Musings of a Lady

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Le Modiste: Chemise a la 1800-1816

Corset, Epoque Empire, musee Galliera, Paris
Chemise:  An under garment worn by women.  The etymology of the word is interesting in that this word was used before 1050, possibly from late Latin for shirt: camisa, a linen under garment, shirt and replacing Middle English -  kemes and Old English cemes.  I love the history of words, don't you?    Then you have the word 'shift' which is also used for the same undergarment during the 18th century and into the early 1800's. (Shift may have been used even earlier...still checking on that.)   According to  Costume Close-up: clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 (, a shift is...

" ...made of white linen or cotton was the bottom layer of a woman's multilayered ensemble, acting as a washable liner to protect the outer clothing from perspiration and body soil...Equally important, the shift protected the wearer's skin from abrasion by the boned stays, hoops, woolen petticoats...many women slept in the same shifts they wore during the day, whereas those with larger wardrobes had separate nightshifts."  pg. 57

I will need a couple of chemises or shifts for my Regency wardrobe.  One of my friends, newly returned from this years Jane Austin Festival, in Bath, England said the weather was wet this time and indeed, her 'petticoats were 6inches deep in mud!'  Ergo having more than one chemise will be worth the sewing to have just in case the festival in 2014 is also wet.  

The construction of ladies chemises or shifts didn't change much over time.  I consulted my Tudor Tailor book ( the book mentioned above and several blogs where ladies are making period chemises and the construction has altered very little.  Taking a rectangle of fabric and cutting geometric shapes for the body, sleeve, under arm gussets and additional godets for increasing the body width if necessary.  
I have this pattern as a model.  
I haven't used this pattern as my mode operandi has been to just cut my chemises out of a rectangle of linen.  In fact I have used something like this which can be found on:
This image above is from Kanniks Korner who makes really nice patterns.  The structure above is what I basically do for all my chemises/shifts for 18th - Regency fashions.

I have one that I made ages ago but I am currently working on a chemise which I am sewing by hand.  I am using a blouse weight soft weave linen, linen thread and basic hand seaming techniques. 

Using a back stitch to seam.

I do want to make a petticoat to act as a corset cover and will do some research for that.  With that said, here are some items I found on Pinterest and other sources that are helping me figure out what will work to cover the corset so it doesn't show through: 
Petticoat - early 19th century

From  I found on Pinterest a simple sleeveless bodice petticoat that might work for what I need as well: 
1810-12 Petticoat (FYI - I went looking for this at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and couldn't get any info).

The chemise, being a work-horse garment, will take a lot of beating with washing, etc.  However, I like a personal touch to my undies, so I plan to do some decorative stitching or lace insertions or scalloped hems, if I can find the period or contemporary examples to support the effort.  Other than what can be seen above, did ladies embellish their undies?  Though I ask the question, I will probably to take liberties and do some white on white embellishments.   This is why I caution my readers that I am not a professional historian, nor am I confined by re-enactment rules or policies, so I can be a little more free with my interpretations.  Yet, I will say that I like to be as accurate as I can.  So, if any of you, dear readers, have sources for embellishments on under garments like chemises/shifts and petticoats other than what is shown above, please do share with me.  

October To-do list:
Finish hand sewn chemise.
Cut and start over petticoat.
Research Chemisettes.

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