My Favorite Underwear

I'd like to start this post with the specifications of this 1860's chemise and drawers according to the Historical Sew Fortnightly (, as it's been a while since I participated and I'm excited about being a part of it.
  • The Challenge: # 24, Re-Do, due December 2
  • Fabric: linen and cotton
  • Pattern: 1860's chemise from A Most Beguiling Accomplishment:
  • Year: 1860's
  • Notions: thread, cotton crochet thread, lace, shell button, wool embroidery yarn
  • How historically accurate is it? Maybe 80%? I think it's pretty good, since I did a lot of hand finishing and used natural fiber fabric and a pattern taken from an original.
  • Hours to complete: not sure, maybe 20--I spent way more time on it than I should have...
  • First worn: just to take pictures
  • Total cost: $2 U.S.! All notions cost mere pennies and were in my stash.

Now for the details! This set does not match, but I just made both of them and so I'm putting them together. As a re-do challenge, they qualify for a few different 2013 HSF challenges:
  • #3 Under It All 
  • #4 Embellish; I embroidered and trimmed them
  • #9 Flora and Fauna; the embroidery is leaf-inspired and the eyelet lace has flower motifs
  • #11 Squares, Rectangles, and Triangles; all of the pieces of the chemise are square or rectangular
  • #13 Lace and Lacing; there is lots of lace on both garments
  • #15 Colour Challenge White
  • #18 Re-make, Re-use, and Re-fashion; the drawers are made from pants and the chemise from a sheet
  • #23 Generosity and Gratitude; Thanks to my Grandma for giving me so much lace as well as supporting my hobbies throughout my life. Also, thank you to A Most Beguiling Accomplishment for the fantastic pattern that you provided on your blog!

Yes, that's the cat's tent in the background. Notice how large the drawers are, which is actually ideal for 1860's pantalettes.

For the drawers, I used linen pants. They were XL 100% linen capris which I happened upon in a thrift store; I immediately had a sewing plan for them. They only cost $1! I cut off the waistband and disassembled the crotch seam. Then, I roll-hemmed the bottom of the legs, sewed and felled the open crotch, hand-gathered the waist to a linen waistband, and added a shell shank button and hand-sewn buttonhole. I decided to add embellishment because pretty underwear makes me happy, even though no-one will see them when I'm reenacting. So, I put in a pintuck near the hem and sewed gathered eyelet lace underneath (the lace is probably polyester and the pintuck hides the serged gather). Below the hem I added cotton eyelet lace which I think I salvaged from an old pillowcase or a vintage slip-skirt. I have a question: what's the difference between eyelet lace and broderie anglais?

Broderie anglais or eyelet?

I added the embroidery on the pant legs because I really like this set and wanted to make it even prettier. I did the embroidery after I took the other pictures, so you can only see it in the following picture. The motif was done in wool thread. I've never embroidered with wool before and was eager to try the yarn that I bought at a flea market this past summer. It's very narrow, like size 10 crochet cotton. Note to self for future reference: the yarn is a bit fragile because it's not tightly spun and will pull apart if subject to too much stress, but it's not dry-rotted or otherwise compromised.

Embroidery on drawers
Button and buttonhole on drawers waistband

To make the chemise, I used the pattern from A Most Beguiling Accomplishment. I love the original, which is pictured on her website. I really enjoy making garments that don't require laying out a paper pattern. I think it's more challenging to figure out my own patterns or cut them from directions, like this is. I also appreciate rectangular-cut garments because they make efficient use of material.  

Gussets on the neckline

For the fabric, I used a 100% cotton full-size sheet that I bought at a thrift store for $1. I have several high-quality sheets that I bought at thrift stores for cheap prices; they're one of my favorite sources of sewing materials because I get quality that fits my budget. At this point in my life, I can't be blowing the bank on my hobbies. Maybe some people would have qualms about wearing someone else's used doesn't bother me, though. I just check their condition carefully before I buy them and then immediately wash them.

Top of sleeve; three different laces

The chemise was a lot of fun to make. I wrote a blog post about inserting the gussets. I added lace at the top of the sleeves. I did not use the standard method of lace insertion because the fabric was already cut due to the layout of the pattern. So, I roll-hemmed the edges and whip-stitched the lace on. 

Corded neckband and detail of how I hid the raw edges

Next, I machine-corded the neck band and sleeve bands with cotton crochet thread. I used size 20 crochet thread when cording the sleeve bands, but it was difficult to control it because it wasn't quite thick enough for the zipper foot to follow without running over it, so I corded the neckband with size 10. Then, I gathered the neck and sleeve edges and sewed them into the bands. Because of the cording in the neck and sleeve bands, I had to abut the ends of the bands together with no way of folding the edges inward to hide the raw edges. My solution was to sew a small strip of straight-grain tape over the joined edges to cover them. It works well and looks good, but is there some other method that I should have used instead? For extra decoration, I whip-stitched the lace on the neck and sleeve bands.

Finally, I hand-rolled the hem seam using a method similar to this one: I like this hem because it is so narrow; I like to tuck my chemises into my drawers, so I don't want a bulky hem. That is also why I made the chemise fairly short--it is mid-thigh length.

Hand-rolled hem

By the way, all the different pieces of lace on the chemise are machine-made and may be cotton or rayon; they all resemble handmade bobbin lace, but I'm not sure how historically accurate they are. I know nothing about lace history (except for tatting, which I make-- Can anyone give me some advice or point out some lace resources for me?

It was a lot of fun to make the chemise and drawers, and I finally have a chemise of which I can feel proud and accomplished! No more make-do practical underwear. Who can resist getting dressed up in 1860's costume when there is such pretty underclothing to put on? Okay, maybe most people don't care that much, but it makes me happy!

Mom: "The neighbor will think you're flashing him." Me: "No, he'll just think I'm wearing a big white dress."

Note: a friend and fellow costumer pointed out that the embroidery on the drawers is probably not accurate because underwear were usually decorated in white. That makes sense because they were laundered often and possibly bleached as well.


  1. What cute undergarments! I made that same chemise myself and I loved how easy it put together! Rectangular patterns are very nice. I also made mine out of a sheet. I have no idea what kind of fabric it is, but it's very thick and quite nice. :)


    1. I read your blog post about your chemise as I was gearing up to make mine! I wanted to thank you for the pictures of your version; it helped me to know how to proceed. Thanks for reading my blog!

    2. Thanks for reading mine! Glad I was able to help. :)


  2. Oh, how lovely! I'm so proud you went with my pattern, and happy that it turned out so well. Those drawers are great too!

    1. Thanks, Cassidy! I really appreciate that you made the pattern available online.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

18th Century Hunting Shirt

Planning Civil War Uniform Coats

Schuylkill Arsenal Infantry Jacket