The seventh stop on my Regency Journey is to make a chemisette to go underneath my day dresses.
In the Regency era, a chemisette was commonly worn underneath a morning dress to fill in the neckline. It covered the visible shoulders and chest to make the outfit appear more modest. They were usually made of a fine lawn or cambric, or a thin muslin.
Other acceptable garments to properly cover the exposed neck and chest included a fichu or neck scarf.
In contrast, evening gowns were much more revealing, with the dresses cut very low around the bust and the sleeves worn quite short.
Making a Chemisette
I used the pattern for a chemisette (dated from 1800-1825) in Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.
First, I traced and cut out the pattern on 1/4 inch grid paper.
Then I made small vertical tucks to the front panel, from the shoulder seam to the bottom edge. Unfortunately Janet Arnold does not show exactly how these were done in this example, so I made them up myself! I did ten 1/8″ tucks, spaced 1 inch apart.
Once the front panel fitted the back panel smoothly, I sewed the shoulder seam, using a flat felled seam.
I hemmed the side seams (where the arms go) and the centre front opening, and then sewed a casing along the bottom edge for a drawstring or ribbon to go through. Once the ribbon was threaded through the casing, I sewed a stitch in the casing at the centre back to anchor the drawstring.
I cheated a little for the mushroom-pleated frill, using a mushroom-pleated length of organza lace I had in my lace stash. I attached two lines of the lace to a piece of ribbon (1cm wide). One line of the lace was sewn to one edge of the ribbon, and the other line of lace to the other edge, so that one layer nicely overlapped the other. Then the “lace collar” was attached to the bodice so that the right side of the lace was on visible to the outside when the frill was folded down.
Janet Arnold has instructions on how to make the frill if you are not inclined to cheat like me! Use a 90 inch length of material cut on the straight grain (2 and 1/4″ wide at the centre back graduating to 1 and 1/2″ wide at the centre front). There are three layers of frill in her left-hand picture and two layers in the right-hand sketch. These layers are then mushroom-pleated onto tapes which are then fitted onto the collar. Mushroom-pleating is a very fine tight pleat that resembles the underside of a mushroom.
To finish it off, I added two lengths of cord at the top of the centre front to do up the chemisette.
The next stop on my Regency Journey will be to make a ball gown.
To read all my posts in order, go to My Regency Journey.
Sources and Relevant Links
Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon
The pictured Regency chemisette, from the Snowsill Wade Collection
Jane Austen Festival – website