Wednesday, February 1, 2017

HSM '17: #1 Firsts & Lasts: Mid-Victorian Chemise & Drawers

As part of my Big Project this year, I knew I needed to start from the skin out (except for the corset), so obviously it would be a chemise right off the bat. My Big Project is aimed to have a date of 1867 (ish), and I have never heard of pre-bustle-era combinations*, so separate chemise and drawers were in order.


*Are they out there? I didn't (and haven't) look, either. I knew I would get too bogged down in "research" to actually start sewing, which does not fit into my goal of "sew more" this year!

Long-time readers will know how much I like to waffle on fabric choices... (Not.) I thought cotton would be the order of the day, given the time frame. But I don't have much in the way of cottons. The only underwear-suitable pieces I have are a 4-yard length of Indian muslin (seen here, on the Regency muslin gown) and a 2-yard length of 3.5oz linen (left over from here). After I had already decided to use the muslin, I did find a few examples at the Met of linen chemises, which is great! But since my selections were so limited, I thought I'd better use the linen to make drawers, as the muslin is SO light, I wasn't sure it would stand up to the kind of use drawers would see. Then I ended up using cotton for the drawers too. Ah well.

Then I just had to sit down, pin it out and cut my fabric. Terrifying! Aside from a few creases where it had been folded up since September 2014, it was fine, and it was a dream to sew. I did most of the long seams and interior work by machine (on my 1956 straight-stitch Singer, Beatrice; a straight-stitch machine would have been unlikely but not impossible), but all of the stitching that would carry to the outside of the fabric was done by hand.

My new #chemise is soooo #sheer! Its gonna be great for summer! #victorian #sewing #historical #yegsew

A photo posted by totchipanda (@totchipanda) on


There's only a couple things I would change. I used Simplicity 2890, the same pattern I used for my corset, and for the drawers. Very similar items are found to be drafted in Fashions of the Gilded Age Vol 1, which are taken from period sources, so I took some of the headache out by using a commercial pattern. But I forgot the Golden Rule -- measure measure measure!! I cut a size 14, and only realized too late that it was MUCH too big. I shortened the back yokes to a 10, but I had already sewn the fronts and trimmed the seams. I had to try and make those work. The other thing I would change is to stitch the side seams and flat-fell them, and then cut the armhole facings as a single piece, front and back, press the edges under and attach it by hand. I'm reasonably sure that this is a feature that would make changing the facings easy, but the pattern has you attach a facing to each side and then stitch and fell it into the side seam. This made the sewing of the sleeve and sides easier, but makes it impractical to changing the facing out should it be needed, and creates bulk on the seam. My fabric is VERY light, and the seam is bulky. I would not want to attempt it with heavier fabric.


Finally, I sat down with a cup of tea and a documentary about volcanoes, and got my hem stitched. The final touch was a button. It's decorative, though one could possibly make it a functional feature. I got out my Gramma's button bin and searched the trays for a nice button that was either a lonesome, or one of only a few. I found this metal-shanked glass button -- probably not very period, but very lovely in its own way.

And that's it! I won't be taking any pictures of me wearing it without either something underneath or the other bits on top, it's sooooo sheer. But it's also super light, and that will be great for summer :)


The drawers were fairly straightforward, though the hem directions didn't make a lot of sense. Making the pintucks was pretty easy, as the way it's stitched you can use the last pintuck as a guide for the next one. I seamed the legs first before doing the open crotch seams, turning the seam allowances to the outside as per Elizabeth Stewart Clark's guide for making drawers. I probably should have followed those directions for making a waistband, the one included with the Simplicity pattern is very tight on me. But I also haven't tried it on in the morning, and my one test with a corset just blended all of the compression around my waist together. I will have to give them a test run before too long! I pulled the fabric out as an option for making the cage hoop with, but I went with a different fabric, and I also like the idea of fun underwear :) My undies won't see the same extensive use as historical ones, so I felt comfortable going with this.


The last thing needed was a button -- this plastic lonesome from the bin -- and a buttonhole, which I opted to work by hand. It was my very first one ever! I used upholstery thread and embroidery floss. The brown mark is from the Frixion pen I used to mark the hole placement, it will come out easily :)


The Challenge: #1 Firsts & Lasts
Fabric/Materials: 100% cottons
Pattern: Simplicity 2890, drawers with some guidance from the Sewing Academy
Year: 1860s
Notions: thread, buttons, lace
How historically accurate is it? The patterns are taken from extant garments, the fabrics are plausible. The threads are a mix of poly and cotton. Most of the stitching was done on my 1956 straight-stitch-only Singer (Beatrice), which is not overly likely but not impossible either.
Hours to complete: 10
First worn: Not yet!
Total cost: The muslin was left over from another project but cost me $5 US / yard, and I used 3 yards. The cotton for the drawers was free-to-me but new material would cost upwards of $10-$20 depending on sales. Perhaps $40-$50 for a new project.

1 comment:

  1. Hehe, I use undergarments to practice my hand-sewn buttonholes....and use those sad single plastic buttons that never get used, since no one will see them.

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