Thursday, May 22, 2014

History of Sewing: 1920s Undergarments - Waistline Foundations

Waistline Foundations

Are you ready for the next exciting installment in the story of 1920s foundation garments? (I'm sorry; "foundation garments" doesn't sound especially dramatic, does it? :))

In any case, it's the 1920s  and you have a dress with bloused fullness or with draping, or perhaps a skirt, and you need a foundation garment. Choose from the following.

Inside Stay Belts

The inside stay belt is worn under a dress  or skirt (at the normal waistline, above it, or below it, depending on the style). It serves as a stay to hold certain parts of the dress in place. Not all dresses require stay belts. In general, a stay belt would be used in a dress with bloused fullness or with draping, and with some skirts that would be balanced on the stay belt.

Inside stay belts are made of belting (which can be purchased by the yard), or in a sheer dress would be made of narrow self-material or cotton tape. The ends are fastened with hooks and eyes.

There were two types of belting:
  • Unboned belting: Woven in a vertical corded effect (pretty much as the webbing or belting of today). Unboned belting is straight and best for use at the normal waistline.

  • Boned belting: Usually made of percaline or some firmly woven mercerized fabric to which boning has been inserted at regular intervals in the weaving, and can be either straight or shaped (this type of belting is not sold today, but could be constructed). The shaped belting would be worn under garments with a "below normal" waistline or above normal waistline. The shorter curved edge is uppermost for a below normal waistline, with a snug fit over the hips. If the waistline is above normal, the shorter curved edge is worn at the normal waistline, with the longer curve above it.

To create a stay belt: Use the belting itself to measure the desired length, allowing 1/2 to 3/4 inch at each end for a hem. The two hems should just meet but not overlap. Sew on strong hooks and round eyes (rather than straight eyes) one inch apart, using the buttonhole stitch.

Fitted Hip Yokes

The fitted hip yoke was worn to stay bloused fulness below the normal waistline, and may also be used as the yoke for a skirt that is to be worn with a long overblouse or jumper. The yoke is made so that its lower edge is 1/2 to 1 inch below the desired low waistline, so the depth varies according to the design of the garment. The hip yoke on the left in Figure 1, is a relatively shallow one, while the hip yoke on the right is deeper and would be used with a skirt or dress with a very low bloused waistline.

Figure 1

The fitted hip yoke should not be used in a dress of sheer material, but works well in a dress of material that prevents it showing through. The yoke is usually of the dress material or of a lining material.

To make a fitted hip yoke:
  1. Take your measurements at the point on your figure where you want the top of the yoke to be and where you want the bottom of the yoke to be. Be sure to measure the front separately from the back, as you will be cutting separate pieces for the front and back (joining at the sides).
  2. Cut two strips of muslin, using the measurements plus 2 inches for each piece.
  3. Fit each yoke piece to your figure:
  4. Figure 2

    1. Subtract the front waistline measurement from the front hipline measurement, and then divide that difference into two parts.
    2. In the yoke front piece, create two darts between the center and the sides, each dart taking up half the amount of the difference identified in the previous step. (illustration a, in Figure 2)
    3.  Divide the back section into seven equal parts, first marking off one inch at each end for the seams, and then put a pin at each division point, or six pins in all. The center line will coincide with the center of one of these parts.
    4. Subtract the back waistline measurement from the back hip line measurement, and then divide that difference by six.
    5. Create darts at each pin that combine to reduce the back waistline by the difference identified in the previous step. (illustration b in Figure 2)
    6. With darts basted, try on  the two muslin pieces, with center front and back in their proper locations, pinning them at the sides with a 1-inch seam over each hip. 
    7. If more fitting is needed at the waistline, deepen the side seams at the top, or deepen or decrease the darts, keeping the line of each properly vertical.
    8. Mark the side seams and press the darts flat.
  5. Using the muslin itself as a pattern (or create a paper pattern from the muslin), cut two of each yoke piece from the yoke fabric. The yoke is usually made double because this provides increased strength and makes a neat finish possible.
  6. Sew the right hip seams of the yoke and of the lining.
  7. Trim the seams to 3/8-inch and press open.
  8. Place the yoke and lining right sides together, and stitch  1/4-inch from the edge along the top, bottom and along the end of the back section.
  9. Turn right side out and press. 
  10. Finish the free end of the front section with a 3/4-inch hem, turned so that the outer fold comes directly on the seam line. Trim away the lining seam allowance to remove bulk.
  11. Stitch the other end of the yoke through both thicknesses 3/4-inch from the edge, and this 3/4-inch as the extension for the closing. 
  12. Top-stitch the upper and lower edges, and sew snaps to the opening (as illustrated in Figure 1).
  13. Turn right side out and press.
Got that? :) Next installment: Waist linings!


  1. COOL! I have always wondered how they held up those hip-hugging skirts.

    the Middle Sister and Singer

  2. Me too, Brigid! I am itching to try these - maybe over the holiday weekend - so many things I'd love to do, so little time. :)