Recently, I have been making some more stays to wear beneath my eighteenth century costumes, and I had the idea to begin work on a chemise for the same period. Since I have made my Regency Day Cap, I have been looking for something else to handsew and this chemise seemed to leap out at me to be a good option. As a result, this garment is completely handsewn and took about 3 weeks (with a few hours of sewing per day) to finish.
Whilst few chemises of this period survive, I was really keen to find one with some sleeve and neck ruffles, and even something with a touch of lace.
The pattern I started with was the one provided on How to Make an 18th Century Chemise. There is also a helpful cutting diagram to help with pattern placement on the fabric.
My chemise consisted of four basic pattern pieces:
- Main body: Cut 1 – 260cm x 80cm (This piece will have a hole cut in the middle for the head opening, which means there will be no shoulder seams.)
- Sleeves: Cut 2 – 40cm x 35cm
- Sleeve gussets: Cut 2 – 15cm x 15cm
- Gores: Cut 4 right angled triangles – 80cm x 25cm (height x width of a right angled triangle)
Other optional pieces:
- Sleeve cuff – a thin piece of material about 1-2 cm wide and 25 cm long (just make sure it will fit around your arm at the elbow).
- Sleeve ruffle – I used a strip twice the length of the bottom of the sleeve and 5 cm wide.
- Neck ruffle – Once again, twice the length of the neck opening and 3-5 cm wide.
I followed the sewing instructions provided at “How to Make an 18th Century Chemise” fairly closely, and have detailed my progress below.
Step One: Assemble sleeves and gussets, flat-felling the seams with a slip stitch to neaten. All of my basic seams have been sewn with a running stitch (with a back stitch every so often to anchor the thread). For more information on how to sew a gusset, you can look at my previous post My Regency Journey: Making a Chemise for more detail.
The bottom edge of the sleeve can be gathered and finished with a cuff. For information on this type of finishing, go to “The Cognitive Shift” link below. I finished mine with a rolled hem (ungathered).
Step Two: Sew the gores (all four of them) onto each side of the main body, sewing from the hem upwards. Then sew the side seams of the main body together, upwards from the hem, finishing where the gores end.
Step Three: Sew the sleeves in position, then finish any side seams that are still open by flat felling.
At this point (before I attached the sleeves) I decided that an 80cm wide chemise was too wide for my body, so I trimmed the top of the main body so that it was a little narrower (60cm wide across the shoulders rather than 80cm). I sloped the new narrower width out to meet the gores, which had already been sewn in.
In “How to Make an 18th Century Chemise”, at the very end of the article under “Alternative Patterns”, the patterns provided are all 60cm wide at the shoulders. They also show that there were various ways to cut out a chemise to suit various figures.
Step Four: Flat fell all the side and gore seams with a slip stitch.
Step Five: Hem the bottom edge to mid-calf area using a slip stitch.
Step Six: Cut the neck opening and finish with a rolled hem. A casing and drawstring can be added if you need one.
My neck opening was done by trying on my chemise underneath my stays and marking the neckline with an erasable fabric pen. This did lead to having an opening which seems slightly too big, but which still worked well without a drawstring. For an interesting discussion on necklines and drawstrings of 18th century chemises, have a look at The Cognitive Shift; or, 18th Century Shifts: What I Know and How I Learned It.
Step Seven: For any sleeve or neck ruffles, do a rolled whipped gather on one long edge and a rolled hem on the three remaining sides that will not be gathered. Whip stitch the ruffle ends together and attach the gathered ruffle edge to the bottom sleeve edge using a whipped stitch. I sewed lace on to the bottom edge of my ruffle as well.
I love the feel of wearing cotton lawn undergarments. Whilst I know most (if not all) chemises of this period were made of linen, I have not been able to find any linen within a reasonable price range to do the job! And I find this is a very suitable alternative.
And hand-sewing has recently become my cup of tea!
Sources and Relevant Links
Image Source: From the Metropolitan Museum of Art
How to make an 18th century chemise – by La Couturiere Parisienne
Links to extant 18th century shifts – by 18th Century Notebook
Extant chemise with lace neckline and lace cuffs (c. 1750-1800), from Belgium Art Links and Tools (BALaT)
Extant chemise with woven lace neckline (c. 1780-1810), from Colonial Williamsburg
The Cognitive Shift; or, 18th Century Shifts: What I Know and How I Learned It – article by Sharon Burnston