When the news of a Titanic-themed event suddenly bursts upon you, panic ensues!
Later this year a costume group that I am a part of is planning a dinner at the Titanic Restaurant in Melbourne. The only unfortunate part about it is that it means doing a whole set of new clothing for a new era – 1912 to be exact – from the undergarments out.
One of my first concerns upon “embarking on this voyage” was the quantity of undergarments that a late Edwardian woman wore; including a chemise, drawers, corset, corset cover, petticoat, brassiere, and bust improvers. Whilst I do like to make undergarments for all of my costumes, I felt that making a full list of them was going a bit “overboard”! Luckily my research indicated that Edwardian women also felt the same as I, that such an extraordinary number of undergarments could be simplified slightly, whilst still obtaining the same effect.
A chemise was always worn next to the skin, with the drawers either pulled over or slipped underneath it, and both of these were worn underneath the corset. However, as more and more undergarments were added to the undergarment ensemble during the late Victorian times, the chemise and drawers were one of the first to become conveniently combined.
In order to combine these garments, they were effectively just joined at the waistline, with the top of the combinations providing the essential layer between the corset and skin, and the bottom doing the job of the drawers. The chemise of the late Edwardian era was made from thin cotton batiste, sleeveless with thin and often lacy straps, and generally included pin tucks or lace insertion. The neckline was often decorated with ribbon-threaded lace which enabled the top to be drawn in as necessary. The drawers of this era reached to about knee length, and had a very wide leg often with ruffles or lace around the bottom. The crotch was split, as in previous eras, to enable ease of toileting which is generally difficult when wearing a long corset.
I didn’t bother using a pattern for this undergarment, but instead used a singlet top and a pair of loose shorts as a guide to cutting out.
As this garment is worn under the corset, it did not matter too much about the fit. I took notice of my waist, bust and hip measurements to make sure I didn’t make it too small, but as this was a looser fitting garment, bigger was a bit better. The most important part of the fit, I found, was to ensure there is enough room in the length (shoulder-to-crotch) so you can still sit down comfortably.
My combinations were made from white cotton batiste, and trimmed with various sorts of cotton lace. The buttons I used were plain-and-plastic.
Step One: After cutting out the pieces, I began with the top half. The side seams were sewn and then the shoulder seams. The centre front seam was cut on the selvedge and was left open for a button placket.
Step Two: For the bottom half of the combinations, I first sewed the side leg seams. Then the inside leg seams were pinned and a small part of the centre back seam (at the top of the drawers) was sewn closed.
Step Three: The raw edge around the split crotch was hemmed. At this point I decided to make the inside leg seams button-up to make it easier to use toilet facilities. As keen as I am as dressing in historical dress, I have not got to the stage of foregoing modern underwear!
Step Four: The top and bottoms were sewn together at the waistline. I used insertion lace to attach them but there were various other methods used, such as using ribbon-threaded lace or a simple waist seam.
Here is a good tutorial for insertion lace, although the method I used was a little different.
Step Five: Ruffles and lace were added to the bottom of the drawers.
Step Six: The raw edges of the neckline and armholes were both hemmed with lace, and ribbon inserted around the lace at the neckline.
Step Seven: Buttons and buttonholes were added to the centre front of the combinations. I was a tad lazy and did not make a proper placket for the buttons and buttonholes, preferring to just use the selvedge edge. This has caused a bit of puckering as the material was a bit thin.
And all finished…
This was a fairly straightforward piece to sew, mainly because the fitting of it did not need to be very exact. The next thing on the list may prove to be more tricky! A 1911 corset.
Sources and Relevant Links
“Titanic” Theatre Restaurant – in Williamstown, Melbourne.
Image Source (1): Sears Catalogue (No. 124) at Archive.com
Image Source (2&3): Interpreting Edwardian Undergarments – by Lady Carolyn
Tutorial: Basic Insertion Lace By Machine – by Wearing History
Dressing for dinner on the Titanic: Early 1910s Evening Dress – by Demode Couture
Turn an op shop find into Victorian/Edwardian undergarments – by Fashioning Nostalgia
Combination Brassiere-and-Drawers – by Lady Carolyn