Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Second Chemise (AKA My New Nightgown), and Tips Thereon

Oh, excitement, a chemise. Still, it means
a new nightgown to me :}
Yes, that's one of those cool balsa wood
rubber-band airplanes up there. They've
been in the air a lot lately.
Whoof, another one down! I've long needed another chemise, and another nightgown, for I've worn mine to the bald tire stage, so to speak. So I cut two out, one a sweet 21st century nightgown, and a second in the form of a Regency chemise. Then I made up the latter, finishing it this evening. I will wear it tonight, too. Hooray for something new and fresh!

As always, please click on images to see larger versions.

Anyhow, I have some sewing tips for you on it.

Pattern Helps

Per Dawn Luckham, bless her, I learned that the Sense and Sensibility chemise pattern is too full in the back to replicate a normal chemise of the era, and she suggested using the front piece as the back. Check. I even left the neckline as low in the back as in the front, for some of my dresses are lower backed than others. I've used the S&S pattern before, and it is so straightforward, and my pattern pieces already cut out, and my fabric so wide (54" Kauffmann Kona cotton) that it wasn't worth it to me to cut straight from the 1790 chemise pattern in Costume Close Up.

Otherwise, the pattern generally can be left as is, although using bias tape for the drawstring channel is at first blush, rather a cheat. It worked fine on my first chemise, and has worn like iron, but the original in Costume Close Up used a linen tape. More on that issue below.

One musing to start with: Handsewing is so portable, needing but needle and thread and thimble and scissors, and you can pick it up and do it in a few minute increments. Sure, the results take days and weeks, but you get a different sense of time, and a pleasant enjoyment of focusing on something quiet, on breathing slowly, and letting your mind drift. If you're always in a hurry and using a machine, some of the joy of what we do is lost. For me, anyhow, handsewing is meditation and therapy, and moment of peace in a very busy world, and yet I have something durable to show for the time spent. If you haven't handsewn to date, please do consider it.
Construction Tips

I took most of the seam work from the 1790 chemise in Costume Close Up. Most, but not all.

Being in a hurry (how ironic, given the above!), I sewed the main seams using my handcrank sewing machine, and managed to get the pieces all together in perhaps two would have been one hour except that I put in a gusset backwards...twice. Tip: don't construct gussets when you're tired. :}

All seams are flat-felled. The seams in the original CCU garment are tiny...somewhere around 1/16" wide, I think? Yikes, I cannot do that, but I can go to less than a quarter of an inch. Here are some tips.

  • Make your seams on the outside of the garment. That way the interior is flatter and less likely to chafe.
  • Many of you know that for a flat-felled seam, after sewing the seam, you make one seam allowance very narrow, then fold the other allowance under and hem it down over raw edge, hiding it and finishing the seam nicely.
  • If you're brave, offset your initial seam 1/4". That's right, don't lay the raw edges evenly together. You can do this with an unfitted garment and not come to much grief fit-wise, if the seams are narrow. It saves you the DRATTED trouble of trimming one of the finished allowances afterwards down to 1/8" with a pair of dressmaker's shears. So hard to do that evenly!
  • After your seam is ready to fell down, practically roll and twist the top allowance down on top, bit by bit, flatten it hard with your fingers, and pin it. The rolling action allows you to turn under a wee, narrow width. Only pin a few inches at a time. You notice that there is no pressing with an iron involved here. They didn't back then, and I don't see why we need to today. It would be nuts with such a narrow seam anyhow. Use the power of your fingers to form a fold, and press down on the fold's edge with your fingernails if that helps.
  • Then hem, with as small stitches as you can muster. You want this garment to last a long time, wash after wash. For this garment, I went somewhere between an eighth and a sixteenth, depending on my hurry. :}
  • What to do in places where two seams cross? Think ahead and plan which parts go on top and which will go on bottom, so the top one can fold down neatly, and its little short end be folded too and hemmed down. See the image in the hemming section below, and look where the seams cross.
Here are some pictures. The hems are between 1/8"-1/4" wide.

If you want a narrower seam, I theorize that you trim the one allowance very fine indeed, though not so fine as to risk the seam pulling out, then roll the top allowance down per the hemming tips below, rolling, if you must, some of the underlying allowance along the way. However, I've not done that yet.

Folding down the fabric...helping it along on top. Then I moved by hand and used thumb and forefinger to fold-roll under another bit.
Hemming. Oog, that was too big a stitch in the underlying fabric, there, so I see. Should have been 1 to 3 threads wide. You can see I was in a hurry on this seam, too, for my stitch is quite far from the previous one. Yes, at points I got a bit hurried, wanting to finish, instead of enjoying the Zen of it all and going for the Right Thing.

Results. Not too bad.

Hemming Tips

Flat hems can be just about as narrow as a rolled hem.

How? Just as in preparing the flat-felled seam above, by rolling the raw edge under by rubbing it between your forefinger and thumb, or middle finger and thumb. If you rub gently, you can get about a 1/8th hem. If you roll hard, you get a narrower one, more like a 1/16" of an inch.

The trick, at least for me, is to press the first fold flat with your fingers, after you roll the raw edge over, then roll again to encase the folded-down part, press hard again, and have a result ready to hem down.

I found myself making the first roll for an inch or two, then pressing hard, then making the second round of rolling, rather than preparing the hem in a single operation.

Then I hemmed down those few inches, and repeated.

My hemming stitches were about 1/16"-1/8" apart.  

I only have a picture of the result, sadly, but I think you can get the idea. Look at the left edge there, of the sleeve. That's a flat hem. Once I've pressed the stitches gently, they should fade into the fabric and not stick out.

Machine Sewing

This is an unabashed plug for rescuing a treadle or handcrank machine and using it rather than an electric machine, if you want speedy sewing.

The attachments that came with such machines were typically very high quality, and there were hemmers that could produce hems easily of 1/8". I have several such machines and ditto such hemmers. They are worth their weight in gold. Now, they do have problems, like any machine, when crossing a seam, but it can be done if the bump isn't too thick.

Here is the hem at the bottom of the chemise. No prep work, no fuss with trying to set and pin and then stitch a hem, and wonder if a pin will break a macine needle or fly out at you. Instead, fit on the attachment and treadle or crank away, using no electricity (how green is that?), producing a wonderful result, and fascinating your children into the bargain!

In fact, this hem was prepared by Christopher power, and he loved it. He is so proud this evening.

Neckline Helps

I used no separate fabric or tape at all to make my neckline channel. I folded the neckline's raw edge under 1/8", folded it again around a half inch, and sewed a combination stitch just inside the first fold to attach what was now a channel to the chemise.

As with all the handwork above, I prepped and sewed by inches.

Turning self fabric under around curves, and making a channel with a machine, would be a nightmare, and you'd have to clip the edges and use a ton of pins.

Not with handsewing. With your fingers, you can ease the tendency of the fabric to pucker and wander on those curves, bit by bit. You do this by shaping and stretching and manipulating the fabric, just as with any curved seam. My result had a few pickers, but those iron out pretty well, and the ones left are lost in the gathers once the chemise is drawn up, anyway. I used just one pin, to hold down the fold an inch or so ahead of where I was stitching.

This method is in contrast to both Sense and Sensibility, which calls for using modern bias tape, which takes curves easily, and CCU, which uses a linen tape. It would have to be a very fine, thin tape indeed, for any tape I have come across is quite thick, and I cannot see it going easily around curves.

I could have made my own bias tape with self fabric, but I wanted to see if this would work, and it does nicely. Now I have no extra bulk to deal with in that essential neckline area, and less work overall. :}

By the way, you can get 1/8" inch wide cotton tape very reasonably from William Booth, Draper, and it's nice stuff. Use this to thread through the channel and tie the chemise. He and his staff must have been away at an event, though, for turnaround was over two weeks. Still worth it, but I got worried.

Next post, the boys' fourth birthday! Oh, we had fun...


Mimic of Modes said...

The attachments that came with such machines were typically very high quality, and there were hemmers that could produce hems easily of 1/8".

This is very interesting! My mother has an antique treadle machine that's been passed down in the family, but it doesn't have any attachments. I'll have to look into finding some.

ZipZip said...

Dear Mimic of Modes,
Yes, it's worthwhile looking. If you have a Singer, attachments are fairly easy to find, even on online auction sites. Machines by other makers can be a little trickier, but it's still possible. You might have a visit to the ISMACS site to learn more about your machine. It's an international sewing machine society.
Very best,

Jenni said...


Happy Birthday to your boys!

ZipZip said...

Thank you, Jenni!
It was a quiet, but pleasant, day, and now the boys feel four, they say. When Christopher awoke that morning, he was quiet for a bit, and perhaps a little disappointed, and then whispered to me that "I don't feel four, Mama".



Krafty Girl said...

How did you know I was contimplating making another chemise? The one I made for "The Ball", is too bulky. I am going to do another one with a lighter fabric and all hand stitched. I can't wait to get started!

Happy Birthday to your four year old. I have a very soon to be four year old girl named Sarah.

God Bless

ZipZip said...

Dear Beth,
Glad that this post could be in time for you! Please let us know how it goes.

Happy birthday to your almost-four-year-old girl,


The Dreamstress said...

I'm excited about all the tips on chemise making - I'm going to need to make a few more soon. :-)

ZipZip said...

Good evening, Leimomi,
Glad that these tips may help and look forward to your refinements on them. Am watching your progress on replicating the Edwardian party dress with fascination!
Very best,

FLYING FOX said...

oh, to hear i am not the only one who sews things in backwards. i had NO IDEA which sides flat-felled seams - er - fell on. nothing like learning as you go...THANK YOU for the idea about just making the channel from the neck. and the idea of sewing the seams off so as not to have to trim them: brilliant. i have to do all the seam trimming tonight and i anticipate weeping.

ZipZip said...

Dear Flying Fox,
Glad to be of help. If there's one thing that drives me batty, and that causes you tears, it's trimming seams. The offset seam trick is an ancient one, used for centuries. People just don't do it anymore.
Hoping you have something handing to allay the weeping after that dreadful process is over,