (7 inches) deep; cut each tier strip from the long piece. Gather the top edge of the second tier and pin to the bottom edge of the first tier, pin the binding along the seam line on the gathered side and stitch the netting and hem tape together. Trim the netting edge to 6 mm (1/4 inch). Fold the taped seam allowance upward; pin it in place and stitch with hem tape down, thus encasing the raw edge of the netting; press.

Sew the center back seam of the yoke; press it open. For an elastic casing, make marks 6 mm (1/4 inch) down from the top edge all the way around. Repeat the process with marks 2.5 cm (1 inch) down from the top. Fold at the 2.5 cm (1 inch) line and press; fold the 6 mm (1/4 inch) line under. Stitch along the 6 mm (1/4 inch) fold edge, leaving 2.5 cm (1 inch) unsewn for elastic insertion; press. Cut a piece of elastic 3.8 cm (1 1/2 inches) less than your waist measurement; thread it through the casing with a safety pin. Try on the yoke; adjust the elastic length before sewing the ends together. Close the insertion opening with hand or machine stitching.

Join the yoke to the tiers. Gather the top edge of the first tier to a length 2.5 cm (1 inch) less than the length of the yoke's bottom edge; stitch the gathered tier to the yoke and bind the seam. Fold and press the satin ribbon in half; encase the bottom edge of the third tier with folded ribbon; pin it in place. Stitch along the top edge of ribbon, catching both sides and the netting within the seam.


Shorten or lengthen the yoke depth measurement to adjust the finished length. Use petticoat netting, tulle, organza or taffeta for best results. For a fuller petticoat, make two of the netting sections and sew them to the yoke as one unit. Add more tiers to create a tea- or floor-length petticoat. Use high-quality cotton and medium-gauge needles.


To prevent jamming, place a strip of tissue paper between the feed dog and the net when you sew. Always make a test swatch to verify that your needle and thread choices are correct for the project. Sewing tools can be hazardous to small children and pets. Use a cool iron to press netting.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Petticoat netting, about 32 metres (3 yards), 135 cm (54 inches) wide
  • Batiste, 1/2 metre (1/2 yard), 1.2 m (48 inches) wide
  • Large work surface
  • Yardstick
  • Marking pencil
  • Sewing machine
  • Sewing kit
  • Elastic, about 1 metre (1 yard), 1.3 (1/2 inch) wide
  • Safety pin
  • Seam binding or twill tape, about 10 metres (10 yards), 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) wide
  • Satin ribbon, about 12 metres (12 yards), 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide
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About the Author

Kathy Arellano is newsletter editor for Grandparents As Parents, a nonprofit agency and contributes to two local newspapers, the "North Valley Reporter" and the "Crescenta Valley Sun." After a 15-year entertainment industry costuming career, she entered L.A. Valley College, served as editor-in-chief, copy editor and staff writer while earning her AA in journalism.