My go-to support garment – a worsted wool Unterrock (kirtle/underdress) suitable for a middle-class woman in early 16th century Germany.
In 2019, I realised I needed to build a new wardrobe of middle class wear for my new shape – starting with a suitable Unterrock to provide shaping and support.
I had made my first Unterrock as an upper class garment to go under my pink brocade Rock, and was really happy with how much support it gave. But for middle class wear, I needed something that would be comfortable, fit under a range of necklines – and would work well in hot weather.
Research & Design
This sleeveless underdress was worn in hot or messy situations situations such as childbirth, washing clothes and working in the fields. But we do not see this style worn as normal dress when out on the town – or even at a village dance, or on the campaign trail.
The general research for this was the same as for my linen Unterrock, but wanted much thinner straps, to fit under wide necklines . And middle class hem ornamentation, inspired the underskirt on the Holbein costume study.
I was keen to use worsted wool for this version – it’s even cooler than linen to wear, which makes a big difference to summer comfort. The fine wool I had was 150cm wide, but only only 2.7m long, so it was going to need serious piecing.
I started with the pattern for my linen Unterrock, but updated it to include a separate shoulder strap cut on the straight, as seen in Alcega’s bodice patterns. This is a much stronger and more stable construction than a simple shoulder seam, and puts the strain on the straight grain rather than the bias.
With the limited fabric, I could only manage 2 skirt drops, but piecing increased the hem area to 3.7m.
For the bodice, I sewed a strip of twill tape down the front of the canvas to reinforce this area and spread the strain. I basted the worsted to the canvas, sewed the side seams and pick-stitched them flat. I overlapped the ends of the straps on the bodice and stitched securely – less bulky than a seam. I seamed the worsted strap to match and basted this to the canvas.
I bound the neck, armscye and front edges using an on-grain strip of worsted, then catch-stitched the binding to the canvas, along with the bodice hem. I worked lacing holes down the front and then lined the bodice in light raw linen.
On to the skirt. I sewed the skirt piecings and flat-felled the selvedges, then sewed the main seams and flat-felled them, leaving a 15cm slit at centre front. I faced the top of the skirt with linen, then box-pleated it onto the bodice in two passes (see my green wool Rock for pics).
I tried on the Unterrock to mark the hem, then trimmed it. For decoration, I applied 4 rows of fine green rayon grosgrain ribbon by machine, then lined the hem in linen up to the top of the decoration. I formed a brass aglet onto the end of a round shoelace to make a strong lace and tacked this into the base of the bodice.
This is such a useful garment! It is supportive, comfortable to wear and surprisingly cool.
I was so pleased with this Unterrock, I made another one in dark green twill with fancier decoration.