Dawn's Costume Guide

Lady's Chemise

~3-5 yards fabric
~2 yards ribbon or cord for ties

For the chemise you will begin by cutting the sleeves and body of the garment as you do for the shirt, however, you will not be making a collar or cuffs. When made hip length, this can be worn as a shirt under a jerkin or jacket, with breeches or a skirt. Made longer it acts as an all-purpose ladies garment, being both slip and nightgown. Add lace trimming for Victorian and modern styling.

Good fabrics for this are finely woven cottons, linen, or silk. Avoid heavy fabrics if you will wear this strictly as an undergarment, as it will be bulky when scrunched under your bodice or corset. If you plan to wear it as a blouse, avoid sheer fabrics that compromise your modesty. If you can wear synthetics without sweating, you may find a thin poly-cotton or poly satin is nice.

If you plan to wear this under a Renaissance style garment, with puffs showing through the sleeves, remember that the more fabric you use, the more it will puff. You need 6-8 square inches for each puff.

Position the front and back of the chemise, right sides together, on your work table. On the upper left and right edges mark a point 6 inches from each corner. Mark a point 6 inches down from each corner, and draw a diagonal line, as shown. If you consider yourself a size large or greater, make the side mark at 8" instead. This will give you more room in the underarm.

Fold the sleeves in half lengthwise, right sides together and mark off each corner 6" from the end as shown.

Sew each corner of the sleeve to the corresponding corner of the front or back of the body, being sure to match right sides together. You should end up with something that looks like it will be way too large for you. This is okay.

Sew the underarm seam from the sleeve cuff to the armpit, and then along the side of the body to the bottom hem.

Hem the top of the chemise, along the neckline and top of each sleeve. Make a wide hem that you can thread a ribbon or cord through. Since you are hemming 4 straight sides, it is easiest to just fold them over and leave the corners open. You may have to unpick a little bit of seam. If you are putting lace here for a Victorian nightdress, put the lace on first, about an inch in from the edge, then fold the hem down along that seam line or slightly above it. Sew the seam to make the ribbon casing below the seam you used to put the lace on.

Use a safety pin or paperclip to thread a ribbon around the neckline, starting at one of the corners in the front of your chemise. Tie off the ends of your ribbon so they cannot slip into the neckline. Pull the ribbon until the neckline suits you. You can knot it permanently, or leave it in a bow so you can adjust it for either on or off the shoulder wear.

Hem each end of the sleeve, and thread a ribbon to tie around your wrists. Alternately, you might consider elastic if this is for stage wear and needs to be gotten into quickly and without help. I finished one of mine by making pleats to gather the sleeve to the diameter of the widest part of my hand, and finished with bias tape. Since I don't have a maid to help me dress, this makes it easy for me to get in and out of it by myself.

Hem the bottom of the chemise. Ideally, mid-calf length is best suited for those types of outdoor events where you might need to leave your tent in the middle of the night and walk to the privvy. Long, flowing gowns are romantic, but hems that have been drug in the mud are not.

All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2001 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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