As part of my Regency wardrobe, I wanted to make a white chemisette to fill in the necklines of some of my gowns– most notably the pashmina gown, which I specifically made for daywear.
Taking my cue from several other bloggers, I started off with the chemisette pattern A from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion I. It has a mostly-plain front with some tiny tucks at the shoulder line (not pictured in the illustration but they’re there in the instructions), and a triple-layered mushroom-pleated collar.
I did end up making a few structural edits– I widened the base width of the back, which otherwise would’ve been oddly pointy (and would not have matched the illustration at all), and did only two ruffles at the collar since my fabric was a bit heavier than what would’ve been used back then. And I didn’t bother cutting the neck band on the bias because it seemed wasteful and other chemisettes in the book had their neck bands cut on-grain, so it didn’t appear to be crucial.
Anyway, not having any graph paper on hand and not feeling inclined to figure out how to print out different sections of the original scanned pattern on different sheets of paper, I used a good old ruler and my knowledge of geometry to draw out the pattern for the chemisette. Honestly, I wouldn’t have done it if the pattern weren’t so simple, but at least on this occasion it worked out well.
The main body went together easily– I did a narrow double hem on the open sides and made my drawstring channels on the bottom with no problems. Then I had to figure out how to handle the neck ruffles.
I cut my ruffles about 60″ long (because that was the width of my fabric and it was easier that way) rather than the 90″ called for in the pattern. I just thought 90″ seemed excessive, again because of my heavier fabric and because I wasn’t going to be mushroom-pleating it. I did a narrow rolled hem on the tapered outside edge and ran gathering stitches along the straight inside edge, pulling them up to fit a neck band and stitching the two together. After the ruffle was attached to the band, it was rather unruly– the thick hemmed edge was causing it to form large curves rather than small gathers. On a whim, I tried using my fingers to form tiny, irregular pleats along the ruffle and ironing them in place. The resulting ruffle looked almost like mushroom pleating– if the pleats had been kind of roughed up– and the whole process was a lot faster than trying to pin and iron hundreds of tiny pleats. Below is a before and after photo:
I did the ruffles separately on two different bands and then stitched them together with the raw seam allowances facing each other so I would have a nice finished edge on both top and bottom. The ruffles are oriented so that the “nice” side of the hemmed edge faces up on both ruffles, even though the right side of the neck band seam is on top for one ruffle and on the bottom for the other.
Then I stitched the outer neck band to the neckline edge, and hand-whipped the turned edge of the inner neck band to cover all seam allowances. I deliberately made the inner neck band slightly narrower than the outer one, so it would pull the whole collar up a little towards the inside.
To fasten the neckline I stitched in two pieces of cording made from chain-knotted pieces of embroidery floss with pearl beads on the ends; I ran some off-white ribbon (all I had on hand) through the channels in the bottom to cinch it shut.
Once I tried the chemisette on my dress form, I realized I’d made a mistake with the length of the neck band. The book gave a measurement of 15 1/2″ for the length of the band, but (in what I’m coming to realize was probably an error) I laid my band around the finished neckline and cut it to match instead– to be honest, I was just being lazy because I didn’t have a tape measure close to hand, and I assumed the measurement would be correct. It was not.
The finished band ended up being closer to 18″ long, and while it matched the neckline it didn’t really support the frills that well– I think a shorter band would’ve stayed closer to the neck and worked better. Also, the pattern illustration did show some short lines that could’ve been small tucks around the front of the neckline– they weren’t mentioned at all in the notes, but in retrospect I was probably supposed to take tucks in the front neckline to fit the shorter band. Oh well.
However, since I’d already attached all of my ruffles I really didn’t want to re-do them. The seam allowances were too bulky to allow me to add tucks to the back to make it shorter, so instead I just added a tiny snap just above the neck cording, which helped keep the collar standing up straighter. Annoyingly, the metal snap showed when worn and I didn’t have any clear snaps on hand (I’m ordering some now), so I painted the snap white to make it less visible.
All in all I like the finished chemisette. It was very easy to put together and only took an afternoon when done by machine. I’d like to try it again with some really nice sheer voile and maybe some properly-done tiny pleats, but for now this will work just fine!