The 18th Century Chemise – cut and underway

The chemise has been cut out and sewing is underway! Since I was a full yard short of being able to use the pattern I had, I went to The Cognitive Shift, by Sharon Ann Burston, and found the answers I needed.

The first challenge was simply drawing the pattern on my gridded pattern material – I don’t have a space large enough to lay everything out. The cutting table wasn’t sufficient for this. The fabric store where I used to live has a large sewing room with lots of tables I can use for free as long as a class isn’t in session. But it’s a 40-minute drive each way. The local fabric store also has tables, but charges $5 for the privilege. Figuring that gas and my time would be worth more than $5, I paid up and moved in.

I only had one change to get it right, so I checked and double-checked the measurements then transferred the pattern to the pattern material and cut the chemise. With a bit of math and a minimal amount of tweaking I was able to fit the entire shift on the fabric I had at hand, which surprised the stuffing out of me. I was able to get all the pieces and there’s even enough left to put a ruffle around the neck line, if I decide to do so.

Only one catch: it’s almost 2 inches too short. But I’m considering using the time-honored, and historically accurate, technique of piecing with other fabric to make up the difference along the hemline. I don’t know how much that would change how the chemise hangs, since the side gussets are from the linen. The resolution will come when I decide whether I need the full length and that won’t happen for a while.

In addition to Ms. Burston’s article, I also read other articles and posts about making 18th century chemises. One message came through loud and clear: finishing the neckline is the first priority. Cutting the neckline first and finishing the edge immediately is the best way to avoid distortion through stretching while handling. A lot of it is on the bias, after all. I took it a step further and marked the cutting line for the entire neck, but started with edging the back half of the neckline only. Handling linen is like handling water and, given that the front of the neckline is deep and long, I worried that even the small amount of handling required to finish the back edge would be enough to distort the front edge. So I left the front edge uncut while I hemmed the back edge.

neck edge2

Ms. Burston recommends 11 stitched to the inch for finishing the edge. I don’t know how close I came to that…I just used lots of tiny stitches, close together. The linen is beautiful and so easy to hand sew. A new experience for me is hand sewing with linen thread. I’ve never used it before and, even with beeswax, it’s a bit of a temperamental beast. But we’re getting to know each other and it’s getting easier.

neck edge1

And just this morning I found this post on linen thread from At the Sign of the Golden Scissors and, wouldn’t you know it, they now import fine linen thread and sell it in three weights. Since the thread I’m using is less than ideal for what’s ahead I think I’ll be ordering a spool or two.

The back neck is now finished and I’m ready to start on the front. I’ve cut he edge and it’s pinned, and it’s an overcast and damp day – perfect for more sewing.

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