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AWT How To: Fudge a Chemise

3 Jul

Hello again!

Before I go any further, I’d just like to point out that I’m not going for anything like perfect historical accuracy with this dress, or its accompanying parts. I’ll be machine sewing nearly everything, using cheaper versions of fabric, and the final aesthetics will probably be a mish-mash of things I like from a 20-25 year period. So historical devotees, look away now. I’m more interested in how one goes about constructing a dress like this, and so I don’t think the large dose of Versailles-fuelled fantasy is a bad thing at all.

My list of tools reads something like this:

Sewing machine

White polycotton (it was all I could get.  Fabric shops are a bit thin on the ground in Fife)

White thread


Measuring tape


A spare pair of hands is desirable, but not essential

Step 1: Establish your size

This is a bit free and easy in my case. I decided to cut my cotton 46 inches long, and just let it be as wide as it was off the bolt. Very scientific, I know. I figured that I can always take the hem up, but it’s more difficult to add the fabric back on again.

Step 2: Get your ghost on

Make like a child in a Halloween costume and cut a hole for your head. To do this, I folded my fabric in half lengthways and widthways, and marked where they crossed over. I then cut enough of a hole to stick my head through.


Now that I was ‘in’ the chemise, I marked out my neckline with pins, got back out of the chemise-ghost-sack, folded the chemise in half, and cut out along the line marked with pins. I tried this back on, and marked where the ‘shoulders’ should be. What I actually mean by this is ‘where the sleeves will join on’…because the chemise will be off the shoulder.

Cut a ‘v’ shape into the middle of the front neckline so that you have extra moving space. This is also a reference to the v-shaped necklines you sometimes see slipping over the top of dresses in portraits of the period.

Looking like a primary school child in a tabard, it’s time to get stuck into the gores.

Step 3: Getting gorey

Terrible pun. I’m so sorry.

My fabric wasn’t quite wide enough to meet comfortably width-ways (or I’m too wide to comfortably fit into it), so I had to find a way of adding width. Pre-19th century shifts often had gores, large triangles of fabric running along the sides to give lunge-space and bulk to the chemise, and most importantly, I had enough fabric to let me sick some gores into my chemise sides. To make mine, I cut a rectangle in half diagonally, and then sewed the triangles together along the straight side (the middle of the completed, larger gore).  This is then insterted from under the sleeve (thin end of the triangle) to the hem of the chemise (fat end of the triangle), and provided the much-needed breathing space.

Step 4: The ridiculous sleeves

My aim with the sleeves was to cut them as wide as I could without looking like a tube/them not fitting through the armscyes on my finished dress. These were just rectangles slightly longer than my arms, and probably about 3 arms wide. To be honest, I just cut out a rectangle, pinned it in half and stuck my arm through it. It was working for me, so I cut another one, and ended up with sleeves.

I ran a gathering thread through the top of my sleeves, to give them a bit of poof under the dress. This also let me bring them down to the same size as the armscye they needed to fit into. I worked most of the gathers to the top of the sleeve, and sewed them in to the chemise.

Step 5: Beautification and Baroque-ification

Now that you have a thing that might look quite like a shift if you squint at it, you need to hem the beast. I just turned all my raw edges under twice and then stitched them down…with a sewing machine. I TOLD you I wasn’t claiming historical slavery to this project :P.

Run a strip of bias binding around the inside edge of the neck, and then cover the stitches on the outside with some lacy stuff of your choice. (Since it’s your choice, you can choose not to go lacy. But whatever). Thread ribbon or cotton tape through the bias binding, and now you can adjust your neckline to fit under your dress.

If you decide to, put some lace round the sleeves as well to take the frippery to the next level.

I was going to leave you with a photo of me in the chemise…but it’s a bit indecent, and Maisie is on the other side of Scotland at the moment, so she can’t help me out right now.

This chemise is probably quite far up the scale of historical blasphemy, but I really don’t care.

For one thing, it goes UNDER the dress. Nobody.Is.Going.To.See.It.

I know that if I had the time and the resources, I could dedicate more of my effort towards research. I live in the real world, however, and know that I’m never going to make a living from my little creations, or pursue this as anything other than a hobby. I’m learning all the time from reading the blogs and research of other sewing fanatics, and I can aspire to these same levels of greatness, even if I don’t always reach them.

I make because I love the creative process, and taking fabric in its raw form and turning it into something that is (hopefully) quite beautiful.  I love the feeling of putting on an item of clothing and feeling it change how you stand: backs straighten, arms feel the need to bend gracefully at the elbow, and necks somehow lengthen. It’s escapism, and I don’t think that escapism in any form is a bad thing. This dress is my greatest escape to date.

Further reading from people who know better than I do:

Isis’ Wardrobe:

The Dreamstress:


Playing Catch-Up: The Jane Austen Dress

25 May

Hello all!

I’ve finally persuaded myself it’s time to put hand to keyboard and write this post, as much as the idea makes me feel ill…this is my third attempt, because even my laptop seems to want to stop me from getting it done!

The last time we were talking Regency fashions, I left you with an image of the bodice of the dress in a rather fetching shade of high-shine purple. Fear not: the finished dress is a white-on-blue model, with not a mention of purple in sight. I used white cotton lawn for the outer layer and sleeves, and blue-grey cotton (formerly a bedsheet) for the underskirt and underbodice. I sadly didn’t have enough bedsheet to stretch to undersleeves, but I don’t mind this, because then the dress will be much lighter and cooler in the warm weather.

I was planning on doing a kind of photo-documentary of the dressmaking process, but my camera wouldn’t refrain from dying. Instead, I have a few snatched photos from here and there, which I hope will give the general idea of the process.

Now that we’ve set the context, let us begin 🙂

I began be assembling the bodice the same way that the day-glo mock-up was made. This time, I cut out one bodice in white, and one in blue, and then stitched them together along the seams. After this, I ran a gathering stitch along the top and bottom of the bodice, as directed in Arnold’s instructions, set in the sleeves, and then began work on the skirt.

The skirt. Ohhhhhhhhhh the skirt. I thought that this would be the easy part. But apparently the bedsheet had other ideas. Being ever so slightly too narrow, parts of the blue underskirt had to be pieced together, giving it the appearance of a cross between a patchwork quilt and a practice at sewing straight lines. Thankfully, the white skirt hides the bedsheet disaster, so all is fine 🙂

Then began the gathering process: getting 75 inches of skirt down to 33 inches to fit the bodice. This requires A LOT of pins.



This is the point where my ‘holier than thou’ decision to sew the entire dress by hand began to irritate me.


It took 45 minutes to get from the right hand side of the bodice to my thumb. Then I wished I’d used a sewing machine.

However, the feeling of knowing that I’d accomplished all this sewing without a machine was a good one. A really good one 🙂

All that remained after this was to sew blue ribbon round this wrists and hen the bottom of the skirts, and the dress was finished! I must thank my new mannequin, Maisie, for assisting in the hemming process.


The dress on Maisie, waiting to be hemmed. (Please excuse the surrounding mess!)

So now all that remains for me to do is show you the finished piece with me in it! Apologies for my gormless face – my brother was yelling ‘directions’ for how I should stand, and I was about a hair away from falling over laughing…



It’s very difficult to get poker straight, bobbed hair into a Jane Austen updo. But it IS possible. And please excuse the gaping back closure…it has now been fixed.

I hope that I’ve now done my sewing duty, and that this post has been somewhat diverting 🙂

I shall be back soon, with some exciting 17th century news…

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents

AWT How To: A Duck in a Day

18 May

Hello there readers!

Before I launch into my first ever How To (exciting!), I thought I’d do a quick little catch up about the Jane Austen dress. This morning, I put the final stitch into the hem, and consider it finished! If the weather turns out to be nice tomorrow, I’ll get someone to take some pictures of me in said dress so that you can see what it looks like 🙂 I’m also going to write a more in-depth post about it later on, discussing what did and didn’t work, what I’d like to change, and what I’ve learned.

But back to the matter at hand: ducks, and how to make one 🙂

This endeavour has all been in aid of one of my friends, who is due to have her first baby at the end of this month. We don’t know whether Little One is a girl or a boy, so I wanted to make a present that is appealing and lovable to either gender….and who doesn’t love ducks?

I suppose you could call Horatio (I can’t help but name things!) a ‘primitive’ style duck, with his little oilcloth feet, stripy tummy and charming expression. He’s based on an Indian Runner duck, but has definitely got some kind of goosey genetic background, which has manifested itself in his beak. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It adds to his character.


Horatio and his slightly goosey beak

If you want to know how to make your own duck, and have a rainy day to kill, you can easily hand or machine sew a Horatio of your own in a few hours – read on to find out how!

Step 1: Colouring In

First things first: decide what you’re making. I like to do a couple of doodlings first, to decide what I want to create. This process is also very helpful in allowing you to work out seam placement, because you can draw your duck/duck-goose from lots of different angles to see where legs can be inserted, stuffing will be added (cotton stuffing, not sage) and shape can be given. Remember that your drawings are only in two dimensions, whereas Horatio will exist in three: again, taking the time to doodle and break your project down into component parts allows you to visualise how he will fit together.


Horatio in two dimensions. Note that I’ve drawn in the seam that runs down to his beak for reference.

I also like to use this stage to plan the combination of materials I’ll be using, to see what compliments or clashes, and importantly with Horatio, making sure there are lots of different textures for Little One to play with. My final fabric choices were:

  • Sunshine yellow cotton jersey, which is really really soft and snuggly
  • Bright orange oilcloth
  • Stripy blue and green cotton
  • Sage green baby cord
  • Orange cotton with stars in paler and lighter shades

The colours were a big consideration in Horatio’s design: I wanted to make sure he was gender neutral, but also avoid the usual pale, insipid colours used for baby toys. Babies love to play with interesting shapes, colours and textures, so I tried to incorporate as many of these as possible in one duck. And he’s only little.

Step 2: Cutting Out

Now you know what you want your duck to look like, it’s time to draft the pattern. My soft toy pattern drawing mantra is one part experience and nine parts sheer luck, and for the most part, things turn out how I want them to. My advice to anyone who doesn’t have my ‘talent’ for fluffing things along (it really is a case of hoping for the best most of the time!) is to keep some newspaper handy for making a mock-up of your pattern. Once you’ve managed to make your first pattern, you’ll start to understand how pieces fit together in 3D. This is why Step 1 is so important, because it seriously cuts down on time later if you are able to visualise a real world object on a flat piece of paper. You can see the shapes I used for Horatio below, to help give you an idea 🙂


Horatio in his component parts. Clockwise from top left: Neck and front tummy, under tummy, main body, wings, feet tops, leg backs, beak bottom, beak sides and feet bottoms

Then it’s simply a matter of pinning your pattern to your fabric, and doing some more snipping! Remember to cut out enough of each piece for different sides and fronts-and-backs…and to make sure the side of the fabric you want to show on the outside of your duck has been cut the right way round. I learned that the hard way!

Step 3: Easter Eggs

…by which I mean cool stuff. In this case, I really wanted Horatio to have ‘crinkly’ wings, like you might have on a baby toy in a shop. This was really easy to do! To get the crinkle into your toy, all you need is the outer wrapper from something like a packet of sweets – in this case, strawberry laces. Make sure you clean it thoroughly, and that there are not crumbs or sugary bits left inside. I rinsed mine out to make sure, and then let it dry thoroughly. The last thing we want is a mouldy duck.

Once you’ve got your wrapper prepared, simply cut it out like another pattern piece – I was putting the crinkle in the wings, so I cut out two more wing pieces from the wrapper, one for each wing. When you are assembling the crinkle ‘unit’, remember that the crinkle component has to end up on the inside. To do this, pin together the wing with right sides (what will be on the outside) facing together. Then just add the crinkle onto on side. It doesn’t get sandwiched in the middle of the two wing pieces – if this happens, your crinkle will be on the outside once you turn your seams in.


Crinkle placement: you can see the crinkle on the left, then the two wing pieces. They are facing cord sides together so that once they are sewn up and turned the right way out, the crinkle will ‘become’ the inside of the fabric and be hidden in the wing interior for scrunching

Now all you need to do is sew round two sides of the wing, leaving the short, straight edge open. Turn the wing the right way out by turning it ‘inside out’ (or is it outside in?) so that the crinkle and all the seams disappear. Whip stitch up the short side you pulled the wing through, and you’re done! Successful Easter Egg hiding has been achieved!

Step 4: Construct the Duck

This is the fun part. Gathering together all your pieces, pin them right sides together ( so that the side that will show on the outside will be on the inside), and stitch along the edge, leaving a seam allowance of about 1.5cm, or whatever feels comfortable. You can choose to do this step by hand or by machine. It’s entirely up to you. If you are doing this by hand, I recommend small back stitches to make sure that the body stays nice and tight with minimal holes for stuffing to come out or rips to happen.

The beak was put together and then inserted between the top of the neck and the end of the head, with the tip of the beak facing IN towards the body cavity. I sewed the legs in before attaching the front and bottom tummy to the rest of the body too, so that I could make sure they would face the right way when turned out. I then left a hole of about 6 cm diameter at the tip of the tail to turn the whole duck the right way out.

Step 5: Stuffing

Not the tasty, herby, breadcrumby concoction you have at Christmas, but toy stuffing. A bag of this fluff can be bought for between £3 and £5 in most craft shops and haberdasheries. You will always need more of this than you think, but remember this is a baby toy, so stuff your Horatio accordingly. In other words, don’t cram half the bag in, but keep him squashy yet sturdy – the consistency of a marshmallow is about right. Once you’re happy with the stuffing levels, use tiny whip stitches to close up the hole you left to pull him the right way out and put the stuffing in.

Step 6: Bring Horatio to Life

You should now have something that looks remarkably like a duck. But he still has no eyes!! Take a very light pencil or crayon, and LIGHTLY draw in where you’d like his eyes to be. Because Horatio’s a baby toy, I embroidered his eyes on, rather than using buttons or eyes that could fall out and be choked on.This is very easy to do using just a basic back stitch.

Et voila!

You have just successfully made your very own duck-goose-Horatio 🙂

Remember that part of the charm of handmade things are their imperfections: Horatio’s eyes aren’t quite level, he has a goose beak, and his feet are slightly odd sizes. But all these features give him character, and  character is what you want in a toy.

I shall leave you with a photo of Horatio’s little oilcloth feet, which I absolutely love.


Cutest little feet 🙂 I’m so pleased with them!

I hope this has been helpful for anyone who is looking to make their own squashy chum, and please feel free to share your experiences and ideas in the comments section below!

Good luck in your sewing endeavours until the next time,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents

The Great Jane Austen Wardrobe Project: It Begins.

6 May

Today has been most productive 🙂

Ever since handing in my dissertation, I’ve had itchy fingers, and been dying to start sewing.

So this afternoon, I whacked out Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion Book 1: 1660-1860, a whole load of squared paper, measuring tape, pencil and some tango music, and got scaling.

I chose the 1806-1809 morning negligee as my first project, rather than the bib-front gown I was planning on, mainly because the idea of all those strings and pins and whatnot confused me too much. I also discovered by happy coincidence that the original wearer of the dress (Arnold’s patterns are all drawn from extant garments, so the measurements in the book are those of the wearer), was roughly the same height and size as I am.Image

Epic, epic win 🙂

This saved me no end of bother, because I didn’t need to do any alteration to the pattern to make it fit, which must be pretty unusual! I then made a muslin (mock-up) of the bodice section to make sure that my freehand pattern scaling was OK. I had a bit of a panic attack when the bodice appeared to sit far too high…then remembered that I had to wear my stays every time I fit a dress. Panic averted, I can confidently start hacking into my ‘real’ fabric tomorrow. Alot of this new-found confidence came courtesy of a fantastic blog, ‘Tea in a Teacup’, I found today when Googling the pattern:

This blog is a great resource for the new Regency costumer, with its detailed guides, well-written explanations, and wonderful photos. I need to learn how to take better photos…Image

Today has been a good day.

Until the next time,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents.