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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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