“It’s just some rectangles stuck together, how hard can it be?” I thought. After all, I’d seen chemises like this before, and I thought I knew how all the pieces fit together to make it.
Please excuse me while I rage scream.
But before I get to that, let’s take a brief interlude to talk about the garment itself. Chemises (or shifts, as they had previously been called) were THE most basic garment worn by women in the 1830s. You slept in one, and if you were especially prudish, you even bathed in one. You wore one under all your other layers during the daytime too, to protect them from sweat damage and prevent chafing. Not that TV costumers have ever paid attention to this. How many Regency dramas have we all seen featuring corsets strapped right on to bare skin? Ouch.
This particular type of chemise is constructed from two rectangles with the upper corners sliced off and then tacked on to the bottom to form an A-line silhouette that extends past the knees. Then you add straps, sleeves, and two underarm gussets—again, all rectangles—and there’s your chemise. Other styles existed, of course, but this one was so simple and functional that it stayed relatively unchanged from the 18th century well into the 19th. Indeed, it shows up in The Workwoman’s Guide of 1838. So, although Laughing Moon also categorizes this as a Regency chemise, the “low neckline” option can be used for a wide variety of 19th century costumes. In a pinch it can even work for the early 20th century, if you’re not stuck on Total Undergarment Accuracy.
It is important to note that this pattern will NOT work for costumes with wide necklines, such as Civil War era ball gowns or the more fashionable dresses of the late 1820s or 1830s. More on that later.
There’s a lot to like about Laughing Moon #115, which I downloaded from their Etsy shop. For one thing, it includes patterns for both the chemise and corded stays for a good price. It also has descriptions of the period garments the patterns were based on, and copious notes about historic construction techniques. They give you soooo much well-researched information, which I can never have enough of as a historian. The size range is inclusive, with UK sizes ranging from 4 to 40 (0-6X US). On top of this, they provide separate sizing instructions for things like bicep measurement so that you can get a comfortable fit. Finally, you know how a lot of patterns say they have seven steps, when in reality each “step” is actually five? This one doesn’t do that! It clearly separates the steps and provides drawn illustrations.
Some stuff was unnecessarily challenging. There aren’t notes for which pattern pieces to print if you only want to make one of the items—which is a big issue, since the patterns take up 90 sheets of printer paper. Plus, the 31 pages of pattern notes, layouts, material lists, and instructions for the chemise and the stays are all mixed up together willy-nilly. It was confusing and burdensome to skip around like that, and I missed a few helpful notes because they were randomly in a different part of the document than where I might have expected them. It needed a LOT of editing.
Finally, I wish the makers had considered that many beginning costumers and sewists start with a chemise as their first garment. Because of this, the instructions really need to be crystal clear and not assume any prior knowledge of how to make a chemise. For example, step #28 reads “Stop stitching 5/8” away from edges,” when in reality what it wants you to do is to START and stop stitching 5/8” from each end. I had to pick out a lot of stitches because of instructions like this. Then there is the bit near the end that casually notes “This is a good time to finish your seams, if you have not already done so.”
Which brings us to the gussets.
I cannot tell you how much my brain hurt when I stared at this and tried to figure out how to fell eight intersecting seams, and in what order:
Unsure of whether to be panicked or angry, I began frantically googling. I was lucky to dig up an old Reddit comment describing the steps, and have made a diagram below. FYI, the felling does require some clipping into the seam allowances, but this should be hidden by the time you’re finished. I also felled the corners of the gussets by hand rather than machine, to better control their placement.
Once that was over, things were okay. I felled all the rest of the seams, although at 5/8” they are wider than most 19th century sewists would have made them. I made the eyelets and bound the neckline. It uses selvedge binding cut from the main fabric, which is a nice period trick that reduces seam bulk and requires less pressing. The instructions recommend using 3/8” ribbon for the neckline drawstring. Don’t be worried that this is too wide. It’s not! It’s fits nice and snug, and provides a tidier look for the neckline channel than if you use a skinnier ribbon. I fed mine through the channel by threading the very end of the ribbon through a large needle, and then sewing it to itself so that it wouldn’t come undone as I inched it along inside the binding.
For my main fabric I used Legacy Studio premium bleached cotton muslin that was a bargain at $4.19/yard from the JoAnn post-holiday sale. Unlike the standard muslin at JoAnn, it has a crisp feel that’s similar to sheeting. I imagine that, like cotton sheets, it will become much softer over time.
It’s nice! And it fits well, at least after I sliced several inches off the hem.
That said…it doesn’t work at all under my 1830s dress. Although the neckline is low enough for the more fashionable styles of the 1830s, it’s not nearly wide enough. Huge masses of chemise show at my shoulders when I put my dress on over it, which means I’ll need to make another in a more appropriate style. I may try Black Snail’s 1830s chemise pattern next, as the neckline looks right. Costumers with more 1830s experience might have spotted this problem just by looking at the Laughing Moon pattern, but I didn’t. I’m disappointed, since the listing for the pattern describes it as a “Regency and Romantic” pattern appropriate for 1805-1840. At least now I have a chemise ready for whenever I do a Regency costume?
Although I know a lot of costumers are fond of Laughing Moon’s other patterns, I can’t say I recommend this particular one. If anyone out there has a chemise pattern with truly superb instructions, please share in the comments!
- 2.5 yards Legacy Studio premium bleached muslin
- Gutermann Sew-All thread
- 2 yards Offray double faced satin ribbon (you can use silk satin for a more accurate finish)
- Dritz awl, to make the eyelet holes
- needle with large eye, to thread the ribbon through the binding