by Marga van der Vet
August 17, 2020
A crinoline is a kind of underskirt construction that allows a skirt to be worn wide, very wide and extremely wide. In the 19th century, they were an important part of everyday clothing.
Today they are made for costumes for movies, musicals and events such as the Fantasy Fair. However, for Cosplay, they are becoming increasingly popular. And don't forget the Gothic and Steampunk!
The garment was mainly worn by women between circa 1850-1870. Crinolines were used to give the shape of the clothes an increasingly wider ('more feminine') bell shape. The cage construction was made of smooth steel hoops that hung down from the waist and held by ribbons. The 'crinoline cage' turned out to be much lighter than wearing multiple layers of underskirts, as was previously used.
The crinoline allowed an excess of fabric for the top skirt. The skirts took on increasing proportions. Meters of fabric decorated with ribbons, flowers and strips radiated luxury, fashion and wealth. Sometimes a skirt contained more than 40 meters of fabric and a huge amount of additives. The hours it took to make such a skirt were countless and priceless. The latter were mainly for the nobility and upper class.
Prints and drawings from the period show that the wearers of skirts with crinolines underneath could get (and possibly appreciate) the necessary space. The skirts created so much distance that women could barely speak to each other and men could not even touch the women. There is a print depicting a man offering the wearer of a skirt with crinoline a drink on an extended tray. The crinolines thus caused 'social distancing', the word that has become a well-known word in our century, a few months ago.
However, the crinoline was also worn by women of the lower class and later even by every woman. It became a normal street scene despite the skirt making it almost impossible for women to move normally. The skirts took up a lot of space and caused problems on the street, in the church and indoors.
In the 19th century, the crinoline slowly disappeared into the background and the shape of women's clothing became narrower and tighter at the waist.
In the 1930s, courtiers attempted to reintroduce the crinoline. However, this failed. In Haute couture, crinolines are only seen under evening dresses, wedding dresses and costume films.
In the Cosplay world we see the crinoline mainly as an underskirt for Japanese Animé. Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - 06 - Lost in Anime is a well-known example and Umi Sonoda sometimes wears short and sometimes wide blue skirts with a crinoline underneath.
In Steampunk, the crinoline is often not intended as an underskirt, but the skirt becomes an over skirt. The construction is often very tough with leather straps and heavier steel hoops. Usually the skirt is medium long. The colors are black, brown or red. The crinoline is often combined with a tight-fitting waist corset so that the shapes come from full (shoulders) to narrow (waist) and super wide (the skirt).
A Gothic crinoline is often long, down to the ground, always black or red, and is worn more like an underskirt. This is covered by a long shiny black skirt of a lot of fabric or tulle worn with a corset and the outfit is mainly finished with lots of lace, ribbons, bows and fringes. The Gothic appearance is mysterious, often showing 'the evil witch', 'the darkness' or 'lady evil'. The emphasis is on: black, blacker, black.
You can make a crinoline cage yourself, but you will not be able to do it in one day. It takes a lot of time to find the materials together, to assemble the lines and the pipes through them. If you want to make a crinoline for an event, start at least three weeks in advance. Then you have plenty of time and you can also perfect the crinoline with decorations beautifully matched to the costume.
Get the PVC pipes depending on the sizes and the number of tubes you want to use. Cut them into four parts to be bent and joined together. Allow for a few centimetres for the spacers. Label each spacer so you know which hoop they belong to. This will make later construction much easier.
In terms of fabric, it is best to choose a firm fabric but not too thick. For a Victorian crinoline, unbleached cotton would be very suitable. For a Gothic or Steampunk crinoline, we would recommend a black textured fabric.
Make a waistband a bit more spacious and adjustable. Leave the bottom part of the waistband partially open so that you can sew the straps in here.
You can also choose to make a waistband from thicker elastic or from an existing belt.
For a fabric waistband, attach eight straps that are the length from the waist to the ground (or the desired height) plus 6 x (the number of tubes) x 7 cm. You need this extra space to make the loops.
The width of your crinoline is up to you. The thinner the more graceful. The wider, the more robust.
Coat the PVC pipes you precut earlier with fabric or use them as they are. Then slide the tubes through the fabric loops you made and attach the spacers to close the hoops. This is a difficult job where you can use an extra pair of hands. If you want to see the tubes but want a different colour, you could also paint spray the tubes or wrap them with tape.
Finally, make the bottom of an extra band of fabric (30 cm high) and possibly a skirt over the waistband. You can only sew the extra edge of the fabric with the two hoops (tubes) through it. It is an impossible job to put the total crinoline on a table and use the sewing machine for this.
The crinoline is portable because it is foldable. You can also easily store the crinoline as it can be placed upright against the wall.
You can make a crinoline yourself. It is a sewing project that everyone can complete in their own way. Viewing a few YouTube videos in advance is a good plan. This allows you to see which method you like best. If you don’t have strong sewing skills, you can also purchase a pattern which includes detailed sewing instructions.
Marga van der Vet is a 50+ Dutch model and seamstress. She specializes in sewing Chanel-Style jackets and started https://www.sewingchanelstyle.com/ a few years ago to share information about sewing Chanel-Style jackets and all about the brand Chanel. Lately, she has expanded the website with blogs about sewing for LARP, Cosplay and Fantasy events. Marga lives in the countryside in the North of the Netherlands with her family, her dog and horses. Modelling and Haute couture are, of course, very glamorous but she has a sustainable and green lifestyle. SewingChanelStyle promotes sustainability and women who are having small arts and crafts businesses.