French lining pattern 6933 from Butterick. Delineator, June 1914, p. 74. It has princess seams and many neckline options.
As far as I can tell, a French lining is a closely fitting interior structure that is usually not the same shape as the finished garment we see. It is different from “flat lining,” or a “dropped in” lining shaped like the dress or skirt, or a coat lining that merely allows the coat to slide over other fabrics more easily.
“A French lining gives a perfection of fit that can be attained by no other means…. It makes an excellent foundation for the draped waists [blouses] now in vogue…. For stout figures a French lining is almost indispensable, and this design will prove most welcome, for it conforms to the newest lines. When made of thin material it may be used as a foundation for Summer dresses or waists, and when made of lawn or silk it is also an excellent foundation for the draped evening dresses now worn.” — Delineator, June 1914. p. 74
Delineator, June 1914, p. 74.
When you have a garment that is tightly fitted, “flat lining” [a lining whose pieces are the same shape as the fashion fabric and are sewed at the same time] will take some of the stress off the seams and the fashion fabric. But when you see a vintage garment that fits very closely in back, but appears to be loosely fitted in front, expect a French lining.
Inside this apparently loose-fitting bodice is a tight-fitting inner structure. Vintage garment.
This vintage bodice has no visible opening. The tight lining prevents “pull” on the fashion fabric’s concealed closure.
When you have a garment that is draped, or bloused, or which has complicated concealed closures, it will behave better with an invisible, body-hugging lining.
This vintage dress does not have a visible opening in front or down the back. It does not have a snap opening in the side seam.
How do you get into it?
Back of vintage lingerie dress. It doesn’t open down the back. Clue: There is a hook and eye closing on the left shoulder.
This sheer lingerie dress with a blouson top has a simple French lining made of net.
How do you get into this dress?
The bias cut lining, which takes the strain of the hooks and eyes, fastens at the center front.
The pattern for the inside of the dress is not the same shape as the pattern for the fashion layer. I would class this as a simple French lining.
The lining fastens at center front; the fashion fabric layer fastens with hooks and bars at the side and shoulder! The sleeves are attached to the French lining. The skirt opens at side front.
The “French Lining” pattern could be purchased separately, but was often included in a dress or blouse pattern.
The Commercial Pattern Archive has this Butterick pattern from 1914.
Butterick 7317; information from the pattern envelope, courtesy of CoPA (The Commercial Pattern Archive.) Notice how different the French lining pattern pieces (top center) are from the fashion fabric pieces (at the bottom.)
Left, the French lining is an 8 piece princess line pattern which fits closely to the body.
The French lining was meant to fit very tightly, and is the support for the fashion fabrics. It ensures that the weight of the dress is suspended from the shoulders, that the folds and blousing aren’t pulled out of place, and that the wearer always looks neat as a fashion plate. In No. 7317, the cross-over drape in front ties at center back.
Changing Body Shapes Seen in French Lining Patterns
These French lining patterns reflect the changing body shape as corsets changed.
1910: Butterick French lining pattern 3527, January 1910. Note the “sway back” shape caused by 1910 corsets. This princess seamed lining has 4 panels in front and 6 in back.
1914: Butterick French lining 6933 from June 1914. The lower bust and larger waist reflect a change in corset shape.
1917: Far right, French lining pattern 1042 from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917. The womanly torso is losing its curves.
1924: A French lining pattern from Butterick, July 1924. “…An excellent dress lining or… it can be used to cover a dress form.” It probably was intended for older or “stout” women, since 1920’s dresses were lighter and less structured than previous styles. It has a long, hip-length, waistless shape, like most Twenties’ dresses. Butterick 5361 came in sizes 32 to 48 bust.
French Lining Included in Patterns
The French lining is often based on a princess seamed pattern (like all of those above,) since this permits an extremely tight fit, perfectly contoured to the body. (A French lining also looks very much like the covering of a professional dressmaker’s mannequin.) When you are draping on a professional dress form, you can feel the underlying seams through your muslin — very handy for locating the exact bust point or side seam, or placing a dart.
Once the French lining was perfectly fitted to a woman’s body, she could also use it to figure out (Oops, accidental pun!) alterations to commercial patterns.
[I was taught to call an individually fitted basic pattern a “sloper;” they’re handy to have if you are making multiple costumes for the same actor — or several pairs of trousers for yourself! Fitting patterns are still sold.]
Butterick waist 6791; Delineator, April 1914.
Incredibly, the Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island has the pattern for this waist! (If you just create a Log-in, you can use this wonderful site — over 64,000 patterns and growing! — for free.) There’s always a link to CoPA in my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar.
It’s no surprise that Butterick 7971 includes a French Lining.
You can almost guess from the illustrations which garments need a French lining: if you think, “That dress defies gravity! How can that be possible?” or “How did she get into that?” you are probably looking at a dress that has a French lining.
There are no visible openings on these late 1880’s dresses. Met Museum collection.
They definitely did not have a zipper down the back! A tight fit in back and a concealed opening usually means a French lining; you can probably deduce the rest….
Vintage garment with very full front. The lace was accented with large French knots. It does not have a visible opening in front or in back.
Butterick 3816, Delineator, May 1910.
Butterick 3816, May 1910. The gathers are stitched to the lining; they won’t slide around or come untucked, and the V’s in back and front will never gape.