Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Regency Chemise

New era, new undergarments.  I like to have these made-up before embarking on a gown, both for more accurate fitting, and for sewing practice.

My internet search for originals led me to some interesting places like this, and this.  All hail history enthusiasts on Pinterest. In general, here's what I've discovered of chemises circa 1800-1820:

1) They are white.  This tallies with my mid-Victorian reading/experience, in that un-dyed underthings are easier to clean (boil them!), and don't show-through the garments so easily.  They also don't crock/run.
2) They are linen, or occasionally cotton.  Which is to say, they are washable fabrics. 
3) The necklines may be square or gathered; in either case, they are fairly wide.
4) Short sleeves.  The sleeve-less garments are more often labelled as 'petticoats'.  Many of the sleeves are short and square, though the odd short and gathered sleeve does appear (as well as one long-sleeved garment).

All told, they have a great deal in common with the Victorian chemises I usually work with (the angle of the sleeves with the neckline is the main visual difference).

Most useful are these diagrams of original chemises from the Ohio Historical Society.

For my first Regency chemise, I'm using cotton (because that's what I have on hand). I will be keeping an eye out for a deal on white linen for version 2.0.

First, sketched out the pieces by hand, just to get a feel for them.  I then compared the original's dimensions with my own measurement, and decided that the overall length and widths would suit without alterations.  The sleeves need to be a bit wider, so I'm scaling those up.

First I cut out two large rectangles and two triangular gussets for the body of the chemise. Next, there's the two smaller rectangles for the sleeves, and four more triangles to make the under-sleeve gussets (actually eight, to make them all double layered).  Finally, a long rectangular neckband and small "reinforcement" rectangles (for the underarm) are cut from the scraps:
Pieces for regency chemise.
Chemise cut pieces, in approximate relative locations.

I start be piecing together the under-sleeve gussets and the front/back pieces:
Triangular underarm gusset for Empire chemise.
First seam: underarm gussets attached to front/back

From there, I attach the lower gussets.  I'm machine felling these long seams (which feels like a mortal sin...):

Felling seams on a sewing machine.Gusset and gore for early 19th century chemise.

Now, I just sew the sides shut along both gussets. Next up is the sleeves.  I hemmed one long edge of each sleeve, then sewed and felled them along the undersleeve gussets (extending to the neckline):
Hemmed sleeves for Regency chemise or shift.
 Attaching sleeve to Regency chemise.

Inside-out view of sleeve and gusset on Regency chemise.

I debated attaching the sleeves before the long gussets (the underarm gussets definitely needed to go first), but decided on doing the long sides first, as they looked trickiest.  I cut all the gussets along the diagonals of rectangles/squares (per the diagrams and/or my best interpretations thereof), so the long gussets actually require some tweaking as they are attached--the hypotenuse of the right triangles is towards the back side, and is longer than the straightedge sewn to the front panel.

I made some changes to the chemise finishing.  Despite contrary measurements, the upper edge ended up way too wide, so I took in pleats at the top center (front and back) to make things fit better.  In doing this, I skipped the small placket & button at the center front of the original.

Then attach the neck-band, and hem the bottom to desired length:
Sewing the upper band to the chemise.
 Close-up of chemise upper band.


Completed Regency chemise.

Lessons learned for next time: 1) Front and back pieces can be cut 4" narrower and 3" shorter,  2) Long gussets may work better in two right triangles back-to-back (as with the underarm gussets), 3) Try the neckband on the bias for easier cornering.  I ended up omitting the side reinforcement pieces, as there was considerable bulk in the side seams near the gusset points already (just from the felling).

Note: home sewing machines are definitely post-period. Hand-sew for maximum accuracy.  That being said, this is an undergarment.  Anyone who can tell it's machine sewn 1) shouldn't be judging, and 2) is in kicking-range.

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