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An advertisement in the Sears catalogue for drawers. 1912

An advertisement in the Sears catalogue for drawers, 1912.

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.

Chemise-drawer-combinations for sale in a catalogue

Chemise-drawer-combinations for sale in a Macys catalogue, 1911.

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.

A combination suit, chemise-and-drawers in one. From a private collection owned by

An Edwardian combination suit, chemise-and-drawers in one, showing the split crotch and the wide leg. From a private collection owned by “Lady Carolyn”. (Source link below)

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.

Pattern

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.

The singlet and shorts I used as a pattern guide.

The singlet and shorts I used as a pattern guide. After cutting out, I pinned and draped the pieces on a dress form to make sure I was on the right track. I made the leg sections longer and wider.

My combinations were made from white cotton batiste, and trimmed with various sorts of cotton lace. The buttons I used were plain-and-plastic.

Construction Steps

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.

The top (chemise) of the combinations. The centre front is on the left, and the centre back on the right, showing the side seams pinned.

The top (chemise) of the combinations. The centre back fold is on the left, and the centre front (selvedge) is on the right. This picture shows the side seams pinned. You can also see that there is very little shaping in the bodice area.

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.

The combination (drawers), showing the inside leg seam and the split crotch.

The bottom (drawers) of the combinations, with the side seams sewn and a small part of the centre back seam also sewn. This picture also shows the inside leg seam and the split crotch.

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!

The inside leg seam is buttoned up. The split crotch seam has been hemmed.

The inside leg seam is shown here buttoned up. The split crotch seam has been hemmed. At the front the split crotch goes straight into the centre front button placket.

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.

The two halves are attached with insertion lace. Here you can see that the side seams did not match up.

The two halves are attached with insertion lace. Here you can see that the side seams did not quite match up.

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.

The lace was first attached to the ruffle strip, which was then gathered and sewn to the bottom of the leg.

The lace was first attached to the ruffle strip, which was then gathered and sewn to the bottom of the leg.

Step Six: The raw edges of the neckline and armholes were both hemmed with lace, and ribbon inserted around the lace at the neckline.

The neckline and armhole are finished with lace. The neckline has an extra row of ribbon-threaded lace to draw in the top edge.

The neckline and armhole are finished with lace. The neckline has an extra row of ribbon-threaded lace to draw in the top edge.

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.

The buttons down the centre front.

The buttons down the centre front.

And all finished…

The front view. The inside leg seams are unbuttoned in order for the garment to sit on the form.

The front view. The inside leg seams are unbuttoned in order for the garment to sit on the form.

The back view. The split crotch does look as though it would be a bit breezy. Apparently drawers tended to have so much material in them with made the

The back view. The split crotch does look as though it would be a bit breezy. Apparently drawers tended to have so much material in them which made the “breeziness” not as apparent.

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.

Related Posts

Making a Victorian Chemise

Making a Gored Petticoat

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

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The Victorian era has always been one of my favourite periods (coming a close second behind the 18th century), particularly for fashion. It is a very diverse period for fashion, and the more I have studied it, the more I have been intrigued by the great variety of fashions that existed for women throughout Queen Victoria’s reign.

A mid-late 19th century chemise.

A mid-late 19th century chemise. From: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

I have particularly wanted a Victorian wardrobe for a while, and the corset and chemise were my first items to embark on.

The Victorian chemises are a different creature to those that came before it. They seem to be lacey, frilly, pin-tucked, embroidered and – generally speaking – a whole lot more feminine! The only era to outdo the Victorians in this way were the  next-generation Edwardians.

I found this lovely chemise, complete with pin-tucks, a delicate vine embroidery, and dainty lace, and it took my fancy!

Pattern

I began with a free pattern by Serinde, and then made a few alterations to make it a bit more like the picture above.

The pieces of my Victorian chemise.

The pieces of my Victorian chemise: body, sleeves, yoke bands.

The extant chemise pictured above does have its own triangular-shaped shoulder straps that are cut separately to the sleeves and body of the garment, but I didn’t do that.

Construction Steps

Step One: Sew the sleeves onto the body of the garment, following Serinde’s instructions. I then flat felled the seams.

The two sleeves attached to the body.

The two sleeves attached to the body. The seams are not flat-felled yet.

Step Two: Sew the side seams, from the under arm down to the bottom of the garment. I flat felled the seams here too.

The side seams are sewn. Sleeve seams are pinned down for felling.

The side seams are sewn. Sleeve seams are pinned down for felling.

Step Three: Marking the centre front, create a series of pin tucks across the front, making sure that both sides look even. Press them to either side.

IMG_4827

The 1/8″ pin-tucks, placed 1/4″ apart.

This is the point that my chemise-making went awry. I did not take into account the pintucks and allow enough material across the width of the chest, so my resulting chemise was very tight.

Step Four: I embroidered the bands that I was using on the sleeves, neckline and centre front button placket with a scrolling leaf pattern. I used two strands of white embroidery cotton, and used a very short backstitch for the stem and a fishbone stitch for the leaves.

The scrolling embroidery, with the lace attached at Step Nine.

The scrolling embroidery, with the lace attached at Step Seven.

It is helpful if this is done before attaching it to the garment, as then the self-facing can cover the back of the embroidery. Make sure you mark the seam allowance and the fold line of the strip so that your embroidery is centred on the part that will be seen on the outside.

Step Five: Make the centre front placket. Firstly, slit the centre front down the middle, ending with an inverted V-shape at the bottom. (A helpful tutorial with plenty of pictures is here on sewing a partial placket, by Make It and Love It.)

Taking two small strips of the yoke bands, sew one on each side of the slit (right sides together). (Note: It could be a good idea to think about the lace placement on the sides of the top placket here, rather than at Step Seven, as I did! I appliqued mine on top rather than putting it in the seam.) Fold the excess over to create a self facing and, tucking the raw edges under, hand sew.

At the bottom of the placket (where the two sides of the placket meet), I created a V-shape on the outer strip of the placket and hand stitched the top layer to the bottom layer.

The V-shape at the bottom of the placket, before it is handsewn down.

The placket has been attached and the facing has been folded to the inside ready to handsew. The V-shaped placket can be seen at the bottom of the picture, before it is handsewn down. You can also see the mitred seams of the placket at the top of the picture (read below). I handsewed these mitred seams and tucked the excess under, as it was a bit easier to be precise.

Step Six: For the rest of the neckline, sew longer yoke band strips around it. Making mitred corners at the centre front where they meet the placket (as pictured above). For the centre back, gather the back panel to fit. I also adjusted the back of the yoke band with some angled tucks so that it would fit better over the shoulders. I moved some of the centre back fullness to the sides with two pleats on either side, as it was too small for me and this helped the fit.

The back neckband

The back neckband, embroidered and attached.

As before, fold the excess over to form a facing and turn the raw edges under to hand sew. Much fitting was done at the this stage to see if the neckline would fit properly under my dress.

Step Seven: Sew on sleeve bands in the same way that the neck band was sewn.

Step Seven: Trim the neckline, placket and sleeve bands with lace. Hem the bottom edge of the chemise.

Step Eight: For the centre front closure, I have seen chemises as late as 1850 with a dorset button. I decided I should utilise some skills I had developed at a previous Jane Austen Festival and so added a dorset button.

The dorset button, 5/8" wide. The ones I have seen on extant items are teensy, but this was the smallest ring I could find.

The dorset button, 5/8″ wide. The ones I have seen on extant items are teensy (about 1/4″ wide), but this was the smallest ring I could find.

The front view

The front view

The back view

The back view

Usually the plain chemises of the 18th century and Regency do not take me very long to sew, but the profusion of Victorian pin tucks, embroidery and lace meant that this project was much more time consuming than I had imagined. Victorian chemises also seem to be more fitted, particularly across the shoulders, than in previous eras, which then consumed more time in fitting and unpicking and re-fitting!

In addition, it does not fit very well! I had to add a few “extensions” under the arms so that it would fit across my chest better. It is kind of disappointing when I spent so much time on the embroidery, but I may re-make the body of it at another stage.

Look out for the next post in my Victorian wardrobe – making an 1880’s petticoat.

Related Posts

Making a Victorian corset

My Regency Journey: Making a Chemise

Making an 18th Century Chemise

Sources and Relevant Links

An overview of Victorian underwear

Free chemise pattern – by Serinde

Extant chemise – Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Flat-felling seams – by Coletterie

Sewing Pin Tucks – by Burdastyle

Sewing a Partial Button Placket – by Make It & Love It

Fishbone stitch – by Rocksea & Sarah

Making Dorset Buttons – by Craftstylish

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Chemise c. 1780, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Chemise with sleeve and neck ruffles, c. 1780, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

Pattern

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.

The stitches and techniques I have used have been a running stitch, back stitch, rolled hem, rolled whipped gather, whip stitch, slip stitch, and flat felling.

Construction Steps

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 sleeve with the gusset, all sewn to the main body.

The sleeve with the gusset attached, all sewn to the main body.

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.

You can see where I have altered the width. Instead of the side seams going straight up, they go diagonal when they reach the gores.

You can see where I have altered the width. Instead of the side seams going straight up, they go diagonally when they reach the gores and then straight up again where the sleeves are attached. There is no neck opening as yet.

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.

The gore seams being flat felled with a slip stitch.

The gore seams being flat felled with a slip stitch. The top one is complete, the middle one is being felled, and the bottom one is trimmed ready.

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.

The sleeve ruffle attached. Very pretty, I think!

The sleeve ruffle attached. Very pretty, I think!

All finished!

All finished! I am still decided whether to attach a neck ruffle to it or not...

All finished! I am still undecided whether to attach a neck ruffle to it or not… decisions, decisions!

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!

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: Making a Chemise

A Second Regency Chemise

Making 18th Century Stays

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

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An American Regency chemise; which seems a little different in style to the English ones.

The third stop on my Regency Journey is to make a chemise to go underneath the corset. The benefit of having a chemise underneath is that is stops the corset pinching, and it protects the corset from perspiration. The chemise is also easier to launder.

Another great thing about the chemise is that it is easy and quick to put together without a pattern!

Steps to Make a Regency Chemise

Step One: Measure! There are several measurements you will need. Firstly, a measurement from the shoulder to the knee, or the length that you want your chemise, allowing a little extra for a hem. (Mine was 105cm in length, but was too long and was trimmed later.) Secondly, you will need a measurement of the length and armhole-height of the sleeve. (My sleeve was a square, 20cm by 45cm, where 20cm is the length of the sleeve and 45cm was the distance around the armhole.) My gussets were 15cm squares. A bust measurement won’t go astray, either. Draw your pattern on your material with taylors chalk and cut them out, making sure you allow extra for seam allowances.

In hindsight, I should have added more to my bust measurement, as the chemise ended up a little snug.

The front and back pieces are cut on the fold. There is also 2 sleeve rectangles and 2 gusset squares.

Traditionally, the body of the Regency chemise was made up of two rectangles (front and back) with triangular gores inserted in the sides. Doing it like this might have solved the problem of the snug fit!

Step Two: Sew the shoulder seams of the front and back. For all my seams, I used felled seams to limit fraying.

The shoulder seams sewn

Step Three: Iron the gusset in half to form a triangle.

The gusset on the left is folded and the one on the right is flat.

Step Four: Sew one side of the gusset to the short side of the sleeve rectangle, making sure the diagonal fold is positioned as pictured, “pointing” to the end of the sewn “strip”.

The sleeve sewn to the gusset, with the diagonal fold.

Step Five: Fold the gusset along the ironed fold, and fold the other side of the sleeve rectangle to meet the gusset edge. Sew these edges together.

You can see where the side of the gusset is pinned to the other side of the sleeve rectangle.

The sleeve should look like this when finished.

Now sew the bottom of the sleeve together, where it is pinned. The larger opening of the sleeve will be attached to the garment in the next step.

Step Six: Sew the sleeves to the garment, leaving the side seams open.

The side seams are not sewn yet.

Step Seven: Sew the side seams.

Step Eight: Sew bias tape (or make a casing) around the neckline of the chemise. Hand sew two eyelets through the casing in the centre front and centre back, so that they are on the inside of the garment and are not visible on the outside. Thread with some ribbon and draw up. I anchored the ribbon at each shoulder so the back and front could be independently drawn.

The front and back eyelets with ribbon threaded through to the inside of the garment.

Step Nine: Hem the bottom of the chemise and the bottom edge of the sleeves to the desired length. I ended up trimming my sleeves back almost to the gusset.

Finished!

I am fairly pleased with it. It is probably a little too tight around the bust, as most chemises from this era appear a bit fuller. I am hoping that is not noticeable once the corset is over the top.

Next item on the Regency Agenda is a bodiced petticoat to wear over the top of the corset.

You can follow all these Regency posts in order at My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

My Regency Journey: Corset Construction

How to Make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Relevant Links

How to do Flat Felled Seams

Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

Patterns for Regency underthings – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion (I got some of my ideas for construction from the links on this page)

Jane Austen Festival – website

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