Tag Archives: chemise

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

Scissors

Measuring tape

Pins

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.

Image

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: http://isiswardrobe.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/17th-century-smock.html

Marquise.de: http://www.marquise.de/en/1700/howto/frauen/18chemise.shtml

The Dreamstress: http://thedreamstress.com/2011/07/a-simple-shift-for-ninon/

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