Crinoline is a fabric, as well as the name for a garment made from the same fabric AND the name of some particularly over-engineered Victorian underwear. We’ll sort them all out, here.
Crinoline fabric is a open-mesh fabric, made from 100% cotton, 100% polyester or 100% nylon – blends exist, but they’re less common. The fiber is chemically treated to make it stiffer. Way back when, it was made with horse-hair and cotton and starched to hell and gone. These days, starch or other chemicals are used to add stiffness. Polyester and nylon are the most popular choices because they’re lighter and cheaper than cotton.
Crinoline exists to give support to other fabrics. When you want a seriously bouffant 1950s poodle skirt, or an outrageously full skirt to your ballgown, then you’ll be using gathered crinoline underneath it to give it body.
Because of that, a crinoline petticoat is often just called a crinoline for short. Crinoline petticoats feature yards and yards of crinoline fabric gathered up and sewn to a waistband. However, be aware that most garments sold as “crinoline” petticoat are, in fact, made with tulle or netting. In fact, as of this writing, I haven’t found a sufficiently authentic crinoline petticoat to share here, because the ‘net is flooded with tulle wannabes. Sorry!
Tulle is often used in place of crinoline, because it’s cheaper. It usually does the job, but if the garment you’re supporting is particularly heavy, you’re going to want crinoline. It’s stronger and won’t be crushed by heavy skirts. Of course, if your skirts are REALLY heavy, or REALLY big, then it’s time to consider the over-engineered Victorian underwear.
In the middle 19th century, fashion dictated that skirts should be stupidly huge and petticoats alone weren’t up to the job of making the skirts look huge enough. After a certain point, everything collapses under its own weight and it was uncomfortable to wear, to boot. Some bright spark invented the steel or cage crinoline. If you want to mimic this look, you’ll want to invest the time into making one of these – take a look at the resources pages to learn more.
A lot of retailers will sell you tulle, labelled as crinoline. 99% of the time, that’ll do the job just fine. For that other 1%, hunt down the real deal – which can be challenging – but it’s out there. Visit the resources page for some links. It’s about $5 a yard.
Crinoline can be found in narrow widths – one through four inches – for use in hat making, and to give body to hems of skirts and dresses. As it’s usually paired up with another fabric, use whatever needle and thread is best for that fabric.