Sunday, 29 March 2015


The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for March is Stashbusting, and you can see the other entries here.

I felt spoiled for choice on this challenge, but as I have a whole sub-stash of white and off-white cotton and linen I decided to work with that, and carry on with making the undergarments for an early twentieth century outfit. I had a reasonable amount of fabric left over from my chemise, and quite a lot of the broderie anglais and ribbon trim as well, so settled on making some drawers/knickers.

Some time ago I posted about the change in underwear from open-leg drawers to closed-leg knickers that seems to have taken place in the first decade of the twentieth century, as part of the move to a smooth, long-line silhouette. As I want to make a circa 1911 outfit at some point, I need the underwear to match.

In Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield I'd found a pair of knickers which seemed a good starting point; closed leg, fastening at the side, and not too full.

White cambric knickers, circa 1907-08

I drafted a pattern based very loosely on the drawers in Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02, but with a lot of the fullness taken out.

Full, open-leg drawers

For the side openings I cut slits and finished them with a placket, but with hindsight I don't think that I should have done so; a very narrow hem would have been better.

I used the measurements in Costume in Detail as a guide, and made the front wider than the back, so the openings are actually towards the back of the knickers. The centre section of the back is gathered, and there are small darts in the front. Unlike the example, I put waistbands on both the front and back.

Back view, showing the front waistband carried round to the back

My original plan was to have a plain cotton frill at the bottom of the leg, and put the broderie anglais and the ribbon on the band between the knicker leg and the frill. However I had a change of heart and decided to keep the legs plain and ungathered, and trim the hems instead, like this illustration from The History of Underclothes by C Willet and Phillis Cunnington.

Chemise and drawers, 1911

As you can't see the waistband in this illustration, I suspect that what I've made is a mish-mash of styles which may never have existed in real life. Also, it can't have been easy to undo and redo those side fastens under layers of straight petticoats and skirts. I wonder how many women actually wore the new style, and how many stuck to open-leg drawers (or, as they were known at the time according to my Granny T, "Free Traders") until fuller skirts came in?

The almost completed (missing buttons and buttonholes) knickers

The small print:
The Challenge: Stashbusting
Fabric: Cotton, possibly lawn
Stashed for how long? Unknown, as it was in the 'white and off-white natural fabrics' sub-stash, which has existed forever. The trim has only been stashed since January
Pattern: Somewhere between self-drafted from an illustration in Costume in Detail and Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02
Year: 1907 - 1909
Notions: Broderie anglais and ribbon for trim, two shell buttons
How historically accurate is it? Probably not very, as it is a mish-mash of two different styles of closed drawers. 50% at best?
Hours to complete: About 8 hours (I haven’t got any quicker at hand-sewing the trim!)
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: All from the stash, so £0. Yay!


  1. Very lovely closed drawers! So, do you plan on wearing this over your corset? I went back and read your post on underwear and am still very confused as to how these ladies had a comfort break (Queen Elizabeth's preferred terminology for going to the bathroom...or so I've heard.) I have had to use the WC many times while wearing my long line corset and have been so thankful for open drawers. I would imagine that the ladies would have to almost completely undress to manage a trip to the WC. What are your thoughts?
    Blessings and fabulous knickers!!

    1. Thank you! Like you, I'm mystified by the practicalities of this. Costume in Detail was first published in 1968, so the fashions of the start of the century were still in living memory at the time, and it contains several references to open drawers going out of fashion by 1910.

      At some point I’d love to have a go at making this dress from Patterns of Fashion (inspired in part by the magnificent Sailor Suit of Swear, I might add!), and I think that the only way to answer the comfort break question is by wearing the whole outfit and seeing how well it works.

      I suspect I’ll be making some open drawers quite soon after that!!