Researching the 18th Century Chemise

Late yesterday I received notice that my order of handkerchief linen from Wm. Booth, Draper, has shipped. Heavens, but they are quick! This means I need to seriously settle down and decide what I’m doing. Because the 18th century covers a lot of stylistic turf and things will go easier if I choose a spot to land. Knowing what’s going to go on top will help me get what goes underneath correct…I hope.

In my French class we are currently reading “Candide” (in French, bien sûr) and I am loving Voltaire. The more I read him and read about him, the more I appreciate his esprit. “Candide” was published in 1759 (when he was two years older than I am now) so, as a personal tribute to M. François-Marie Arouet (who came to call himself M. de Voltaire and became a champion of rational thought and human rights), I’ve selected 1760s/1770s as the time frame I want to recreate.

And, because who doesn’t love being thoroughly intimidated by a creative project, I want to make a Robe à la Française. These are some of my favorite extant gowns from this period.

The necklines vary a bit in depth and width from decade to decade, as does the sleeve length. However, I can see two features the chemise will need: a low, squared neckline and slim-fitting sleeves that end above the elbow. I can do that.

Extant chemises from the time show a basic structure that changes little through many decades. This makes me very happy.

I am extremely grateful I figured out underarm gussets when I made my Regency chemise. Hopefully things will go more smoothly this time around…no more three-dimensional gusset bubbles (fingers crossed). That was a great laugh but once was enough, thank you very much.

Now I’m reading up on sewing and construction techniques while I wait for that lovely handkerchief linen to arrive. In the meantime, embroidery on the Regency reticule continues. Photos coming soon.



6 thoughts on “Researching the 18th Century Chemise

  1. I’ve always love the ruffles on chemises that show above the neckline on these but for some reason only made the Kanick’s Korner plain one. Now that I have the new Simplicity 8162 18th c chemise pattern by American Duchess, that HAS the ruffles, I want to make that.
    I had one later chemise in handkerchief cotton, so fine, but ripped it to shreds each time it got caught closing my corset in the front. I’m too hard on it. I hope the linen version works better.

    • I bought the handkerchief weight because I always get so hot under all those layers, but I’ve read through the directions on the Kannik’s Korner pattern and it specifically says not to use such a light weight because the chemise goes through so much wear and tear. I don’t plan on wearing it that often, so we shall see. There might be another one in my future with a bit more heft to it. I do want the ruffles at the neckline and I think I’ll check out that Simplicity pattern to see how it compares, too.

  2. Sharon Ann Burnston has a very good article about 18th century chemises (and then necklines in particular) on her site. I thought it very helpful, and maybe it’ll help you too. Good luck!

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