Making a Pair of Victorian Split Drawers AKA Bloomers AKA Knickerbockers

This project took A Time™.

But that is okay because they are finally done! And in time for the worst of the summer heat as well!

Want to make your own split drawers AKA bloomers AKA knickerbockers? I really encourage you to do so! Despite my mid-project break, they were surprisingly easy to make once I finally got down to it.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FAD3qcx1ZM

References used in this video:

Split drawers from Oslo Museum.
Book of Needlework and Cutting Out by Agnes Walker.

Music from Epidemic Sound:

Lightdrops – Peter Sandberg
Butterflies – Peter Sandberg
Never Say No – Clarence Reed
Tumbling – Clarence Reed
Synthesia – Clarence Reed
She Is Everywhere – Clarence Reed
No Cat, No Dog – Jerry Lacey

Transcript:

Greetings, fellow internet accomplice!

I do not know what the weather is like when or where you are finding yourself, but at the time of recording this, summer is upon us here in merry Norway and it is warm.

Which is to say that I would very much like to expand my wardrobe in the light, airy and possibly poofy department.

I am talking, Witchlings and Underlords, about underthings. More specifically c. Turn of the century split drawers or, as they are referred to in the reference text we will be using – knickerbockers.

But before we can start on the pattern itself, there is another matter I must attend to first. A friend gifted me this beautiful piece of vintage handmade bobbin lace some time ago that is just long enough to decorate the lower part of these split drawers.

But only just.

So we must carefully harvest the lace from the fabric it was originally cut away from so that we can measure it and adjust our pattern accordingly. Judging by the length of the lace and the type of fabric around it, our best guess is that this lace came from an old duvet cover.

It is a bit anachronistic to use vintage lace for a turn-of-the-century pattern, made in 2021, but here we are. Anachronistic, time-traveling enthusiasts, assemble!

With our lace safely harvested, we can measure it (folded up so it’s per leg, and minus 1 inch for seam allowance) and make a start on our pattern. This pattern hails from Agnes Walker’s book “Manual of Needlework and Cutting Out”, the 5th edition printed in 1907 which is available for free online, and to which I will leave a link to in the description down below.

In this instance, I want my split drawers to have ruffles and lace on the bottom. So rather than cutting the full length of 32 inches, I am going to end the pattern at 24 inches (plus seam allowance of course).

We start by measuring out the length of linen we are going to need and pulling a single thread (or two, for easier visibility) out of the fabric after which we may cut a straight line. Time-consuming though this may be, especially if your thread keeps breaking on you… it does save you time and fabric later by ensuring you marvelous cut lines perpendicular to the selvage that are easy to mark and cut later on.

With our piece of linen safely in hand, we can align it according to the guide on the pattern (this arrow means the length of the fabric/along the selvage), before we can start the meticulous process of measuring and marking according to the very helpful grid system provided by Agnes Walker.

A thing to note here is that even though this pattern is meant to be drawn on a piece of folded fabric, the pattern itself is not symmetrical. As we can see there are two sets of lines on the top half of the pattern, each corresponding to one side of the folded fabric. Meaning that if we “fold out” the pattern like so.

The top pattern should end up having one concave and one convex part, corresponding to the front and the back of the knickerbocker, respectively.

After cutting out the first pair of our legs, they are pinned on top of the second piece of fabric and cut out so we end up with two equal pieces. This is made easier by the fact that the linen I am using is a plain weave and there is no difference between the sides. If your fabric does have a front and a back, make sure to lay your pieces front to front so you end up with two pieces that are mirror images of each other.

Our two pieces safely in hand, I am going to start by hemming the edges that are going to be left open for the ‘split’ part of our split drawers.

This is done simply with a hemming stitch, some linen thread, and my smallest, sharpest sewing needle.

Hemming done, I align each piece in order to sew up the short section that will make up the legs. A very important thing to note here is to make sure you pin each leg so that you end up with two mirror images of each other and not end up with, say, two left legs.

Not that I’ve ever done that…

The legs are quickly stitched together with ye olde reliable backstitch

Before folding down each side and felling them in place. Usually, I do the thing where I cut off half the seam allowance on one side and fold it into the other, but with the earlier hemming, I thought that would end up quite bulky and opted for the slightly more time-consuming version here.

These are short seams so they did not have much impact on the end result time-wise.

While we are thus in hemming mode why not prepare our legs for the insertion lace we are going to attach later? I am choosing to do the perhaps strange thing here of hemming the legs down first and then just sewing the lace on overtop. I am also hemming the legs with quite a large seam allowance as I am realizing that even the 24 inch pattern is going to make some really long drawers once both the ruffles and lace are included, so I am trying to do some damage control without discarding any fabric.

With our legs practically done, it is time to attach the waistband. And here I did the thing where I just cut a straight strip of fabric to use as a waistband without checking with the pattern… because habits…

so if you want to do this correctly according to the book, that is a curved waistband you are supposed to be attaching, not a straight one like I am doing.

But, no matter the waistband, I chose a front opening for my drawers. So with my waistband cut to fit my waist + seam allowance + two inches for adjustability of the garment, I simply attached the end of my waistband to one of the concave sides of one of your legs while the other end attaches to the concave end of the other leg.

That should leave you with the convex sides facing each other and a waistband that is too short for your two legs.

Sidenote, I overlapped the convex/back pieces slightly for extra coverage.

On a different note, the project had also been lying untouched for over a month at this point and, in the spirit of getting things done, I opted to not gather properly with a gathering thread and careful stitches. Instead, I just folded carefully along the front and back until the waistband fit, leaving the side hips un-pleated.

Whether you chose to do it “properly” with gathering thread or pleat it like I did, I will go ahead and advocate for easier solutions once in a while, especially where those decisions don’t have a negative impact on the project as a whole, and especially if they help you move on and get the thing done that had been staring at you for ages.

Once the waistband is pinned in, no matter the method, we can go ahead and attach it with our trusty backstitch.

With the first half of the waistband in place, I am going to go ahead and fold down and stitch the seam allowance down on either end. This is beyond what I normally would do, but since this waistband is going to have a drawstring I would rather the seam allowance doesn’t come pulling out of what will also become the drawstring casing.

Before folding, pinning, and stitching the other side to hide all the raw seams.

And, as a serial handmade craft and time-zone enthusiast, I find myself already in possession of this beautiful yew needlebinding needle, which will do an excellent job at pulling my drawstring through the waistband casing.

A few stitches to keep our drawstring from fraying…

And our split drawers are functionally, practically complete!

But if you require your garments to be a little more than functionally complete, we do have one last step to tackle. Namely, the frills.

The first step is to do the very scary and irreversible thing of snipping the lace in half.

And then stitching two circles. Bobbin lace is a little bit stretchy, so will accommodate for small differences between fabric and lace diameters.

The insertion lace is then carefully stitched onto the legs of our drawers.

Before I pull thread again on a width of my linen to use as my ruffles. I believe I measured each length to be 5 inches long, seam allowance and all.

Continuing with my perhaps strange but awfully convenient habit of finishing my ruffles before attaching them to the lace, I first sew the short ends together, forming another circle.

And then folding down the seam allowance. With my hands rather than an iron, because I am a heathen, but also, linen.

Since there will be hemming happening on both sides of this small seam, I am opting not only to fold the seam allowance to either side, I am also choosing to fell it down without folding it double. Some very wide hemming stitches will help keep any fraying threads in place, but without adding much in terms of bulk.

With that, to the hemming we go.

Lastly, I do the thing where I properly spend a long time stitching a gathering thread into the top of my ruffle, before this is gathered to the approximately same width as our lace and stitched onto the rest of our garment.

And with that, and a final inspection from our resident quality manager, our split drawers are complete! Perfect for wearing underneath skirts and dresses both for the heat of summer and the layer-inspiring cold of winter.

Until next time. 🙂


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