Making a chemise,Medieval ,Tudor,18th century and Victorian

A short post on making chemises.

victorian chemise

.More or less all are made using two basic techinques.One involves cutting rectangles of fabric ,the other involves a long piece of fabric folded in half which you then cut a neck hole in ,place over your head and shape to the desired style by cutting the fabric to fit.

The easiest is the strappy narrow chemise ,this is quick and easy ,you merely sew a long strip of fabric together  leaving a gap at the bottom to form a split which makes it easier to walk in then sew on two straps made from  lace or ribbon or four pieces of ribbon to tie at the shoulders.

You can also use this simple style for making short camisols ,just use a shorter  piece

 

Fold your rectange of fabric in half lengthways

folden rectangle

Sew it along its edge,leave a split at the bottom so you can walk easier in it.Add straps

chemise lace straps

The fabric will need a hem unless you can use an old sheet in which case the sheets edges could be used for the hem.

To make a chemise in this style for under a tudor gown ,you could use embriodered panels for the straps and these will then be seen under the gowns neckline

chemise blackwork straps

If you add a front panel you will have a complete neckline

chemise blackwork neckline

In addition if you have enough of the trim the machine stiched hem of the sheet could be hidden by a length of trim

black work hem

You can use this under every style of costume but its especially useful for under regency and narrow high waisted medieval gowns where it is the only under garment needed.

To add sleeves to this chemise id also fairly easy you need to fold two strips of fabric to make straps or sew two length of trim as above ,safety pin them to the chemise top until they are the right length and in the right place then ,stitch them on .Onto this you can sew the sleeves ,to make a sleeve cut two  wide rectangles of fabric to the length  you want .

Fabric tube

either wrist ,elbow or above elbow ,sew them along the longest edge as above  then sew them onto the straps.

chemise plus sleeve

.Its not the most elegant of chemises and looks a bit untidy when your wearing it alone but it takes very little time and fabric and looks brilliant under gowns as all thats seen if the fancy neckline ,possibly the cuffs and hem if you lift your skirt to go upstairs etc.

partlet black damask gown

 

The sleeves can be arkward to sew onto the big gap made by the straps but if you make sure the sleeve top is wider than the arm hole and start sewing under the arm towards the top ,stop half way and do the same at the other side sewing towards the top until you get part way ,this will give you all the spare fabric at the top so you can gather any surplus fabric into folds to make slightly puffed sleeves and avoid having to cut a proper sleeve top.This  narrow style made sleeveless with just the straps is useful under 18thc and victorian  dresses as the body part isnt very bulky.

celtic chemise

The next easiest chemise is made from three rectangles of fabric two narrow and arm length or slightly longer and one wide piece that is long enough to reach from your underarm to the floor .You need wide pieces as folded in half they are much narrower ,,as below.

fabric panels chemise

.if you use an old sheet again cut the rectangles so that  you utilise the hem of the sheet for your hem and cuffs.

sewn hem

You need to cut a very wide piece of fabric for the body part of this chemise as itheres a lot of gathering at the neckline.You can just gather the top of the long tube and sew the two smaller tubes onto it at the under arm which wont give a neckline or “proper chemise” but would work if you just need something for under your stays or corset that has sleeves to wear under a slashed sleeve dress.

ven gown

or to peep out of a Tudor wide sleeves.

mary gown and silver sleeves

 

 

To mack a much more accurate and much nicer chemise takes a little longer but not that much more skill .For a chemise with neckline ,cut  the top of  the long wide rectangle so it has a slight curve as this will make a curved neckline ,then cut two curves for the sleeve holes ,this will leave some “straps “,depending on how much you gather the neck you might need to add a strip to these straps to make the chemise arm part wide enough,you can avoid this by cutting a very low deep curve for the neckline ,but this is much harder to get right as it can mean your arm curves are too high .Much easier to just add a bit if needed.

chemise wide pqanel

 

 

This panel now needs to be gathered just use a running stitch and pull it tight every so often so you gat gathers

gathered top

This design can be adapted to make a wide variety of styles depending on what sleeves you add,long ,short ,full or gathered.

Make the sleeves as you made the body of the chemise cut a rectangle and stitch it together muse the hem of the sheet for your sleeve edge

Fabric tube

If you use narrow sleeves you can create an all purpose chemise for under medieval and Tudor gowns.

red overdress

The style above doesnt have  cuffs and uses the  hems on the edges of the sheet for the sleeve edges.You can also gather the botton of the sleeve using a running stitch to make gathered cuffs

 

drawstring chemsie

Or gather the sleeves a few inches above the end to make a frilled cuff.

gathered cuff single

,you can leave this plain or add lace,black lace

chemise blackwork trim

Black lace will give the impression of fake black work embroidery for under Tudor and Elizabethan gowns

blackworked chemise cuff s

You could also civer the gathers with a trim or piece of embriodred fabric

cuff blackwork

You then gather the top of the sleeve.

chem sleeve

Now sew this to the big rectangles gathered top

chemise top and sleev

 

If you feel more adventurous you can edge the sleeves with lace and  gather the sleeves  as above but make three or four lines of gathers then sew braid over.This isnt at all difficult or time consuming but looks brilliant

CUFFS

Its easy to add the same trim at the neckline ,which will also help cover up any rough stitching

goldwork chemise

Alternatively you can edge the  neck and sleeves with wide cotton broderie anglais lace .This makes either a simple nightdress or a chemise for under Georgian gowns so the fill forms a frill thats sticks out from under your dresses short sleeve

victrian nightgown gothic

back saque back

 

If you make extremely wide sleeves you can then gather them at two or more points down your  arm to make a fairy tale style chemise.

eowyn chemi

This style of chemise looks especially good if you can get hold of some trim to add at the sleeves top as it will look more interesting showing under an over gown

eowyn chemis

blue overdress

The second method for making chemises is a little more complicated and takes more sewing though its still doesnt really need any specialist skills .

You start with a piece of fabric long enough to reach your feet or calf when folded in half long ways its going to go over your head like  the fancy dress “ghost ” cut a hole just big enough to get your head through.

afbric folded chemise

.Now fold the fabric in  half again but side width ways  and make the cut part neater

chemise neck cut 1

next cut the side ,to do this lay it flat and cut out two v shaped pieces to make wide sleeves ,imagine your make angel wing shapes.

chemise neck to cutr

 

extend the side cuts a little lower down  to make a narrower arm hole as above.

 

Shape the sleeves to your prefered shape and wideth.

chemise sleeves cut

 

 

Now sew along all the edges of body and sleeves to make the chemise before finishing the neckline as once the chemise is on you can judge the neckline depth and width much easier.

 

The cut the neckline for all necklines but a curve

chemise round neck cut

For most you now cut down the center front to the lowest point the neckline will dip to at the front

chemise collar neckloine

now either leave this with the peices that will flop back to make a collar effect and hem or trim ,or cut to shape which is the neatest option having cut to the lowest point and as the cut is at the centre front its much easier to cut the remaining neckline to shape. For most necklines its best to leave the back as a cruve shown above but you can use other styles.

.For a V shaped neckline you can either cut a long thin hole which will make it equally low front and back and wide necked  as below

partlet back

partlet ,book

 

 

or  cut out a triangular section from the front  and leave the back as a slight curve giving a tear drop shape,this works best for a narrower neckline.

blue chemise

For a  low backed square neckline cut a slightly rectangular hole.For all the necklines make smaller than needed cuts first and gradually widen them until they fit perfectly as its easy to cut off more fabric but almost impossible to put right an neckline mistake.If your wearing the chemise under a gown make use the neckline is lower than the gown where the chemise is not going to be visible or in cases where the neckline has to show that its exactly the right shape.

purpledressfront

,if its hard to get both front and back right aim to have the front showing

reddresseated tudor gown

 

or the front and sides showing and just tuck the back down

highwayman

Edging the neckline is best done by adding lace or a trim ,you can hem them by cutting the edges but it is a little more complicated to get a perfect neat edge .

 

Footnote

You can also use the over your head chemise instrctions to make a overgown ,mantle by making a kind of tabard

 

the overgown below is stitched under the arms down to waist level

leah and peter

haworth nativity

The blue one above is just stitched at the underarm

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About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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5 Responses to Making a chemise,Medieval ,Tudor,18th century and Victorian

  1. Pingback: Tudor clothing layers | Hathaways of Haworth

  2. Pingback: How to create a victorian outfit part one ,Undies and accessories | Hathaways of Haworth

  3. Pingback: Cheats guide to making a Tudor or Early Elizabethan gown | Hathaways of Haworth

  4. The latter pattern is commonly known as a T-tunic and is the basis of viking, norman and early mediaeval clothing for men. It has closed side seams but the front and back seams are open to the thighs for Norman/early mediaeval to allow for easy horse riding. This is also used as the basic roman tunic for men and when made ankle length as the under tunica for women.

    • Hi
      Many thanks for your comment ,I am sure its useful for anyone wanting a more indepth discussion of the eras and styles, mostly this is part of my cheats guide so it was about giving the easiest instructions using the most readily available fabrics or trims so I didnt really go into detail on styles as most people will either just need something for under their costume if they are making a theme day or party outfit ,or will know what they are after if they are making their own historical costume or have followed the link from the other cheats guides

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